The Art of Hardwood Floors: What Others Won’t Tell You (Part 2, Sanding)

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The “Pro” Blogs Make It Look Easy (If You Have Picture Perfect Floors)

Refinishing hardwood floors: you just rent a few sanders right?  How hard can it beLike many others, you own or bought a house, and a rewarding but challenging decision awaits you with unlocking the potential (and future monetary value) of hardwood flooring.  In this Blog, I will specifically be discussing Sanding.  For the Introductory Posting, please see Part 1.   

WHICH “LOOK” OF HARDWOOD FLOOR DO YOU WANT?

Before you go through the time and expense of attempting to refinish a hardwood floor, you may want to consider what type of “look” you are going for. What’s the difference?

After learning from a friend who did both original hardwood floors and had modern hardwood floors installed, the difference really boils down to the look (both are beautiful when done well).  Compare the two photos below:  1. is original refinished 1930’s yellow pine, and 2.) are modern installed hardwood floors (and there are many derivatives engineered vs non-engineered, and various price points, etc.)

Circa 1930’s Yellow Pine (Note: Fully Finished)
Modern Wood Laminate Flooring

 

Set aside the fact that one image isn’t a picture perfect stock photo, the point is that that original hardwood floors give off a certain look and feel of being much more “historic” (for lack of a better word).  Wood ultimately comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and there is no shortage of examples online.  The real point being that an older original floor will likely show flaws, dings, dents, etc., that can potentially cause you a number of headaches.  However, if you like that “non perfect” look, that is where you will likely end up.

Imagine a 1960’s Fender Stratocaster guitar versus one from 2023.  Both look similar, but the rarity and age of the 1960’s can never be re-duplicated.   There are only so many forests in the world (going backwards in time).  

SANDING ORIGINAL WOOD FLOORS: WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU

So you’ve pulled up some carpet, ripped out tile, and discovered that you have acceptable original hardwood flooring.  You’ve read a few Blogs and Step-by-Step Instructions and made your checklist of materials.  Great!  Now comes the hard part: all wood has variables. 

Assuming that you have removed all of the staples and nails, and removed everything from the rooms,  you’ve gone to big-box hardware store to rent (at least) your Drum Sander, and your Edging Sander (heavy aren’t they!)  Don’t forget to also buy an ample supply of 36, 60/80, and 100/120 Grit Drum Paper, as well as a very ample supply of Edging Sander Discs.  (Tip: return anything you don’t use). 

Remember also to set aside at least 3 days worth of time to complete the work- and the time is ticking on those Rentals!  (More days= more $$$)  

Let’s take a look at some examples of “non perfect” original hardwood floors, after a pass or two with the Drum Sander (on 36 and 60), working of course, with the grain:

Note: the “zebra”-like striping

 

After multiple passes at this, you may be scratching your head wondering why you have streaky floors, still with varnish and the original floor color. 

This is due to varying levels and inconsistencies with the wood.  Using a disc or orbital sander with inevitably create swirl marks and patterns on your floors, even when done carefully.  Similarly, doing something like that by hand with large rooms would wear your patience to the bone.  

What is the solution?  Working diagonally “against” the grain.  Note, that the word “against” is in quotation marks.  You are not really sanding “against” the grain, it is just a sort of half-counter measure.  For this, I would recommend using a 60 or 80 Grit, to be on the safe side and test the result.  For particularly difficult rooms, you might lower back to the 36 Heavier Grit.  

An excellent and more professional and scientific explanation can be found watching this epic Australian guy here.

Note: the diagonal sand lines now in the floor (not the arrows, lol)

 

BUT: a very important point to note, is that once you go diagonal, you then need to re-sand your floors straight with the grain.  If you continue onwards to sanding and varnishing, you will have diagonal lines in your floors!  

This means that you have now Drum Sanded your floors upwards of potentially 5 passes.  (2 regular, 1-2 diagonal, and 1 more time to take out the diagonals)   

(Not exactly how they show you in the picture-perfect videos and blogs…)

Trickier yet, some of the diagonal areas will be harder to “set back straight” due to the same sorts of wood inconsistencies.  This is where you have one of two options:

1.) go back to the big-box store and rent a Random Orbital Sander (for possibly your final pass using a 100 grit or 120)

2.) get down on your hands and knees and use a palm and/or belt sander to touch-up inconsistent areas.  Vacuum, and look really fucking hard at everything 

In the case of the 1930’s original floors, I ended up having to do both of these!  The Random Orbital was OK, (work fast and without stopping), but then left some swirl marks in the high/low areas.  You then have both swirls and diagonals to contend with!  

A Random Orbital Sander

 

 Be prepared to “finish” the sanding with an orbital and/or palm sander, to smooth out the remaining inconsistencies (and chances are you will lose your mind before getting all of them!)  

P.S.  Don’t forget the Edging and fleshing the edging into the main work of the floor.  This is extremely hard work, and you will use dozens of sanding discs, so pack your bag adequately.  

I was fortunate enough to have my old folks make runs back to the hardware store for me.  Again, plan wisely.

END RESULT

Should you have spent the time and labor to sand the floors adequately, you should have an extremely “bare” appearance, devoid of any varnish and coloration.  Obviously, grains have some color, as you should NOT try to sand those away, and NOT OVERSAND the floors.  Know when to stop and enough is enough.   ALSO- BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL with your bare floors- as anything can scratch or discolor them now, including the Shop-Vac wheels, etc.

The appearance should look something akin to this: 

BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR SANDING PROJECT!  Be prepared for the “imperfect” and accept rolling with the punches in terms of getting creative with sanding, while not over-sanding!   

Chances are the floors will still not be “perfect”- remember, they may be a 100 years old and were cut and installed by workers with far less advanced technology…  

Continue ReadingThe Art of Hardwood Floors: What Others Won’t Tell You (Part 2, Sanding)

The Art of Hardwood Floors: What Others Won’t Tell You (Part 1)

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The “Pro” Blogs Make It Look Easy (If You Have Picture Perfect Floors)

Refinishing hardwood floors: you just rent a few sanders right?  How hard can it beLike many others, you own or bought a house, and a rewarding but challenging decision awaits you with unlocking the potential (and future monetary value) of hardwood flooring.  I am here to share with you my experiences as an “artist“, and although I am not a contractor or woodworking professional (never worked on a home in my life), you are likely in a similar situation. As an artist, I will try to show you how to “have fun with it,” and to use your ingenuity and imagination.  I will fill in parts of the story with working advice that I learned searching dozens of blogs and videos.  One preliminary note: if you plan to do a new floor or discover that your floor is not salvageable, you may want to look elsewhere.  Like Kenny Rogers says: “know when to hold em’, know when to fold em'”  The rest is up to you.

What it starts by boiling down to is 1.) Conditions 2.) Time/Money 3.) Other Factors.

CONDITIONS

Having a wife in late stages of pregnancy and needing a larger future space for our new family, we were fortunate enough to have found a beautiful, semi-original, 1930’s home (in about a C- condition), in January 2024.  The entire house had been done wall-to-wall with musty old carpeting, and large, thick tiles throughout the dining room.  Sure, you can lift up a carpet corner during the home tour (and later inspection stages), but, you really don’t know what you are getting into, especially if you plan to move fast.  With closing delayed to the very last day (February 20th), we had less than 3 weeks until the baby due date to get the essentials of the home into working shape, as well as potentially fumigated.  (Disclaimer: we are still living in an apartment until the lease runs out in April, however, there is a loss of “daddy labor time” 2-3 weeks, due to the newborn).  SO- time is ticking (daddy…)   

Immediately upon closing February 20th and getting keys, I began removing all of the carpeting and wallpaper (and glue!)- FAST.  By Friday the 23rd (3 days later), I had reached the thick tile in the downstairs dining room and struck pay dirt:  there was a layer of plywood between the tile and the original hardwood floors.  Fortunately, the rest of the floors beneath the carpeted areas were in decent shape, with the exception of the stairs (which can be done separately).  The tile removal you will see below.

On Saturday the 24th, my folks brought over their general contractor (maybe you will have a similar “guy” or professional), and he began to layout three things:  1.) the floors had uneven spots; therefore 2.) sanding would create all sorts of headaches; therefore, 3.) hire us to put in “dustless” brand-new wood floors.  Without getting into the details, you could ballpark this for about $5,000-$6,000 for approximately 900 sq. ft.  With everything going on in our lives- there just isn’t that kind of extra money laying around! 

With a professional, you are really getting two things: 1.) the speed/time of having a crew (if they are competent); 2.)  brand new modern flooring or pro-refinishing (if they are competent).  

Ask yourself: with decent/good original wood floors, why would I spend $5,000+ to have someone install a floor on top of an existing floor?

As another friend of mine who did both a refinish job and hiring someone (two different houses), his advice was “pick your poison”- the results are both equally as rewarding.  (This is of course, unless you screw up refinishing the floors yourself.)  

TIME

Time can involve a number of things. For starters, if you pulled up your carpeting and your hardwood is trashed, you may be forced to move in on bad floors if you don’t have the luxury of multiple thousands of dollars (and time).  Or, you will work like serious hell to fix the floors, with no guaranteed result.  Let me say that after the grueling level of work, going back to the start is your worst nightmare. 

How you will feel having to start over. (I guess you could call that “staining”…)

Time can also involve labor and other people’s time.  It’s always interesting how many people are quick to give you opinions and volunteer help, but then don’t show up.  For me, it was myself, and my 80 year old father, and retirement-age mother.  I’m not saying I forced them to work- I’m just saying they showed up!   Be prepared to do it yourself and with little help.  Contrarily, you don’t want too many people or you will be stuck managing personalities (and they will drink all of your beer), and you have to be careful not to scratch or gouge the floor.   If you do have help, refinishing floors will push you and your loved ones to the limits of insanity.  Every person will have a “breaking point”.  

Let me put it another way: even for someone young and in good shape, refinishing hardwood floors can be one of the most physically challenging jobs.    

For the edging- imagine being bent over, in horse stance, with a “Covid mask” on, for days on end, holding the equivalent of the heaviest bowling ball with a canvas balloon blowing off the back.  In fact, if you haven’t reached “psychosis” by Day 2-3, you might be doing something wrong. 

Even The Zissou has a breaking point.

On day 2-3, I worked 8 AM to 9 PM running constantly vibrating heavy machines, and began to hallucinate, returning home to remove my sawdust covered clothes and proceed to sit naked in the kitchen while staring blankly at a corner of a wall spinning while I heard faint mumbles of my wife saying something to me about food.  YOU WILL FEEL PAIN.  Hell, you’ll probably lose a little weight. Any non-working people around you in your life will start to resent you.  

The up shot is: if you do finish this project, it will not only be rewarding, but you will (hopefully) have little-to-no recollection of it having ever happened.

Bear in mind your own “breaking point”: fatigue, and things like drinking beer, being stuck in a respirator and earplugs for hours and hours, and then possibly having to get behind the wheel of a car.  

To spell it out for 900 sq. feet (working at least 9 AM to 8 PM w/ one break):  the sanding took 4 days.  Approximately 3 with machines and 1 for touchups.  Staining: 1 whole afternoon + 24 hours drying, and Polyurethane (at least 2 days +/- depending on type).

 

OTHER FACTORS (AND THE TILE FLOORS!)

Before you get started with refinishing, consider a few other things, such as: 

1.) LIGHTING.  You will ideally need as much sunlight as possible, and or whatever you can do.  This makes working at night challenging.

2.) some machines weighing 100 pounds and moving them, considering stairs.  

3.) the transport of machines from a rental place to your house (do you drive a Miata?)  

4.) Relating to TIME:  the “easiest” of the tasks (such as corners) will bog you down and drive you crazy if you don’t have helpers. 

5.) the amount of sand paper truly needed for the project and the stock levels at your local store (the good news is that un-used items can usually be returned) because:

6.) some floors were originally finished with varnish (how would you know?)  When using the Edging Machine the varnish will smear with the old stain into circles everywhere and clog your sandpaper every 3-4 feet– even at 36 Grit.  For 900 sq. ft. we used nearly 30-35 round sanding discs just at 36 grit and had to drive to 2 different Home Depots.  Once the varnish is mostly removed and smeared around, you basically have to do everything over again to get to the goal of the bare wood.  

I never read that anywhere in any Blogs.  Be prepared for the unexpected things and when in doubt- buy more and return the unused.  Fortunately for me, at least one of my elderly parents was able to do the driving tasks.  Consider dividing tasks according to factors.  Remember my 80 year old dad?  I had him use the Drum Sander, which essentially is walking behind a machine like a lawn mower- but still an exhausting task (and he has done professional woodworking).

7.) FINALLY, as promised: The Tile Floors Over The Hardwood FloorsReaching the first floor Dining Room and a “pad” coming off the front door entryway, there was a layer of large thick tile covering the hardwood floors.  To Proceed or Not To Proceed?  Sometimes you just have to have a little guts and do the most rudimentary of things.  Remember- it’s all about your vision (and stamina)! 

For starters, don’t bash up the floor with a sledgehammer.  The true answer to removing tile over plywood (over hardwood) is very simple, almost ancient (but still extremely backbreaking and brutal).  You need to cut 10-16 pieces of 2×4’s lengthwise into long WEDGES.   The parent’s contractor said to just use shingle lifters/rippers to pry up the floor.  This sort of works, but will gouge the hell out of your floor.  (Conspiracy theory: he wanted to sell me that brand-new floor…) 

Pry up the floor slowly in multiple places and try to create an air pocket, and then begin driving in the wedges with a sledgehammer. 

This will still take quite some time, especially if the tile had a layer of metal mesh, and there were tons of nails used to hold down the wood.  You could bash up some of the tile as you go, and you will need multiple pry-bars in addition to wedges.  Why do you need so many wedges?  Reason is: you will bash up the ends of the wood and need backups, and more backups…  

All told: 2 days delay at minimum (but that hardwood floor is like a gold mine!)

Here are the pics.  Do a search on this technique and let the wedges do the work!   If you get lucky like my tile in the front doorway, the entire sheet will just pop-off.    Good luck and stay tuned for Part 2!    

Continue ReadingThe Art of Hardwood Floors: What Others Won’t Tell You (Part 1)

On Becoming an Artrepreneur

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The Good, The Bad, and The “Meh”

As we announced on social media, we’re officially going to be a mom and pop art gallery business.  It’s also official however, that we’re closing.  Suffice to say, life priorities change and call it what you want, Vestige Concept Gallery as it is known at 5417 Butler Street will be closed on 12/31/2023.  (Almost made it to that 4th year…)  It’s not a defeat or going out of business financially, so much as it’s having to perform the only selfish act that we have ever done (i.e. closing).   (Note: that “I” use “we” interchangeably, as this business includes Kelsey (who may not endorse these opinions), and the business entity itself). 

$200 and a Credit Card

Awards should be given for this type of bootstrapping and along with it, the segue into ending up on the cover of Pittsburgh Business Times (Headline: Guy Creates Successful Business With $200 and a Credit Card) or the 40 Under 40 List (I’m currently 39- so close!)  These dreams have sadly not come to pass (at least not yet).  Hundreds of art pieces and tens of thousands of dollars paid-out-to-artists later, things are just as they say “business as usual.”  There’s no award for years staying open.  Although it’s not a compliant, our take of sold art is just unfortunately not enough to muster the further energy in the face of rent and fixed cost.  Custom works of art where we take 100% sales also require a large amount of energy to produce.  People that understood “unique” (as opposed to mass produced) knew where to look, and chances were that on any given day you would have a free painting demonstration if you walked into the gallery.    

Truth be told, we started a successful art gallery from nothing, with the basic premise to provide immediate opportunities for people who are tired of waiting around for the wank at the pseudo-art-elitist jerk circle, or have to write a novela and give a blood sample to take a shot at a grant, with “waiting around” being the general lament.  As it began in December 2020, an art gallery is like having one long party, where the host has to continually make things interesting for people to attend.  In Zoolander, when he says “That Hansel is so hot”- is kind of the idea.  You and your gallery are either hot (or not).  In order to keep the party fresh, we opened up the place to anyone interested in showing with the caveat that it was curated.   As many have probably noticed, there was always some sort of “party” happening at the gallery.  Suffice to say, it has all taken a toll on my personal health.

 

We worked fast, and are a great gallery if you are looking to make a quick and decent buck.  Above us, there are definitely much slicker galleries, and below, you have a booth. Take your pick.  We truly appreciate the artists who invested their time, money, and energy on us.  While we’ve been accused of “pay to play” (which is true), we’ve always felt that it was more “pay it forward” and after all, someone needs to run the whole show.  The only real money came from Sales, albeit inconsistent for the higher priced pieces.  Unlike a day job, there is no salary direct-deposited every week.  Trying to guess at the tastes of everyone is also quite difficult.  Not every piece of art was amazing, and not every show was a runaway success.  It happens, and you learn to live with it.  In the end, it’s not my art and we tried to make things fun and interesting.  

When under the gun to constantly pay rent, you don’t get infinite chances to experiment and take risks on seemingly unknown artists.  Truth be told, we don’t really like a lot of artists out there, and a lot of it is just not that interesting. Heck, you probably already DIY, and hurrah for that, you’re among endless legions of competitors looking to sell their art (somehow).  The flip side of all of this, is that so-called artists of “caliber” aren’t knocking on our doors to be represented.  That’s not to say that we haven’t had artist’s of caliber (there’s been plenty) it’s just that investing thousands of dollars into another person that is not ourselves is a risky endeavor- when we would rather invest the money in ourselves and play it safe.  A case could be made for taking greater risks in business.  Sure, it’s been easier creating a situation where people come to us, when it’s no secret: there is a larger demand from artists to be seen than there is from consumers for the art itself.  However, we’ve done more than due diligence in both.  It would be one thing to never open or sit there and do absolutely nothing.   

Therefore, for all of the questions we’ve fielded for “why don’t you do more solo shows?” and “why do you keep doing these mixed/theme shows,” that is the simple answer.  The more complicated answer is that we’re just not that into your art, specifically.  The times we have brought in art pieces by the names that a buyer or collector says, those same buyers and so-called collectors don’t even show up to look at it, and we throw away money on shipping.  With that, I say that we have tried risk.  One of the worst parts of the dying breed of Main Street businesses is that overall customer loyalty just well… sucks.   The time and energy to invest in highly particular artists can be reserved for the leftover 1990’s/2000’s Pittsburgh scene “A-listers,” and silver-spoon galleries who open a handful (or spoonful) of times per month, and while we don’t doubt that the artists they host make “ok” art and both gallery and artist probably make a lot more money than us, their work is akin to what The Clarks are to the Pittsburgh music scene.  If you’ve been around Pittsburgh for as long as we have, you’ll understand what that means. 

I’d rather be out of business than deal with hack-abstract artists and even bigger egos in let’s face it… Pittsburgh.  I can say that only because I’m from here.

We’re just regular people- perhaps part of the enduring appeal of whatever it is that we’re doing, and part of why we have never received the golden anointment from one of very few keyholders in the Pittsburgh arts community at large.  Most of those keyholders are boring and have shallow personalities and as I believe, shun us.  We called bullshit for what it is and tried to provide people at least with some sort of other alternative.  

Pittsburgh: Some Place Special (Or So We Pretend)  

Being from Pittsburgh (80’s, 90’s… to today) it is my dubious honor to present my opinions on the pros and cons.  Outside of here, I lived in Chicago for roughly 8 years and have been to multiple countries, continents, world heritage sites, and the like.  I’m sure that in the end, a lot of cities and towns are the same that with over time, you would find the same sorts of things (i.e. the mundane).  And heck, there are probably a lot worse places than Pittsburgh.  On top of that, everyplace has its cheapskates, undercutters, spiers, haters, phony-wannabes, so-called “cultured” women that basically only fuck rich guys, “cultured” men that are misogynistic asshats, douchebros, rednecks, hood rats, etc.   I’m sure we’ve all experienced these people at some point.  

The problem with Pittsburgh is two fold:  it’s a fair weather bandwagon city where in order for anyone to appreciate something new, there has to be at least some sort of majority already doing it.  In a city of hundreds of thousands of people, roughly 80% of them won’t do anything that doesn’t involve a football, or a dancing food item or condiment.  Hell, the city is best known for football and a fucking condiment.   It elects Baron Batch (was he a Steeler?) as it’s best artist, and a yellow bridge as it’s art-du-jour.  So-called “culture” is confined to a limited number of institutions and key-holders.  I’m the “so and so” virtue-signaling curator at the Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, this or that-institutions named after wealthy old white men that literally worked people to death for very little pay.  Therefore, It’s also a hard working town, where undoubtedly, you have to earn some sort of respect or reason why people want to spend their hard earned dollars on you.  

The second problem with Pittsburgh is that it’s full of haters, but not a lot of critics.  “How can that be,” you ask? Hating on people can be anonymous, and shitting on ideas (and businesses, etc.) is easy.  Critically, the circle of “importants” is so small that you can’t say anything remotely honest or critical of anyone or anything without being ostracized.  Art critic Jerry Saltz once wrote that in New York City for instance, you can afford to lose 50 followers because you can gain 100’s more.  It’s easy in a large town, but not a small one.  What does this lead to?   This leads to a scenario where “everybody gets a turn” and everyone’s stuff is treated equally and without criticism (until it’s not).  Everyone is forced to play nice to each other.  This sort of egalitarian stupidity is why the city has barely (if not ever) produced any superstars by way of art or music, and I’m not talking about George Benson, Wiz Khalifa, or Donnie Iris.  People in Pittsburgh cannot simply be allowed to give their time or energy to back one really good thing that doesn’t involve a food item or the playoffs.  That is, until that thing moves away and becomes much more successful- then everyone in Pittsburgh takes credit for it (i.e. Andy Warhol or Michael Keaton).

That’s not to say that Vestige Concept Gallery is the holy messiah of the art world, after all, it’s just a small business. But with all of the art-loving, virtue-signaling, cultured people out there, the visitorship and community support could have been a whole hell of a lot better.  When I say “community support” what I mean is that the support for our gallery came from everywhere else other than the actual community where the gallery resided.  It makes sense to put your business in a “hip” neighborhood on “Main Street” next to million-dollar condos, and a soon-to-be- Michelin Star restaurant, and what a lucky deal you have!  Sure thing right?  Wrong.  As an art gallery, we’ve been for 3 years more like Pusadee’s Personal Parking Lot.  Watch my Escalade take up two parking spots while I go stuff my face full of $600 worth of seafood (and then say you can’t afford a piece of fine art).  That’s your prerogative, sure, but answer me that in 25 shows, with hundreds and hundreds of pieces of art, that you can’t even manage to venture inside and look?  And looking is 100% free.  Fuck it, I think I’ll buy it Online and then wonder what happened to all the retail in my community. 

One story I remember in particular.  It was our first Christmas as a business, December of 2021.  We installed a miniature railroad in our window display.  Two kids wanted so badly to watch the train before douche-daddy grabbed them and told them “get away from there” before tossing them into the back of a Range Rover.

What of those million dollar condos?  3 years- maybe 2 people?  $100?  Everyone else that you might call “foot traffic” are just dog walkers and joggers.  Dog walkers and joggers, dog walkers and joggers.  And COOKIE TOUR people: THE WORST OF SOCIETY.  (i.e. “Where’s your free cookies?”- never looks at the merchandise).  Like I said, if it doesn’t involve food, condiments, or sports, you’re SOL.  When you work in a shop long enough to see enough dogs take shits and the humans that follow them around cleaning it up, you realize that perhaps fine art is just too overwhelming for that type of brain.  Meet me at the Dog Brewery in yoga pants, Brad.  Oh well.  I doubt I am the first human to have these thoughts. Take that same art gallery or shop though and put it in a foreign country- and it’s the coolest place you’ve never seen before.  

Not The Bitter End

Suffice to say, although being stuck in the same room for three years lends to both positive and negative experiences, I have to say that the overwhelming amount of experiences and support have been extremely positive.  There’s no manual for doing things the right or wrong way, and a lot of running this has been trial and error, and a TON of fun.  The party is over though.  What counts in the art business (like any business), is having the clientele.  We’ve had great clients, just not enough, consistently.  Advertising is also risky and very expensive.  What many never realize, is that we sold a lot of art that was never even in the gallery or on the walls and these experiences (a.k.a. home decoration) are where a gallery can really begin to turn a profit.  Getting a client to trust you with that judgement can be tricky, as we live in a DIY world where people can shop art online or buy it through other channels.  I was once asked to provide references (which I did) and then never heard from the person again.  I believe that they did it to feel like a big shot.  

Emerging Art and Artists are an “you get what you see and pay for” kind of endeavor.  What I mean is that typically the price reflects exactly what it is and who made it.  If you like the artwork, you are trading what you are willing to spend on something that you enjoy and makes you happy.  The likelihood that an Emerging Artist is going to become “big” and the piece increase in value is about the same odds of winning the lottery.  If you wanted to sell the art, you would probably get what you paid for it, less, or only slightly more.  Vestige Concept Gallery for consumers was about providing the highest quality art at a realistic price.  If you spend thousands more someplace else, you probably let the smoke get blown up your ass.  But, the art world exists in that sort of way for a reason.  In the end, anything is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and if you like it, you like it. 

If you have bought art from our Gallery, we thank you sincerely and hope that that you continue to appreciate the work for many years to come.  We will likely continue in some shape or form, as it has been a major time and energy investment into running the business and to the community.  For all of the other visitors and supporters- thank you as well! 

-Alex   

 

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Understanding Commissions (Or, How To Upset A Salesperson)

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WHY SOME ARTISTS CAN’T SEEM TO WRAP THEIR HEAD AROUND COMMISSIONS

Now go home and get your f**kin’ shine box.  Ok, ok, we don’t mean “you’s” no disrespect, and sure, a lot can happen or be said by accident.  As we have said throughout The Gallerist: never take anything personally.  We don’t; but snide cheap shots, delusions of grandeur, and wasting people’s time with outrageous pricing is well… a waste of time.  Much of what we write about in our blog is based on real experience, and we feel compelled in an honest way to share that experience with the rest of the world in order to foster a better understanding for how it all works.   

The Gallery is a Casino (Sort Of)

 

Maybe instead of a Goodfellas meme, we should have used a Casino meme?  In the world of the non-finite/non-guaranteed, dealing with artwork is a gamble for both the Artist and the Gallery.  Why? 

For The Artist:  most galleries require you to spend money to ship product, and perhaps charge a small (or large) fee to participate.  The further away, the higher the shipping, the higher the gamble, especially if you factor is something like size and weight. If you price too low, you risk losing money, but, if you price too high, you risk not selling anything at all, and subsequently paying to get your art sent back.  Most of the time you might not know the experience level of the gallery, or whether anybody staffed there actually does anything at all to sell.  Or–you’re not “in it” for sales or do the “NFS” thing (with a for-profit business), in which case, you are wasting someone’s time; unless, you’re showing in an exhibition with a school or a non-for profit and you understand there are no stakes or very little sales incentive.  If you live in the same city as a gallery, you’re not needing to recoup anything for shipping, so don’t expect to price things higher.  

For The Gallery:  Although art is their business, untested art is a huge gamble, especially when there is overhead involved.  As we have said in the past, unless you operate at the highest echelons, most artists (and mid-level galleries that host them) generally fall into the category of “untested”.  The word means exactly that.  Nobody knows who you are and whether you will sell.  However, even “tested” work can be a gamble if their is no market or demand for it.   If the curator selects work that is terrible, nothing sells. If the work is priced astronomically high for your market range, you risk that nothing sells. Most of the time, a gallery is exhibiting in order to test the untested in the mere hopes that they can make some money by selecting quality works of art and building repeat clientele that trust their vision and/or expertise.  Likewise, an artist tests different markets for who might be interested in their product, and that’s normal.  

What Are Commissions?  

 

As you may or may not know, commissions are typically an amount of money paid to a salesperson in order to sell something for you.  For some people, they fixate on the idea that this is somehow a scam or that the salesperson is ripping them off.  Worse, fixating on the idea “Why do they deserve the money for something that is mine?”   (Remember–if you could sell it yourself, you would).  The majority of the time (to the benefit of a gallery) it is artists looking for galleries, and not necessarily the other way around.  However, that’s not always the case. High-end galleries typically select artists that they want to work with, and in turn, it is a higher stakes gamble, usually involving a larger “bet” (i.e. overhead, rent, etc.) Prices of works in these types of galleries are, as you can imagine, considerably higher. In many instances, the gallery is taking 50% commission and feels confident that the higher price tag is normal for their level of clientele.  The other 50% is in theory what the artist is comfortable accepting for their work.  The downside is that high-end galleries may only show one artist at a time and likely have a “no solicitations policy” for everyone else.  Regardless, all galleries that don’t rely on a trust fund are essentially competing for the same thing: selling art.  

Should you opt to listen to social media, and all of the “do-it-yourself” type ads decrying art galleries as some sort of scam, just remember that the gallery is one of the fewest (and shrinking) ways to display physical art in a setting conducive to selling art.  For most consumers, seeing is believing. All of those “do it yourself” online art markets, are also, by the way, charging you fees and commissions.  Guess what?  Membership based organizations are charging you dues with the trade-off that their member shows have a larger marketing range.  They may only host 1-4 larger shows per year.   There’s also nobody there selling anything.  One recent member show we attended in Pittsburgh was staffed only by elderly volunteers and had inconsistent hours of operation.

With online marketplaces, it’s you versus the entire world (and you’ll probably still lose out on the shipping). 

#1 Assumption

 

As we said, commissions are an amount paid to a salesperson to do work for you, assuming they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Assumption #1 however, is that the gallery or salesperson is just sitting there doing nothing and customers and art buyers/collectors are just magically lining up at the door.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. With any sale of something expensive (say, over $80), there is a lot more involved. This usually means “courting” and/or gathering leads and retaining the proper clients. Courting can be anything from texts, emails, and phone calls, targeted marketing and advertising, to driving art to peoples houses, hosting receptions, and dropping money at restaurants and bars. Additionally, it also means having to open the gallery and be there for long periods of time and during off-hours for special appointments, and, curating pieces that you think a client will like. Hint: all of this work is unpaid. On average, VCG is open about 23-30 hours a week, but the work never stops. Those hours include every Friday and Saturday night, and both Saturday and Sunday mornings (peak hours). This doesn’t include “off the clock” time for home appointments, attending other gallery receptions, artist studio visits, shipping and handling, and managing up to three or more shows at a time (the one in the gallery, and the next two that haven’t even happened yet).  

So, if you have ever wondered why a salesperson should get paid “for doing nothing”, remember, that while you’re out having fun with your friends and family, eating brunch, going on vacations, playing with your kids, and enjoying your weekends, there is somebody else working their ass off to sell your stuff That’s also not to mention the time that the artist gets to spend working on the art, and not having to deal with marketing and sales. Conversely, the Gallery is in business by choice, but money is made through hustle, sacrifice, and having the motivation and sheer energy to do it. 

How To Upset A Salesperson (And Not Be Invited Again)

 

Most artists might think they go unnoticed when it comes to pricing (and that’s fine, please do the homework and the math), but the reality is, salespeople check. The guaranteed way to upset a salesperson is a situation where you feel that you need to raise your price in order for the salesperson to “earn” their money.  In a sense, making it that much more challenging to sell your stuff.  We’re not saying that your time and art are not valuable, but at the very least, try to meet in the middle somewhere and for God’s sake- don’t even say the words “for you to earn your money” out loud.

Passively, you may mark up the commission on top of your price on a loan contract and think that no one will notice. How can you tell?  Initially you stated “A”, and then you wrote “B”.   Beyond that is the fact that the art just isn’t worth that much money (BTW–it is also still showing on the Artist’s website listed for a much lower price).  

Depending on time and any potential interest from a Buyer, the Gallery will pick up the phone or write an email to ask an Artist what is the case with the markup, and start the process of negotiating.  As part of the gamble, if you remain firm, you risk losing it all.  With group shows, most prices come in ranges, and unless there is something egregious, there just isn’t enough time to email and call everyone who pulls an increase. If that’s the price you want, sure, that’s the price that we’ll list.  It’s funny though, when the price sheet has that glaring $6,000 price tag for something that may be worth $900 (minus commission of course) and everything else on the price list is $2,000 or below.  Overpricing (especially when done at the last minute) makes both the Artist and the Gallery look bad.  A good Gallery will however select works within price ranges that are compatible to everything on display (but that’s not to say that sometimes there is a Wild Card or two).   

Bottom line, don’t think it goes unnoticed and when in doubt, ask the Gallery or Salesperson.  If they don’t respond or give you a rude response, than they probably aren’t somebody that you want to work with.   It’s not that the skills of the salesperson are bad and they don’t dream of making thousands of dollars, it’s simply that the object is overpriced for what it is, skill level aside.  Every sellable object has a limit and most salespeople are not Donald Draper.  

Sheer Cluelessness

Unfortunately, a Gallery cannot fix plain dumb.   As a Gallery, we reach out to people on social media, etc., from time to time and ask them for a price.  Here’s a great example (and the art wasn’t that good):  

 

We are assuming the Artist thought we wanted to buy the piece off of them directly.    Either way, a gallery is not buying a piece of unknown art into Inventory for $4900 and then trying to resell it.  Nor are they going to waste their time taking it on loan and marking it up to earn their commission.  Maybe in some far-off world of the global cabal of elite galleries and collectors. We should venture to say that if you’re making that much money, you’re not probably not answering random Instagram messages. If you have 50K+ followers, why is it still unsold?  Because BOTS don’t buy art.  Even if this Artist assumed a 50% split, that means the piece is worth half as much, and then another 50% of that.  Therefore, the piece’s actual worth is $1,225 on the high end, which should be the real List Price, and get split another 30%-50% on commission if sold.  So, the artist’s take-home price of the piece is $612.50, which is about what the piece was it is worth at a glance.

(P.S. The hilarious part is that the artist then offers a 10% discount and free shipping, as though this is some kind of concession. Think that’s rude to them?  An equally sized piece from this Artist was listed elsewhere online for half as much, and the piece in question was made 3 years ago (i.e. sitting around in your Inventory).  Three words: “Adios, good luck“.  

 

Standing Firm

While we respect that Artist’s have a certain sense of pride, being (or acting) firm can sometimes be another chump move.  Standard practice dictates that whatever you say your price is, the Gallery or salesperson can go 5-10% discount without permission, if it means making a deal (and especially if it is an Art Collector).  Sure, Art Collectors have money–but they don’t need more art.  What Artists may not realize, is that a Buyer might be interested in 4 different things, with the intention of only buying one of them. This is where in all fairness, price matching sometimes come into play, especially if that means all 4 things fall into relatively the same price range.  Something is getting sold, and by this point in time, the salesperson is not taking into account your personal feelings on the matter.  

Therefore, if yours is the art that sells, don’t cry about the 10% discount. Remember above, the amount of work it took to even get to that point, and that out of a room full of art changing constantly, yours was even considered up to that point in time, whether as a goal of the salesperson, or from the interest of a Buyer. 

Worse yet, don’t tell the salesperson that they somehow fucked up or say something to the effect of “well that should come out of your commission.”  Grossly underselling something is one thing. Discounting for a Collector is another, especially when it means more business–and more potential business and/or exposure for the artist.   When dealing with extreme amounts of money by all means be upset (or maybe go to court).  But in the realm of the mid-range, haggling over $25-$40.  If it went from $2,500 to $2,250. Just don’t. The businessman is going to do what the businessman is going to do.  If you don’t like it, don’t loan the art in the first place.

Not many people wake up in the morning and think “I’m going to go buy a wall hanging today.” As you might imagine, selling art and getting people interested in art (outside of certain major destination art cities), can be a challenge.  This is also not to mention competing with the Internet, and home decor places like Ikea, West Elm, and the like.  Mass produced aside, a Gallery is looking for the most unique objects possible, and inviting people who buy those types of things to come and hang out at their place.  All art is unique, but in the larger world of art, many styles and motifs are not.  Abstract art may be in high fashion, but that doesn’t mean that yours is going to sell. 

Space For Lease

Take a 30% commission for example.  On a $500 painting, the Gallery takes $150 and the artist takes $350.   If the gallery costs $2,000 per month to operate, they would have to sell nearly fourteen $500 paintings just to break even- and they aren’t even keeping their commission, let alone a livable salary. 

Maybe they sell one $3,000 painting–that’s still only $900 for the gallery.  You can see where this is going.  Look at things from a  different perspective:  instead of paying a commission, you are paying for the a sublease of a section of wall within a building.  What?  We’ll explain:  if the piece sells in the opening night, you may wonder what skill was involved in selling it and why pay the commission for not a whole lot of work?  Well: a.) the lead-up to the Reception in and of itself is a lot of work, and b.) your artwork is still going to hang there for a month or two with a red dot on it, thereby occupying a piece of real estate that could otherwise be used to sell something else.  If your art is large you pay large, and if small, you pay small.  

This is not to say that money can’t be had if all of the cards are played correctly. Either way, commission is price that artists have to pay, sometimes not scratching the surface of the salesperson’s overhead (in a brick and mortar setting).  Low price items may be there to attract walk-ins, who in turn, may spend more on mid-higher priced items. Not all commissions are equal to the relative size of the space they occupy.  They are reflective primarily to the expertise and market position of the salesperson.   Whatever your bet may be low or high, it’s all part of rolling the dice to get work shown and hopefully, some money in your pocket. 

Continue ReadingUnderstanding Commissions (Or, How To Upset A Salesperson)

DEALING WITH IT

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COPING WITH THE WORD “NO” AND UNDERSTANDING IT’S BUSINESS

There comes a point in all aspects of life, where we all must come to grips with the word “no”.   “No” comes in many different forms, and call it whatever you want to: rejected, not accepted, un-liked, [no response], sorry no, fuck off,  unfortunately no, not interested, (door closing sound), and the latest in fashion: ghosting.  In German, the word “nein“, was famously told to a struggling artist, who as we all know, didn’t end well.  The human mind is so varying in complexity, emotions, and different responses and interactions that with any individual, will elicit different responses.  How we each choose to interpret and cope with these responses and emotions is solely the responsibility of the self.  Lately, the media trend (and downfall of society) would like us all to believe that the latter is not the case, but let’s stick to art or go 50/50 on bad parenting.  Coming to stability with the reality of art and business, and managing emotions such as anger, can be challenging, especially when dealing with something as personal as your own art.  If you read no further, remember the golden rule: take nothing personally.  Second, remember that nobody will book an asshole.

(Disclaimer: the purpose of this article is not to shame or belittle anyone, it’s a free column of advice designed to help you).  

So You’re An Artist?  Who Cares?  (Ok- We Do, It’s Our Job)

You’ve at whatever point practiced something (or had a stroke of genius) and perhaps created a work of art or a series of artwork.  Great?  So what’s next?  If you live in a “yes” bubble and have decent self esteem, your family, close friends, and you yourself are all your immediate champions.  Their role is to support you because they have to, which is unfortunately not the case of the rest of the 99.9% of the world.  Sad fact: The world owes you nothing and if your friends are lying to you, you need new friends.  With most artists (and musicians, etc.), there comes a time where you begin to feel the desire to show your work in a public space.  Stepping into this space, you need to be equipped with extremely thick skin, some degree of determination and/or motivation, a sense of business, and most importantly, knowledge.  However, don’t confuse any of these things with the greatest evil of all, and the common thread of aspiring mass shooters: entitlement.  Creating a work of art doesn’t mean that you are entitled to something or that anyone should automatically pay attention.

Ego, Entitlement, and Empathy

Having some Ego is perfectly normal and we all need a healthy Ego to survive.  It gives us purpose, and when used in the right ways, motivation. Having too much ego means by psychological definition that you are a Narcissist and in more extreme circumstances, this often leads to manipulative behavior and Machiavellianism (e.g. win by any means necessary).  Entitlement on the other hand, is used broadly across the spectrum.  As opposed to the “I think therefore I am” in the classic philosophical sense, entitlement is a complete blunderfuck whereas “I am, therefore I deserve“.  In the art world (and in particular, galleries),  this would mean that John/Jane Doe Gallery Owner worked his/her whole life to start a business just waiting for the magical day for you to walk through the door.  Ironically enough, John/Jane Doe were just minding their own business when you suddenly came in unannounced.  That’s not to say that there are a wide variety of nice or mean John’s and Jane’s in galleries and shops across the world.

Any time anyone or anything enters the public sphere, you are subject to the cutthroat rules of the street.  Being cutthroat does not mean being a dick though.  Some higher end galleries may not ever let you in their door without an appointment, and may even have a security guard.  Humble John and Jane Doe Main Street USA however, seem to be nice folks and their doors are open with a cute little sign, because they like to be there, and they enjoy the business.  However, don’t get the wrong impression that simply because they are nice to you, this means that you are entitled to something from them.  News flash: They have to be nice to potential customers, or they go out of business.  Everyone is a potential customer, until they’re not.  Now, unless John or Jane has the stone-cold personality like the Great Wall of China, this means, that like any wandering homeless person, they’ll probably listen to your story and have some slight modicum of empathy for who you are, and why you are there.  If you’re not buying something, the longer you carry on, the longer it is you are probably wasting their time (But hey, maybe it’s a slow day?)   In short, empathy is cheap and wears off quickly when you turn into an entitled ass.  Using empathy to one’s advantage is nothing new, so if you’ve read this far, let’s talk business.

The Meanings of Unsolicited and Untested

In it’s most basic sense, the word unsolicited means that nobody asked you to be there, and that you are trying to either sell or scam your way into something, for financial gain, a handout, exposure, or otherwise.  As a physical shop, the shopkeeper is more or less bound to being there, as described in the previous paragraph.  In the world of Email and Social Media, this notion of unsolicited is amplified to the millionth degree.   That’s not to say you shouldn’t try!  Plenty of salespeople, inventors, politicians, and artist-types have gone down the dark and dusty unsolicited road since the dawn of time.  The point of this article is to say that you need to be strong enough mentally not to shoot up a daycare center when somebody tells you the word “no”.   

In email and digital forms, the gross assumption is that the recipient is sitting there waiting for your message at all hours of the day and night, and that you are entitled to access them and entitled to an immediate response. 

In it’s purest and most simplest form, answers to unsolicited (and solicited) people and materials boil down to a simple yes, or no.  If the person receiving it (who by the way, always has the advantage), has a “maybe” policy- tread lightly, and don’t lose your mind following up every single second of the day.   Remember, a “no” can also be “no response at all” (including ghosted), and that “maybe” has no specific meaning at all.  Too many maybes means that you’re being strung along, and yes, you should deserve an answer,  or just stop wasting your energy and move on.

Unless you are at the top of your art game, making a salary from that alone, and/or have some sort of notoriety outside of your neighborhood, this means one description: untested.  Untested means exactly what it looks like: nobody, including myself, knows who you are, how you perform, or if you will sell.  The majority of artists, musicians, writers, etc., are untested no matter if you want to call yourself “emerging”, “student”, early/mid career, or otherwise.  You may be mid-career in California, but not in Vermont.  Also, just because you paid for a booth at a fancy arts convention doesn’t mean anything.  What compelling reason should somebody take a chance on you?  

Calls For Artists

Let’s face it, with millions of untested artists in the world, it’s no big secret that many arts (including music and writing) related organizations use open calls as a way to discover new talent.  Moreover, that these same organizations (including Vestige) charge a nominal fee to apply.  Why is the fee a good way to go?   If you really wanted to dig that deep into consumer laws, the fact that you paid for something means that in theory (or the USA at least) you should receive something in return.  It’s a two-way, voluntary solicitation, and nobody is forced into anything that they don’t want to participate in.  While we can only speak for our gallery and track record, this means that you should ideally receive a yes, no, or maybe.  That small fee also goes towards all of the other services that you receive in the contract, and the time, effort, costs, and everything else that John and Jane Doe need to go through to give you the treatment that you signed up for.  If no or maybe, that’s unfortunately all that you might get, albeit you might get onto somebody’s radar and potentially a critique if you have the stomach for it.  Point being, before you go tell the Gallery to go fuck themselves, maybe stop for a second because from time to time, unexpected things might happen.  If you think this all sucks, you’re still free to find out some sort of other alternative.

 Sigh, we could go round and round forever….

 

Surprise, Surprise  

The simple reason that you never go spouting off to someone who says “no” to you, is that you really have no idea what is going on on the other side.  Call it reverse empathy.  From time to time, unknown things happen where people drop out, more art may be needed, etc. and maybe something might happen.  As it stands, with opening a business and an application to show art, the Gallery receives shitty messages and emails.  Without saying much, this most certainly will get you nowhere.  What you don’t know when you send off an unsolicited email is whether the person on the other end may suddenly have had an emergency, or just isn’t on the computer 24/7 waiting anxiously for your message, especially if it involves a show that is months in the future.  Great that you have the idea that you are going to do XYZ at some gallery, but the same can’t be said in the opposite (after all, they own the gallery and get to decide).  The strangest part is, that some people write “fuck you”, “you’re unprofessional”, or “eat shit”, before the Gallery even has a chance to reply!  That’s a bit self-defeatist now isn’t it?  It proves without a doubt that you’re too unstable to work with.  Game over.  

The similar “surprise surprise” situation is the entitled line-jumper.  This is the person that walked, drove (or emailed) to the shop or gallery, and as such, their entitlement level has gone up like inlflation under Joe Biden.  This person now expects to show you on their phone all of their artwork and get you commit on the spot to having them in a show- and better yet, a full feature or solo.  They don’t want to be bothered by the application process, and are either way too amazing (in their mind) for that, or claim they don’t have a computer, or the money (or both).  But how they found out about you on a computer, and paid for the nice clothes they are wearing, and car they showed up in, remains a total mystery.  Admittingly, this is a ballsy move, and sure, bravo for trying (maybe in some universe, it has worked before).  “I don’t have the money” doesn’t cut muster either, because if you are that broke, you should honestly be more worried about something other than an art show.  Student? Ask.

REAL LIFE SCENARIOS

ARTIST A: (aka: Lesson In What Not To Do) 

Gallery gets a call on a random weekday from another shop nearby saying that “there is a guy who knows you” pacing around his shop asking why the gallery isn’t open at 4 PM.  (Unforeseen life circumstance:  Gallery worker is picking up car from the mechanic and says kindly that they will be there at 4:30).  Gallery worker arrives at 4:15 to get the place opened up, wondering who this person is that says that he knows them?  Could be an old friend?  Stranger shows up at 4:20 instead of 4:30 and proceeds to question why the 4 PM advertised time was not adhered to.  Gallery worker has no idea who this guy is (it’s not an old friend).  They proceed to talk and immediately guy comes out asking for a solo art show while telling a sad story and shit talking every other art gallery around town.  Gallery worker explains that this is not possible, but offers a link to a group show opportunity as a way to get tested out.  Guy proceeds to pull out phone and starts showing the now uncomfortable gallery worker pictures of his artwork.  Nodding their head, the Gallery worker tries to remain nice and talk about art, and the guy continues to question why he cannot have a solo show. Says he has the perfect vision for the space.   Explanations ensue, and Gallery worker again suggests nicely that he leave his information and get on the mailing list.  After Artist leaves, he immediately follows the Gallery on IG and the Gallery worker’s personal IG page.  

A week or two later, Artist DM’s the Gallery asking again for specific wall space in an upcoming show, and says that he will only apply if given a certain space.  Gallery is too busy to respond for whatever the reason, and after no response, Gallery gets a shitty message at 5:56 AM:

 

(Luck has nothing to do with it)
 
ARTIST B: (aka: The Respectful Professional) 

Gallery’s latest show opens up and the day after the Opening Reception, a visitor enters the Gallery and is taking his time, looking at the exhibit.  Gallery worker begins talking with the guy, who as it turns out is also an Artist.  Artist admits with some humility that he applied for this particular art show, but was not selected.  He says that he wanted to see the show anyway, for personal enjoyment, and to see where to make future improvements.  After some professional conversation, Gallery says that his work was a “maybe” consideration (there were different curators), and the Artist asks for feedback, which the Gallery worker provides.  After more conversation about art and other local galleries in the area, Gallery asks if it is ok to see more things on the Artist’s website.  Artist says “sure” and they sit down together at the desk to look at the computer.  As it turns out, the Artist’s other work was a strong fit for another opportunity coming up later.   Gallery and Artist agree to continue the conversation at a later time. (Fist bump)  

In Summary

As you may have guessed by these two different examples, one has acted more professionally and will be on the radar for upcoming opportunities.  This isn’t to say that every person is perfect, and neither are we, and that all results of being a nice person are guaranteed.  Fortunately in the USA, we all have the freedom to choose who we work with.  While nobody books an asshole, you don’t have to work with an asshole booker either.  Entitlement on the other hand, will get you nowhere although it may falsely look like it gets some people somewhere.  If some Master’s Art Student seems entitled because they have access to fancy university galleries or museums, just remember that somebody is paying a lot of money for them to be there.  For the $28 odd bucks you can spend to enter a show, it sure seems like a lot less.  Just make sure that you have the sense to both win and lose gracefully.  The rest falls under tact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue ReadingDEALING WITH IT

AI ART: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GREY AREA

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RISE OF THE ART MACHINES AND WHY YOU SHOULDN’T WORRY (YET)

12/23/2022 at 4:15:43 PM.  This is the time and date that survivors will look back in history and know that Vestige Concept Gallery sold two pieces of AI Art.  The Artpocalypse then ensued.  VCG will hereby be remembered as the Wuhan Wet Market of AI Art.  Does this spell the end of art and creativity as we know it as the mainstream media has sounded an alarm?  No, it’s not (quite) doomsday (yet?)  Worst case scenario, just blame Steve Huth.  (Steve Who-th?)    

Meet Human Steve 

We first started working with Steve Huth in July of 2022.  Soft spoken and fairly unassuming, Steve is a photographer and retired Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.  His prior work with the University also took him to Qatar, where he worked a nearly half-decade residency as the Director of Q-CERT, a collaborative program bringing information and cyber security to that country.  His interests in technology and human collaboration would eventually lead him into the end-user pilot phases of DALL-E.  For those unfamiliar with DALL-E (and DALL-E-2), they are deep learning models (machine learning based on artificial neural networks) developed by OpenAI to generate digital images from natural language descriptions, called “prompts”.  In other words, AI Art.

Prior to Steve, we had no idea about OpenAI, nor had anyone tried to show it at the gallery.  In November 2022, we curiously invited Steve to show his AI Art in our holiday show, and had conversation with him about what all of this means.  Little did we know that less than a week later, OpenAI and ChatGPT became somewhat of a craze in the media, prompting many to say the world was about to end.  So we stuck Steve’s AI Art (very nicely made into quartz- paperweight-esque sculptures) on our display unit to see what people’s reactions would be.  As time rolled on, our swirling questions would become:  “is this total BS?”, or, is this the real-deal?  Let’s find out (and we’ll leave Steve out of the latter half).  

Steve Huth with camera
Huth, rarely seen without a camera. Note: the nefarious world-takeover smile.
Guilty as charged.

The Hall To My Oates?

One of the primary mechanisms (tech-talk aside), of AI “Art” , is that it relies on the inputs from their human masters, or, as Steve describes it: “collaborating”.  Throughout history, collaborations have formed an integral part of the world of art and in music and cinema, collaboration is near-inevitable.  Whether one-on-one collaborations between artists, or studios full of artists, the rubbing together of minds and talents has invariably produced unique works, as well as furthered a greater culture of thought and creativity often leading to movements: a larger shift in both artist and public perspective. Part of the current fear is that AI Art is forming a new movement that will leave traditional artists in the dust and audiences deceived and confused.  For others, AI Art has been here in some degree, and is here to stay (just be careful how you feed the machine).  In a basic summary, Art Fervour says:

“Artistic collaborations are not just based on mutual benefit, but also trust and respect.” 

For better or for worse,  two or more artists cannot be forced to collaborate with one another.  Sure, there may be a mutual benefit (multi-million dollar payout for two artists who hate each other but will reunite to go tour again), but there must be agreement by at least both parties to engage in the process. This is where AI (and their so-called “collaborators”) are disconnected from the outset.  Were it “true” AI (with thought and freedom of choice), we would first ask it (or vice-versa) “would you like to work on a new painting today?”  It is not to say in the one-sided arrangement that some AI “artists” are innocuously well-intentioned, casual users, or a jockey like Steve who puts the limits of AI to the test, but it is that on a fundamental level AI Art is transactional, and there is not a “who”, but a “what” that you are transacting with, and “why”?  The “what” (the technology) has no real say in the matter as much as an ATM, and appears as another tool that serves a means to an end: whether for the human that wants to pat itself on the back (i.e. “I’m an artist now!”), have a little fun (akin to pulling the lever on a slot machine), or to potentially make money.  However, this assertion also leads us to deeper questioning: i.e. are you collaborating with it, or is it collaborating with you?  How much do we know about it?  Will “it” outlearn you, and you no longer serve any purpose?  For now, things appear harmless enough, and we came to learn that there are some known limits to OpenAI, to which Steve must fill in the gaps. 

Assessing AI Art and Transactional Collaboration: The Grey Area

After assessing Steve’s work and by his own admission, DALL-E has its limitations. From the ground level, sites like OpenAI do not permit users to input malicious or harmful prompts, and there are certain safeguards regarding things such as realistic Deepfakes, sexploitation, and creating material for the purposes of defamation or blackmail.  This is not to say that this could change, another reason opponents of AI Art are arguing that we are standing on a dangerous precipice. However, in its current state, digital 2D non-video art is also limitless in these areas (i.e. Photoshopping).  Real-world damage can already occur if manipulated digital art is used in an improper context.  Other limitations as evidenced, are that the AI has a limited (but growing) pool of resources to pull from, as we see in his (now sold) work Christmas Eve: Golden Memories“.  

4″ x 4″ AI/Digital Hybrid Courtesy of Steve Huth
 
Being that our Gallery and Steve are both in/from Pittsburgh, this work is a relatable case study into the limitations of AI.  The initial strangeness of this image lies in its “quasi-Mandela Effect” (e.g. false memories).  If you were born or spent any amount of substantial amount of time in the Steel City, you are without a doubt familiar with the angle of this image.  At first (and at multiple) glace, it is that stereotypical image of the city and your brain immediately tells you that it is Pittsburgh.   However at closer inspection, many of the buildings are misplaced or are combinations of two or more other landmark buildings, or are missing altogether.  
 
Hell with the lid off

 

To give the work his own personal touch, Steve also added the yellow/gold Christmas tree to the image.  This is where we enter further into the grey area between artist/collaborator and what we can define as art and credit for the final product.  Where, or to whom should we give credit?  For some who are extreme-egalitarian: does credit even matter?  In art history, when we don’t know the artist, this becomes known as “unattributed”.  Yet, we live in the modern era where ideas and money do matter to some, if not most people. Can Steve attempt to copyright this image with parts known to be “drawn” from other sources?  How far will Steve go to pursue his creative passions with AI, and, can he profit from it?  

In fact, Steve was so moved that he created an entire series that pays homage to Pittsburgh, with many of the missing/AI-limited pieces being added either through Photoshop, and/or through the use of his photography.  Here, we can conclude that Steve is an artist with a process, and assistance provided by AI, but not a collaboration by the standard definition.  Furthermore, without knowing which parts are which in Steve’s work, we argue that it should be listed as “Steve Huth/Unattributed AI”.  We go further to say that all purely AI Art should be listed as Unattributed.  Case closed?  As far as copyrights are concerned (and returning to collaborations), so much of art and music is pulled unintentionally (or intentionally), from other sources.  The notion of “inspired by” also comes into play, which we see obvious (and admitted) elements of Maxo Vanka, Teenie Harris, et. al., in Steve’s work.  Maintaining copyrights or trademarks can become sticky legal issues, but only so in the sense that you can prove without a doubt another person or group is causing you detrimental harm financially or reputationally. 

“Celebrating Pittsburgh” 24″ x 20″ (Note: the “a” and i” are darkened by the artist for emphasis). Please Inquire for Availability.
 
In opening this article, we used a screenshot image of Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the film Terminator 2.  How fast and easy was it for us to access this image and give zero credit or money to the multitudes of artists, writers, Special FX artists, and the like who worked on that particular scene?  Like a quick Google search or a meme generator, AI Art is extremely convenient when you want something at the push of a button, and it is doubtful that those who become addicted to it’s speed and cheapness will ever let go.  Pandora’s Box cannot be closed, so to speak, and there are multitudes of accomplices and fake usernames, impossible to prove.  Much of the same could be said for the double-edge sword of technology in the Graphic Design industry.  Putting Graphic Design aside, it doesn’t take a lot to imagine how difficult it would have been for us to obtain and publish that Arnold Schwarzenegger photo without the technology.  Without it, we would not be able to get our idea across, while also providing some comic relief.  In the past, a person would have to own a VCR, rent the move, take a picture, wait to get it developed, and so on and so forth… and not many would want to go back to those methods nor can we.  Stealing has become highly ingrained (and accepted) into our arts and communication culture.  Many of the images created by AI happen so casually, so quickly, and so unnoticeably, that it would almost seem completely impossible (and expensive) to prove everything, unless done at an egregious level.  Can an audience even recognize the Terminator provided by AI Art, and would the effect have been the same?  
 
I’m looking for Claude Monet

 

Interlude: Mr. Allen’s Prize Winning Pig  

Somewhere long after Mrs. O’Leary and before Artpocalypse and Steve Huththe future will (maybe) remember the infamous “Jason Allen AI Art Prize Incident,” otherwise known as “the time that guy won an art prize with AI”.  However, this may in the future become the art equivalent to what Fort Sumpter is to the American Civil War.  Shots were fired.  Fortunately for Jason Allen, nobody died.  

For those unfamiliar with this incident, “artist” Jason Allen (of Pueblo West, CO) created a work of art that somehow fooled the bespectacled judges at the Colorado State Fair.  Gosh darnit!  How did that happen?  Furthermore, how did the art community ever let this become such a viral sensation?  While this DUNE meets Bosch work of AI certainly was enough to fool the judges and spectators, we should consider the time and venue in which this was happening.  With all due respect to the Colorado State Fair, this isn’t exactly the world’s standard-bearer for fine arts and culture when also considering the other works of art on display and other categories of competitions that were in the Fair, such as the livestock competition, and the rodeo.  (Don’t get us wrong, we love rodeo).  For others including Allen, they would argue that calling this an “incident” at all is making a bigger deal out of something that to them seems like a normal activity.

But let’s get to the point:  If the artist wasn’t so clearly ripping off Hieronymus Bosch’s “Ascent of the Blessed”, maybe it would have seemed much more apparent to the so-called “judges”, who we now can conclude know nothing about art.  Allen goes so far as to rip off Bosch, that if you look closely enough, you will see the silhouette of the little human person.  Maybe in Allen’s case,  it is a metaphor for artists getting sucked into the endless wormhole of AI Art.   If this is how fine art is judged and subsequently picked up by the mainstream media, than honestly, we (the people) deserve better.  However, this just part of the larger issue: the audiences and media don’t know any better.

Look Ma! First Prize at the State Fair and this $2 ribbon
Hieronymus Bosch “Ascent of the Blessed“ c.1505-1515

 

Fool Me Once…

Let’s face it, nobody likes to be fooled.  Let’s also face that throughout history there have always been fools and those (like the State Fair Judges) who have seemingly been made into fools.  To be more blunt: bad art and artists, and bad ideas have been around since the dawn of time and will never go away.  There’s also no substitute for bad taste, especially once it is commercialized and marketed as the real deal.  What can you do about it?  Nothing, just ignore it.  Only in this Internet driven generation are so many casually forced into caring about what another person is doing.  The more fuel that you throw onto the fire, the larger the cloud of smoke- and that’s when the crowds begin to show up.  Once the building burns down however, we discover that there was nothing really there in the first place (i.e. talent). In a world where people can seemingly call themselves whatever they want to, why should we bother to acknowledge it and to care?  Who is the lone arbitrator on who is an artist or not?  You cannot stop large masses of people from embracing and both using and purchasing AI Art, no more than you can stop a crowd of people from attending a bad concert (that they think is good).  What’s the workaround to this (and in life): style.  Secret: It’s also the workaround to AI Art.  Our answer is to create a style so impeccable, that AI cannot compute or keep up fast enough.  Or, just don’t put your stuff on the Internet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“OUR HOPE IS THAT DALL-E WILL EMPOWER PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES CREATIVELY”

This statement comes in part from the OpenAI Mission and note the lack of the word “art” or “artist” or “collaboration”.  Ambiguous statements such as these reek of the overly egalitarian virtue signaling that has become a vacuum for mindless Liberalism, while a rallying cry for Conservatism.  Politics aside, traditional artists (and conservationists) who shun AI by definition, fall under the realm of Conservatism.  After all, is Conservatism not merely a way of clinging to the past or past way of life?  Brick and mortar Art Galleries would seemingly fall into the same playing field (and oh, by the way- just think of the children!)  If AI Art is bad taste and classlessness, consider that “to show class”, there must be class.       

The dual fallacies of the Open AI DALL-E2 statement are that a.) “empowering” creates real or actual power among its adherents, and b.) that “creative expression” is synonymous with art, and that everyone’s creativity should be treated equally.   We would argue here that empowering does little to no good (true empowering comes from the Self) by creating a false sense of disillusion under the guise of data gathering, and that the equality/flattening of creative expression only continues to widen the rift between the “haves” and the have nots”, which ironically, seems to oppose the so-called Liberal Agenda.   Meaning, “real” art will continue to rise in value to be traded in less frequency among the rare elite, and the middle class of other real artists (the Artist-Proletariat)  will be forced to slough it out with the “creative expression” folks who are simply poor, lazy, and dumbing down the profession and art values, additionally, cheapening the experience of fine art and the perceptions of art consumers.  As an Art Gallery, our role is to serve as not only an experienced spokesperson, but as a bastion of what good taste “could” (and shouldn’t) look like.  This is also not to say that in rare instances, AI Art shown at an Elite Gallery won’t be sold for exorbitant prices.  It will – it’s inevitable, and the media will give it the hype long enough to create the same “hope” that OpenAI breathes into their mission and followers.  

Sorry kids, we all don’t get a trophy (But you could win a ribbon at the State Fair).  

 

 

 

 

 

Continue ReadingAI ART: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GREY AREA

A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art: Part 2

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BUSTED

Before getting too deep into cost, we’d like to add some additional insights into our previous discussion: “A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art”.  Like all things art, there are usually a few fixes before getting it right and we realize that, well, that we might have rubbed some people the wrong way.  Remember however, that this is only a realist approach to pricing and as we have stated in the past, there is no one size approach to anything in the world of art. 

Price Geography 

We started out in Part 1 with the Trading Places meme “In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks”.  Realizing that not everywhere in the world is in Philadelphia, we should point out that price can vary based on geographic location.  Understanding geography and gallery locations will certainly help in pricing your art, but the key is that you need to remain flexible, or not go too out of your way to participate in exhibitions that are thousands of miles away from where you live, without understanding their market.  Let’s use California as an example.  

Obviously, California has a high cost of living (and working), so naturally, artists want to earn more money.  In California, your “Object A” may have a higher market value than say, Toledo Ohio.  If you sell a lot at a great price in California, than why bother trying to sell in Toledo Ohio?  This is unless of course, you are solely in the game just to show work, and that is your objective.  So, either you are going to overprice (or NFS) your work for Toledo, or, you don’t have a flexible understanding that in Toledo, your $6,000 Cali- painting is now worth maybe only $2,000 or less in that market.  In theory people spend more money on art in larger market cities, but larger market cities conversely are also harder to exhibit your work due to more artist demand to show in those places (perhaps due to the thought that you will sell higher).

There is also the Internet.  The crapshoot here is that anyone in any market could potentially buy your work.  But, for starters, you are competing with virtually every artist on the planet, in addition to other “wall hangings” of every sort.    The advantage in the United States is, that domestically available art can be viewed in domestically located galleries.  Seeing is still believing, especially when the price tags are moving higher.  Sure, go ahead and price a painting at $4,000 online, but if you walk that painting into a gallery in Smalltown USA, you may have to adjust accordingly, regardless of seeing and believing.  

Your Object Is Just An Object (Part 2)

Staying with the California example for a moment, galleries and sellers rarely care for the personal matters in your day to day life.  So if you try to argue that your cost of living is higher = therefore you deserve more money, it won’t (or shouldn’t) matter.  Remember, if you could sell it yourself, and could sell it in California.  As we mentioned before, an object is just an object, and can sell at various prices, in various places.  When in doubt, ask the person tasked with selling your work.  

Until you are a known or well-known artist, you are selling the object, not selling yourself.    

This means unfortunately, that the object is getting bought for it’s market value, but you, yourself, and your time and effort, have no intrinsic market value or bearing (if any) on the sale.  9 times out of 10 in the Emerging Artist field, the work is being sold simply because somebody will like the way it looks on xyz wall in their house.  Establishing a strong track record over time however, may increase your presence and desirability as an artist, in which, prices may begin to move up.      

Competition, Style, and Demand

So if 9 times out of 10 a work is being bought just because it looks good, then it would reason that your work should stand out in some way from the field.  This is where if you operate in certain genres or mediums, you may expect more competition, and in effect, less demand for your particular work.  Our favorite art to pick on as an example would by and large be Abstracts.   As an Abstract Artist you can expect more competition, and less demand, although there is a relatively high demand for Abstract art.  Why?  We feel that it is because most consumers opt for things that they only have to casually enjoy, but that’s for another conversation.  In short, stylistically, your work must stand out from the playing field.  Imagine yourself in an entire room of abstract paintings.  Savvy consumers usually know the difference in style and quality, while others may simply pass on it entirely and not know fully why.  or, perhaps they are just playing matching games with their furniture.   The more unique an object you create, the more desirable it may become.  But uniqueness is not an automatic “Pass Go And Collect $200”.  There is plenty of “unique” garbage to go around.  Often times if the work is too unique, and it may become too niche or unstable (i.e. art made of sand, pubic hair, etc.)   What counts for art in this day and age?  Your guess is as good as ours.  

COST

By and large, cost is perhaps the single biggest variable among works, and gaining your maximum return on a potential sale. Like any business, you need to manage and keep your costs down.  If working with highly expensive rainforest wood and gold leaf is your preference, than you may want to have an understanding of the market before taking a plunge into this kind of artistic endeavor.  Meaning, there is a gallery or dealer out there somewhere, but it becomes more difficult to find that dealer (or, it’s easier?).  For everyone else, there are basics such as surfaces (canvas, board, paper, etc,), “paints” (i.e. anything that makes a mark), tools, and/or equipment.  You also have the costs of marketing (applying for shows, etc.), shipping supplies, and shipping.  Factor in Art School, and now you are starting out at over $60K in the hole!   Between all of that, how does anyone expect to make any money?   Answer: you need to plan beyond weekend-warrior and one-off sales.  Have a plan.  However, if you can make $15,000 on a one-off sale for a half blank canvas with some splatter, then cost is probably not going to worry you much.  Nonetheless, cost effects nearly everything tangible.  A general understanding and accounting of your inflow and outflow is a must-need and if not, you are just shooting in the dark and guessing.   

Don’t push it.  As far as equipment goes, if you buy a $3,000 lathe, don’t expect to recoup the cost of the lathe in one sale for a small table sculpture.  For consumables i.e. paints, inks, tools, anything that comes in a jar and lasts beyond one work of art, you could possibly conceive to recoup the costs in one sale (or not).  It really depends on how low the cost, and how high the sale.  However, if any of these items are particularly expensive, you may have to spread the cost out over multiple works of art.  

Cavasses and surfaces.  Advice: buy them in bulk and try to work with similar sizes and divide the bulk order.  You would be surprised.  You could buy 20 canvasses at $100 online, then your cost per canvas is $5.  

Application Fees:  Don’t lose your ass on them, and choose ones that seem within reason.   Shipping Fees:  Plan ahead and don’t wait to overnight things.  Use pre-created accounts and discount codes.  Never pay in advance for return labels by creating a free online account with UPS and/or FedEx.     Shipping supplies:  start saving some boxes that you could find behind stores or in the garbage, etc.  

Whatever the case may be, sellers don’t want to know about all of your costs unless it is truly something worth noting. For instance, “I just had these frames professionally done last week, and they each cost $350”.   Or, “Hey, this contains 18K gold”.  Even so, know your clientele and who you are trying to market to.  If $350 frames is your thing, then you need a nice mid-level gallery.  

As far as frames are concerned, if the frames are older than over 1 year, you begin to run out of luck.  Often, we hear things like, “well, that was professionally framed 4 years ago (I think), for like $150”.   Translation:  you haven’t sold this in 4 years and if you do things in fiscal years, your ship sailed long ago..  now it’s time to try to get what you can for it, especially if it is chipped and/or scratched in any way, and exhibited at multiple shows.   YES- frames and the quality of the frames and presentation does matter.  

If you have no documentation, stop pushing it and making up the cost in your head.  Often recollection and rounding things up to the nearest 100th dollar seems way bigger than the reality.  $65 is not $100. 

Perhaps most importantly:  your time and effort is not cost.  Gas is, so save the receipt for the tax return.  But if you spent a 103 degree afternoon changing the tire on your car on the side of a Miami highway, don’t perceive to bake that (pun intended) effort into the cost of the artwork .  Also, as we have said before in a previous post- unless for some odd reason you have an hourly rate, don’t try to make one up.  Even if you are a graphic designer who makes $35/hr. with a firm, this does not mean your side hustle artwork is worth $35/hr. baked-into the cost.  Similar for wood and metal workers, etc.   Remember, an object is just an object.  It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the sheet metal workers union. 

Finally,  if you are prepared to document costs for taxes, be prepared to declare your sales as well.  This is a double edged sword.  But, you might want to start seeing if you are selling a little bit first, to determine if art is really your thing before hiring a tax advisor.  

Don’t go crazy trying to document every single thing at the expense of making good work!  

Continue ReadingA Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art: Part 2

A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art

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Don’t Let (American) Exceptionalism and Emotional Attachment Cloud Reality 

In “Trading Places” (1983), the character Louis (played by Dan Aykroyd) famously tries to sell his rare watch in a Philadelphia pawn shop, to which the deadpan response (Bo Diddley cameo), is “In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks“.  This is an excellent lesson on the everyday realities of pricing.   So often, an artists personal perceptions, as well as their feelings and emotions, get intertwined with the realities of location (i.e. market), as well as perceptions of what something is actually worth from both creator and seller standpoint.  Like Bo Diddley, an experienced seller can look at an object and almost immediately tell what it would be known to sell for, generally based on quality, and overall appeal.  They should also know whether they could sell it or not, without wasting anybody’s time.  Without further time wasted, today we provide our take on the widely debated topic of art pricing  (note: focused primarily on $2,500 and under).  This is also assuming that you want to sell something.  Fasten your seatbelt and remember: Take nothing personally. 

Getting Down To Brass Tacks

In basic economics, a person buys Object A, for Currency B.  This transaction on a foundational level (and more or less ideally) occurs between 1 Buyer, and 1 Seller, and nearly everything on earth (tangible or not), is some kind of Object with quantitative value.  Way up high in the stratosphere, you have the term “priceless”.  Back on earth however, extra help is often needed to push your product outside of your immediate sphere, and to broaden your market range and increase your value potential.  Besides, the money you might earn from 1 transaction will quickly evaporate (thanks Joe Biden) and in sales, tapping the same buyer over and over will usually wear out the faucet.  Or, maybe you just hate sales.  In any case, this is where brokers, dealers, distributors, hustlers, and resellers come into the picture and now you have Object A, Currency B, and Third-Party C.

Lesson 1: These people don’t work for free and if they own a brick and mortar shop, gallery, warehouse, etc., that’s not free either. 
Vanquish from your mind that the art business is a magical place where you can just show up and people do something for nothing because your artwork is inspiring in the ways of Jesus or Whitney Houston.  In the Gallery world, the money paid to a dealer is most often in the form of a commission (i.e., the money a salesperson earns to show, promote, and sell your stuff for you, usually at their own risk). Any commission should be clearly communicated in writing.   It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not “ripping you off”, it’s just the nature of business, plain and simple.  A salesperson can sense a good opportunity, and they lend their services, expertise, and “black book”.  

In loaning something to a salesperson to sell, don’t take the price you want, and then mark up their commission on top, because you have now overpriced the object and the salesperson has to work harder.  Sometimes you can adjust up your price slightly because commissions can vary from place to place, but you should always consult with the person who is doing the selling.  Remember, if you could sell it yourself, you would, and, on a similar note, stop telling a gallery you are pricing it high(er) because you want to do them the esteemed favor of making them more money.  If they want to make more money, they will just sell it for more and are only obligated to pay you only what you originally asked for.  

The second fallacy is “I sold or sell this at XYZ Gallery and it is my standard price“.  Ok, so if you are doing that, then why aren’t you still selling it there, and why are we having this conversation?

Lesson 2:  Sales is a 24/7 Artform.  Almost akin to the art itself, professional hustling is like a fine art.  Consider it like a sixth sense and a symphony of work that once fine tuned, is unstoppable.  The art gallery is merely the front for the art dealer.  Beyond what is out on the gallery floor, are a near-endless myriad of other artists, objects, mediums, shapes, sizes… all the the 1 millionth power.  An experienced art dealer can think of 1-6 pieces off the bat if a customer asks.  They can bend and stretch time, space, and half-truths.  If they don’t have it in the gallery, they can get it by picking up the phone and calling on artists they have worked with.  New shows and exhibits can be ways of exploring untested artists or bringing back tested ones for a repeat sale.  With so many objects to choose from, never take things personally when galleries don’t respond right away.  

Lesson 3:  Your Object Is Just An Object.  The sooner that you realize this, the easier it will be to price it and to let go.  Ditch the emotional baggage.  Just like Bo Diddley in Trading Places, you should be able to look at nearly any object and simply guesstimate its perceived value.  Secret:  It’s not rocket science.  An appraiser is generally not needed, because unless the artist is well known, needs verified, or the work contains gems, minerals, or rare artifacts, the object is more or less just another object, albeit, a unique one.  In an ideal world, the art gallery should be telling the artisthere’s what you can get for it” rather than the artist telling the world how much they want for it.  But hey, it’s a two way street and you have to meet somewhere in the middle.   

For the most part though, galleries dealing with mixed merchandise allow artists to pick their prices for a few reasons.  1.) It’s a mixed exhibit and there’s just not enough time and energy to haggle with every artist.  2.) If there is genuine interest in the work (aka a serious buyer), and the buyer wants a slightly better price, the gallery can they proceed to negotiate.  3.) Artist Ego.  Pricing is a litmus test to see where on the spectrum of ego-insanity a person is.   If your self-esteem is low and you underprice, a salesperson may or may not take the “low hanging fruit”.  They can also sell it for more, or, if they are confident, they will just buy it from you and keep the inventory.   If your self-esteem is way too high and you overprice (especially last minute changes), you simply risk wasting everybody’s time and depending on how high, you look like an insane narcissist.  Every once in a while a gallery likes a high-priced wildcard or two- if the work somehow matches the perceived value.

Lesson 4:  Sell The Object, and Not You.  Leave yourself out of the picture for a moment.  The object sells for what the object is worth.  Pretend literally, that you found the art in a dumpster and are taking it someplace to get it sold for cash.  Forget about all of your debt, and bills, and family stuff, and realize that in the transaction, you and your ego unfortunately doesn’t matter very much to ether the Buyer or the Seller.  The money you then receive is payment for an object.  The downside is that what this also means, is that the level of effort and work you put into it are worth… not a whole lot.  Skill however, is worth something to the right person (see lesson 5).  And yet all the while,  this is why art is so different.  They are unique objects usually created by the person wanting to sell it, so there is inevitably the personal connection with it.  Making objects to sell is different from selling the making of objects.   

Remember:  What the majority of Art Buyers want to know is a.) Will this look good in my house? b.) How badly do I really want it?  c.)  How much can I get it for?  

Lesson 5:  There’s A (Big) Difference.  Aside from spot checking an object and guesstimating it’s value, what happens when you put two or more objects of the same perceived value side by side?  This is akin to the 2 foot test as opposed to the 5 foot test.  This is where multiple similar objects must now battle it out to the death!   Long story short, consumers are not stupid.   There is a big difference between a $175 painting, a $750 painting, and a $1,400 painting.  The not-so-nice way of saying this:  at closer inspection, the work is riddled with flaws, bad lines, low quality materials, and shoddy workmanship.  In other words, it is amateur.    

If you want $1,000, make something that looks like a $1,000 work of art.  You have to actually earn it. 

Similarly, dealers and (most) consumers know the difference between good and bad Photographic Prints.  It doesn’t take a safe-cracker to discover that your photo was printed on an Ink Jet Printer.  We hate to say it, but any non-specialty photo printed on an at-home printer sized 19″ x 13″ and below, is worth $150 maximum (and that’s pushing it), unless your name carries some sort of collector presence.  Sales of Photography at the $200 and over range are 99% of the time printed by a lab professional, and yes, there is a big difference. 

Another big difference is that size does not matter.  Making art in larger sizes does not equate to it selling for more.

Lesson 6: Leave Your Emotions at Home.  

We’re not saying that emotions should be excluded when creating the work, and that great things can come of that.  At higher levels, the backstories behind the work will often come into play and can influence sales.   At much lower levels here’s an example:

Scenario: A gallery receives a proposal or application with 3 art pieces.  Each comes with a statement or story.  

Piece 1:   By all means, an excellent painting.  Story says something like “this was created in my darkest hour, when my spouse left me, and I spiraled out of control, losing my job, and my house.  I began drinking and experimenting with pills, was abducted by aliens, when I found out my mom died, but it turns out she wasn’t my mom, who was actually a hooker”…  etc. etc..   Price:  $3,000

Piece  2:  Nothing like the first one, and some earlier still-life graphite drawing.  No story.  Price:  $200

Piece 3:  (Meh.)   Price:  $150

What can we conclude here?  a.)  The artist is too emotionally attached to Piece 1 and thinks that emotionally, it is brilliant and they should receive more money.   b.)  They are deliberately overpricing Piece 1 because they can’t “let go” of it.   d.)  The work is highly inconsistent among all 3, so no matter how great Piece 1 is, there is no long term investment with working with this artist. e.)  They also seem like a crazy person to want to work with. 

So the moral of the story is:  deal with your shit and learn to let go. Work on your consistency and be professional.  If not, keep the piece for yourself if it was clearly so important to your life story.  

(American) Exceptionalism

If you can do sales all yourself, in addition to making your products, marketing, raising your kids, etc., and making a living off of art, then by all means, a congratulations is in order.  Let’s say that you can do it all by yourself?  This means that there is a high probability that you sell Online, in which case you are competing with virtually every artist on the planet, in addition to other “wall hangings” of every shape and size.  Furthermore, there are artists in other countries that can likely make art products faster, cheaper, and more competitively than you can, and sometimes at equal or higher quality.  This is where American Exceptionalism comes into the picture.  The advantage is, that domestically available art can be viewed in domestically located galleries, in a country where people have disposable incomeSeeing is still believing, especially when the price tags move higher.  Competing in the Online world also means that the larger marketplace is flooded with let’s face it- total crap.  In our previous post on galleries, it was said that the role of the gallery is to filter the crap, in order to limit (and price higher) artworks that may be worth a shot at a higher price point. Galleries are partly responsible for narrowing the goods within the market in order to drive up prices, which in turn, is a good thing for artists and sellers alike.    And hey, it’s not always about just the money.  A good gallerist should in some way like what they are doing and have some sense of initiative. 

Still, being an artist and your combined emotions and experiences in no way make you exceptional.  Exceptional really boils down to the quality, consistency, and frequency of work you produce, and how well it sells in the marketplace.  Simply because you made something does not entitle you an automatic $1,000.  Similarly, even if you are a member of some protected category (race, gender, sexual preference, etc.), does not automatically equate to anything on the price side.  Additionally, stop listening to your friends, parents, spouse, co-workers, who all tell you you could be selling something for $10,000.   Only art that is truly unique in a sense goes the distance, and there are very few objects that are truly unique to the point of high price and desirability.       

As we mentioned in a previous post (and sorry to burst anyone’s bubble- again), but the majority of Emerging Art is worth $1,000 and under.  Moreover, simply for a decent piece of casual art, somewhere between $300-$750.  Based on our experience, this is what most casual street sales occur at, as well as below.  Anything below $125 is considered “low hanging fruit”, meaning, it exists to not only sell for a quick buck, but to bring in people who may spend more on something else.  The average individual is not walking into a shop and spending more than $900 on a piece of art without thinking twice about it.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen, but it is very rare.  This is why sellers develop and chase leads (i.e. doing the work of selling).  Consider that on a $500 painting, with a 30% commission, a Gallery makes $150.   So, you can imagine how many $500 paintings need to be sold to “get rich” (as so many people like to accuse galleries of doing), not withstanding paying their expenses first.  There is no “get rich quick” scheme associated with galleries, and if they are, (or an artist is), it is likely a rare exception, similar to a news article you might read about a crappy crayon drawing selling for $2.4 million. 

In Conclusion

Art is a round-the-clock, constant business with many players and variables.  Competition is everywhere, and the concept of “artist” is thrown around as a cheap moniker.  If making money from art is your goal, there are always angles to consider, and opportunities that are worth it, while some are not.  If creating makes you happy, be careful where you sacrifice the enjoyment for the pursuit of making money.   In our next discussion, we will talk about further variables, such as cost, and other musings on pricing.  

 

 

 

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Continue ReadingA Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art

Navigating The Playing Field

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Understanding Galleries and Opportunities as an Artist

With so many different styles of art and artists, there also comes the varying means for which they can promote and “sell” their ideas as tangible products. Even with the advent of the Internet, virtual tours, and “sell it yourself” programs, there are still very few (e.g. galleries) where it may be possible to display works physically, for both gaining followers, as well as making money. If display and sales of your work are among your goals, you will likely at some point or another cross paths with an art gallery.   Art galleries themselves are found throughout the world, come in all shapes and sizes,  and are found on main streets, pop-up tents, and in back alleyways.  As a “main street for-profit gallery”, we can share with you our views to help manage your expectations and shed light on how it works.

Categories of Art Galleries

While this list may have a few exceptions and standalone entities (and excludes places like auctions, bars, cafes, and restaurants), we have come up with this categorization system for the display of art.  (Please note, that the words “gallery”, “space”, “shows”, etc. are used somewhat interchangeably). 

1.)  The Egalitarian Gallery

Egalitarian galleries and shows are derived from the basic meaning of the word:  the belief that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. These types of galleries allow anyone to show their work, often regardless of skill level and/or presentation.  As such, they often have a “feel good” vibe, and may even have a slant towards certain identities or protected status groups.  However, at the core, the work is often of poor quality or low level, and priced accordingly.  Here in Pittsburgh, there is a yearly event called “Art All Night”.  This event is generally held in a large warehouse and allows any artist to display.  It attracts a ton of random people and may be great for the arts community, but it is not the level that you want to stay at as an artist, nor the types of audiences who might invest in you. 

The offshoots of the Egalitarian Gallery are the Punk Gallery, the Hippie Gallery, or the Art (Ware)House, only more niche and probably open to (slightly) fewer people. How any of these galleries survive and pay the rent is any wonder.  Some get community donations, are run by a stoned out trust-fund baby,  people sharing the space and dividing the rent, and/or might be a non-for-profit.  However, sales are generally not the specialty of these venues.  They are often short lived, and/or bulldozed at some point to make room for expensive condos.  If you find yourself saying “Whatever happened to… xyx?” it might have been this type of gallery.  

2.)  “Pay-to-Play” Galleries

The so-called “Pay-to-Play” Galleries are the ones that people love to hate and hate to love, but ideally can elevate the game for emerging and weekend-warrior (and even professional) artists in the form of mixed exhibitions, and believe it or not, still retain some elements of the Egalitarian Gallery, only with higher standards and a clearer vision.  As you likely guessed it, these types of galleries often have some type of an application fee to submit works, and as such,  they get reviewed, and not everyone gets invited to play.  These galleries (and for-profit galleries in general), are the stopgap in the wide egalitarian river that says only certain artworks shall pass. True Egalitarians hate pay-to play, either because it goes against their beliefs, or because they have been burned by one.

Consider that with so many hundreds (if not thousands) of artists looking to exhibit works (and who are all more or less all at the same career level), the use of an application management system with a small fee is truly the only “blind” way of going about remaining open to all artists, but with respect to the mental sanity of the curator.   So, you have done a few free egalitarian shows, gained some interest, have a decent body of work, and are ready to try to take things to the next level?  Or, you are maybe just looking to make a quick buck? Either way, look at it somewhat like gambling, and making a small investment in yourself.  Yes, you have to pay to enter this art-casino, and if you play your cards right, you can walk away with a larger sum of money and a few resume builders.  Overprice your art and don’t participate, and you will likely lose money and end up bitter.  Don’t try to win the art lottery with an expensive piece- it doesn’t work that way.  We believe that all art at this level should be under $1,000, with most around $500-750 or less.  Occasionally, there are a few exceptions and “wild cards” at a higher price range.    

Yes, there are likely a lot of dubious pay-to-play galleries out there, and maybe you have been a victim of one of those.  Vestige Concept Gallery is NOT one of those galleries.  To help you steer clear of red flags, you should avoid super high fees and vague subject matter (i.e. The Shapes Exhibition). An ideal pay-to-play gallery should: 

  • Have open hours and be staffed to sell  
  • Be good at promoting the show, and/or the individual artists
  • Be transparent, attentive to you, and answer questions
  • Have clear guidelines when applying
  • Have a lower commission rate as a trade-off for applying and shipping

A lot can be said about the Pay-to Play Gallery and these types of opportunities are becoming all the more common.  Larger, well established galleries are also throwing their hat into this arena with expensive fees, often when sales are slumping.  In the end, it is up to the artist to determine which of these opportunities are right for them, and which are not. As Kenny Rogers says “know when to hold em’, know when to fold em.'”  Never take things personally, and get to know the places and types of shows that you like to apply to, and in turn, you will get to know the gallery personnel that you like to work with (and works with you).   The artists who are successful in this arena are priced accordingly, and when successful, will command more attention from the gallery in terms of more one-on-one attention, and who knows? maybe even a feature wall and/or future referrals.   This leads us to the next type of gallery. 

(First though, let’s state for the record that College and University Galleries are also pay-to-play.  Great for the resume, and very expensive to get in.  Worse yet, they are probably subsidized).

 

 

3.)   Splits and Solo Show Galleries (i.e. Middle-Elite Galleries)

Let’s face it, the object of any business is to stay in business. This should be no secret, including with an art gallery.  While you likely know already what an art gallery looks like, smells like, and feels like, consider the operating expenses.  Then, consider why many of the privately-held, for profit galleries will not give you a solo show, respond to you, let alone give you the time of day.  Here’s why: money.  

The reason pay-to-play galleries exist is not only to filter out the pack, but because it also assists with operating expenses in newcomer and “small” business galleries.  You may (or may not) have wondered where all of the application money goes in an Art Call?   We are here to tell you that ALL OF IT goes back into operating expenses.  For a small gallery, in a semi-up-and-coming part of town,  on a main street, you may at best be looking at $2,500 a month just to stay running.  With say a 30% commission, that means that mom and pop need to sell $8,500 worth of art per month just to cover expenses, and not even paying themselves. This is why, if you truly believe you are egalitarian, believe in the “arts community”, and you believe in small businesses, and all that crap about Main Street America, you should have no problem paying $25 to apply to an art show.  If not, don’t complain when everything on your street is now a Jimmy Johns.  

Now, take a slick, large open space, high ceiling, marble floor gallery with air conditioning, that serves top shelf wines and has all of the halogen track-lighting.  Their operating costs may be looking more like $4,500-$6,000 a month on a main street. Say these bigger galleries take a 50% commission (which they usually do)- in this case they have to sell $8,000-$12,000 just to make cost, not including paying themselves or employees.   BUT, the idea is that the Middle-Elite Galleries are more well equipped with elite sales people, capable of selling “name brand” artworks at significantly higher prices.  Still, that’s not always the case and yes, there are plenty of mid-range types of galleries in smaller cities willing to offer you a solo or split show and don’t takes fees.  

To get the solo or split show, you first need to have a consistent brand and body of work, and a decent track record when it comes to showing and selling.  Ask yourself the Middle-Elite Gallery question:  can my artwork conceivably generate enough income for a gallery to stay in business, and pay the staff- notwithstanding myself and my costs?   

If the answer was no to that question, don’t be disheartened, but don’t be surprised why you are not getting the call backs.  

4.)  Larger Institutions and Elite Galleries 

Larger institutions include as you might imagine, Art Centers, bigger non-for-profits, museums, institutions, foundations, and mega-elite Galleries.  If you are dealing with any of these organizations, congrats, it’s very likely that you don’t need our help or advice, but thank you for reading.  This category of institutions focuses on the promotion and sales of a select group of elite artists, which make up a very small percentage of all artists globally. According to an interesting study* released by renowned cultural economist Clare McAndrew, these “star” artists make up the top four percent of all artists born after 1900. This small segment of artists tends to be the main focus of roughly half of the art institutions in the U.S., while only 17 percent concentrate on emerging artists. Art Centers may be on the lower end of the large institution spectrum and be great for emerging artists and offer Calls For Artists (with no fee, but they still pick and choose), and other types of opportunities (such as fairs, craft shows, etc.), and therefore, may be the most accessible on this list.  However, that’s not to say that buying a booth at a fair is not “pay to play” as well, (and only once or twice a year). Maybe you excel here, and the types of art and products you make are a good match for that environment.  Remember, as we always point out–there is no “one size fits all” approach to art. In the end, there is always the Internet; however, dealers remain the preferred channel for buying art amongst collectors.

 

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Continue ReadingNavigating The Playing Field

The SIX “P’s” of Art: Part 2

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The Show Must Go On

In our previous post we discussed the foundational elements of  Product, Price, Promotion, and Place.   We now add on (as promised) Presentation, Personality and as a bonus- Performance.   Before we begin, we suggest knowing these rules, and then forgetting about them.  Why?  It will ruin the fun and spontaneity of making art.  (Hey, we’re all here to have a little fun).

Presentation

The Presentation and final touches to a work of art are a crucial aspect to how well the work shows or is displayed.  It also means how you present yourself and present your images as a whole (vis a vis a website or social media).  Presentation inevitably ties together with your Product, as well as the Promotion.  

One of the most difficult aspects of group shows and juried exhibitions, is not knowing whether a work of art will be accepted, and then on top of that, the gallery wants the work to be “framed and ready to hang”.  “Framed and ready to hang?!”  This idea can become expensive to have every work of art ready to display at a moment’s notice.  Furthermore, artists are not framers- being a framer is almost a work of art in and of itself depending on the skill level.  The good news is that the framing is not the most important part, just that the work is presentable (and ready to hang or display), in some way.  Think of it more like “how do you frame yourself?” especially when in the context of others.  Here are a few suggestions:   

-Have a few works that you use as “travel” objects that work well with a variety of themes.  This is where a little bit of consistency among your work comes back into play, but don’t try to tailor your art to a specific theme.  No matter what style your work is, most works of art falls into themes, whether narrow (e.g. seascapes), or broad (e.g. contemporary arts).  

-Work with paper, print, or canvas sizes that are typical to store bought frames that don’t require customization.  When selecting store bought frames, check for inconsistencies such as skewing, chips, and blemishes to edges, corners, and glass.  Stores like Michaels have 60 day return policies, so, if an art show only runs for 30 days, save the receipt and the packaging, and get your money back if the work doesn’t sell.  

-Paintings:  either paint out the edge or mask off the edge of the canvas to give the work a clean appearance.  This way, you don’t need a frame at all and a buyer can display the work as well without having to go the distance of getting a frame.  If you are a sloppy painter (this is fine), then you may need a frame.  Or, the edges are a part of the art itself, but it should make sense in the total package.  

-Good or bad frames (and overall presentation obviously) may make or break sale, don’t make the frame overly distracting and almost never use ornate frames unless there is a reason.  Gold frames with added aging effects are best left at the antique shop.

-Unless it is a crucial aspect of the work of art, never use glossy coatings on your art or frames that look sticky.  Often, in heat, these types of coatings may actually melt and create a gravity “drip and drag”.  Glossy coatings also make the art look cheap and are hard to photograph.  There is no reason for it. 

-Sculpture should always be something that is intact and can survive the duration of time.  They should also be practical in a “for sale” environment, meaning, objects that are too difficult to install or contain organic matter (for instance), are only appealing to extremely niche audiences.  

Personality

You don’t have to walk into a room in a sequin tuxedo wearing pinky rings and twirling a cane to get noticed.  Personality in the art sense is really being authentic and outgoing, but more so- being an active participant in the life of your brand and in showing and selling.   Yes, there are a lot of introverts out there, especially in the art world, but even taking the introverted aspect of yourself and your art and using that to your marketing advantage, could make your more personable.  In effect, how can people relate to you and does the product somehow relate to them?  

Personable really means somebody that people want to work with, and buyers would like to possibly display or collect.  Personality often shows in the work, meaning, if you lined up 7 paintings of the same street scene from 7 different artists, the most personable among the works will tend to shine.   Is your art approachable, and what is it about this work (and the artist), that makes it unique.  In a world full of personalities, how can one stand out?  Being too “in everybody’s face” can certainly be unpleasant, but overly introverted may not get you anyplace as well.  Try to make the most of experiences, laugh, and enjoy the life of art and the art world around you.  Galleries will want to work with you, and when they work with you and know you, they can sell you.  Remember the Rules from our first posting: Nobody will book an asshole.  Likewise however, if you work with  gallery and you get no responses and tag-back (in effect, the gallery is an asshole), then you know that’s not the right fit for you.  

Personality grey areas show up in a number of ways, including through the art itself in the case of lived experiences.  Fortunately, there are works of art for lots of different types of tastes and personalities.  “Dark art” for instance, appeals to a specific type of audience.  “Gay” art is a type of thing, however, overly using your sexuality and other “identifiers” with no known relation to the product may actually have unintended effects.  In a “blind” world, let the product do the talking.  If identifiers are in-line with what the work conveys or a particular series, it definitely is a selling point.   There is also political art and art with messaging, and sure, this works in particular contexts or a show that may ask for that type of thing.   (Just as an aside, our gallery never users “identifiers” during promotions, unless getting clearance or approval from the artist first).

Performance

“All the world’s a stage” says Shakespeare.   “We are merely players.  Performers and portrayers..”  -Rush.   How we go from Shakespeare to Rush in one sentence, we really can’t say.  In reality, we’re just performing.  Don’t be afraid to shoot from the hip sometimes, and don’t get caught up with trying to make every little thing perfect (that’s called “failure to launch”).  Expect criticism.  WANT and invite criticism, and then be prepared to respond professionally.  Who is to say exactly what is art, or what is this, or what is that?  We can be anything that we wish to be, and especially now that we can hide behind social media.  That hot model with 400K likes could in reality be an old fat guy sitting in a basement somewhere (and hey, nothing against old fat guys).  

Performance is about showing up, it is about participating while distinguishing, and then maintaining.  It takes stamina. As we go from the act of creating through to the act of displaying and selling, the narrative begins to unfold.  Beyond showing and selling, what’s next?  The art of performance is constructing your narrative beyond just what it just says on paper.  Prove it, and prove you are worth your asking prices.   In a larger context, it is the energy behind the whole show, and the energy that plays out of the show once it reaches it’s conclusion.  

Using the other “P’s” you can begin to put the pieces together to show the world what you are made of.  Also, in the sales world, there are those that “perform”, some that get hits and misses, and those that don’t.  The art of selling yourself (and your art), and/or having others do it for you,  is a constantly moving and adapting series of pieces that require a constant battle against an ever-elusive marketplace.  Once you get good enough at it (stick to it), it should just become natural, or second nature.  This is a bit of how performance works.   It is the life of all things put together, over time.  


Continue ReadingThe SIX “P’s” of Art: Part 2