Two days ago I happened to be cruising The Painter’s Post and noticed an Artinfo item, “Bartering is an art form all its own.” The article mentioned Andy Warhol in need of a video camera, trading some self-portraits to an electronics guy. And Damien Hirst trading one of his early medicine cabinets to a willing dentist. In his speech accepting the 1995 Turner prize, Hirst thanked the doctor for “spending more time in my mouth than is healthy.”
Judging by some of the letters in this inbox, bartering for art may be making a comeback. Online barter sites are going strong. Classifieds and “Craigslist” are in the game. There’s even a course: “Barter 101.”
Apart from the usual massages and yoga lessons, there are cottage swaps and boat trips. As you read this, I’m exchanging a painting of Donegal for a trip to Ireland (and all the Guinness I can drink).
I, too, am the recipient of a pair of lovely golden molars. Dr. Mackenzie made them so much like Henry Moore’s sculptures that every time another dentist looks in there, he feels the need to maintain the high standard and charges me accordingly.
Then there was the time when a big rancher at a Calgary show purchased two of my efforts, needed another, but happened to be out of cash. A few weeks later a refrigerated truck appeared in our driveway. We couldn’t get the animal into our freezer and I was forced into butchery with my Swede saw. It was all to no avail. No matter how we cooked it, that critter was the toughest ever seen in the West. Most of it went to the neighbor’s dogs. The rancher still has my painting.
So while the bartering system has some pitfalls, it’s still a viable way of doing business. Funnily, after all these years of considering my bank balance, it’s the trades I remember the most. I once got a station wagon from a Chevy dealer for a painting that went into his closing room. The wagon lasted ten years and got me to some pretty wonderful places.
The trouble with bartering is you have to take it in as income and pretend it’s cash. This could be pretty taxing if your whole business happened to be in barter. But then again, how else are you going to help out those poor chaps at GM?
PS: “He traded with the milkman to get milk. He loved the game of it. He was the king of barter.” (Nancy Kienholz on her late husband, assemblage artist Ed Kienholz)
Esoterica: Very often potential barterers are reluctant to ask artists for fear they might insult them. I’ve found if I just suggest the idea, they jump on it. You need to get your terms more or less clear. You don’t want anything to spoil your fun, or theirs. Funnily as well, it’s the trades that artists remember the most. Trades feel good. In the long run, the deal generally works to the artist’s advantage.
Escape by trade
by Perry Haddock, Cloverdale, BC, Canada
Funny you should write about this as I’m sitting in Dubrovnik, trading a nice holiday in a three bedroom apartment for a painting-to-be. When I return to my less picturesque home village of beautiful downtown Cloverdale, I may search “Craigslist” for a future escape!
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Carl Rungius and trade
by Mike Jorden, Osoyoos, BC, Canada
The wildlife painter Carl Rungius was first invited to Banff to hunt and paint by the guide and outfitter Jimmy Simpson in 1910. The trip went so well that Rungius spent approximately half of each year in the Rockies for the rest of his life. Payment for that first trip was a large oil entitled ‘The Old Billy’ which hung in the Simpson’s lodge on Bow Lake for decades and is now in the Glenbow collection. He is known to have gifted or exchanged other works during his lifetime. Rungius secured his reputation by becoming a member of the prestigious National Academy of Design ten years later so presumably at this early stage in his career money was an issue?
Legislation on trade
by Peggy Guichu, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I, too, have in the past bartered my paintings for items I needed. But I found out recently that Arizona has passed a legislation making it illegal to trade legal work for paintings. I’m sure the law goes farther than art, but it was legal work that I was attempting to acquire. The lawyer said that their law office downtown was filled with some wonderful artwork from a local artist who traded his paintings for legal services years ago, but that due to the new law they were now unable to barter. So, not only did Arizona cut so much off their art programs that we won’t be able to take advantage of the federal match of funds, but now we aren’t able to trade valuable work for services. I wonder what other states have the same laws.
Trade during the ‘big’ depression
by Libby Jutras, Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada
I am aware of how the barter system kept many families alive during the “big” depression. As an ex-funeral director, I heard that during the depression in the thirties their families faired very well. They were kept in eggs, sides of beef, fresh veggies, wood to burn in the winter, handmade clothes, quilts, and anything else their customer’s next of kin could produce. I wish that art was as necessary as being buried!
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by Maria Oppenheim, Wiesbaden, Germany
I haven’t gone down in history yet but I have a deal with my homeopath — She has over 10 meters of my acrylic paintings and matching cups and plates to serve tea to her patients… My dentist also has some paintings and I feel very confident as far as my health is concerned.
When the doctor / artist-patient vibrations match, the paintings will also attract other patients on the same wave length. Unfortunately the time factor is unpredictable. After 8 years, a patient of my homeopath asked for my paintings and prices and actually passed on a large order. So it can work but you can’t sit and wait for it… My car is also in good shape — my mechanic once asked me for a large painting… By the way: bartering was never my idea but I found it a fun possibility and an absolute win-win situation.
Never giving up
by Betty Billups, Sandpoint, ID, USA
Well, last time, I shared the 100% loss with some art exhibitions. Now, to counter balance that experience, I would like to share the wonderful experience of “bartering”…
To every “coin” there are two sides! I shared the rough one, as a warning, so others may not walk into the same problem! Now I would like to share the beauty of never giving up!!!
Back in 1990, the old ranch I was living on north of Sandpoint, Idaho, sold and I had nowhere to move. I spent a week checking out all sorts of places to “house set” for the winter. And each lead fell through. To make a long (interesting) story shorter, I found a home that was for sale and I was permitted to take care of it for the winter. In the spring, I had fallen in love with it, sent every penny I had (all of $500) to the owners, and said: “I have absolutely no money, but can I buy your home?” To which they said YES!??!?!
Well, over the next several years, that “empty pockets” thing followed me constantly. I’d call and apologize that I didn’t have that month’s payment, to which I was usually greeted with: “Well, you know, we saw this one painting of yours in town” LONGER… story, SHORTER… Within 10 years I had the home paid off, and perhaps 40% or more was paid for with paintings!!! My life was greatly blessed by this supportive couple!!
Yes, to all of life, there are two sides to the coin! The secret is to have a support “team” that helps “carry you” emotionally, while you are having the rough times!! We should all be so blessed!!!
Living off the grid
by Elle Hogan, USA
I am currently in negotiations for a floor loom. I have submitted a list of what I can offer and, currently, the list is being perused. As we are artists/ musicians/ farmers, the list is eclectic, to say the least. Up for consideration: some combination of eggs, roosters, rattlesnake (heirloom pole) beans, cocozelle (heirloom zucchini), handspun wool from our sheep, custom handknits, fiddle lessons, live music for a party, woodwork, carpentry & painting, and, finally, a painting.
This worked a few months ago when I needed emergency dental care. What is it with the price of dentistry? I traded a bathroom remodel, a painting on an antique chest, and okra for repair of a broken bridge, deep cleaning, an extraction, and a new fake tooth. The okra clinched the deal.
As self-employed people who have decided to live as far off the grid as possible, and as independent of “the economy” as possible, we aren’t in love with the cash-driven system. Barter, to us, is normal — but we’ve been making our way with our hands for a very long time now. The way things are going, more and more people will be looking at alternatives to cash. Barter is the next big thing.
Exchange for summer camp
by Cris Reverdy, Marstons Mills, MA, USA
Last summer I was able to barter with the owners of a private summer camp on Cape Cod… this was what I produced for the exchange… bartering is a beautiful thing!
Depends on where you live
by Susan Connelly, , Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
As the owner of a Santa Fe high quality clothing store in the ’70s, I was constantly requested to trade clothes for art, antiques, jewelry, and meals at great restaurants. It delighted me. The clothes are long gone now (unless you are into vintage) but the art, jewelry and antiques live on in our life. My sister was a noted SF artist (Constance Counter) and she traded art for practically everything, including medical and dental services. We all benefited because Santa Fe is a place where art is appreciated. It’s a great way to do business!!
We now live in the southern part of the state and it is a different story here. The only people I have found that are interested in bartering are other artists.
I have been painting for the past ten years and after several successful shows, showing with a busy and successful gallery, it seems the dentists, doctors, clothing stores are deaf to the deal. However, I have had fun trading art for art and have not only treasured paintings to show for the effort, but weavings too. So, I think it really has more do with where you live and how the art is valued.
by Jill Wagner, Saline, MI, USA
This economy definitely has been tough on artists, but bartering has opened quite a few new doors for me. I have already created 3 barter commissions this year. Good quality art for good quality services. The attached pastel portrait was done for a friend whose brown lab had just died. In return, she maintains my website. I’ve also bartered for search engine optimization and dog grooming! It’s a win-win situation and it keeps me painting even when I’m not “selling.” Just be sure that you receive fair value for your work. Now is not the time to devalue your art.
Just what we need
by Cathy Johnson, MO, USA
Bartering just plain FEELS good. It’s nowhere near as abstract as an exchange of checks or PayPal, and you know everyone gets just what they need.
I bartered with my late husband’s cardiologist (years before he was my LATE husband!), with our attorney, and like you, with our dentist. Sounds as if I did better on the beef exchange than you did — plenty to eat for months, and discovered a wonderful cut that I didn’t know existed, a Pike’s Peak roast. Oh, my…
I’ve bartered for lodging, for meals when I was only 14, for other artwork… it’s a delight, even if you DO need to keep track of it for tax purposes!
Exchange art program
by Rhonda Bobinski, Red Lake, ON, Canada
I also profusely agree with your perspective on bartering; I, for one, have received some amazing artwork over the years as a swap with other artists. But I think the best exchange of art happened in my classroom. Because I live in an isolated community, we are the only high school in the district. I wanted my students to have more exposure to other artists, so I set up an “art exchange” with another school about 300km away. Each student from both schools had to write up an artist’s profile. We received theirs and they received ours. We went through the profiles and tried to match like-minded people accordingly… (actually, it’s kind of like an archaic version of Internet dating with a much better product in the end… haha). The students worked diligently on a multi-medium art piece about a complete stranger and the results were fantastic! It was like Christmas in the art room when we received our art pieces from the other school. We tried to guess whose art piece was for whom, before reading the slip of paper that told us so. Some people were brutally discouraged while others were extremely delighted! And just as I write this now, it gives me an idea to start up this “exchange art program” within our community! Now that would be fun!
Modern age bartering
by Georgianne Fastaia, San Francisco, CA, USA
Your post about the long tradition of artists bartering for goods and services reads like a WIN WIN to me. Here is a true, recent example of bartering in the modern age….
On May 28th, 2009, I posted the following ad on “Craigslist” under BARTER with a link to my website and a few jpegs.
Seeking a music teacher for my 2 year old daughter who loves music, banging on drums, playing harmonica and singing. A music teacher from her daycare commented on her aptitude and interest however lessons are out of my reach presently.
I am well known bay area painter with work in local galleries. It’s my hope that you will check out my art if you might consider trading your professional skills (as a music teacher) for mine as an artist… http://georgiannefastaia.blogspot.com
Thanks for your interest, Georgianne
I received three replies, two were from people who liked my art but had very limited skills to trade. I was thrilled when a well known musician, who specializes in teaching toddlers music wrote back. His reply below:
My name is Andrew Skewes-Cox. I am a preschool music teacher in San Francisco. I teach at Calvary Presbyterian Nursery School, Lone Mountain Children’s Center, St. James Preschool, St. Nicholas Daycare and Preschool, and Marina Children’s Center.
I also teach privately. I also love art. And I’m very interested in your offer. I hope we can negotiate some sort of an exchange.
Let me know!
Ah, yes, the trades
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA
You’re so right — it’s the trades I remember so well. In 1978 I traded a hand painted tile-top table (4′ x 4′ with the entire detailed Mayan calendar) for a redo of every single one of my fillings and crowns; plus one of the first implants in Hawaii by the top implant guy in the country at that time. He took a beautiful hand painted porcelain vase. Those teeth have stood by me all these years, and, like your Henry Moores, they inspire every dentist to try to match their quality.
And, in the last 10 years, I traded three paintings (one at a time of course!) for each successive old clunker until I could afford a newer car. What would I have done without that collector? Not an old f*rt, either — he’s in his lower 30s! Helps he was a mechanic….
But the best trade of all was a sculpture for free rent for 6 months in Santa Fe — it would have been a mighty cold winter, otherwise!
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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 Peter Brown of Oakland, CA, USA, who wrote, “I prefer gifting to bartering. The giftee gets to chose. Otherwise, I just pay cash money. The giftees never forget the gift.”
And also Ann Hardy of Colleyville, TX, USA, who wrote, “You are reminding me that I have bartered for “stud” fee for my Arabian mare and riding lessons for me. Me or the mare, not sure who got the better deal! (I’ve just had a margarita, or I probably would not have written this.)”
And also Phil Bates of Myrtle Creek, OR, USA, who wrote, “I recently bartered a painting in exchange for a stress test with my Cardiologist. The value was $650 which was the same price as the painting. Both parties were happy.”
And also Bill Kerr of Courtenay, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Lawyers, accountants and notaries around White Rock, BC, have my work. The dentist wouldn’t go for it. A note to our American friends: Medicare pretty much takes the doctor out of the bartering picture. Apart from that, universal Medicare is great idea.”
And also Amanda Williams of Perth, Australia, who wrote, “Don’t forget that artists barter with each other too and the request can be flattering or encouraging when the idea comes from someone we admire. I remind my kids that their inheritance is hanging on the walls — they know which ones they are.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Bartering for fun and profit…