Post from June, 2012

Art in Motion: Motion in Art

Sunday, 24. June 2012 23:38

Recently wandering through the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, I encountered Jennifer Steinkamp’s projected installation, Mike Kelley. Not only is the Steinkamp installation a projection; it is a moving projection, an animation,  twelve feet high and sixteen feet wide; it’s message is not complex, but the image certainly is, and mesmerizing.

Mike Kelley is not the only animation in MFAH’s collection.  Across the hall from the café, five screens play Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow. The 2005 animated piece is similar to Steinkamp’s in that it is a cyclical animation. Some might argue that Aoshima’s piece is narrative, telling a story. But it doesn’t tell a story in the same way that a narrative film or an entertainment animation does. Here the message is more abstract, leaving room for viewer interpretation, and repeated endlessly.

Seeing Steinkamp’s and Aoshima’s installations in the same day caused me to consider the role of motion in fine arts, a role that seems to me to be growing. I’m purposely not considering film in this discussion; that is another topic all together. Rather I am talking about the world that is usually inhabited by painting, sculpture, and still photography, a world that that is becoming increasingly motion-oriented.

Some of this I have mentioned before. In an post about art online, I mentioned s[edition], which allows anyone to purchase limited edition digital pieces by very well-known artists.  In my estimation the works of Mat Collishaw are some of the most successful on the site in that they take full advantage of the animation capabilities of the digital medium and, instead of consisting of a movie of a work on a turntable or a film of an activity, fully integrate the motion and the subject matter.

There were also discussions of both cinemagraph  and lenticular images. The former is essentially a still image that has been selectively animated. This minimal animation adds interest and dimension to a photograph (or other illustration), and modifies what and how that image communicates with the viewer. Most of these are made in a gif format and can only be viewed on a computer. But they could also be projected or viewed on very large screens. In other words, they are not really limited to the relatively small computers and tablets that are currently their homes.

Lenticulars are the non-electronic entries in the trend to add motion to images. In a lenticular, “multiple images are interlaced and fused to a lenticular lens to create the illusion of movement or three-dimensionality” as the viewer walks past the work.

The most notorious recent example is the lenticular work by Derrick Santini [Note: all links in this paragraph are NSFW.] which are part of his show Metamorphosis and which are based on the Leda and the swan myth. What makes this example notorious was the widely reported incident of a London Metropolitan policeman seeing one of the works in the Scream gallery window and, with a fellow officer, demanding that it be removed because it “condoned bestiality.” Interestingly, the gallery had had no other complaints.

Art is always in motion, but now motion is moving into art. The ability to digitize makes it possible. But it’s still not easy. I have made lenticular images, but the process is not for the faint-hearted; it is complex and exacting both on and off the computer. Any sort of animation, while perhaps easier than it used to be, is still quite intricate. Regardless of the complexity, motion in art is here to stay; it gives the artist ways to say things in a fine arts framework that otherwise could not be expressed.

Category:Audience, Communication, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Selling Your Art: You Can Learn

Sunday, 17. June 2012 23:32

This past Saturday was my first group show, for which I was preparing last week. I have been in juried shows, but this was the first group show in which I have participated with the goal of selling art. As is the case with any “first” experience, I learned a great deal, and had a number of ideas reinforced in practical terms.

Here is what I learned during “Speaking of Abstract…” organized by Jomar Visions in Houston’s Hardy and Nance Studios. Some of the items below seem obvious; but before the experience, they were not, at least to a number of participants.

  1. The vibe matters. I had more than one visitor talk about how good the show “felt.” I think that may have been the mix of artists, the music, the nature of the show, the venue. It was a very inviting atmosphere, and it seemed that visitors grasped that the second they walked into the studios. I can only credit the show’s promoters.
  2. The quality of the surrounding work matters. Every artist in the place brought quality work, and that mattered. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but none of it was bad. This was not the case in some shows I have seen. This show, however, was juried if not curated, and that insured the quality, which added to the vibe and created a positive expectation on the part of the patrons. Again, I credit the show’s promoters.
  3. Alcohol helps. The show was sponsored by St. Arnold’s, a local craft brewery, so there was plenty of beer. And a number of artists brought wine, soft drinks, water, and snacks. All of this was offered to patrons and artists alike and certainly added to the festive feel of the show. It may have made the difference between lookers and buyers in some instances.
  4. Everyone who walks by is a potential sale; there is no predicting what will catch someone’s interest. Another photographer asked me the age of my market. I had thought it was persons 30+ years old, but this show taught me that although my market might lean that way, it did not exclude younger people. Indeed, some younger people spent a great deal of time looking at the images and came back repeatedly.
  5. Having your contact information available and easy for visitors to find is vital. Those business cards in my pocket did nothing for me; they needed to be easily seen and accessed, whether I happen to be in the vicinity or not. Some patrons have to think before deciding to make an investment. And they need to be able to find you later.
  6. Networking both with other artists and with potential buyers is paramount. Most artists want to help their fellows, at least that was the case in this show, and knowing people and their work helped in that regard. It also became evident that someone who had liked your work would tell others who would then come by and visit. The more people who know and like your work, the better your odds for a sale.
  7. Sales go to those who interact with potential patrons. Yes, you have to actively sell your wares. A sculptor, whose work was exceptional, and I discussed how we weren’t really comfortable approaching people with the intent to sell, while another artist near us went about trying to sell everybody’s work (including ours) to anybody who showed any interest in anything. Although he did not restrict himself to his own work, he did sell two of his own pieces and made contacts for those around him by force of personality and affable aggressiveness in his willingness to go for the sale.  He said that he was there to sell art—if not his, then anybody’s that he liked. I’m not sure that you have to be that aggressive, but you have to figure out a way to interact with potential buyers in a way that will enhance the sale, even if you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It was a successful show, at least according to everyone I talked to: 15 sales and one artist trade in seven hours—in a bad economy. I did not do as well as some, but I learned. I will definitely do similar shows in the future. And I will do some things differently. Selling art is a different skill-set from making art, but even the most introverted of artists can learn.

Category:Audience, Marketing, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Sell Your “Best” Work? Maybe Not…

Sunday, 10. June 2012 23:22

Recently, as I was selecting images to display in a group show, I found myself in a dilemma. The situation was that I had limited wall space, and so could only put up a few images. Selecting the images presented a problem. What criteria should I use? Did I want to show range, theme, color use, black and white (which some people associate with “fine art photography”), the pieces I liked best, the pieces that best represented me? This quandary brought up two questions: what was the proper way to choose? And what did it mean that I had pieces that I liked better than others?

To answer the first question I needed to think like a marketing/sales person. What did those coming to the show want to see, expect to see? What, if anything, that I had produced was marketable to this particular group of people? (I am not one of those who try to produce what the market wants; I find that a very unsatisfactory way to make art. I produce what, according to my instincts, needs to be. Only then do I look at it to try to determine if someone will actually want it.)

Your audience’s taste may not be yours, so selecting your favorites from all that you have made, while certainly a valid aesthetic exercise, may not be the best from a sales point of view. The very last part of my decision boiled down to a choice between a piece that I really liked because I found it to be very emotional and evocative and another that did not have these qualities for me. For this limited space show, I chose the second piece—not one that I disliked—but one that did not particularly move me emotionally. It was, in my judgment, more understandable, more comprehensible to the person who was likely to see this show.

It was, of course, a guess. I have only the most rudimentary understanding of the potential market for abstract photographic art, if such a thing really exists. Since the point of the show, for me at least, was exposure, I thought it was better to put things in front of people that I thought might interest them instead of indulging myself or attempting make some sort of “statement.” This was a marketing event and should be approached as one. So I did.

The second question was easier. I have written previously about artists feeling that what they create does not properly express their vision. That may cause the artist to dislike the artifact he/she has created, or at least love it less. This does not mean that the work is not good; it simply means that it is less successful from the artist’s point of view. The public may love it. Another reason that the artist may not be in love with his/her work is that he/she has moved on. Artists change, and these changes are often reflected in their work. This does not invalidate earlier work; it just makes it non-current, and thus non-interesting to the artist. The public is very different; they may love the older work— otherwise there would be no oldies concerts. Just because you don’t care for a piece that you created anymore does not mean that the buying public feels the same.

As artists, we would all do well to consider O. Henry’s advice and make work that pleases ourselves. But when we attempt to sell that art, we should offer whatever of our work the marketer in us thinks the audience will buy.

Category:Audience, Marketing, Photography, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Those Who Can…

Sunday, 3. June 2012 23:54

You hear a number of students in the arts declare that if their plans don’t go as well as they hope, they can always fall back on teaching. In all fairness, some students target teaching from the very onset, but most think of it as a backup plan. Having a backup plan makes these young people feel more secure, and parents, particularly those who are not involved with the arts, love backup plans because they seem “practical.”

When I hear students talking about “falling back on teaching,” I just nod and change the subject back to the primary goal, whatever that may be. I do this for two reasons: The first is that having a backup plan is one of the ways to not get where you’re going. I know a Shakespearean actor, a former student, in fact, who says that having a backup plan is the worst possible strategy for success. I don’t know if I would go that far, but he does make a valid point.

The second reason is that most students are not aware that teaching requires an entirely different set of skills from making art. To be a good teacher in one of the arts, you have to know not only the skills, insights, methodology of doing the art but be able to communicate those things to students. And, as I mentioned last week, you also have to be adept at asking questions and making suggestions that help the student make choices, think, and explore the possibility of a different way of looking at the subject to yield a different, more satisfying result.

And, of course, there is no real correlation between the ability to create excellent art and the ability to teach others to do likewise. A number of artists have no idea how they do what they do, and could not think about explaining to someone else how to do it. Still they produce excellent work. Similarly, a number of teachers in the arts are well aware of the skill, techniques, and attitudes necessary to produce outstanding art, but are not able or willing to do this themselves. Yet they are successful in aiding their students in advancing their art.

This is not to say that there is no one who not only produces excellent art, but is able to teach effectively as well. There certainly are those who have both skill sets and talent in both areas, but they are rare.

Those artist/teachers who are able to find that balance and are successful at both have, I think, the ability to jump back and forth between the worlds of teaching and creating, realizing that, although there is much shared information, the two activities are very, very different and require very different approaches and different ways of thinking.

Both activities take a considerable investment of time if they are to be done right, and to do both well is difficult—and unnecessary. What is necessary is the teacher’s desire and ability to pass along skills, and, perhaps as important, the ability to encourage and inspire students to grow and develop in their own directions, capitalizing on their own unique talents, developing their own artistic vision.

Helping students realize their artistic potential is not a backup profession; it is rather another legitimate vocation in the world of art. And for many of us, a very important vocation—just as important as producing art.

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