Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Currently Reading ...

For my birthday, my daughter Jo bought me "On the Way To Work" by Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn. It's a series of in-depth interviews with Hirst.

And I am so into it!

I'll probably be referring to bits of it as I go along and here's the first:

Big on my mind lately is money ... the HUGE lack of it. Do I produce art for the money? Well, I've painted (on and off) since I was a kid so probably not. But it is what I do now. I need to live and pay the rent so I want to trade art for income. There are many other reasons why I want people to own my art but I'll tackle those at another time.

Here is Damien Hirst's take on it:

"I find the money aspect of the work part of its life. If the art's about life, which it inevitably is, and then people buy it and pay money for it and it becomes a commodity and manages to still stay art, I find that really exciting."

"I think, in England especially, people are anti any kind of success really. You're struggling and you cut your ear off; they like that kind of an artist. Whereas if you're making money ... They'd rather you were working on a building site and painting in a garret somewhere. I'd say that's a problem."

For me, art is my work and it's as much a 'proper job' as anything else. The fact that it doesn't pay well (yet) is because my business model isn't working and needs adjusting - just like any other business that is not trading well. But that's part of the creative process - producing the art and 'getting it out there' - for people to see it, own it and be affected by it.

That sounds like a great book. I'll have to see if I can find a copy of it.

This issue of art/expression/business/money has been cycling through my thoughts lately as well. I've found it to be a knife's edge balancing act because while I don't have a problem with the idea of making money for my art, I do have a problem with treating it as a job. When I lean too much toward treating it like a job (like trying to put into practice all the ideas I have about marketing, etc.), I start to rebel because I don't want a job, I want to make art. But if I don't give some focus to the business aspect of it, then my work doesn't get out there to be seen (and sold), and to me having my work seen is a very necessary part of the artistic process.

Sigh. Oh, to have an assistant…
I agree entirely. And I think that's where assistants come into the mix, and - dare I say - needs to be a part of the 'business plan'.

But I also think we need to redefine 'job'. Is a job all about an employment contract? A salary? We are entrepeneurs, artisans, poets, painters, sculptors. We have the liberty to work on our own terms and produce work that is meaningful. But then, as you rightly say, the process is not fulfilled until the work is seen and, in some sense, 'owned' by others. The thing I liked about Hirst's take on it, is the emphasis on money as being a part of that process. I think that's what I'm aiming at ... not so much a 'job' but nevertheless a source of income.

As you can tell, I could ramble about this for days ...
I'm writing my essay today on consumer culture...and partly about how people work to earn, so that they can buy more things, and about the commodification of leisure time...and asking whether work shouldn't be about how much you earn and what you can get with it but about the value of the work itself.

You might be at the opposite end(not earning much at all) but I think you're still on the right side and just need to find a bit of balance.

(glad you're enjoying the book)
Thanks, Jo. I've been thinking, too, about how you can pay £100 for a meal and be hungry again in a few hours; £1000 for fashion but be out of style next season. But art is not consumable. It can last for generations. Maybe it is an antidote to the consumerist mentality.

I'm getting all this from watching the Yoji Yamamoto DVD you lent me!
The comments are as interesting as the post. Loking forward to further thoughts as this, of course, is never far from my mind. Do you have input on the gallery/artist relationship and the huge imbalance this creates (more strategically than economically) against the artist who's not (yet!) sought after?
Does a large corporation buy a Damien Hirst(who else could afford to?)for the love of the art, or love of the investment opportunity?
Your blog entry reminded me of a quote by the late Quentin Crisp - 'It'd be difficult to express the dilemma that lies before the visual artist....try not to get stuck in work when you only deal with things;books,painting,sculpture they are only objects just like washing machines but not as useful.'
I think this is why 'ordinary' people find art so resistable - it's not very useful, it's far too expensive and it has very little to do with me - or so they think!
Perhaps it's about packaging - every time I've seen John Hegley the theatre is packed with people like myself who might just go out after the show and consider buying a book of poetry.
Now Andrew Motion - um,er, well you get my drift!
Hi Andrea,

I don’t know how galleries can work for us in a strategic sense. By their very nature they are exclusive … they can only do so many exhibitions in a year and can therefore only show any particular artist about once every 2 years. Even if we had representation at a number of galleries, that would still never be enough to generate the kind of sales we need to make a living or get our work out to enough people. So, in my view, it can only ever be one element in the mix. Which means we have to think about the other elements (traditionally called ‘the marketing mix’). And that’s what I’m working on! All I can do is keep you posted!


I recommend 2 further books to you: "Collecting Contemporary" by Adam Lindeman and "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art" by Don Thompson. Both books examine the role of collectors, dealers, galleries, auction houses and others in the ‘marketing mix’. BTW, many of the highest price works are being bought by individual collectors, not institutions. There is a big debate about to what extent they are being bought for aesthetic value versus investment value. It seems to depend on the collector. Problem is, they are dealing with the apex of the market and not the grunts like us. It’s a definite power system and closed shop (Sotheby’s and Christies have both been prosecuted for price rigging) so the likes of us need to develop ‘guerrilla marketing’ strategies if we are to survive. And, I agree, presentation (or packaging) is an important part of that.
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