Rare and fair

Dear Artist, After my recent letter about the art market returning to happy times, I received a lot of personal emails. Some were from folks who said I was a spoiled brat and out of touch with the misery of today’s painters. Others told me I had a better grasp of economics than J.P. Morgan.

Ann Freedman, president of now defunct, formerly prestigious Knoedler and Company, New York

I admit there was something I missed in my letter. It was about rarity. Art is like lobster. Ten years ago lobstermen were selling lobster off the boat for $6 a pound. These days they are lucky to get $2. It seems global warming has caused a bloom that has made them altogether too available. Lobsters aren’t rare anymore. It’s all about supply and demand. In the meantime, restaurants struggle to keep prices high and convince gourmets that lobster is still a luxury. It isn’t. Anytime soon, lobster could be as cheap as chicken. These days, many painters are stuck with large inventories. There are many reasons. With all the workshops and learning opportunities now available, more painters are alive and well than ever before. Since 2008, fewer galleries are working to represent artists, and fewer customers are ready to buy their art. Further, with the advent of the Internet, the number of do-it-yourselfers online has flooded the market. Paintings aren’t rare anymore. To sell art effectively, you need to keep things rare and fair. Rothkos, DeKoonings and Pollocks, for example, fetched mighty prices because they were “controlled rare.” That is, dealers got hold of them and made sure the work got to the right places in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, these painters are also remarkably easy to fake. Recent events focusing on Ann Freedman, president of now defunct, formerly prestigious Knoedler and Company, managed to sell 63 Abstract Expressionist fakes, including the names mentioned above. U.S. authorities have charged Glafira Rosales with employing an elderly Queens resident Pei-Shen Qian to paint them. In changing times, “economic disequilibrium” can be the norm. Throw in rotten lobsters, and things get even more out of whack. The phrase “supply and demand” was first used by James Denham-Steuart in 1767. Pioneer economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo both used the term. For artists who might continue to thrive, rarity needs to be built in to what we do, both in our understanding of our times and the daily conduct of our creative lives. Best regards, Robert PS: “If desire for goods increases while its availability decreases, its price rises. On the other hand, if availability of the good increases and the desire for it decreases, the price comes down.” (14th Century Arab scholar Ibn Taymiyyah) Esoterica: What’s an artist to do? Working through reliable galleries tends to stabilize prices and manage availability. Dedicated artists are naturally going to produce more or less work at different points in their careers and spanning varying economic conditions. But the competitive (and welcome) free-for-all taking place right now is a challenge to some of the better galleries. Like lobster restaurants, they try to maintain choice, quality and price. They also stand behind their loyal artists and stay out of trouble.   Different situation in Australia by Shirley Peters, Putney, NSW, Australia  

“The lift”
watercolour painting
by Shirley Peters

Your style of gallery is a rarity here in Sydney. Our galleries show one artist at a time. I had my show in July, and I’ll be lucky to have another one at the same time next year. I can’t just deliver work and expect it to be hung next week. You have said in the past that your work is spread over a number of galleries? I suppose you have them in different places throughout the country? Was that hard to organize, or did an ‘agent’ do it for you? With one show a year, internet sales are the only way to sell. (RG note) Thanks for that information, Shirley. In my case I used no agent to distribute my work to galleries in other cities. The galleries took them in one place because they were accepted in other places. I try to give my galleries exclusivity in their areas and I don’t worry about them if they don’t do any business for awhile. Some have shows and others never do. There are 2 comments for Different situation in Australia by Shirley Peters
From: Jim van Geet — Sep 05, 2013

Don’t quite agree with you Shirley.In my (and my artist associates) experience the situation here in Australia is similar to the US. We can and do access galleries around the country and most of them have multi-artist exhibitions. BTW I like your work.

From: Mike Barr — Sep 07, 2013

Most galleries in Australia do hold group exhibitions but it is rare for one gallery to show an artist twice in a year, even if they are in group shows, particularly in small cities like Adelaide. Some galleries do have a section that run at the same time as major exhibits with a mixture of all the gallaries artists works, but you cant be guaranteed that your work will be hung at any one time.

  Reverse psychology in supply and demand by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada  

“Du Maurier Classic Golf Tournament”
advertising illustration
by Richard Gagnon

Supply and demand is a funny thing. Typically, price goes up as the supply (rarity) goes down. In some items this tails off. There is only so much someone is willing to pay for chewing gum, assuming it does not contain heroin. Yachts, cars and paintings seem to be the exception although even in auctions for such as a Monet or a Bugatti Royale, buyers will only pay so much.

There was an interesting episode a few years ago (yes I’m dating myself) when Chivas Regal was a regular Scotch selling for about $6 a bottle. The manufacturer decided to up the price by 50 cents a bottle expecting that demand would drop off but that over all they would make more. It didn’t happen as expected. Supposedly the added price made it appear to be up scale and distinguished the buyer as someone who could afford the ‘best.’ It was still the same whiskey. The price was raised another 50 cents and the same phenomenon occurred. This repeated itself until the price hit in the order of $13.50 a bottle at which point the sales did tail off a little and the increases were stopped. It was still the same whiskey.

Supply and Demand does not always work as expected. If it did, my paintings would be exorbitantly expensive as I have not produced any in many years. Perhaps I should get it in gear.
There are 3 comments for Reverse psychology in supply and demand by Richard Gagnon
From: Ludwig Kuhn — Sep 06, 2013

In blind tests people actually like inexpensive wines better than expensive ones. But some people enjoy drinking wine more when they pay a lot for it. This goes for some people and art.

From: Desmond Payne — Sep 08, 2013

Most of the truly good art these days can be bought for under $30,000. And a hell of a lot of good art can be bought for under $1000. The people who buy the expensive stuff–de Koonings, etc, do so for other reasons than esthetics.

From: TMP — Sep 12, 2013

I was wondering why Chivas Regal is considered good stuff – I always thought it tasted crude.

  Viva free enterprise by Stevie Denny, Mesa, AZ, USA  

“Red rock sunset”
oil painting
by Stevie Denny

Robert, I think your post about today’s art market compares apples to oranges. Although I’ve painted as a hobby for many years, I never really had time to pursue it passionately until I retired from my banking career five years ago. I know that I will never be a Robert Genn or a Richard Schmid, and that my work likely will not be in a major gallery. But does that mean I shouldn’t try to sell my work because the prices I charge may affect the rest of the art market? (By the way, I hardly think that the prices for my little paintings will affect anything.) You’re right that there is a flood of artists trying to sell work right now; and one reason is there are many retiring Baby Boomers like myself who are now in the position of being able to pursue their passion. So be it. Maybe this is part of the natural evolution of art. I see many different markets for art. Your audience may be the upscale, serious art collector who primarily purchases from galleries and enjoys that entire personal experience; while mine may be the less-sophisticated mass market, maybe younger, who don’t mind purchasing a piece online. There will naturally be very different price points for those two audiences. I think there’s room for all of us, and that one shouldn’t necessarily be critical of the other. Viva free enterprise!
There are 5 comments for Viva free enterprise by Stevie Denny
From: Phil Chadwick — Sep 06, 2013

Really like your colour choice… and I quite agree with your observations. I too am a Boomer and lucky enough to have an OK pension. I really don’t care if the art sells. Art feeds the soul and I expect it does for you as well.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 06, 2013

The small version of your painting is monumental and grand…yet when I saw the large version the main thing I saw was your signature! Somehow it jumped out and introduced a very different mood.

From: Mishcka — Sep 06, 2013

Susan, maybe the painting is very small making the signature seem very large. It didn’t bother me at all. I love the painting. I think this painting could be used as a study for a large painting. I would have cut off (lowered) the top half of the sky though. If you do that you will note the “form” the sky takes loosely mirrors the form of the dark foreground, making the sky an integral part of the whole painting as opposed to being separate from it. Stevie, don’t be too modest. Your painting is every bit as good as Robert’s and most that I’ve seen. Get larger and get it out there.

From: John F. Burk — Sep 06, 2013

Gorgeous color put down well. Now get there and enjoy your second career for all it’s worth.

From: Anonymous — Sep 07, 2013

Ditto on the signature. A casual first name may suggest a favor gift from a friend, unless your name is so distinctive (such as Paloma)and famous a surname isn’t necessary. A proportionate signature to size would not detract from an otherwise very nice painting.

  Substandard work widely available by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Casual pose”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

There will always be those who see the cup half empty with no idea how to fill it. We are all subject to news of others’ successes. While it may sting a bit to see others thrive while some languish, your comment on rarity is an important fact. Obviously, artists will experience like situations if one does this long enough with sincerity and commitment. The dilemma I would like to pose is the fact that there may be too many “artists” presenting art work that doesn’t measure up (I can hear the naysayers now — Who determines what is art?) But, in fact, too many inferior works from less experienced artists are now clouding the waters. Anyone reading this will admit they have been in shows or exhibited in galleries where some of the work they were hanging beside shouldn’t have been accepted. This is a problem that will not soon disappear.
There are 3 comments for Substandard work widely available by Rick Rotante
From: Brigitte Nowak — Sep 05, 2013

You are absolutely right, Rick. An additional “problem” is that with potential art buyers less knowledgeable about the elements that are generally considered to determine quality, some of this “inferior” art finds a ready market, often more easily than “better” work. An unfortunate situation, perhaps, but as long as we make “products” available for other people to purchase, it is those other people who determine the market value of the goods that we are producing.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Sep 06, 2013

Rick, I always enjoy reading your responses. You are right in what you are saying. Even in the better magazines, now, there are artists purchasing ads and showing work that I would not want to hang beside in a show. That sounds awful, but is a fact. It does not mean I don’t wish them good. And, I hope they continue to improve! Maybe other artists feel the same about my work (I have been told that by a rather uppity artist — a couple of years ago). The internet will always be overrun with people doing art and happy they are getting to do so. We wish them well.

From: Anonymous — Sep 06, 2013

A few years ago I made the mistake of being in a group show with mostly new artists. They did produce some good paintings but I have been painting for 40 years and my prices were higher than theirs. They wanted me to conform to their price range so there would not be such a disparity. I have sold paintings in my price range and I would have lost credibility with my buyers if I lowered my prices. (One person had a painting 5ft square for $500.) I feel there’s a lack of respect by some for artists who have “paid their dues” and developed their craft and aesthetic depth over the years.

  Lobsters thrive with fewer predators by Jim Kingston, ME, USA  

“Yellow barn”
original painting
by Jim Kingston

Regarding your lobster analogy: Lobsters are less scarce for sure. But why? Global warming probably plays a role but the diminishing stocks of their predators, hake, haddock, halibut and cod are more than likely the cause. We have fished these species to nearly the point of no return. My advice as far as lobster goes: Don’t eat lobster in a restaurant. Go to Maine: $3.49 lb.   There are 3 comments for Lobsters thrive with fewer predators by Jim Kingston
From: Jackie Knott — Sep 05, 2013

Great contrasting geometrics; lovely texture.

From: Anonymous — Sep 05, 2013

Love that yellow barn, Jim. That’s the kind I would covet for my livingroom wall!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 06, 2013

This inspires me!

  Availability encourages joy by Estelle Goldblatt, Austin, TX, USA   Was the world of music better off when young children were encouraged to play a musical instrument, and people played chamber music to entertain their guests, and couples danced to live music… Or was it diluted? I think that the ready availability of music elevated everyone who came in contact with it. Of course, those who make a business of music may “hear” things differently. Commerce is not really about love… now is it? There are 2 comments for Availability encourages joy by Estelle Goldblatt
From: Sue — Sep 06, 2013

Well put.

From: Anonymous — Sep 06, 2013

Estelle, Estelle, that does not change the premise that over-saturation dulls the senses and rarity hones the focus and senses. We can all enjoy a foot stompin’ good time, but also we can reach an emotional high with art that melts our hearts with it’s aesthetic truth, a rarity for which most of us are reaching

  Taking a vow of poverty by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

“Blue Nana”
original painting
by Sharon Knettell

Ah, yes — selling them. My first thought day in and day out is doing them – which is probably why my bottom line has always been a bit wobbly. Manet (my favorite painter) sold little during his lifetime and endured heaps of rude criticism. A final insult was that the model for his famous painting “Olympia” was accepted into the French Salon, when the painting was originally not. I could add two underpaid compatriots in the same bateau: Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne. My most important teacher, Eugene Tonoff, said artists have to take a vow of poverty. In a query to artists in the New York Times by the critic Holland Cotter, the question was, “What inspired you to go into the visual arts.” One person wrote, “I always wanted to live in poverty and be maligned and devalued by society and the business world. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.” There are 4 comments for Taking a vow of poverty by Sharon Knettell
From: Phil Chadwick — Sep 06, 2013

Well spoken… and with great humour! A letter found on Van Gogh when he died mentioned “things are very strained bewteen dealers in pictures of dead artists and living artists”. Nothing has changed in 150 years. Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime…

From: Bill Lopez — Sep 06, 2013

The vow of poverty is just an admission of incompetence in that area. Even a guy who loves to make donuts has to learn how to market them if he wants to keep doing it.

From: Sharon Knettell — Sep 07, 2013

Thanks Phil!

I think you have to have a ready case of the giggles to survive this biz.

Manet had abuse heaped upon him and sold very few paintings in his life time. People laughed and make fun of his exhibited pictures and they were parodied without mercy in the humor magazines of the day.

Cezanne hardly sold any as well, yet these two men were sought out by the cognoscenti and the young avante garde artists of the day. The market was not ready for them then- since then of course, now they are considered giants- so no amount of marketing will help if a public is not ready- at least that’s my excuse.

  The fatal flaw by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada  

“Algonquin Spruce Sentinel”
original painting
by Phil Chadwick

The law of “supply and demand” has a fatal flaw when it comes to artists. Living artists easily create a supply of paintings while the demand from the 3% of the populace that purchase art can be easily over-satisfied. Dead artists don’t paint nearly as much so if there is any demand, the remaining supply is quickly consumed with the resulting upward pressure on prices. Many artists find they can make a pretty good living from their art after they are dead.     There are 3 comments for The fatal flaw by Phil Chadwick
From: Anonymous — Sep 06, 2013

Right! LOL! Good one.

From: Muts Watanabe — Sep 08, 2013

The most common reason why artists thrive after they are dead is that they are not there to mess up the contracts.

From: tatjana — Sep 12, 2013

One teacher once told me that dead artists do better because while they are alive, they are “in the way”. Apparently our art is supposed to have a life of its own, without our interference.

  Buy on fleeting availability by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Wind blown”
original painting
by Diane Overmyer

When I owned a gallery I realized that local people nearly always were more interested in art by the artists who lived in other parts of the country or world. I sold local art more to the travelers who came through the gallery than the people from town. Seldom did I ever sell a piece of art to a visitor who lived in the same area as an artist that I represented. I found this a bit curious, but I thought about it and realized that I also sold more work through our changing exhibits than I did from the art that was in the year-round gallery. I never went this far, but I often wondered if I had only had changing exhibits with different artist’s work if I would have hit the perfect way to sell even more work! I think people would have been even more enticed to purchase work, if they knew that they may never have a chance to see it again in person. There is 1 comment for Buy on fleeting availability by Diane Overmyer
From: Scott Powell — Sep 08, 2013

Newness brings new opportunities for dealer enthusiasm. Galleries who change stuff regularly tend to thrive. Gallery windows should be changed every day.

  Facts of the current art market by Mary-Ann Jack-Bleach, London, ON, Canada  

“Tracy Root on the outcrop”
original painting
by Mary-Ann Jack-Bleach

I wasn’t surprised to read that people took you to task about the art market being in happier times again. I do agree with you, however, that people are once again buying art. However, with the enormous number of artists out there peddling their wares, purchasers do have more to select from and they certainly are being picky. The fact is that mediocre art will not sell. If a painting or sculpture appeals to someone, they are more likely to buy it. However, even if they like the subject matter, if the frame is “off” or cheaply put together or there is a part of the painting that just doesn’t seem right, there will be no sale. It has to be superb, different and have an appeal that translates into a feeling inside of someone that screams out, “I want to take that painting home; I have to possess that.” Art is an impulsive buy for the most part, and that is why we have a policy of letting patrons take the painting home as soon as they have purchased it… before they get a chance to think about what other necessities of life they need. There is 1 comment for Facts of the current art market by Mary-Ann Jack-Bleach
From: Nate Langley — Sep 08, 2013

There is a new breeze in the air. It is one of doing it yourself and not being dependent on experts. The experts have let us down. So have governments, corporations, etc

  Lessons from a challenging time by Deborah Strong, Langley, BC, Canada  

“I’ve Never Seen a Purple Horse”
hand-painted silk, 28 x 28 inches
by Deborah Strong

Your letter articulated what for me had been a self-taught suspicion. I have always maintained a part-time art practice but five years ago I left my “real” job to pursue my dream of life as a full-time fine artist. Although the timing was good in terms of my own circumstances, it coincided with the global economic downturn and my first year as a full-time artist was dismal. I brought in less art-related income than previous part-time years. However, I kept my head down, kept making art, kept focusing on making art that was true to my own passion and vision, and kept putting myself “out there.” I worked very hard, learned a lot, and now things are better. I also kept telling myself if I could make it through this rough patch and establish myself, I’d be in clover when the economy improved. Last year I had what was for me a promising financial year, and this year I will shortly surpass it so I am realizing last year wasn’t just a fluke. Given artists are the proverbial canaries in the economic coal mine, I figure things must be turning around. And to my joy, it’s becoming evident that making a living as an artist — and a decent living, not just scraping by — is possible! One of the things I learned over these last challenging years was about unique-ness. I have worked to ensure my art stands out from the rest, that it portrays my own particular view of the world, and that it is, if I do say so myself, good. With all the art that’s available, by artists with widely ranging levels of skill and talent, not to mention the abundance of giclee prints that only serve to confuse the general public, my conclusion has been that the way to make it in this business is to stand out while being true to yourself, and to keep prices fair. My prices could stand to go up and they will if my sales continue to be as brisk as they have been, but I’m not rushing it. And I will continue to devote myself to getting better at making the art I feel so passionate about. That is my life’s work.

I have three quotes stuck to my computer monitor that help me maintain my focus. One is by Emile Zola: “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work,” one by Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” and another by Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss and the life you should be living is the one you are living.” There are 2 comments for Lessons from a challenging time by Deborah Strong
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Sep 06, 2013

Deborah, you said this wonderfully. Your story could be mine, too. I believe that talent is little, practice is much … and continued learning will always be strived for. Kudos to you for continuing on. Being true to ourselves is probably the biggest lesson to learn. And, figuring a way to stand out, be seen, harder than ever!

From: Arlo Michelli — Sep 08, 2013

It is now being understood that following your bliss has been oversold.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Rare and fair…

From: Susan Holland — Sep 02, 2013

I keep wondering whether the proliferation of prints put out by artists is confusing the art market. I would not want the original I buy to be replicated all over the place in prints in other people’s living rooms. If people are buying it for decor, then good, if the colors work. But if they are buying it for the art, why would they want something the neighbor could go online to get a print of?

Will the lonely emerging artist ever get a sale if much more professional art can be bought as a print? Even worse, if the print has been “enhanced” by the addition of real brush marks…something wrong here, to my way of thinking.

From: John Ferrie — Sep 02, 2013

Well, if you need a Rothko, Dekooning or Pollock in your life, then maybe you need to really think about where you are. Let’s face it, it is paint squeezed out a tube and smeared on a canvas. These artists have become so branded on post cards, address books and umbrellas, so why would anyone want an original. And if 65 lost masterpieces by the three biggies suddenly arrive at auction and nobody suspects they are fake, then who is the BIGGER idiot, the buyer or the seller!
I fall into that category of new “doityourselfers” who have hung out a shingle on line. I have learned everything the hard way. And while it is my experience that the artist does more for the gallery than the gallery does for the artist (also, 90% of the money is made by 10% of the artists) galleries are NOT the answer. In this day people are far more savvy and seem to buy what they love as opposed to buy what they are told is important.
If you have a knack, then GREAT, but it is another 10,000 hours before the world starts to take notice. Currently, I am at 4998 hours and counting….@johnferrie.com

From: Mike Barr — Sep 02, 2013

From: Jane Appleby — Sep 02, 2013

There is certainly more art out there then ever before but there are also more buyers including those that trust a gallery to display authentic work, those that surf the web, know the artist or find themselves waiting at a ferry parking lot for instance and buy something to remember their trip by.
This was my latest sale.
Knowing what Robert says about the market. I will stop painting lobsters and hope to switch to …. angus beef perhaps. However, I was never good at painting cows so I guess I’ll stick to throwing paint on canvas the way I do. I do believe art will always be admired and collected and how we get it out there may have to be rare and fair as well. Keep on painters, we have work to do! Jane

From: Paula Green — Sep 03, 2013

This sounds like a case of sour grapes to me. The internet is the way now, like it or not.

From: Leo — Sep 03, 2013

I am like John, I have learned the hard way. My experience has been that many galleries are owned by those who would not be able to recognize quality art if it came through their door. Some seem to have very little art understanding of what makes one work of art better than another. It seems to me that they are under the impression that if a work looks like similar to other work they have seen, then it is good art. Galleries that took the risk of hanging work that had never been seen became the first galleries to hang the great masters. Being a gallery owner is risky business and not for the novice or the faint of heart.
I would add that it is not only a saturation of art and do-it-yourself artists that have lowered the scarcity of art, or flooded the market, but it is also the lack of risk of the gallery owners to stand behind new and inventively, creative work. Most galleries I see have the same style of painters. The names of the painters change from gallery to gallery, but the same styles are repeated over and over ad nauseum.

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 03, 2013

Yes, but may the lobster check in and give his opinion? He may have been rare at one time and is plentiful now, but he is still fair: lobster (your art) has a sweet taste like nothing else and is individually a perfectly lovely crustacean; fresh steamed lobster, crack the shell, dip textured white meat in melted butter (painted well) … one of the finer dishes ever served to man.
Regardless of the cost at the dock or in a restaurant the lobster will always be what he is, either prolifically or not (keep painting). He doesn’t care how many other lobsters there are – he will be the best lobster (be the best painter you can be) he can be.
Fair is far more important than rare. Lobster won’t ever become as common as chicken but we all know even the lowly chicken can become an epicurean masterpiece in the hands of a great chef (painter).
Ask yourself if you never sell another painting would you still paint. Lobster will not stop being lobster if they never make it to the linen table cloth and china of a fine dining establishment.

From: Anonymous — Sep 03, 2013

From: Anonymous also — Sep 03, 2013

One of the main problems I find with my galleries is that some of them are constantly bringing out artists who paint similar to me, are not quite as good, but are at a lower price. Fair?

From: Scott Kahn — Sep 03, 2013

Are you suggesting artists build in “rarity” into their work to make their art more commercially desirable and saleable? That is ridiculous and impossible. The vast majority of artists are derivative and lack originality. Artists who are “rare” are exactly that: few and far between. I do agree that these economic times have made it difficult for *all* artists to survive … both rare and ordinary, but suggesting that an artist build in rarity into their work is not the answer because it’s impossible.

From: Scott Kahn — Sep 03, 2013

Regarding the comment about the proliferation of prints destroying the art market: there are two sides to this coin. Some collectors may object to copies of an original they own hanging all over the place while other owners of original art work may find satisfaction that they own the original which might actually increase in value because of the copies/prints. The problem with art market right now has nothing to do with the proliferation of prints. In fact, I think prints offer another way for artists to reach a wider audience for their work at more affordable prices than an original. Prints can actually help the reputation and renown of an artist.

From: Dwight — Sep 03, 2013

May I say again, John Ferrie (above) is probably the one who is most nearly right. He has made the same points on this page before and it still rings true. I have been painting and selling my art for over 50 years and now find myself somewhat uninterested in getting into what John has figured out. BUT, if I was younger I’d do my best to find out what he has done (I do know a little from this page and his internet offerings) and what he knows. This I’m sure of, he works hard at painting AND selling. If you’re younger than me and worried about your place in the art market, I think he has the answer.

From: Suzette Fram — Sep 03, 2013

Robert, you finally got ‘it’. It’s all about supply and demand. (I’ve been saying this to anyone who would listen for some time now). However, in your ending paragraph, you still stay “Working through reliable galleries tends to stabilize prices and manage availability.”

You’re still missing a very important point here. By far the greatest majority of artists will never obtain gallery representation, because there are fewer and fewer galleries, and most of them take on very few new artists every year.

What’s an artist to do? If you need the income to survive, get a job and paint in your free time. If you don’t, you’re one of the lucky ones, you can paint for yourself. Keep showing your work but learn to accept the new reality. There are too many lobsters out there and yours is just one of them. Sound cold? Yes, but it’s reality.

From: Monika Smith — Sep 03, 2013

Well said. Anyone can make art these days and have more means to sell than ever before. When those greats created work, we were just over 3 billion people, that’s more than doubled today, including, probably the number of artists. And, the way that art is marketed, done and supported today is far different from anytime.
Artists do need to get their entrepreneur on! However, to succeed requires as much entrepreneurial skills and efforts doesn’t seem to be much of a discussion. What artist would ever spend 50% of their time building their sales efforts, marketing and administration of their work? Yet, that is what businesses do to keep their businesses viable; create the environment where work will sell.
Sure, lobsters are great food and tasty, but, when something is common, you ignore it. Like the anecdote of very early English settlers did in USA. Lobster so common it was used as fertilizer. Or that those same settlers starved because they didn’t recognize the food around them or that their agricultural practicers needed to be changed. Art isn’t an endangered species, it never will be. So, enjoy what you do and be ruthless… Even the ‘greats’ made crap, which we see at second rate shows all the time, but even that crap sells well because of name, branding, backstory and similiarly valued work. Cheers, Monika

From: Elmo Flagel — Sep 03, 2013

Regarding Suzette’s second para above, I would say that by far the majority of artists will never attain gallery representation because they are not good enough. Raising quality should be an artist’s only aim. The rest takes care of itself.

From: Pema Wangmo Gilman — Sep 03, 2013

Whatever happened to painting for the joy of painting? Perhaps artists could re-visit why they make art. Is it to earn a living or share the joy of their vision? The prices for works of art has put them out of reach for the average person who appreciate the art but can’t afford to purchase it. Works of art, IMHO, should be available to a wider audience; NOT made rare so that it garners high prices and lines the pockets of the sellers (which is rarely the artist).

From: Ruth Ford — Sep 03, 2013

What I call “The China Syndrome” is alive and well in my community in a large city in the US. Businesses, restaurants and local stores that hang lots of art are turning to artists and paintings from China. They express regret that they can’t use local art but say the Chinese paintings are much more affordable. How does one stay competitive in this new global Internet world?

From: Ignacio Rosenberg — Sep 03, 2013

Say what you will. Eating lobster is still a pain in the ass.

From: Ellie Siskind — Sep 03, 2013

My partnership with galleries ended many years ago when I became a widow and did not wish to bestow 50% of the sales price on my gallery owner, tho’ he was the most sought-after in town. Instead, I worked at becoming more and more visible in the region, in addition to my six-hour a week teaching job, lasting 30 years! Eventually I got my work out through shows, loaning work to a trusted friend with a condominium in the heart of our city, showing at the art school where I teach. Local and regional museums bought my work, one sale quite recently. So you might say I became a big fish in a little pond – a conservative, midwestern city.

My work is figurative and involves the human condition altho the prevailing subject in this region is landscape.

From: Carole Pigott — Sep 03, 2013

I agree with what you are saying – in both letters – but one thing that seems to be missing is a discussion of quality. There is a lot of art out there for sure – but at what level?.

“When everything is art there is no art.” (unknown)

From: Carol Morrison — Sep 03, 2013

I have drawn and painted as long as I can remember, but was also fascinated by plants and animals. When I was a teenager, I had to make the difficult choice between art and science. I chose to become a research scientist, which lead to a fascinating career that ended with the cut-back of federal research in 1997. I had always continued painting with classes and workshops, so after the closure of my laboratory obtained a BFA degree at NSCAD university, starting my new career. I realise I have joined a new generation of older artists who are eager to follow their dream after years of making a living at something else. Thanks to our medical system we are fit and active and are not ready to sit and do nothing. Unfortunately, though, we add to the number of artists trying to make a living!

From: Elle Fagan — Sep 03, 2013

This week’s focus is followup on the truly fine recommendation that I find a proper ADAA dealer for my art sales. Your article mentions the wisdom of that move, just as my week’s tasks line up for attention – now that one will get priority.

From:Sheila Psaledas — Sep 03, 2013

This message rings true in my opinion. Sometimes I feel like I’m all over the place in my striving to be original. At a recent art show I displayed ” Forsythia”, oil on panel. I felt it was one of my paintings that reflected my true style, an original approach. It sold during that show, but at another art show this season I saw another work with the same look. Oh well.

From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Sep 03, 2013

It also boils down to “what the market will bear” or what can you get for a particular item at a particular time in a particular context of economy and culture. One town won’t pay what another city will.

As for lobsters, they are bottom feeders and feed on poop, which there obviously is a lot of nowadays, more than in the past.

Esoterica: My brother advised me not to eat the lobster around Peaks Island, Maine, because the Bush family’s island was right next door and the sewage went directly into the bay.

From: Gail Shepley — Sep 03, 2013

My mother saw my potential and drive when I was 12 years old and encouraged me to develop my talent. Now my work is in an art bank (it makes more money than I do in travelling art exhibits), I have a couple of published books of my illustrations with another poet (illustrators don’t get royalties) and I never really made it “big” in the art world as I thought I would. I don’t have a retirement package even though I ended up teaching art for over twenty years on my own and in a cultural arts centre…sigh, I am not rich, unsure of the future and so decidedly grateful for the life I’ve enjoyed, with all the angst and the pain and frustration and joy and love…sometimes money is not the answer to happiness and gratitude for what we have is better. Love to all of you, this crazy world and thanks to whatever that I can still be creative for now. Peace.

From: anonymouse — Sep 03, 2013

Art making is an avocation, not a vocation, as evidenced by the many famous artists who starved in their lifetimes, compelled to make their art regardless of the consequences. Those who care more about making money find something else to do.

From: Don Shinozaki — Sep 03, 2013

Availability is the prolific artist’s curse. His speed and cleverness are contrary to principles of supply and demand. Better to be a dull, plodding, slow artist.

From: Bob Ragland — Sep 03, 2013

Time never sleeps. See the barn, paint the barn, sell the barn. Do it again and again. Live your own art life. I do. KAIZEN!!!!!

From: John F. Burk — Sep 03, 2013

Before painting really became a career, I was a successful advertising creative, an art director and later creative director. One of the adages we knew well was that in bad economic times, it was easier to build a name and credentials for a client, provided he kept excelling at his work and promoted it wisely, honestly and fairly. The reason being that much of the advertising clutter would be diminished by people defensively saving the money.

Well I’m no longer an advertising creative. That door closed on me with a slam in 2008. But another door opened, and I am now happily painting like my life depends on it. It does, and I love it. I work hard at it and I can’t wait to see what I will have learned before I’m done. Along the way, I’ve picked up some really nice galleries in some really nice markets.

I’m not succeeding as people maybe did in the ‘good old days’, but I’m succeeding in a tough time. My message to those who wrote in would be to find a way. If I can do it, they certainly can too.

From: Richard Smith — Sep 03, 2013

So here’s an idea, as a bronze sculptor I’ve always entertained the idea of doing limited editions of two or three million and raking in the bucks. As I’ve never really sold much anyway I’ve never cast more than one. But what if I market the fact I only make one-offs? Figure there’s any point to it? Love getting your letters

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Sep 03, 2013

Not too concerned with the market, I paint what I think I would want, if I were buying art.

From: Paula Dougherty — Sep 04, 2013

From: Dave Skrypnyk — Sep 04, 2013

I went to a local art club show this weekend. It wasn’t too bad, but out of some fifty or sixty paintings all were done too often pictures that every art club member anywhere has done the same of dozens of times over. Two pieces I felt were unique.

Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Renoir, Pollock, Warhol, yourself, Emily Carr, etc. are rare because of uniqueness.

I like your reasoned letters. I like that you are still, as you were in the seventies when visiting prisoners, giving of your knowledge to people so freely. You are an inspiration.

From: Robert P. Britton Jr. — Sep 04, 2013

I have a BS in Business Management and Economics. While I’m not a world renowned expert, I have known the truths in the art world are just as you mentioned: There are millions of artists out there creating billions of works world wide, and the market is so very saturated. Some of the works are spectacular, some are good, but lots of it is mediocre and commonplace

Rare and Fair. Spot on.

Centuries ago, the materials for painting were VERY rare, the schools and the sponsorship for a talented apprentice to go were rare. Supply was ridiculously low.

Today, materials for painting are everywhere from Walmart to Jerry’s Artarama. Courses are cheap. Workshops are everywhere. People don’t apprentice under masters anymore…they are happy with just painting OK paintings.

There are those few who study, who practice, who are MENTORED by today’s good artists, and many go on to sell successfully.

Then there’s the rest of us. We’re ok. We don’t produce something ‘fair’, nor ‘rare’. We produce the commonplace, the hackneyed, the trite. We produce those works in piles and piles of canvas and panels and flood ebay and etsy and the local consignment shops with our OK / mediocre everyday works.

Fair and rare.

That is the key. A painting that is fair, done with quality, good design, good treatment, etc., is truly a rare thing. A painting that is expressed in a unique way is also rare.

Another artist told me, specifically about the plein air circuit, that there’s a lot of homogenous work being created today. This is so true. He was smart enough to see this and found a way to be UNIQUE with his works and to stand apart. Fair and rare.

This lesson today is spot on. I’m not sure many will get it. But for those that do, they increase their chances of at least knowing what they need to know to get to a better place as artists.

From: Paula Dougherty — Sep 05, 2013

From: Russ Hogger — Sep 05, 2013

There are a lot of good artists out there that earn a living by other means, avoiding the dreaded “starving artist” syndrome.

From: Jeanie Stumbo Zaimes — Sep 06, 2013

I liked your newsletter article, Robert. Thank you. I am saddened by the number of artists claiming there is so much “bad” art out there. The arts are from the unconscious, the soul, if you will. To be creative is to be a happier, more content, and calmer. So what if everyone isn’t DiVinci? We paint because we must. My work improves every year as I learn more. I suspect the same is/was true about those complaining about “bad art.” I also live in a place that won’t support high priced works. So I price what the local market will bear. What I sell it for is not a measure of it’s worth. It simply, bad or good, spoke to someone. That is a joy. We should criticize others’ works less, and spend more time enjoying creating.

From: anonymouse — Sep 06, 2013

Take heart everyone. While it’s true there are more artists these days, there are more buyers as well. Regardless, enjoy the creative process because it’s a beautiful gift. Paint what you love, the rest will follow.

From: John Burk — Sep 06, 2013

Good on you, Anonymous. You’re exactly right. If I could, I’d call you by name.

From: Drew Whitney — Sep 06, 2013

What a nice surprise to get those live lobsters Mr Genn. (At end of featured comments above) Too bad though about what happened. Maybe you could write something about beef and arouse some of your friends in Alberta.

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 07, 2013

To Mike Barr- Finally someone who has stated verbally what I’ve been saying for years and have been crucified because of it. Notably – “Everyone is painting the same landscaped”-sic
I have gotten so much- not quite hate mail from saying this that I realized I had better stop saying it. So many are trying to “fit in” and deliberately paint in the manner of what is popular ,that in the process have lost their individuality (if they had any to begin with)
When I demonstrate, I always start off with a list of Do’s and Dont’s.
Near the top of this list is: Don’t paint someone’s elses picture. Don’ t paint the painting you saw last week in a magazine. See life through your own eyes.
It was a surprise and a pleasure to read your comments and know I am not alone in my thinking. Thank You.

From: Ed Luchinsky — Sep 07, 2013

“BS baffles brains.” Intellectual, greedy people are the easiest to fool.

From: Maggie — Sep 08, 2013

Back in “the day,” artists had patrons that kept them from starving too badly in the garrett. Nowadays, in America at least, artists have pensions, another type of patron. Or, I guess you could say, they are their own patrons. Honestly, sometimes I think I’ll scream if I read another bio that says, “After I retired from xx a lucrative career with a great pension system xx I fulfilled my dream of being an artist.”

From: Rod Williams — Sep 09, 2013

Since the Google revolution people are much more informed and aware. Since the shiftiness and dishonesty of the broader Internet, they are also more cautious and suspicious. This is why so many are now taking the burden of making up their minds onto their selves.

From: Rae Smith — Sep 10, 2013

I also paint lobsters , but like eating them better,I live at a Chester seaside cottage, and paint the lobster boats out in front of our cottage.

From: Helen Opie — Sep 10, 2013

In 17th Century New England, apparently indentured servants’ contracts in seacoast areas would contain clauses that said they were not to be fed lobster more than 5 or so days/week. Lobsters were apparently easy protein; after a storm one went down to the beach and picked them up from the high tide line. Then they got fished out enough so they had to be trapped and became a luxury food – in part because of the dreadful weather men in small boats without motors had to brave to haul their traps. Now there are motorized boats, easily-bought traps, and the high prices lured too many people out to fish lobsters and governments kept using licenses long after the market was saturated. So here we are, back near when they were a glut on the table. We turn out too many paintings, too fast, and perhaps before we have put in our 10,000 hours of practice (see Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers) and become good enough to catch attention without gimmicks or new styles. Some of us need to Go to Our Rooms again…which is what I am doing, and it seems to be paying off.

From: Anonymouse — Sep 12, 2013

Even the “Greats” created mediocre art along the way, we just don’t see it in museums. Monet painted, and sold, many inferior works in his time to make a living. After achieving success, he bought back those paintings and destroyed them.

From: Malcolm Withy — Sep 12, 2013

When we read about the likes of Ann Freedman and how she was duped it brings to mind the countless brokers at Lehman Brothers who willingly jumped on the bandwagon selling stuff they only suspected but did nothing about. The lesson we all take from this is that the big boys (and girls) are being more closely watched. I hope the trend continues and we don’t get complacent again.

    Featured Workshop: Lori Goldberg and Jesse Andrews 090613_robert-genn
Lori Goldberg and Jesse Andrews Workshops Held in Tuscany and Florence, Italy   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Overlooking Okanagan Lake

acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches by Shawn A. Jackson, Vancouver, BC, Canada

  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 Darlene Winfield of Richmond Hill, ON, Canada who wrote, “Have you dealt with the topic of being at a show where people sell incredible art for next to nothing, and then you realize it is a giclee with some paint? That makes a bad economy look like a piece of cake!”

original painting
by Nancy Unsworth

And also Nancy Unsworth of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, who wrote, “Lobsters are my favorite subject to paint and your article really hit home. Thank you for your bi-weekly letters. They are always so full of humor, philosophy, and great tips.” RG note) Thanks, Nancy. And thanks to everyone who sent paintings of lobsters. Thanks also to the Mawhinney’s of Saint John, New Brunswick, who sent the two live lobsters in a crate. Unfortunately Purolator Courier didn’t notice that the elastic had come off the main claw of one of them and unfortunately the other lobster was gone, quite dead actually, leaving just an excellent exoskeleton. We kept the other one as a pet for about an hour but he got off the leash so we decided it was best to eat him, which we did, with drawn butter and a bit of seasoning. We’re finished with chicken.    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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