I was talking to an artist recently about her art. Though a long time artist, in retirement she is just getting underway with seriously trying to sell her art. She is doing so for all the reason’s you might imagine, but including the one that also gets many artists to try and do so.
It is the problem or perceived problem of inventory.
Everyone who makes art makes a fair amount of art, it’s how artists learn and grow. At first, you keep it, then you give it to friends, but inevitably the hobby or whatever it’s become lurks in a place where it one day shows itself as an intolerable amount of inventory. It surrounds you the new artist, reminding you of your investment and that burning question of what do I do with all of this? Along comes a show, a friend, a chance to sell and a “hopeful” blossoming art career is born.
This brings me to a fork in the road, and I feel the need to take both paths in my explanation of this story. The first path is that if an artist were to take a lump of clay and mold it into a shape, the shape could be pounded over and over again back into a lump of clay. Many objects made, one piece of clay and lessons learned. A songwriter can write several songs, keep them in their head and play them at any time, over and over again. Even if many have been created, they are easily stored and can include, as with the clay, all of the mistakes of creative growth in becoming an artist. Unfortunately, this is not the case with much of the 2-D art made. This brings me to path number two! Much of the art a budding artist will make is nothing more than a lesson for themselves. It’s like when you were learning to write on paper, making the shapes of each letter for the first time. A - a - B - b - C - c and so forth. This was not writing. It was learning to write, and unfortunately, I feel way too many of these lessons are being considered as art to be sold when they should be kept to remind you of your growth or even destroyed as was done with nearly all of your school work. With every new artist feeling the pressure or need to sell all of these lessons, they in many cases devalue the real work that should have value, including your own. Is it okay to show your lessons at a blue ribbon show where it’s not for sale, but where the process of judging or being critiqued is there to help an artist grow? Well sure, at least some of it. But everything does not need to be for sale, nor should it.
Now I’ll go in a new direction, one using the more accomplished painter. Artists by their very nature, create things. We are compelled to do so. This drive is in us and in doing, so inventory grows and selling art becomes as compelling as its creation. Often though, all of the efforts have been placed on how to make or produce it and not on how to sell it. Not one minute has been put on the business of art. No knowledge of how galleries work, how to price the art, or how to market themselves or their work, and so failure in this area is a big reality. This all along with what I’ve mentioned above, but also the over creation of their art itself. There is the breeder’s approach, and then there’s the puppy mill approach. Harsh? Well maybe, and if it makes a point, I’m good with it.
Here’s just one example. En plein air painting was brought about in the 1800’s, and much of its credit was given to the invention of the French Easel, but in truth, all of its credit should be given to the invention of placing paint in a tube, by portrait artist John Goffe Rand. In doing so, artists could now travel outside and that they did. But today plein air painting, in my opinion, has become more of a recreation sport [like tennis] than really making art. Students flock to workshops and “art” is made in such abundance, with such a range in results, just for the fun of it, that the saturation of it to art inventory overall is hard to ignore. In the process, you have students and teachers banging out paintings in a matter of a few hours and building inventory at a rapid pace. Past a few of them to be kept as a memory, they all end up being something for sale. You can even have large quantities of the same exact subject matter. Some artists have hundreds! This abundance of inventory is very likely weakening the art business overall. Rarity equals value folks, and there is nothing rare about these paintings and most are just studies. Rarity has been one of art’s best friends as demonstrated by the notable auction values for the work of some deceased artists. Plein air painting is not the only guilty party in this, and I understand it provides enjoyment and even a living for teachers too. There just needs to be some balance.
On the contemporary side of things, again we have abundance because anyone can slap paint on a canvas and call it modern art. I’ve put myself on record as saying I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do not want any type of the policing or governing of those who wish to produce art. PERIOD. But we as artists should have a self-awareness of what we make, what we enjoy, our creative voice and certainly what we try to sell. Along with this, modern art has been the easiest place for the Chinese invasion to take place. The art machine, where art factories produce decor accessories in the way of so-called art which have zero originality but offer enticing affordability to those who don’t know any better and want something to hang above their sofa. The more of those that meet walls, the fewer walls find real art. The more acceptability found in these items as art, the more fine art struggles.
I believe art has and is being devalued not only through an abundance of inventory but also through a time of significant visual competition. The average number of TV’s per US household hovers around 2.5. That number has declined a tiny bit, but the number has to be higher in affluent households, the kind most likely to have art. Still, I’d be willing to bet a significant amount of time went into choosing the brand and features of each and when the manufacturers of televisions make too many, or a model becomes old, they simply put them on sale and move on. The art business struggles to keep up with this business model, and I feel there’s a fair amount of old inventory.
The moral to this story is perhaps then, manage what you make, but manage what you sell even more by using the old words, "put your best foot forward".
There just needs to be some balance.
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