Yesterday, I received an angry email from a New Jersey painter who wants to remain anonymous: “All this talk about joy, magic and inspiration is not worth a damn if no one is buying,” he wrote. “Two of my galleries have closed their doors, my main guy is getting mighty slow to pay, my Giclee printer is selling off his equipment, grants are impossible and my bills are building. You, Robert, are living in an unreal world.”
Thanks, Anonymous. Our world is having its pants pulled down by Western debt. The art business, and most other businesses for that matter, are paying a price. Some countries are more depressed than others. Also, different cities are differently affected.
Artists flourish when economies flourish. Art success is in the mood of the general population. When families once again spend money on cars, vacations and hockey games, there will be money again for art. Further, the art market parallels the housing market, and we know what’s going on there. Right now, tug captains and captains of industry are in for higher taxation and lower benefits. This is not so hot for art. This is not good news for creative folks who need to pay their bills.
Right now there’s a natural extinction of less effective galleries. The Giclee print business is fading under the hot sun of overcapacity. Visual arts grants are now seen as unwarranted and unsustainable welfare going to flamboyant noise rather than quiet talent. Our world is changing.
Today we are witnessing a mega-shift of wealth from West to East. In a way, things are now actually getting back to normal. Universal democratization and social redistribution are at our studio thresholds. We in the West were just lucky for awhile. It was just a dream. We are now beginning a life in the real world. The sky is falling. The end is nigh. It’s time to be spiritual again.
PS: “Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.” (Buddha)
Esoterica: Now for the good news: Hammered down by last year’s experience in real estate and stocks, some end-time investors are turning to the art market. Like the current passion for gold and other durables, some collectibles are actually experiencing a boom. Handmade is a valuable concept. Craft is in style. Local is great. Artists of quality have little to fear. As our little world grinds to its untimely end, our daily joy will pervade, and with the benefit of DNA and our unique and personal touches, no Chinese factory artists can help themselves to our last laughs.
The idealistic view
by Robert Megerle, San Antonio, TX, USA
In Egypt the land is replenished each year with the rains from afar. This too is happening to the Western hemisphere. Artists have flourished in their art sales because the art sells. “Art for art’s sake” is a statement that many do not understand. As soon as an artist decides to make art to pay the bills, the art becomes, “Art for income’s sake.” Artists tend to change their art to meet the needs and wants of others and therefore contaminate their (artist’s) vision in order to create something that sells. Artists need to stop and think whether your art is something that sells because you paint what you want others to see, or do you paint what others are willing to buy? As an artist you should paint your vision, and if I like your vision or share it, I’ll buy it.
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Gallery thrives by offering more
by Phil Dynan, Corning, CA, USA
Our gallery is doing fine, and our artists still sell work, but we do not have any false or grandiose expectations. We do what we do because we love art (we are both working artists, as well as unpaid gallery directors). We have the first and only Art Gallery in this rural county.
Because art sales only account for 25% of our business, we also offer other services. Art Supplies have been the best extra. Because of incredibly high unemployment in our area (maybe 40-50% in this county) we have many non-artist people buying art supplies. They are not going to exhibit, they just want something expressive and meaningful to do with their time. They often end up buying from us a few giclée prints of their very personal drawings and paintings — to give to their relatives. It is a win-win situation. They also come to our Saturday “open session” lessons and love the social and art atmosphere so much it is hard to get them out the door at closing time. (Red Bluff Galleries, Corning, CA, USA)
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The weeding out of artists
by Jane Freeman, Bemidji, MN, USA
In some areas of the country there are actually very few practicing artists left! They have had to go to work to support themselves or family… some have gone back to school to get the skills they need to get a job. It has been a very sad movement to see with some very talented artists. I am in one of those areas where little sells and if it does sell it is the price tag that dictates the purchase. Cheap. But through this I am focusing on my painting and how to improve it and perhaps add new techniques to it. I might even use this time to begin to go in new directions entirely. Always a realistic still life painter, I am now dreaming of large sky paintings… something I have dreamed of a long time but was too busy to pursue. Now I think is the time for us to dream new dreams, move out into uncharted waters and stay positive. Hard to do of course if you must pay the bills and feed a family. The weeding out is happening. There will be fewer artists. Those of us who remain need to pick up our game and be the best we can be. I love my life and am so grateful I can continue it… but for many it is not so and for them I have great sadness because our art defines us as who we are. Many will lose their identity.
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Recession an opportunity to build inventory
by Jim Lorriman, Shelburne, ON, Canada
Obviously, your angry emailer is working without a recession plan as are, sadly, many of the artists in my neck of the woods. I have always thought that we are the last to get aboard the gravy train and the first off so our window of opportunity is the smallest.
The recession is, possibly, a once in a lifetime opportunity to ensure that we get on that train earlier and get off later. I am a craftsman and as such cannot make “prints” of my pieces. Each is “one off” and they tend to be made in a linear fashion. In other words, one at a time. Here is how I am dealing with the “gift” that I have been given.
First, I have the opportunity to build my inventory. My recession plan has two parts to it. I will continue to make my high end pieces and stockpile them for a better time. I am developing a line of jewelry that is both practical and inexpensive (less that $100). This is starting to provide cash flow for now and should see me nicely through the downturn. The key is that you never get the time back. We need to use this period as a time of growth; to prepare for a future where there is once again a demand for what we do. If we find ourselves unprepared for the better times ahead, we will have only ourselves to blame. When the recession is over and, I suspect, that it will be 5 to 7 years from now, I will have a depth of inventory that I have never had before. I will be prepared for a market that will be increasing in its demand for my work. I will never be behind the 8 ball again!
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Choosing our own joys and sorrows
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA
Eventually the stormy seas will calm and art will sell. After every storm one usually assesses the damage and this storm is no different. Quality will sell, art that connects to the heart and spirit will sell. Some aspects of the art business will change due to this economic storm or the technology that will create changes on the playing field. I understand that one has to take charge and be pro-active in terms of business. Yet it is during these storms that one can paint and keep moving forward while waiting for the sun to shine again. I do not believe that the sky is falling. What does concern me though is the vitriol that is out there that passes for public discourse. Many in the public arena play to fear not hope offering the false gods of supposed righteous indignation instead of working to solve problems. As Kahil Gibran stated, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”
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Having a rough time? Come to Iraq
by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA
We’re not living in an “unreal” world, we’re living in a changing world, one in which individual professional artists are being squeezed. If you’re very good and very, very, very fortunate, you can paint what you love and make a living at it. Otherwise, you have to adapt somehow. Some try to figure out what’s selling and then do more like that. (I see some of those works even in the big-name elite galleries in New York!) Other people do something else for their financial support and save their passion for their art. I am temporarily following that latter approach, having come to Iraq for many reasons, not all of them financial. But soon I’ll be able to return home and resume painting pictures that nobody will buy. I can’t wait! But if your New Jersey painter needs a reality check, I humbly submit that he come to some place like Iraq, with no economy to speak of, and talk with Iraqi artists who are still marching to their own drums and trying to get by. Artistic talent and the ability to make a living at it are not necessarily related.
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Things could be worse
by Cathie Harrison, Roswell, GA, USA
One thing the East has over the West is patience. Our lust for instant gratification doesn’t always serve us well when it comes to art. (Giclees come to mind.) I expect there is already in development a Kindle type device for art. I know there’s an app for that on i-phone, but soon maybe someone will pay a dime to be the first to see the fresh wet canvases. Who knows where this will lead? Meanwhile the good old sage advice you give so often is the very best thing to do while we wait patiently… go to your room and paint and be joyful! No one is really too interested in buying things from angry people. Things could be worse… we could own a Toyota dealership.
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Does joy sell?
by Andrew Purchin, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
In these times of economic uncertainty, I paint in part to remind myself that joy is an infinite resource. This is a reality for those of us who can embrace it. I also paint what I see and what I feel — I find myself learning all about storms and uncertainty. I focus on the movement of it all — so many temporary beauties — it’s endless. Yes, Anon has a very good point about these are very hard times with galleries closing and it is hard to sell art. I’m aware of conflict, anxiety and uncertainty. I choose to anchor myself to the known — the sun rises and sets and change is a constant in nature. Does joy sell? Well if I am happy and work hard sourcing beauty, it certainly increases the odds.
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Start creating your world
by Lisa Chakrabarti, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Anonymous needs to get his/her house in order. Frankly, so do we all. We were living in an unreal world: grants and other similar luxuries do not materialize out of thin air. These sorts of entitlements are ruses and have finally reached critical mass when the piggy-bank, i.e. taxpayers, suddenly can’t pay for them. This IS a re-distribution of wealth, and it stinks big time: people deserve to keep what they earn — or most of it, but that is not what has been going on. And our individual pie-slices are going to be down a few crumbs if things don’t turn around. You, me, WE will have to deal with this. I hate to use clichés, but, sorry, Anonymous: “No one promised you a rose garden.” If you really consider yourself an artist, then start creating your world.
Giving is the new getting
by Toni Ciserella, Marysvale, UT, USA
That poor New Jersey painter has been living on borrowed time. The world is changing and for some that change is going to hurt — especially if they have put their faith (money, energies) into ‘the system’ and followed ‘the formula to success.’ For those who have viewed things from a larger perspective and have recognized the need to stay true to themselves, tune out and turn off the mass media hysterics and hype and embrace the humanitarian good will that permeates right here in your own neighborhood. It’s Karma time and those who followed the masses and supposed ‘experts’ will be frightened and angry when it no longer works. Those who dabbled on the edges and those who went their own way, will surely not be as devastated as the ones who blindly followed.
Giving is the new getting, and if you had previously spent your time taking, then you are way behind and need to do some hard work to catch up. Those who have some wisdom under their belt will be just fine and possibly it will be their time to reap. I love change. It’s a new world and a new adventure. How could that be anything but good? It puts us all on the same playing field if we only just go with the flow. Good luck.
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Therapist in need of therapy
by David Lacey, Centreville, NS, Canada
Wow, today’s message from above was painful. I am sorry you feel so depressed about the future. Actually I feel there are some signs of a strengthening art market. As you say some less stellar galleries are fading but the robust ones are doing okay and getting better, from what I hear and experienced. Buck up amigo! All will cycle around and flourish again. I remember in the ’80s all the artists I know thought it was the end. It wasn’t and it isn’t this time. I just look at it as time to paint my very best works because nothing else will do. Thanks for your constant therapy sessions. Nobody believes that therapists don’t need therapy too.
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The crash a welcome gift
by Heather Haynes, Australia
I have been doing extremely well with my art in the last 6 years. I am in my late 30’s, actually just hanging on to the 3 for a few more months. The last 2 years have been such a blessing. My Agent had to stop buying my work with a halt. Thank goodness, I was burning out anyway. I went to Africa as a volunteer and was able with this slow down to produce the most important work of my life. If things hadn’t crashed it would have made it hard to follow this creative lead. I wasn’t pulling in the money I had been so we (my husband and I) brainstormed about the future. We had always wanted to travel with the kids but hard to leave a painting career that is building and building. Well thank god for the slowdown because we are now traveling for 5 months in Australia and New Zealand. We also had dreamed of moving permanently to the cottage on the lake, but thought this would be when the kids head off to University, they are only 8 and 12 so we had some waiting to do. Well thank god for the crash in the markets because we sold our house in Sept. which gave us money to travel for the winter (we had to after all the cottage isn’t winterized yet). We will head home in the Spring and start building studios for my musician husband and myself, winterizing the cottage to make it a home.
Perception is everything. Living uniquely, the glass is half full, actually it is overflowing. I have never wanted to be a slave to my art and art sales. This can kill the creativity and the flow… The crash has been the most welcome gift. I have heard many stories of people coming back down to earth finding peace with her. I just wanted you to know I’m out here living the dream loving to paint, showing up.
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Ode to Joy
oil painting 35 x 40 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Joanna Clark of Columbia, MD, USA, who wrote, “We are awakening from a dream of superiority into the reality that we are all in this together: men women, animals, plants, air and water, artists and industrialists, tug captains and sheep herders, East and West, Democrat and Republican.”
And also Michele Caplan who wrote, “I am a jewelry designer and aspiring artist. I hang out in the diamond district in NY, not always a very artistic venue, but a leading economic indicator. My sales are up, as are my subcontractors. Hopefully this is a sign that better times are coming.”
And also Joy Engelman of Australia, who wrote, “Stop worrying and just get out there, paint like there’s no tomorrow and keep on talking to people, keep having shows, keep slogging away – it’s all character building after all!”
And also Doris Daigle of New Brunswick, Canada, who wrote, “We’ve been blowing up the balloon so large that it has to burst some time, right?”
And also Michael Parsons of South Africa, who wrote, “Never blame the economy for bad sales. It’s the easy way out. Paint a better picture!”
Enjoy the past comments below for You are living in an unreal world…