A number of artists have been asking about the current economic downturn. More than anything, they want to know what’s going to happen to us creative spirits. While I’m no economist, there’s evidence of a hard truth.
Art follows money.
While art still gets made in an economic downturn, the commercial acceptance of art is neither consistent nor predictable. At the present time, the indulgences of the past decades where easy money chased anything slightly artistic have suddenly reversed.
I’m laptopping you from the economic miracle called Singapore. This city-state of skyscrapers and tree-lined boulevards is also suffering. Government workers are accepting wage reductions of 12 to 20 percent just to keep their jobs, and city fathers are looking over the horizon to find the next infusion of capital.
Yesterday I visited a factory where piece-workers hunch over grindstones cutting chips of jade and other semi-precious stones. Other workers skillfully place the stones onto composite dioramas depicting landscapes, birds, animals and historic deities. The factory shop is long on product and short on customers. Downcast salespeople stand idly by, puffing on thin Malaysian cigarettes.
In our current environment, potential customers are easily more critical of art.
Throughout history, the production of art has followed wealth and leisure. Great civilizations — Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, Roman and, yes, the American Empire — have been built on it. Other yet-to-be-heard-from civilizations will follow.
To get an idea of when we are coming out of our current setback, you need to look next door to see when that young family thinks they have enough left over to buy season hockey tickets. A healthy, well-regulated economy is the key. When the general population is well fed and well entertained once more, there will once again be enough for art. In the meantime, just as for those workers in the Singapore factory, it’s important to keep busy.
PS: “Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason.” (Ayn Rand)
Esoterica: Based on experience in previous recessions, three strategies are available: (1) Maintain your prices — increasingly prove the investment value of your work and honour those customers who have invested in you in the past. (2) Continue to make first-rate work. In recessions, the bottom end can fall out completely. If anything, aim to improve quality and try to produce more important and challenging work. There will always be collectors of quality work. (3) If you can afford it, grab any opportunities to improve.
Art flourished in Great Depression
by Kishore M Sali, India
I am recently looking at a lot of websites and paintings related to art in Great Depression of America. I am rather surprised to read that Art actually flourished in the Depression years. While I have already come across reasons —
1) Government initiated some programmes which gave work to Artists.
2) People were attracted to all forms of Art because they wanted to look away from Depression worries.
3) Painters depicted either happy themes or the real depressive moments in depression.
However I have a query — Art naturally, unless is bought in good numbers, cannot flourish. How did this happen when less money was around?
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by Sheila Norgate, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada
I am sure I am not alone in feeling sometimes a bit dazed and confused by the downturn in the economy. It really is unprecedented, at least in my career. I have never seen anything like it. I was especially heartened that you listed as your #1 tip, the credo to maintain prices. There seems to be some confusion out there as to what is the best strategy. I was actually shocked that Chris Tyrell recently advised in an Opus Newsletter, that it was OK to lower them. I was also surprised when one of my galleries asked me to consider it. I have always understood that lowering prices constitutes a real disservice to the patrons who have paid full price for our work. But your point about proving the investment quality of our work really helps me feel strong and clear in my resolve to maintain them as they are. My strategy is going to be to work smaller which has the ‘effect’ of lowering prices without actually doing it.
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Compelled to produce
by Carl Purcell, Manti, UT, USA
When the market is unpredictable, our own output should not be. I recognize that whether anyone purchased my art or not, I would still be compelled to produce it. We still have to be working when the art spirit moves us. I have never been inspired to produce a fine painting while watching TV. It always happens while I am working. So economic downturn or not, I plan to be at my post when the wind fills my creative sails.
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Surviving in this economy
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
To survive in this economy, I have put aside my ego and taken steps to help myself. I have lowered my prices on 8×10 and smaller paintings, and have stopped framing work that I sell in the studio and on my web site. I am only framing paintings that go to my galleries. This plan is working fairly well for me, and I’m paying the bills. I don’t mind sitting on my larger paintings until the economy improves, as long as the small paintings are selling.
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Loyalty to supporters
by Betty Billups, Sandpoint, ID, USA
I totally agree with you, in regards to being true to one’s price-rate. I have had many suggest I “give” my work away at prices to encourage buyers. Having not raised my prices much in the past 15 years, it is like already “reducing” my prices! But on my gallery quality pieces, I stand firm on my prices! AND I also do not sell much!!!
Instead, what I have done is opened another web address, where I sell my “less-than-gallery-quality” unframed paintings at 1/3 to 1/4 the regular price… But I refuse to sell my gallery quality for anything less than what I’ve been asking for them! …not merely for myself and my own gain, but through loyalty to those who have already supported me.
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Worry solves nothing
by Beverly Claridge, Invercargill, New Zealand
If there is a silver lining in this economic downturn, it is contained in your Esoterica urging artists to “continue making first-rate work.” Try as I might, I simply cannot pump out high quality work quickly. So, I’m counting on this factor. I’ve also developed an improved business plan and made great efforts to network during our southern hemisphere summer. For me, it is important to remain positive and work even harder during this world money crunch. Worrying does not solve anything.
Time for a revelation
by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA
Sober and humbling assessment. In such an economic downturn, perhaps artists will find the deepest meaning of their work by exploring in places they never took the time to mine before. When life becomes a matter of ‘one day at a time,’ and we must reach out to gather whatever inspiration we can find. It can be as if looking really hard in the mirror with the brightest lighting ever. What you will see is that this is where it all comes to you. Speak to your reflection — have a conversation you have never had before. Meditate on this a bit and go back to your work, naked to your own truth and the reality of your circumstances, including those closest to you who will be sharing this journey with you. We must put in the effort to keep well, and carry forth.
Economics of the Soul 101
by Janice Tanton, Canmore, AB, Canada
I hold an unpopular position with most of my money-driven puzzled colleagues in that thinking about the financial reward or gain generated from a work of art is just plain singular, selfish thinking and the same thinking that got the world into this mess in the first place. I never paint inspired by what the final price of a piece may be once hung in the gallery, or even care if it will sell. There was a time 10 years ago that this was true…but not now. I opt instead for what moves me at the core of my being for my community and humanity, and into a final work of art, that which is speaking to me to have life breathed into it. In turn, that raw sensibility and passion of the soul finds its way through a work to a viewer and moves him or her. If you are creating for any other reason, you’re in the wrong line of work. End of story and all that matters.
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Because we must
by Martha Faires, Charlotte, NC, USA
All of the advice you have given is good whether in prosperity or in want. One should never be content with the quality of one’s work and, in recession or not, an artist will create because he must. I have a book on creative writing and the title says it all — Creative Writing for People Who Can’t Not Write by Kathryn Lindskoog. Perhaps you should write a parallel, “Creativity for People Who Can’t Not Create.” We will find ways to survive economic hard times that may mean working at other things, too, but dedicated artists will continue to work at their easels.
Fruits of plein air
by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada
Economics is topical in every discipline and tribe these days. We westerners, who are the top five percent of the world’s affluent, need to assess the real nature of art in our lives. Is success measurable only by monetary value and the lineup to your studio door? Are we makers of decoration or is art something deeper? It is easy to be philosophical if one isn’t dependent on a financial stream from their art making. So, if we depend on art for our survival, what to do in these days?
For myself, I have been working on a larger scale in my paintings and loving it, but because of my relative obscurity it is unlikely larger, more costly pieces, will sell well through this economic trough. So, I will spend this year focused on smaller, plein air paintings — I have so much to learn about painting from life. This period ahead may turn out to be one of my most fruitful.
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Interesting solution by a sculptor
by Janet Roberts, Brookfield, WI, USA
I am a painter, and am lucky to have a significant other who is also an artist… Gary creates large assemblages. He has been very successful showing them and has received many honors and awards. Sadly, due to their size, he has sold few, and now has to rent two storage units to hold them. He finally arrived at what I think is a courageous and brilliant idea: he sent out notices to the art community in Milwaukee announcing that he would “gift” assemblages to anyone who would like one. The only stipulations were that the recipient not dismantle them to sell the objects in a piece, and that Gary retain the right to show them if the occasion arose. When he first told me of this decision, I was quite upset, but after much thought realized how much better it would be for the assemblages to be in homes or institutions where they could be seen and enjoyed, rather than crammed in a dark storage unit. The response to this notice was wonderful, and not only artists have requested pieces, but museums and schools.
I felt this was such a unique solution to a problem many artists may have that I wanted to share it with you and your readers. If you are curious about Gary’s work, you can go to his website.
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No better than this
by Jim Lorriman, Shelburne, ON, Canada
I am almost laughingly optimistic. We, in the arts, have a very unique opportunity if we wish to take advantage of it. It may be one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. We can be reasonably certain that we are very close to the bottom and therefore the long-term direction will only be up. We can probably say this with an 80 to 90% certainty. Over the next 3 to 5 to 7 to 10 years we have a pretty good idea what the future holds.
My strategy is to keep making my high end pieces. I will inventory these for the return of better markets, selling them along the way when I can. As I have to make a living, I am also making pieces that cater to the price points that are currently viable. But when the market does return, for the first time in my life, I will have an in-depth inventory to present to it instead of always having to play catch up, as I have done in the past.
Also, as part of the strategy, I am doing professional development. I am in the process of completing the smARTist Telesummit that you suggested in your letter Second opinion. I have met many artists from across the globe and have been introduced to many new ideas. I am also taking a seminar in Philadelphia in mid-February to see if this is a good time to start building a profile in the US market.
I am excited about my work and exhilarated about my prospects. I don’t think that it gets any better than this.
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 Alex Nodopaka who wrote, “I decided to go the opposite way and am tripling prices on my artwork with bigger fish in mind. Meanwhile, while the catch is still far at sea I suggested to President Obama while he’s at it, in the process of rebuilding the American infrastructure, to make it pretty and hire a million artists.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Economics 101…