TITLE: Selling Art or Selling Out
DATE: 10/01/2004 06:59:00 AM
The very process of making art or craftwork, is a lot like falling in love. Often you initially begin work with an idea in mind, a task at hand. Soon you find a rhythm. You stop watching the clock. You forget the radio is even on. The feeling of euphoria on great studio days are stored in a special place in the back of your memory next to the first person you held hands with or kissed in public.
So, it's no wonder then that most artists see pricing and sales as an afront to their creativity. "Who are you to tell me that my work is overpriced?" Take this a step further and ask an artist to make something more affordable, portable, or trendy and... well... you're likely to have a fight on your hands.
Despite this, an artist must make a living.
Several years ago I saw a CBS Sunday Morning segment on a young NYC painter, Taliah Lempert, who was serious about making a living. The segment was focused on the incredible power of the internet to drive sales. The reporter followed Taliah to her studio where she uploaded images to her website, then followed her again as she headed around the city on her bike to deliver a painting to a buyer. (Internet art collectors... who would have imagined it two decades ago?)
Since watching that segment (around 2001, I think) I've 'checked in' every so often to see how Taliah's career has progressed. Her website continues to offer a window to her studio, even showing the regular progress of what's on her easel. Rather than reading Taliah's blog, I go online toread her paintings. A lot has changed over the years. At first I began seeing prints for $30, $200, and $300. Then there came postcards, notecards, t-shirts, and even a coloring book!
Now, you tell me... is this selling out or selling art?
I hold my own opinion, of course. I believe that Taliah has managed to find a cost-effective alternative to her original paintings that also resolves her practical need to profit more reliably from her work. She isn't making work that swerves too far from her original passion, yet she is able to build her name around something other than the limited number of paintings she can produce each year. Really, she is expertly building her brand.
Now, does this mean we aren't likely to see Taliah's work featured within Art in America or ArtForum anytime soon? Because she broke the unspoken code of fine art ethics by allowing her work to be placed on t-shirts and in coloring books? Because she chose to represent her own work, rather than depend only on galleries?
I believe the rules for making and marketing artwork have changed. Like falling in love, artmaking is a very personal journey where we are free to write the ground rules any old (or new) way we like. So, what rules have you set for yourself?