Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Artist's Picketty

This is an expanded version of my reply  to the following article in Cultural Weekly:

As a professional artist I have done battle with the gallery
 scene-The gallery today has become more important 
than the artist- ie the gallery charges 50%, some take
 60% of the price, some as low as 20% ( frame shops)
 but does not pay for shipping and framing. Take for
 example, a painting that sells for 10K, considered a
 middling price for an artist with a middling
 or budding reputation. If the painting actually sells
for the price advertised you are lucky- but you
 are often asked to give a 10% discount to a favored 
client or even a client that they would like to snag- 
the painting is now offered at $9,000.
 The artist gets $4500. Great if there were no shipping
 or framing costs born by the artist. 
Framing can be $300  and up unless it is
 gallery wrapped. Shipping anything depending 
on location- I will take a cheap average
 for a decent sized piece.- Say $300 so now the artist
 gets $3900. Oh wait- there is the stretchers
, art supplies and canvas- another (cheap) guestimate
 $300. We are now at $3600. If the unfortunate
 artists needs a model $20 per hour, she can get by
 on the cheap and pay the model for a photoshoot- 
usually a minimum of $60. If she hires the model
 to paint from life- a 80 hour picture, 4 four hour 
days for four weeks would cost $1600. That leaves
 either $3500 or $2800 gross. If the artist works a
 36 hour week on a four week $10,000 painting the
 hourly average would be $25 per hour without a 
model and $19 per hour with a model.
 This is just the painting time- 
add on book keeping, promotional efforts
 (website, photographing art, etc)schmoozing,
 visiting galleries,
 keeping the studio in order- (or not) 
you will end up with about $20 per hour sans model- and
about $11.30 if you paint from life  This is gross, 
out of this comes studio expenses, rent, promotion
and healthcare- (usually out of the question).
 Also, art student debt is the highest
 of all the student loan debt.
Google  "in debt from risd" and
 read the horror stories. RISD is 53k per annum.

Abstracts take less time- but of this I am not sure as
 I have not done any. My guestimates are based on
 a medium sized painting 36" x 45" roughly.
 Some artists work faster, some poke along. 
Euan Uglow only produced 2 paintings
 a year at best. A decent figurative artist takes his 
time as well as someone who paints still lifes.
Photorealism also take a lot of time.
A picture a month is pretty zippy for something 
with decent quality and $10,000
 is a good piece of change for a respectable gallery.

Flip art is a new thing that is hot, hot, hot. 
The artist has a concept and makes
 multiples rapidly, using fast techniques,
 assistants and unusual methods
 employing fire extinguishers etc.
Some young artists are making fortunes and 
collectors are 'flipping' them to make a fast profit. 
These younguns are making 50k per pic.
Alternatively, unless you live in Holland and
can get a guarantee of  of a few sales
from the government (being fazed out as
it was a complete disaster)- there are the classic choices,
living with mom and dad or a sugar daddy.

Another way is to buy some paint rollers,
fast drying acrylic paint,
some masking tape, pre-stretched gallery-wrapped
canvas and slap it out. I saw this as a cheap decorating tip 
on a TV program call "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. 
Give your oeuvres
 some catchy titles like
 "Walking through my Fear of Pink"
 or in a more political vein
 "Picketty's Revenge- Marx in Analogous Colors".
If the title is good they won't know if the painting is crap. 
When asked as to the meaning of the work, 
look stricken- and say
"I really wanted to do a requiem
for the Monarch butterfly but I have failed utterly."
then sniffle.


Maggie said...

Then are you saying, why bother? Perhaps artists need a guild, or a union, or some way to organize?


Sharon Knettell said...

I never say "why bother"- but maybe some should not. We are graduating from what I could glean from the United States census data 30,0000 BFA's per year! We have a GLUT of artists now slicing up a smaller slice of the pie. Many cannot pay off their debt- Time magazgine estimates that art students carry the highest debt load.

Holland tried artist subsidies that many people refer to fondly as an exemplar but it was a total flop. The artists rushed out pieces- one was a crushed shopping cart to meet the governments quota. The Dutch government was left with warehouses filled with unsaleable junk it could not even auction off. It was a debacle. It ended up shredding some of the more egregious stuff- it was paying fortunes in warehouse fees.

This is an article from 1992 in the New York Times- it has gotten worse since.

Sometimes artists have unrealistic expectations of what is out there to support them- and the arts have become unrelenting begathons. Rhode Island, 30x 40 miles wide and deep has 20 theater companies-20!

Some creative people are creating work co-ops like a B and B in New York- where they work on their art, work at the B and B and some live there.

Artist co-operatives may be the way to go with like minded artists- impossible here in Rhode Island as everything is RISD and the figurative arts are held in little regard. This might work in other areas.

I just think that there are unrealistic expectations out there and young people should be aware of that and not cripple themselves and their parents with debt. I hire a lot of young art students. A Mass Art BFA grad showed me her portfolio- puerile, cartoony things- I told her that it was not ready for prime time- she thought I completely did not get it. I encouraged her to go into movie making, her other interest.