During the past couple of weeks this inbox has been overflowing with emails from artists concerned about the economy. “Things have been bad for a while — now they are going to get worse,” they say. “What can artists do?”
I’d like to thank those who put their trust in me to make a few recommendations. In actual practice most parts of the world have been through a relatively prolonged period of happy times. With loose money lying around, as there has been, irrational exuberance has prevailed and even sub-prime art has passed both critical and commercial muster.
Now with bank credit drying up, home values heading south and the stock market tanking, the decorative art market will suffer along with the general economy. On the other hand, it’s been my experience that in times of recession, collector and investment art can continue to thrive.
Just as unpleasant regulations had to be brought into economies rife with greed and profligacy, artists, who have no creditable regulating body, must bring in more self-regulation. This may involve longer hours, better work habits, better processes and more attention to quality. This also ties in to fair dealing and realistic but progressive pricing to go with the better art. My guess is that many borderline galleries will go under during the next while — just as many inadequate or unprepared artists will look once more to other employment.
Many years ago I had a solo show on the evening after a significant stock market crash. Fearing the worst, I showed up late only to find that the show had sold out. Fact is, when times are good people throw money at art, but when times are bad they turn to art as a possible life-enhancing investment. Funnily, it was a bunch of stock brokers who took home most of the art from that show. Funnily, I thought, people must need art more than other stuff.
Recessions are blessings. Historically, recessions and depressions have been times when “important” work gets made. Realistically, our financial outlay for equipment and art materials (unless your medium is gold) is relatively minor. In hard times artists need to get themselves as debt free as possible and invest in the joy of their vision.
Esoterica: Do not let yourself be blindsided by xenophobic myopia. Artists may act locally but are of the world and need to be on the world’s stage. Further, attitudes about art and collecting vary from country to country and even from city to city and town to town within countries. The operative word is “change.” Both adversity and good times invite change. In our case it has to come from within. Q: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a tire?” A: “Only one, but the tire really has to want to change.”
by Gwen Pentecost, Pinetop, AZ, USA
Good for you, Robert, for saying these things! I’d add further, that if one wants to embrace the abundance that can be out there in the art market, one must cheerfully assume it’s already come. I know in the gallery, that if I open up and am warm to my customers, whether or not they can buy, and know I’m going to have the money I need, the customers respond and open up. The second I think, “I’m not doing well,” my customers are out the door. Direct relationship.
by Elihu Edelson, Tyler, TX, USA
Maybe it’s because you live in Canada that you can see with rose-colored glasses. In the U.S. things are headed toward a major collapse, and recovery will take some doing. Also there are other factors concerning what sells. Art on the leading edge has a hard time selling. Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism got off to a rough start, but a number of artists lived long enough to prosper. In fact, some of the latter had been able to hang in through federal support of the arts (the WPA).The case of van Gogh hardly selling anything is very well known. At the present moment many see a major collapse in the works, and art might well be seen as a luxury. In short, artists should have back-up forms of sustenance, especially at the present time.
Not the end of the world
by Denise Bezanson, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Interesting what you said about art shows. Last Thursday when the market was tanking I sold a painting to a stock broker who said, “I really shouldn’t be doing this,” and then he grinned his bad boy grin and said, “I often do things I shouldn’t do.” What a great attitude.
Today when the market was tanking yet again I came to my art show and the first person I saw bought a painting from me, and not a small one either. People still have money, they will still buy art. Not everyone will be able to afford art, the market will tighten, but art sales will continue. It’s not the end of the world.
Invest in advertising
by Carole Lyles Shaw, Laurel, MD, USA
I participated in a group show this weekend and your letter definitely reflected my personal experience. Our overall foot traffic was down from past years, but sales were as good as past years! We didn’t change our pricing for our work, although we did try to have a range of price points reflected in the work that was available.
Collectors are out there — what we did learn is that we have to be more attentive to general publicity and invest in more advertising. Beside email, and mailing cards, one of our best investments was in local radio!
Far from money madness
by Rosemary Kralik
Far from the madness of money, I am a Yakherd who tends my creatures under an ever changing sky and this summer’s works include 30″ x 30″ acrylics of my friends. I’ve always hated acrylics but put aside my sentiments to delve into my 12 year old accrued collection of Golden materials. Thank you for breaking down unnecessary barriers, although I still love oil, my reach has broadened. After the personal experience of producing a work, it travels into the world to serve as an excuse to elicit responses from others; this I find interesting as though I’m watching a film of someone else. It is an ever expanding education.
Important not to worry
by Sara Spanjers, Tucson, AZ, USA
I am a new member and find your e-mails always relative and supportive of my art life!
On my walk this morning (before I read your e-mail) I was contemplating my upcoming shows with some of the very thoughts everyone else is concerned with. I began thinking this is exactly the fear-oriented state of mind that paralyzes our creativity as well as the economy. Thank you for your e-mail, because it is important to not worry about the future… it is like a rocking chair, you can rock (worry) as much and as long as you want but you are not going to get anywhere.
by Jean Fournier, San Francisco, CA, USA
Recently I did a commissioned painting for a CEO. I was lucky to get the gig. There is a huge difference in selling art when you have become firmly established. You become an investment for some collectors. On the other hand if you’re not an internationally established artist, the opportunities are quite meagre. This has been a real problem for me and many other artists as well. One of the reasons I have been able to catch some sales is because my stuff is affordable, which is not making me enough money. For the past two years sales have really fallen. I work as an art teacher to pick up the slack. When writing one of your letters you have to take into account that not all artists are established as you. This of course makes a huge difference.
Plan for economic cycle
by Amanda Jackson, Lincoln, UK
A couple of weeks ago one of my galleries closed a showroom and laid off his only remaining framer. The same day a gallery who’d seen my work on Painter’s Keys got in touch interested in work. The energy of dealers who want to weather this one is still there. This is my first time through the bust part of the economic cycle as a painter but I have a plan: raise the quality of ideas and technical expertise ever higher, take time to learn new stuff, paint more portraits and know that work that doesn’t sell now can be part of a superb exhibition for me as times improve again down the line. Make important work in times of trouble… I’m going to let that one sink in and see what happens.
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
It is indeed hard times but a time for artists to get in touch with reality. People don’t need to buy art. When tough economic times hit, they quit buying it. There are some folks whose wealth puts them above market concerns but these folks are few and far between and unavailable to most beginning and mid-career painters. Is there an answer for thriving in this environment? No. Artists have to shift to the survival mode by living leaner and smarter, being more creative in their marketing. We have to dig deep and plumb our inner resources to keep positive and productive. This may mean finding new friends who aren’t depressed, anxious artists. Other adjustments may need to be considered. Under this pressure many less committed artists will leave the tribe. Many galleries will shut their doors. The storm will end at some point and the survivors will emerge from our bunkers to survey a new landscape in the art market. I hope to be one of the survivors but, as in painting, there are no guarantees.
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
In these difficult times there is only one industry that rides the storm. That one industry is a bar! People will always have money to drink. But these times can be exciting for artists. When a recession hits and the economy is tanking, artists can rise to the challenge. The best thing an artist can do is dial up their work and increase the quality of what they are creating.
Artists need to create pieces that are up and beyond what our work is about. Using fabulous colour, unique texture and new found craftsmanship, we can far exceed people’s expectations of who we are as artists. It is this new buoyancy and optimism that will lead people back to our work and make the luxury item that is art an essential.
Time at the easel, not the TV
by Brian Kliewer, Rockland, ME, USA
I was thinking along these lines this afternoon when I caught a couple of comments on the business channel. “The best rise to the top in times like these,” “a flight to quality” was also mentioned. That immediately got me thinking how this all applies to artists.
With the Internet, the playing field has been levelled in a lot of ways and we all have a better chance at recognition. But there are so many artists out there, how does a person decide? That “flight to quality” comment comes to mind. You’re right. We play a big part in the decision-making by the decisions we make at the easel ourselves. When the going gets tough… as they say. We just have to work harder. Maybe less CNN and more painting? As artists, we already know what it’s like to deal with a tight economy. We’re already used to the idea of making a pair of shoes last a Guinness Book length of time.
In an interview once, Jamie Wyeth was asked about a recent sale of one of his paintings to the actor Tom Arnold. He replied, “Who’s Tom Arnold?” I would say Mr. Wyeth spent much more time at the easel than in front of the TV.
What do we value?
by Mary Buergin, New Boston, NH, USA
Art is not now, nor has it ever been an “essential item.” But we must ask ourselves, “What things do we value in our society? What do we choose to surround ourselves with?” It has been said we live in a throw-away society. The amount of goods that we produce that end up in our landfills is staggering! It is in times like these that we should be realizing how much of our income is being spent on things that will be thrown away! But art is not one of those things. It is something we will enjoy for the rest of our lives and then we will pass it on to the next generation. As our society becomes more mindful of not wasting money or resources, art may well replace what has been thought of in the past as an “essential item.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Art in hard times…
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 Margaret Horrocks of Diss, UK, who wrote, “Your artists might like to suggest to tempted buyers that good art will hold its value and may be a better “investment” than some — and if you enjoy the art then who cares if its value goes up or down.”
And also Joe Faith who wrote, “My hope is that, with the absence of ‘loose’ money, the buyer will look to his own heart for the connection that a great piece can give and not the value that the market/dealer promises. When that happens then a purchase promotes good art.”
And also Diane Eason of Calgary, AB, Canada who wrote, “I think our soft-sell days are over. It is interesting with these terrible market crashes for everyone just how it will influence the artists’ paintings and art work. I believe that the mood swing of the world can and will play a role in today’s art. If nothing else people will be holding on to whatever is near and dear to them.”
And also Rosemary Conroy who wrote, “Thank you so much for this positive counterpoint! My sales are holding steady and I think it’s because I have been working hard at promoting myself, painting a lot and staying focused on the positive.”
And also Catherine Foster of Poulsbo, WA, USA who wrote, “As an artist, I plug on through. I am experiencing an explosion in my artwork with sales increased. For me it is focusing on adding value to the world through my art. As an artist and a healer, I am finding that people are paying high prices for my work. Actually the higher priced items are selling better than my small lower priced artworks. All I can figure is that the people who have money are feeling the value in my artwork. Here’s to all artists thriving in the world today!”