Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The artist and charity auctions

This post is going to be rather harsh so I am beginning it with a picture of this nice little lamb.

My fictitious character Linda Larynxslicer is about to appear again, and when Linda shows up things can get rough. She last appeared on Thursday Feb 26 in another discussion on art and business. Linda represents a number of commonly held attitudes about art. Some hard truths are about to surface. I am going to be business like. I can be, you know. I have had to be. Its part of being a pro. You need to be an artist in the studio, but when its time to make a living, you are a small business and if you don't toughen up you will not survive in this business, or any other. I wish I didn't have to tell you this. If you have a problem with that, maybe you should raise tropical fish.

Linda Larynxslicer writes in:
Gee Stape, You cant say that! what do you mean by a "professional artist?" isn't it kind of mean to say someone isn't a professional artist? Isn't everybody a professional artist? What about the art teacher down at the pre-school, I think shes nice. ( I'm not sure I like you very much though).

I think of a professional wrestler as someone who wrestles for a living. I think of a professional artist as someone who makes art for a living. I know some artists whose work I don't enjoy at all, like that Damien Hirst fellow. But he is a pro, its not a measure of whether I like his art or not. Its about how he makes his living. Conversely if I say someone is not a pro, I am not dismissing their art, it may be great, they just don't do it for a living. Professional artist is an occupation. Monet was not a waiter.

Every week this time of year I get letters and phone calls from organizations that want me to participate in their annual art auctions . I get lots of these.This thing has gotten out of hand. Isn't this year the thoracic surgeons turn ? Imagine all the local attorneys lined up at that auction to give their work away for short money.

Now I don't mean to be uncharitable, but there has got to be a limit. At least for me as a pro there has to be. I haven't forsworn charity auctions entirely. I did one last year, and it has a proven history of receiving good prices for paintings. I also believe strongly in the organizations mission.

Now if you are a student, paint for a hobby or are just starting out I am not speaking to you. In fact these venues might be a great place to have a fun day painting with some other artists and pay for a little paint with which to make more art. I am addressing this to the pros or those who are near that and trying to complete their journey.

I have sold a lot of paintings, They are expensive. I treasure the people who have bought them. Without them I would have had no career. I can't feed my children snowballs. When I had my own gallery I met many of my collectors personally. Now that I do most of my business in other peoples galleries, I don't know who all the collectors are. But they ARE. I owe them more than just my gratitude, I defend the value of their purchases and reward their faith in me and my painting. They are the last group of people in the world I want to stick it to. When my valuable paintings are sold for a steeply discounted price at a highly advertised and visible event I am devaluing my clients investment in my art.

I am also allowing people who wouldn't dream of paying me the real price I have worked a lifetime to establish , to have my art more cheaply than my valued customers. In fact every time someone admires my painting in their home for the next 40 years, they will say "He gets big money for his paintings but I only paid 325 dollars for this one!"

Now Linda is a fine citizen and she called me to be in the Wiemaraner Hypertension Society's annual auction because she is trying to help out in her community. She called me last year too. Otherwise I never hear from her.

But she is a stranger to art and no part of her purpose is helping me make it in the art biz. She thinks artists are as common as robins, many of her friends are artists, in fact she macrames plant hangers and does a batik of a wizard now and then herself. Her roommate in college became an art therapist. However, she knows no one who makes their living painting pictures.
Linda's friends have basements full of their paintings and they are very infrequently paid for them. If she sells one for $325 that's magic, she doesn't really think of them as having value, if they bring 32.50 that's okay too. Anything they get for a painting they are ahead.They've got lots of paintings and they aren't counting on their art to feed their children.

She doesn't think of my paintings any differently than her uncles who took a watercolor class with Mrs. Pthalosquirter over to the junior college? back when he retired. She thinks my prices are just a matter of my overinflated sense of self worth and wouldn't dream of paying for one herself. She thinks I'm mean anyway. Her friends could just make her one for free! Now she won't tell me that because someone told her I get "big money" for paintings and she plans on selling my art for 1/9th of its market value for her goddamn wiemaraners.

You need to ask yourself if you actually care enough about this charity to give them, say 4000.00, if you get that for a 16x20, because that's what you are doing. Or do your children need that painting so they can eat, and live indoors? You then either say I am sorry I don't do auctions but I will give you a donation of $30.oo, or you say, call a cardiologist, its their turn this year.


Richard J. Luschek II said...

Great post.
A local organization has a fund raiser every year where they ask artists to create a 5x7 piece of artwork. They usually end up with 1000s.
Now most of them I would not use to scrape gum off my shoe, but other like myself, put some time into them. The end up selling them all for $75.
Now, I figure it is a charity, and it used to be an organization that I was fond of, so I give them a painting, that if I were to sell it myself I would charge at least twice that, but as I am a competitive jerk I want mine to be one of the better ones.
The upside is that I have been chosen two years in a row for the top cards and put in a publication. I also got a commission for a large work from this.
The downside is that have also gotten more than two request for similar cards. When I tell them that I am going to charge a fair price, they act like I am a criminal. "The charity one was only $75."
So, this event makes my paintings worth less.
Now everyone wants something for nothing.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have been abused and have tried to wise up.I have been a part of some of those auctions where they were giving the art away and no one was bidding.I had a 10 by 16 bring $27.00 some years ago.I stomped around and muttered until my wife had had enough. I resolved to earn the rest of my fee as a lesson.
I think we may create a downward spiral of lessening prices, and people will expect to get art ever more cheaply.
It is a disservice not only to our clients but to the entire market. I would like to see the whole charity auction thing handed over to the amateurs and students. The schlock art thing and the demise of many outdoor festivals and "original" prints have ripped the bottom rungs of the ladder. Perhaps the charity gigs could fill that purpose..........Stape

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Very interesting post re the value of our work. I participated in a 'Wet Paint' charity auction for a mental health group in Naples, FL. My work was shown next to last out of maybe 40 pieces, because my last name begins with W. Secondly, the work was all over the place quality-wise. One piece was so bad that it was the only one that didn't even get a bid. I got one opening bid for, I think, $240 on my 18X24 which I valued at $1,200. No one followed and my husband put up his hand and paid $300 for it. As he carried the painting out the door, someone remarked to him, "I knew a man would buy that painting!" (boats in a marina.)
Anyway, the artists were mostly humiliated by the whole 'event' at which, it was obvious by the lack of bidding that, no one was there for the art.

Karla said...

I hear you on this one. Having had a quilt shop I was amazed at the ppl who I didn't know walk in my door and ask for donations. And there were a lot! One was a high school kid who was raising money for a trip to Europe, this was his second trip. Not a missions trip mind you - a vacation. Geesh!

If I ever get good enough I would consider painting something for a St Jude auction in memory of my son.