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Quit Your Whining!

Sunday, 26. July 2015 23:33

Frequently, I hear artists complaining about the lack of support the arts receive in today’s America. Theatres, except those on Broadway and a few select others, are running at less than capacity; some run at such reduced capacity that a half-house is considered good. So we whine.

Older artists will tell you that this was not the case in the past, that there was a “golden age” when all seats were full and paintings flew off the wall. How long ago that was depends largely upon the age of the artist making the statement. And there was a time—within my memory—when theatres had far more audience support that we see today. That, of course, was before 200+ channel cable television and the internet. Now we have not only the competition of cable television, but of multiple web sites streaming video and games on demand 24/7.

So those who were just looking for an entertainment to fill their time now have more choices than they can consider. Why would people dress to go out and sit with other people they don’t know to see actors perform when they can sit at home in their underwear watching the best that Hollywood has to offer? In terms of entertainment, many audience members see little distinction between live theatre and streaming video, so live theatre artists whine.

What also seems to be gone are the days when buying original art was popular, if such days ever existed. Walk through any gallery; visual and plastic arts are not moving, particularly those pieces that are priced in the three-digits-plus range—at least until one gets to the multi-million dollar level. (And those auction purchases seem to be not so much about art as about conspicuous acquisition and investment.) The vast middle-ground moves very little original art, and for much the same reasons that theatre doesn’t: reproductions are everywhere. If a person is looking for decoration (and, face it, most people are) there are thousands of pre-framed lithographs of both famous and unknown work, “original oil paintings” mass-produced in “painting factories” in Asia, illustrations, internet images. So why pay for the real original vision of a living artist? The artists whine.

But whining about today’s conditions is not productive; neither is longing for the “good old days.” Those days, if they ever existed, are gone; now we have to deal with it what is.

A multimedia artist I know says that acquiring art is like making a love connection and I think she may well be right. The collector sees the art, connects with the art, wants or needs to have an on-going relationship with the art, which means, unless the art is available to view on the internet, that the collector must buy the art. So the art goes home with its new owner to continue the love relationship.

And we know there are all sorts of “love connections,” some deep and long-term and some shallow and temporary. Different aspects attract differently, and most know that we can change those to attract a different sort of interest from a different sort of person. Likewise, the artist can modify his/her output to attract a different kind of collector.

That’s one way of dealing with things. Another way is to remember why we got into art (or art got into us) in the first place. It wasn’t about money. It was likely about having something to say or having a need to create. If we remember why we do it, and recognize what the market conditions really are, we can produce our art, put it out into the world, and quit our whining.

Category:Audience, Theatre | Comment (0) | Autor:

The Seductiveness of White Walls: On Gallery Representation

Monday, 18. July 2011 0:34

One of the advantages of living in a major metropolitan area is the opportunity for viewing art. There are museums, street shows, galleries. Recently I experienced what was essentially an “open gallery day.” A friend and I managed to get to just over 20 galleries in a single day, and we were not rushing through them. Admittedly some were tiny, but others were not. And not only was the range of art extreme, but the galleries themselves were very different in nature.

The range was from the very posh with classical music playing softly in the background to the tiny brick and corrugated metal walled section of an old warehouse building, and everything in between. Although most featured the ubiquitous white wall, the arrangements were very different from each other, as were features such as windows, lighting, personality of staff, methods of display. Even the labels on the art were different.

The only thing that the 20+ galleries had in common were red dots by sold pieces, and even these were different space to space.

Some galleries were retail spaces that had been converted into art spaces with a very clean, new look. Some conversions traded on the antiquity of the buildings in which they were housed. Some were obviously built as galleries. Of those, some offered a very restrained interior personality; others were pretentious “art spaces.”

Seeing so many different spaces in one day caused me to wonder about how the nature of the gallery impacted the sales of art, since the gallery and its adjacent pieces functioned as a “wrapper” for the art on sale. Obviously the art presented was what was important, but given equivalent work, did I want to buy art from the gallery with classical music, bartender, varied choices of hors d’oeuvres, or did I want to buy from the pour-it-yourself-red-wine-only-accompanied-by-indie-rock gallery?

More to the point, which gallery did I want to sell my art work? Certainly the more sophisticated gallery might command higher prices, but that did not necessarily mean that they would sell more art.

Some artists, Hazel Dooney being foremost among them, would advise artists to avoid the gallery system entirely and sell their art directly to patrons. Some of the smaller galleries we visited were artists doing just that. Most of the galleries, however, were not artist galleries, but representatives taking a significant percentage of the sales price for the effort of displaying and doing the sales pitch.

Except for that percentage part, the appeal is very seductive. It is very easy to imagine one’s work hanging on a wall on a flawless white wall while music plays softly in the background and patrons sip wine and listen to a professional, persuasive salesperson—while you are in your studio creating more, doing the work that you really want to do.

The part that’s left out, of course, is that it is just as difficult to obtain competent gallery representation as it is to sell art directly. The difference is that you have to sell at a different level—and then depend on your representative to retail your work to the actual collector.

The truth is the gallery influences what the patron thinks of the art, just as a boutique influences what you think of a particular piece of clothing. Who do you want representing you? So the question is not just representation, but which representation, and what that will that do for your art sales.

When you walk in the door, sometimes before you walk in the door, you are forming an opinion of the place and, by extension, the art contained therein. And while it’s easy to envision your work hanging in this or that gallery, you must choose carefully. After all, it’s your livelihood we’re talking about here.


Category:Audience, Marketing | Comments (4) | Autor: