"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

On Marketing and the Price of Work

I warn you this is a bit of a rant, and some may be offended by my views, if so, fine. Sometimes blunt things need to be said. Charlatans, whiners, cheapskates, and scroungers, can stop reading right now.
I was talking to an artist friend yesterday who asked me how much I would be selling the bees for. I didn’t really have a good answer but did realise that I have to properly consider the business of selling original art. It is a complete and utter quagmire.
I used to be a commercial artist where there was a price for a job, a respect for professionalism and an acknowledgement of the cost of living. You took it or not as you felt appropriate but there was always a fee. In the world of “original art” I see really nice work from good artists selling for nothing and  horrible rubbish going for thousands and I know it is all about marketing. 

So I turn to the “experts” for help.

The look

I read the advice from glittering blonde marketing experts with perfect teeth and eye popping cleavage.  “ Be like me” they say.  Well, not in your wildest dreams, even with a million dollars of plastic surgery and dental work could I ever be like you darling.

The hook

I listen to the marketing gurus, “ Get a hook”.. they say. What exactly am I supposed to do? Make up some dizzying ancestry, a bogus Russian connection or a vague association with someone famous to boost my credibility?

Or shall I do what I hate most, and court  “the pity vote”? Shall I acquire some terrible disease which suddenly seems to make bad art good? One honest commentator recently said that to win the X factor you really need a pity story.

The species

This may, initially, seem an impossibility but I think it is easier than either of the above. I can turn myself into an amazing painting animal, a cute palomino pony perhaps or a winsome chimp or a doe eyed elephant. My astounding talent revealed at last as my trainer throws me a banana and pockets the cash. And don’t tell me that the pony painting is as good as any Abstract Impressionist. That just won’t wash. To join the Fine Art game you have to be able to write the incomprehensible words to weave the mystique and I know that ponies can’t write.  (I fear I may get emails)

The criminal act

This option becomes more attractive as I get older and my hit list gets longer. I could land up in jail and be applauded for my wonderful, successful rehab due to my “ART”

However I will probably do none of the above, except perhaps the last, and just carry on as I am, because that is who I am.

Putting a Price on Things….

Original art and craft is now horribly devalued. It goes back a long way. As soon as things could be reproduced cheaply and easily, the poor old artist/craftsman has had to fight his corner. But one big problem which has  always been with us is the rich dilettante who can afford to paint/write/create and offer their wares for practically nothing and the internet has made it worse. Who are they? They are the fortunate partners of the rich, the independently rich, the rich retired who want to take up a bit of a painting, etc, etc.

Now I am the worlds greatest advocate for the joy of creativity, and think everyone alike should be out there painting, drawing etc but just wish that there was something like a legal minimum price for any original work of art. If everything started at a sensible  $150 for the smallest pencil sketch we might have some recognition of talent, hard work, training and professionalism. 

… and getting people to Pay!

There must have been something in the air yesterday because today another hard working artist friend of mine sent me a link to the brilliant Harlan Ellison defending the right of artists to be paid for what they do.  “Pay the writer “ .. here. Do watch it! This clip should be compulsory viewing for all those people out there who think that artists are somehow not real people and can live on air. The people who are slow to pay, who want something for nothing, who always want a discount! The people who ask me how much a painting would be and huffily turn away when I say a very modest $100. I look at their shoes, their mobile phones, their coiffure, their swanky car, their nice house and I wonder how they got the money for those things. Do they have a job, do they get paid? Somebody must have had a job and somebody must have been paid. 

I used to own a small gallery and burnt into my memory is the ignorant comment from a buyer who, looking at a lovely signed and  framed print from a wildlife artist glanced at the ticket and said haughtily “I am not paying 15 UK pounds (say $22) for just a print! It was at this point that my first really bad criminal act was nearly committed.

Just making a living

Many years ago I heard a wise man talking about the minimum wage. “Everyone” he said “has the right to earn a modest living and be able to pay their way”.  That is so true. Artists without private means choose a rocky path as it is these days but it is still their right. In these days of a million reproductions and easily downloadable images and the insane need for more and more cheap “stuff”, real, original art is something very special and for all the personal effort, love, care and angst that goes into creating it should be valued, treasured, saved up for, coveted, loved and very very definitely always be properly paid for.

I am not an arbiter of taste. People’s opinion of what is good and bad art is entirely their own business, but whatever it is they should expect to pay properly for it. And be clear that I am talking about original pieces here, not prints.. that is a whole other can of worms.

As to how much for the bees?? I am still not sure, but they really have to earn their keep and maybe won’t be for sale just yet.  To be honest I would rather sweep streets than sell originals for nothing and I think I may require a potential buyer to watch that Ellison clip before even beginning to negotiate!

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Go girl - you are so right. I do - and strongly advocate - buy works of art, writings etc that I hope pay the creator appropriately. But I understand that it is often hard for the artist, too, to value their own work and stand by that valuation. It's often a fine line between valuing one's work and the bread line!

Lisa Duncan said...

Awesome blog post! I'd like to carry this around with me and hand it to everyone who gasps at very moderately priced artwork! Bravo!

sharp green pencil said...

Thanks to you both and to all the people who emailed me!
Its such a difficult are and does get me very hot under the collar (as you can see)...Valuing ones own work is exceptionally tricky. I would find it easier to wax lyrical about someones elses work. I used to have an agent which did make all that side of it so much easier.

patientgardener said...

Gosh what a dilemma. People do not take into account what they are actually getting, not just the frame etc but the time and effort the artist has put into it and in the case of an original the fact that it is exactly that an original. I wouldnt know where to start. Presumably you will need to decided before the exhibition - is there no one in London who could advise you on what is a realistic price?

wiseacre said...

I always enjoy a good rant and that one was as good as your illustrations.

Sree said...

You just stole my thoughts again!

Elephant's Eye said...

Did link to your bees on Wednesday. I guess artists are getting caught in the trap musicians have, with pirate copies downloaded from the Internet.'Everyone does it' but musicians don't live on air either. But the shoes, and the cell-phone - that is WORTH paying for. (BTW I don't have a cell-phone)

Swan Artworks said...

Hi there,
I just strayed upon your blog and found this fantastic post!
Very well said!
I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of marketing myself and cringe about charging money for anything... food for thought!
Glad I found you...
Carrie...

sharp green pencil said...

Thank you all.
PG. its a dilemma!mostly because it's not one of those things which can be calculated by the hour.. if it were I would be very rich..some calculate it by the square inch ..if so I would be very poor!

W .. thank you I was rather restrained really. Thankfully Harlan Ellison said it for me!

Sree.. what can I say :) How are you doing?

EE.. another big thank you and how lovely that you chose the little orchard bee. (I hate my cell phone and very rarely turn it on..good for you.)

SA.. thank you nice to hear from you. I know there are lots of us out there who feel the same.. oh for a private income! then I could just give things to people I like, which would make me a whole lot happier!