@Nick Madden: We now have a couple of issues going simultaneously: (1) how an individual artist breaks into a market, and (2) how a meaningful collector base gets formed across an entire art community. An act that may help the first effort may actually erode the second effort. Lowering prices below market level is one such act. The same is true in any industry. Lowering prices on widgets from company A may increase company A's customer base, but only at the cost of lowering the profitability of the entire industry. (By the way I believe that "Artist" is the only Bureau of Labor Statistics job category whose wage curve actually goes into negative territory, meaning it's the only job some people pay to do rather than get paid to do.)
I think you're right: S. Ingram is only addressing a certain class of artists. But that doesn't invalidate the underlying point. The point isn't that nothing should be sold for $33 (as clarified by Debbie above). It's that something shouldn't be sold for $33--at an auction for example--when the market dictates that the price should be much higher. "The market" means the track record of the artist, the prices paid by previous collectors, prices paid for similar works by artists at a similar point in their career, etc. As a new entrant into the market it's quite likely that you have not yet established that track record. So a lower price point is both appropriate and useful. The problem is when someone has been practicing for decades, has established a track record, and still because of economic conditions is forced to compete at the same $33 price point. I'll wager that when you're 20 years further into your career you won't be wanting to sell paintings for $33. You'll likely want some sort of infrastructure in place to help you get what your work is actually worth. The question on the table is how to prepare an environment that's ready for you should you decide to move toward that $1000 or $100,000 level. A question that I think this comment thread has some viable answers for, but that also has potential caveats as well.
@Debbie: If I read S. Ingram's point correctly, I don't think he's talking about selling art cheap when that's its appropriate market value; he's talking about selling it cheap when the actual market value is much higher. The question is how would anyone ever come to value something highly when their only experience of it is getting it for much cheaper than it's worth, which I think remains a valid question.
On the bigger issue of growing a collector base, that also presents a thorny problem. I'd like to believe, as you say, that the higher end of the market exercises some kind of gravitational pull, drawing new entrants from the bottom of the market upward. But do we have any evidence that that's actually true? Do we know that that happens in reality? Or are we just teaching people who buy little acrylic paintings at bargain-basement prices to think of art as ultimately not all that valuable? When I look around at "serious" collectors, they seem to fall into 2 categories: (1) those who came to collecting through some form of family lineage, i.e., they come from the sorts of families where people already do things like that, and (2) people with lots of new money who suddenly "get" the prestige of art--and those folks tend to immediately aim as high in the market as their checkbook will comfortably take them. If you charge $33.33 for a work of art that's worth much more, you've essentially told the new collector "You should never pay more than $33.33 for a piece of art." And I can see how that lesson would last a long, long time.
I think we're beginning to see a movement in the arts in general out of formal art institutions and back into other settings of daily life, formal and informal: the street, the nightclub, the open plaza, churches. And I am not just referring to paintings thrown on a restaurant wall as an afterthought; I mean these daily-life kinds of settings may be becoming the primary reception points for art of all kinds.
Notice that I said "back" into daily-life settings. That's been the norm for art in most cultures throughout human history, including places like Europe and North America until quite recently as the article points out. A transition may be scary, but there's plenty of precedent for how to do things differently.
That's no small challenge damien. Those are notions I struggle with as a writer constantly. Particularly value. The dirty little not-so-secret secret of art criticism is that the alliance between the genres of work we tend to favor and the "art market" is no accident. And unless one is prepared to say that the market is a perfect reflection of democratic processes (ha!) then those preferences are necessarily freighted. Ask Jon Ciliberto of Poem 88 about that.
Your point about sentimentality hits very close to home.
This is the kind of great discussion that this topic deserves.
@r.n. You've said that we need authoritative voices in the arts and then proceed to give a number of great examples of where criticism is making a difference not by being an authoritative voice but by its opposite: using the invaluable knowledge and expertise of those who know about art to help shape a wider dialogue that includes a huge number of voices. That's the kind of thing I'm advocating for more of.
I'll admit I was walking a dangerous line in that people might read my questioning of authoritative voices as somehow a questioning of ANY voices. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Blake Beckham above also raises some excellent points. I love history! One of the things that happened during that widening gap is that the critics switched sides. Critics once mostly represented a judgment of art on behalf of society.
In the course of modernism society stopped judging art, and instead art started judging society. Critics were a big part of that shift. They switched to explaining the art on behalf of the art rather than on behalf of the public. I'm not opposed to that, but it's a very different place from where criticism began.
We'll make a date!
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