With 2018 comes a milestone for me. In the coming months, I will have been selling my paintings for thirty years. I’m sure I will refer to this milestone a few times here over the next year. In fact, I have actually lost count, but I think I’m also in the ballpark of ten years of writing the Artist’s Perspective. So, with those thirty years of selling paintings, and around ten in making observations of the art world itself, I ask myself, how’s it going, what’s new, what’s happening, what’s changed and what shall we expect in the coming months and years?
If you can imagine, when I began my painting career, there were plenty of galleries. None of them, or the artists they represented, had a website or used email because the internet was barely invented at that time. Not only was there no Facebook, there wasn’t even anything known as social media. If there was, it would simply have been face to face conversation. Today, none of us could imagine a world without much of this, but I remember the throws of having a gallery website created and eventually one for myself as an artist, in the 1990’s. Before that time, truthfully, it was the old phrase of location, location, location. Which meant, where you were located on the street, not online. Artists pretty much sold their art in one of two ways, you were either in a gallery or you traveled to art shows. Always hated the thought of schlepping my artwork from show to show, I did very, very, little of the latter of those two.
With more commercial galleries than there are today, I think there was more opportunity for artists to find a good fit, but beginners actually competed against a bustling limited edition print market. Which by the way, also provided a low-cost product for collectors, created a healthy framing business for gallery owners and provided reasonable royalty income for artists. The print market experienced a big hiccup during the 1990’s due to a saturation of product, and while a fragment of the print market still exists today, it’s nothing like in the heyday, where the secondary market for the prints by some artists reached well into the thousands. When this market slowed though, many galleries slowed with it. The ones that survived did so in part by selling local original paintings. The bigger galleries, of course, were able to get and represent more nationally known artists, and the world of art forged on.
With prints, a new term arrived, giclee, (French “to spray”), basically amazing quality prints on canvas and watercolor paper, made using a huge and expensive inkjet printer. These prints offered a product that looked much like an original painting for on average, a 1/4 of the cost of the original. Collectors now had the choice of these original looking reproductions, often by nationally recognized artists, or buying original paintings by local artists. A choice is a good thing. But many of the frame shop galleries had to reboot themselves in the process of these changes. Some made it, again, others did not.
The vibrancy of every art destination in the United States has unarguably been propped up by commercial galleries. NYC, Scottsdale, AZ. Santa Fe, NM., Carmel, CA., Charleston, SC., on and on, have had art collectors come to them. But as mentioned, the world has changed in many ways, and how many of us find and purchase art has been ever changing as well.
Art festivals, non-profits having art shows, a plethora of plain air painting shows, artists personal websites, and online sales, have altered the commercial gallery’s role in truly representing artists. I also talk to galleries who never completely recovered from the last recession. Yet, in the process, increased rents and business costs have made it less profitable, and online shopping has been a game changer for retail in general.
With all of this said, art still finds its supporters, as it has for centuries. Visual art has been constantly redefined, and thus, becomes a broader brush. Mediums like digitally created art will continue to gain ground, but traditionally created art, I think will always be the foundation of a high tech, high touch world. Our fixation on a screen or a piece of glass isn’t ever quite as authentically nourished as it is in a world of touch and feel. Artists, never stop letting the art lover touch your work. Allow them to relish in the feel of art, as opposed to simply looking at it. Screens are now being touched every day, millions of times a day, and the net result is something happens when they are touched. A discovery, a command, a result. If the art we know and love is only to be seen, and its unique feel of paint, bronze, clay or stone, is never felt, this type of art will lose ground to a new virtual world. New generations are immersing themselves in a world of games, where digital renderings bring a world to life while allowing the viewer to move through the art and participate in it. It’s a place where fantasy and reality meet. The visual arts we think about as such, must stay in touch. Literally!
Life An Artful Life, Tom