Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Red-Hot Art Market?

At least four magazines have published articles recently on the "red-hot art market". Time is the latest; others include Vanity Fair and W Magazine; I forget where I saw the other one. These articles have all talked about the millions of dollars being thrown into art auctions at Christies and Sotheby's. One article had a serious discussion with some art-world bigwigs about how an individual should spend a million or more to build an art collection. There was also a lot of talk about how scouts are trolling art schools to find the latest hot sensation. As a working artist, I have one question:

What "hot" art market?

For most living artists, the art market began a downswing in about 2000, and then collapsed almost entirely over the next couple of years. Good galleries went belly-up left and right. Sales on the art festival circuit plummeted. It appears that the slide has stabilized over the past year or so, but I don't think it has recovered any lost ground yet.

The reason: America's middle class has been under seige for the past six years. Job security is almost nonexistent. Even with the current job growth, people still have fresh memories of business closures, job losses, and pay cuts. Real take-home pay has declined. Consumer confidence is way down. Art is the first thing people cut when times are tight, and the last thing to be restored. And there's no restoration happening yet.

The "market" they're talking about is the tiny tip at the top, where multibillionaires throw money around like it's nothing. It's the same one that the Barrett-Jackson auto auction cater to, where somebody will spend a million bucks on a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. We saw similar feeding frenzies in the dot com boom of the late 90's and the housing price boom in this decade. So, in other words, the market is being driven by greed, speculation, and the desire to one-up the neighbors. It's not about art at all.

I think the only way to fix this is the same way we fix the rest of America: restore the middle class's security and income. It's the middle class that supports working artists. When people are secure, upwardly mobile, and confident that things will continue that way, they buy art.

Working artists are the canaries in the cultural coal mine. If you really want to know how confident America is, ask a working artist. You can forget about those in the "red hot art market".

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rain Clouds Keep Dumping On My Head

So Friday, I get the mail, and here's a dunning notice from the city of Asheville saying I haven't paid my parking ticket from August yet. This is news to me, as I never saw a parking ticket in August, or any month this year. I try to call, and of course their system's down. On to the next item in the mail, which is a reject notice from an exhibition in New York that I was hoping to get into. Then on the news at 11, there's a comment that two out-of-the-way railroad crossings are going to be closed for several days starting on Sunday. These two crossings happen to be the ones that are critical to traffic in Asheville's River Arts District, and of course THIS is the weekend of the River Arts District Studio Stroll! Oh, yes, this weekend is off to a flying start!

Saturday starts off okay: the weather is nice and we hear that the closing notice is erroneous. Whew, dodged that bullet! On to the studio, and here come the thousands of visitors eager to buy our art. Well, hundreds of them, anyway ... and not at all eager, as it turns out. After all day in the studio, I sold a grand total of one (count 'em, 1) poster for $20. I'd even made a special effort to put away the political stuff and get out the happy pictures. To no avail.

Sunday was a disaster. It was cold and windy. I got down there early to set up the information tent and there were the railroad guys ripping up the crossties out of the intersection, which was now closed for the next several days. So the information that the report was erroneous was itself erroneous. We put up my tent for the information booth and it blew over inside of ten minutes, bending a couple of support braces and rendering it inoperative for the duration. I got the tent workers resettled in another location (next to a coffeeshop, so they were happy), then went out to relocate some of our directional signs to show visitors the convoluted detour route around the damn railroad guys. Ever tried to pound one of those cheap signs into packed roadside gravel? Try eight of 'em.

I finally got back to the studio about two hours after the Stroll officially began. As it turned out, I probably could've gone home instead. Very few visitors and nothing else sold. Not even a poster.

I spent all today framing a bunch of etchings for a show here in town. Went to the building to hang it and found out that the company sponsoring the show is no longer in business. Ergo, no show. Bummo.

Do you remember the "Lil Abner" comic strip? I think that was the strip that had one character who walked around with a raincloud over his head all the time. That's been me since Friday. The wonderful lady who arranged the show asked me this evening if my raincloud was contagious.


What can ya do? Rant in your blog, bitch and moan, then get up in the morning and keep on plugging. What else is there?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Results

Oh, happy day! We got rid of our corrupt Congressman and the Democrats have taken control of the House, with the Senate is still up in the air. President Bush is talking this morning about "bipartisanship" ... a concept he hates even worse than terrorism, since it hasn't been on the radar in over six years.

I think what this all means is that finally we'll have some checks and balances to Bush's imperial agenda. Without enough votes to override a presidential veto, the two sides will either have to compromise or get nothing done. At least Congress won't be a rubber stamp anymore.

The big question will be the '08 elections. The Democrats were successful this time because they weren't Republicans. That won't be enough in two years. Now the Democratic leadership has to do something they've failed to do for years: articulate a forward-looking vision. They don't have a lot of time to do it, either: if it's not clear by next January, it's too late.

But at least the Republican excesses are ended.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Portrait Workshop

Last weekend I went to Raleigh for a portrait painting workshop. Now, if you've looked at my web site, you know that portraits are not something I focus on. But I saw this as an opportunity to learn something from people who do portraits for a living. And it worked out very well.

On Friday night there was a portrait demo by Dawn Whitelaw. She talked her head off while painting and I scribbled 6 pages of notes as fast as my little hand could scribble. (Side note: Talking while painting is hard. Both activities use very different areas of the mind and I, for one, can't switch back and forth very well. She did, though.) I learned quite a few things about color mixing and paint application.

For example, Dawn uses a rather radical palette. Most painters start with two reds, two yellows, two blues, probably a couple of earth colors, a white, and more than likely a few other favorites. Not Dawn. She had one red (napthol), one yellow (cad yellow light), one blue (ultramarine), and titanium white. That was it. And she still managed to come up with an impressive variety of colors on the canvas.

On Saturday, there was a workshop run by Dawn and Ed Jonas. I tried out a number of the things Dawn talked about and got some feedback from both of the instructors. At the end of the day, I walked away with some new skills and a better understanding of my own capabilities and limitations. Not a bad weekend's work!

Now back to the real world. I came down with a bug of some sort on the trip and am still fighting it. Today is election day. This weekend will be our fall Studio Stroll, where all the artists in our area (over 70) open our studios to the public. And next week I have a show of my etchings going up. So I'm trying to get the studio in shape for visitors, get some work ready for presentation in both the Stroll and the show, get rid of the bug, and fight a bad case of the "I don't care's" (probably brought on by the bug). And all the while, there's a really neat painting leaning against the wall in my studio that desperately needs to be finished.