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Gaming the System, Part 2

Monday, 20. April 2015 1:00

Last year I posted and article called “Gaming the System” which began with the notion that if one studied a given juried show sufficiently, one might be able to develop a recipe for acceptance. So I decided to try it, and found that it might not be as easy to do as to say. In the past I have done somewhat similar things such as picking pieces for juried shows based on knowledge of the juror. This time it didn’t work. However, my lack of success taught me several lessons:

  1. Hubris never goes unpunished. This is something I should have known from reading the Greek tragedies or just from living, but it is a lesson that we often forget, particularly when things are going well, and we have a string of successes. We think we have it all figured out. We don’t. And is well to be reminded of this from time to time.
  2. There are always variables that we do not take into consideration. In this case, one (and maybe two) of the jurors was different from the years prior. This means that the flavor and focus of the show became unpredictable. Not everything can be anticipated.
  3. Likewise, there are always details that we miss or misinterpret; sometimes those little things matter more than we know.
  4. Risking failure is good for us, and if there are no occasional failures, there is no real risk. And this was, at least by my standards, a spectacular failure. There was a significant investment of both time and money, and while, in my estimation, the resultant images were very good, they do not really fit with the rest of my portfolio, so I am not really sure what, if anything, I might do with them. So, yes, this project could definitely be considered a failure.
  5. The biggest lesson that I learned, however, was that even if I know the parameters required, I cannot make art that does not at least try to match my personal aesthetic. It became apparent as early as the planning stage for this project that I am not able to create art to satisfy requirements completely outside myself. Even knowing the recipe, I had to make the pieces my own, had to make the say what I really thought. Probably this is something I should have known about myself before, but I did not, and least consciously. Then I had to reconcile my new learning concerning my aesthetic and the fact that I often direct plays that are aimed at a particular type of audience or prepared for a particular venue. The difference is that once the play is selected for whatever reason, what I do with it during the rehearsal process is to shape it in accordance with my own personal aesthetic. Again, this is something that should have been obvious, but, for some reason, was not.
  6. Evidently, I do not have what it takes to game the system in the way that Dan Colen, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst seem to. This may not be a terrible thing.

So my grand experiment in gaming the system resulted in six valuable lessons. Even though the project was a failure, these lessons make it—to my mind—a worthwhile endeavor, an endeavor worth writing about. As a result of this experience, I will do exactly what I have encouraged other artists to do: continue to risk, sometimes fail, learn from the failure, move on.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Autor:

Gaming the System

Sunday, 1. June 2014 23:21

A friend of mine, a photographer/sculptor, and I recently attended an annual international art show, a fairly prestigious one, that we have been to several times. One of the things we noticed was that there was a great similarity among a number of pieces in the show as well as among the pieces in this show and last year’s show—and the one before that.

Afterward, we were discussing the show and the noticeable (to us) similarity among the pieces being shown, and about how an artist could, if he/she really wanted to, could come to a couple of shows and figure out the recipe for securing a place in that show. Then the artist could make a piece to fit the show. If one’s skill were sufficient, having a piece in the show should be no real problem. The task would be even easier if the jurors or curators were the same from show to show or if the show were held at regular intervals.

He went even further, saying, “If you wanted to write a recipe book on how to make art that would fit the bill—for any show, that show could serve as your guide. Wonder what would happen if someone would do a book like that?”

My guess would be that such a book would be ignored, or at best marginalized. It’s something that no one wants to hear, but it’s something that anyone who has been involved with the art world for more than a year and is sufficiently analytical knows. It’s a system, and like any system, it can be played and rigged. Everybody knows it, and many capitalize on it. Much of what is produced is created exclusively to be shown and/or sold in particular places; it’s about success in the art world—and money, of course.

John Seed, writing on The Huffington Post said, “I sometimes feel like the art market is a ship that has been taken over by dollar-waving pirates: the same ones who brought us junk bonds and the mortgage meltdown.” There is no indication of which specific artists he thinks are catering to these dollar-wavers except that he is talking about Dan Colen and unnamed others.

My friend does name other artists: “That’s exactly what Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have done—game the system. They looked around, figured out how it worked, and made things that would fit the recipe.”

Seed acknowledges the motivation for such art production by quoting Colen: “It’s such a paradox. You come from this place where you want fame; you don’t want to be bourgeois, but you want to be successful. You want to be accepted, but you also want to be going against the grain. You want to be on the outside, but you want to be on the inside.”

Seed adds, “The way I understand Colen’s ‘success’ is that it is a social phenomenon, not an aesthetic one.” And there you have it. This approach, cynical as it is, is not about the artist’s message or philosophy; rather, it is about achieving success in the art market. And, as Seed points out, many critics (Jerry Saltz excpted), as well as others in the art market, support such efforts.

The question for the artist is then: if you can figure out what will allow you to show your work in this or that show or venue, what will allow you to sell, what will make you successful, why wouldn’t you do that? And there is no correct answer. You certainly can do that; others have and have bought houses in the country with the proceeds. Some have taken a different path, and produced the work that they wanted to, work that said what they wanted to say, work that they were able to pour themselves into, work that, to them, was necessary. Sometimes it sells, sometimes not.

Each artist has to decide for him/herself. Choose well.

Category:Marketing, Presentation | Comments (1) | Autor:

Titles Are Important

Sunday, 5. August 2012 23:23

Titles are on my mind again. Although some will say that titles don’t matter, I know that I think about them, and when I have work that needs them I try to find something that really does connect with the work in some way. I do this because I have repeatedly watched people look at art work, then look at the title card, then look back at the work, and then, usually softly say, “Oh…” like they hadn’t gotten it until they read the title card.

Patrons really do expect names on things, sometimes relying on those names to guide them in their judgment of the piece and its purpose or meaning. That makes the title important. That a viewer needs guidance may represent a failing for the piece of art, or it may speak to the amount of mental work a viewer is willing to invest. And while I don’t believe the title should explain the work, I think perhaps a bit of guidance is not unwarranted. And certainly connection between the title and the work is necessary.

Sometimes the name of a piece jumps out of the work spontaneously, making it so organic that it’s difficult for the artist to think about the piece without about the title. Other times, it’s more difficult. Sometimes, it seems impossible.

The immediate cause for my concern is a new diptych. Unfortunately, the concept of each piece taken individually is complex, so putting the pieces together just compounds the complexity. That intricacy is, of course, the source of the problem. I refuse to have a title that “explains” the piece or tries to summarize the subtext, and I think that falling back on “untitled” is a cheap way out.

At the same time that I was trying to name the diptych, I spoke with an artist who finds naming difficult and who was fretting that he had given a piece a “wrong” name. The name, he said, not only provided no insight into the work, but actually misled viewers. His solution was simple; he renamed the piece once the show that it was in closed. And I had to agree, the second name was far superior to the first.

Of course, there are people who are good at naming things. Damien Hirst comes to mind; in fact, some would say that Hirst is better at naming art than creating it. For example, how much better could a title be than The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living? A touch long perhaps, and it may or may not actually be relevant to a dead shark in a tub of formaldehyde, but it is a great title.

Not everyone has Hirst’s facility for naming. A number of artists have great difficulty titling pieces, regardless of whether they are verbal, visual, or plastic. It is evidently a significant enough problem that there are numerous internet how-to pages on naming art; for instance, there are articles on wikiHow and about.com, ehow.com, and artpromotivate.com. Most of these pages offer very simple to-the-point methodologies for naming. In some cases, unfortunately, the advice is not only simple, but simplistic, which will result in titles, but not very good ones. But at least it’s a starting point.

Irrespective of the source, the title and the art work need to be unified; that’s almost as important as the title itself. And in order to attain that unity, we must attempt to generate titles that come as close to that ideal of the self-generated organic name as we possibly can.

Category:Communication | Comments (1) | Autor:

Want Art? The Gallery Will Come to You

Monday, 2. January 2012 0:19

Not long ago, Jason Wilson sent me a link to an article on The Bygone Bureau that proclaimed 2011 as “the year the art world went online.” The writer of the article, Kyle Chayka, noted a number of online art world activities that occurred during the year, including a couple of very high profile ones.

One of the projects noted in the Chayka article was the online VIP Art Fair, founded by James Cohan. The Fair hosted its first interactive art show in January, 2011, and plans a second show , which will represent over 2000 artists from 115 “carefully selected” galleries worldwide, for February 3-8, 2012. This event brings together galleries and collectors from all over the globe and allows the collector to see many works of art and have conversations with the dealers without leaving home.

The second project is Art.sy, which is backed by Larry Gagosian, Dasha Zhukova and others. The website, currently in “private beta,” is essentially a search engine of fine art from over 250 galleries and museums in over 40 different countries which “will analyze users’ taste in art and show them other works and artists that they might like.”

Not only can you buy physical art pieces through the internet buy you can now buy signed, authenticated, limited edition digital art by some very famous artists. In addition to works by Shephard Fairey, Isaac Julien, and others, you can purchase an original Damien Hirst for $12.00. Prices range from £5 to £500 and increase as editions sell out. There are even plans for a secondary market—handled by the same site, of course.

While these projects involve the most famous artists and the most prestigious galleries, there is art for the rest of us online. A number of artists, of course, maintain their own websites; on some of these, the art is displayed and the viewer directed to gallery representation for sales, and on others, the work can be purchased online. Then there are the online galleries that are not as new or exclusive as those discussed above. For example, both Zatista and 20×200 sell only original and limited edition art. Other sites, such as Art Gallery Worldwide, sell originals and open edition prints. Others sell only prints, although some deal in limited editions. Then there are the print-on-demand sites, which reproduce digital images in a number of media, ranging from “art prints” to tee shirts.

And we have not yet touched on the educational use of digital media in the art world. For example, there are a number of initiatives by museums to allow patrons to use their smartphones or computers to get more information about the artwork. There are already virtual tours of museums available online through various portals. The Google Art Project provides virtual access to 17 museums and expects to add many more. Gagosian Gallery has published an iPad app which is essentially a free digital version of a quarterly art magazine; there are also a number of other apps which provide art reference, generally for no monetary investment.

There are some of us, however, who have reservations about the digital rendering of visual art. The digitization of art is on the increase , even though color calibration is known only to artists who used digital production methods. From an educational and a sales point of view, digitization of physical art or original digital art itself makes a great deal of sense. Still, because of the differences between color rendition on various devices, you never know whether you are looking at what the artist intended or not. Because of economic and marketing requirements, art digitization is no longer optional; still, I wonder, aside from sales potential, what artists think about having their work represented in such an uncontrollable way.


Category:Audience, Education, Marketing, Technology | Comments (1) | Autor:

It’s All About the Money…Or Is It?

Monday, 19. December 2011 0:23

It’s That Time of Year when there is much public discussion of materialism. Interestingly, this year the discussion takes place during the same time frame as a show in Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi called “Money and Beauty. Bankers, Botticelli, and the Bonfire of the Vanities,” which “explores the links between that unique interweave of high finance, economy and art, and the religious and political upheavals of the time.” The opening of this show about the connection between banking and Renaissance art was followed by a “a private conference on the future of art and finance” and numerous articles on the show and both the historical and contemporary interconnections between art and money.

Although the connections between art and money may not be fully understood, almost everyone in the arts is aware of some link. The patronage system that was developed during the Renaissance is still alive and well, if not in the form of direct sponsorship, in the form of scholarships and grants to both individual artists and arts organizations. Basically, money keeps the art world going, and big money keeps big art going.

This is true even of individual sales to collectors and is seen in both the primary and secondary art market. Daniel Grant says that art and money are now so intertwined that price has come to substitute for quality.  He goes on to say that the emphasis on sales coupled with a “lack of any consensus about aesthetics or standards of taste” has resulted in a new definition of art: “Art is whatever someone puts down money for and says ‘This is art.’ The corollary of this is that quality is identifiable only in terms of the sums spent.” Jed Perl goes further to say that “culture is now in retreat before the brute force of money.”

For those interested in the topic, the tangle of art-as-commodity and money is fully explored in Robert Hughes’ International Emmy-winning The Mona Lisa Curse. This documentary, which is very difficult to find, is summarized on “Art for a Change.”

Because the current measure of artistic quality is money and because of the enormous sums currently being paid for the most-in-demand art, a number of artists have begun to network and hustle and promote themselves. The result is group of artists who have developed larger-than-life personas in order to generate larger-than-life incomes. They have become celebrities. It is quite common to read about these “art stars,” almost as if they were performers. Perhaps they are.

The attitude of this new breed of artist is much that of a salesman or marketer rather than that of the traditional artist. This approach is summed up by one of the most notorious of the current “art stars,” Damien Hirst: “You also have to ask yourself as an artist, ‘What would be more appealing … to have made the Mona Lisa painting itself or have made the merchandising possibilities — putting a postcard on everyone’s walls all over the world? Both are brilliant, but in a way I would probably prefer the postcards — just to get my art out there.’” Somehow, in Hirst’s case, it doesn’t seem to be about just getting his work out there, but about being paid very well for it—about, as he says, “merchandising possibilities.”

One would hope that art is about more than merchandising possibilities. We will never disentangle money and art. I’m not sure that we should even try. But we can resolve to use standards other than price to evaluate art. And maybe, at this time of year, we might remind ourselves that, at least for some of us, it’s not just about the money.

And, if you happen to be in Florence before January 22, 2012, you might drop in and see two curators’ take on how it all started.

Category:Aesthetics, Criticism, Marketing | Comment (0) | Autor:

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