[A rough idea of how I’m hoping “Desertmanhattan” will turn out, cannibalized from “Fred 44”. 4×8 feet, pencil, acrylic and ink on canvas. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
Over the last week, I’ve been dividing my time between finishing the book manuscript and getting started on Desertmanhattan.
My head is all over the place at the moment; I thought I should write down some of my thoughts, just to gain some clarity for myself:
1. I’ll be damn glad to have the book out of the way. It’s been a long, four-year road. I feel a combination of gloriously happy and elated, and utterly burned out from the whole thing.
2. While I was working on Desertmanhattan, the feeling that “This is what I ought to be doing; this what I was born to be doing,” kept swelling up inside me. And you know what? This totally terrified me. What if I gave up everything to do this, and suddenly nobody cared? Suddenly nobody wanted to buy my work, and I ended up penniless and ruined?
3. Paintings don’t scale. Even if I could sell the paintings for huge amounts of money [It seems a distinct possibility, after some of the back-channel conversations I’ve had with potential patrons of the enterprise], it would still mean working my butt off and making no more than an average, second-tier attorney. It doesn’t always seem to add up.
4. The artist doesn’t determine the price of the work. The re-sale value of a price determines the price of the work. If the perception exists that the work will be significantly more valuable in five or ten years, paintings are easy to sell. Without this perception, it’s damned hard to sell a painting, even if the potential customer falls in love with it.
5. An artist is about as good example of a “Global Microbrand” as you can get. I have a few artist friends out here in West Texas. On one hand, they totally get the idea. On the other hand, it’s an idea that seems to totally terrify them. It always struck me as funny how people want to be artists, yet they don’t want to be marketers. To me that’s like wanting to be a pro football player, yet not wanting to keep in shape. Nice work if you can get it.
6. “I don’t need a gallery; I have a blog.” I’ve been approached by a few gallery owners over the last couple of months about doing a show. So far the conversations have gone nowhere. So far I’ve yet to meet a gallery who can sell a painting better than my blog can. Gallerists talk a lot; they’re not quite so fond of putting down financial guarantees in writing.
7. The artist I admire the most, in terms of taking the internet-enabled “global microbrand” idea and running with it, is my good friend, John T. Unger. Four years of blogging later, and he can’t make his “Great Bowls of Fire” fast enough. Though a lot of the ideas he uses he first got from reading my blog, unlike me, he actually applied them and took them to the frickin’ sky. Well done, John.
We’ve been talking a lot over the last couple of months about this new art phase of mine. His advice has been invaluable.
8. Just as I was thinking about all this selling-art-online stuff, one of my Twitter followers, @corkymc turns me onto the blog of a very talented, young Australian artist, Hazel Dooney. Though she was already considered very successful for an artist under the age of 30, two years ago she decided to pack in the gallery system and just do her “dialogue” with her audience directly online. She’s got some strong views on the subject, which I approve of:
Inevitably, this leads to another question, also always the same: what’s the role of the gallery in this environment? And, as always, I argue that it doesn’t have one. Or as I put it in Art Is Moving: “It deserves to die. It’s an anachronism that’s outlived it’s usefulness. I think there is still a role for individual curators or even ‘show producers’ but they need to work in a more individualised, specialist way within a networked ‘virtual’ paradigm …”
To be more precise, I still see value in public exhibitions and installations but not produced, promoted or managed in the way they are today – the same way they have been for a hundred and fifty years – by dithering, technologically inept, socially aspirational and unadventurous commercial ‘bricks and mortar’ gallerists.
I’ll be watching what she has to say in the future with great interest, to be sure.
9. It took me a few years of blogging my cartoons, before I finally accepted the idea that my audience would always come mainly from reading my blog, and not from being published in the newspapers, magazines, books etc. Even though I have a book coming out in June, I still believe this is the case- just because I’m now an “author”, doesn’t mean the day-to-day reality has changed very much.
10. And now I’m realizing that if I want to sell paintings, I don’t need a gallery, I can just do it all online. Nor do I need critical approval from the art establishment- the media, the curators and the critics. I can just do it all myself, if that’s what I indeed do want. It’s a great feeling, sure, but it’s a new one. Taking its time to really sink in.
11. My paternal grandfather was a Scottish Highland “crofter”. He lived on a “croft” i.e. a very small holding of land, where he raised sheep and grew potatoes. I used to spend my summers there as a boy. We were very close.
Crofting is a good life, but not a very financially rewarding one. It’s very self-sufficient, though. The interesting thing for me looking back, is that crofters never did “just one thing”. Every day they had something else going on. One day it might be sheep. The next it might be a job working on the roads for the local council. I knew one crofter who drove the mail van. Another who ran the local post office. They would do their jobs, but after work they’d still have their sheep, cows and potatoes to attend to.
As my dad is fond of reminding me, I seem to have inherited the crofting mentality. I DON’T like waking up in the morning and doing the same thing every day. I LIKE having all these different balls in the air- cartooning, painting, consulting, writing, marketing, blogging etc. Sure, part of me would like nothing better than just “retiring to the desert and making paintings”, but another part of me likes all the running around in different directions. And all this running around DOES get tiring, I can tell you that. Sometimes I LOVE the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. Other times I utterly despise it.
12. Something in me is changing. I came out to live in the West Texas desert for a reason. I’m just beginning to find out what that reason may be. Sometimes I can clearly see what the reason is; other times it proves more elusive.
13. It’s a good life. It really is.
Wow, what a great post. So much to think about. Relevant to a lot of people, I think, in a lot of different lives.
Best of luck with everything.
Middle-aged angst is a good thing, it pushes you forward. Embrace the journey, we’ll be watching.
Hey Hugh – what a good day to check in, so much going on.
Congratulations on the book, must be a great feeling seeing it going off into the world. I’m so pleased you’re doing those big paintings too – I remember you talking about them a couple of years ago and thought it was a great idea: loosed from the cage!
As for being a crofter, no bad thing to be. Those of us planting potatoes in our wee inner-city gardens are maybe following the same instinct. At least there will still be something to eat when even the mighty RBS has crumbled into dust.
Hope you get to have a beer in Terlingua again soon, sounds like a great place.
I would concur with pretty much everything you said. The gallery system has been nothing but a monumental waste of time in my experience.
You seemed to work all this out a helluva lot quicker than I did, though!
Love point2 – take a chance anyway. You can always take up drywalling or dedicate your life to the art of FAIL!
True you dont need a gallery at all, but….
perhaps you might clue them up about ambient media…
A plasma screen hooked up to a small harddrive, live to your blog or even to flickr would look great. A metafictional series of photographs
detailing the process of composition could also be of note. The benefit therein being the canvas itself still holds the real value and the gallery gains a noteworthy installation.
Te Papa museum in Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand have a similar thing going featuring flickr photo material and it is fantastic.
Hugh, life gets better and better with age.
Could be all of our synapses finally connect.
Or that we suddenly realize what others think of
us doesn’t really matter. Unbuckle the seat belt and enjoy the ride.
As a gallerist I would like to put in my two cents…I agree that many galleries will not continue to exist in the traditional sense. But there are many artists who hate selling/marketing and I disagree with your analogy to NFL football. I don’t think good artists need to be good marketers.
In your case I fully agree that your blog audience and connections to buyers and your personality (as it is revealed online) negate the need for you to have a gallery.
But I know plenty of artists (including many that I represent) that find the marketing/selling aspect of the business is not one they can thrive in and for some art pieces, having a physical space to show them helps to close the deal. What is happening more in the fine art world is that sales are being done more through the internet and at art fairs, rather than just in local markets. Again, these are avenues that many artists do not have the means or skills or interest to penetrate.
Bear in mind I say “many” knowing there are folks who don’t find galleries are helpful to them and today they can definitely work around the gallery system and go direct to their audience.
I don’t think galleries are dead. But many need to change their business model to reflect the changes in the market.
In regards to “It always struck me as funny how people want to be artists, yet they don’t want to be marketers. To me that’s like wanting to be a pro football player, yet not wanting to keep in shape. Nice work if you can get it.”
The difference is that marketing is an extroverted occupation. Art is typically introverted. They are exclusive of one another, although all the great artists were damned good at marketing, like Dalí, which is a sad fact. In your football analogy exercise leads to a better sports performance. Along these lines, it would be more accurate to say that an artist who doesn’t want to practice the basics, but just jump in to making “masterpieces” would be a fool and lord knows there are many of these.
And congratulations on the book. I’m trying to sell one about regional wines at the moment and not enjoying the process, so I admire and applaud others’ success in the process.
tinkugallery, I agree with a lot of what you say.
Nothing wrong with a gallery if it can sell your paintings A LOT better than you can. But what if it can’t?
Also, I do not accept that there’s some mysterious quality to being an artist that automatically makes one “bad at marketing”.
Paintings may not scale, but prints do!
Something to ponder.
Like what I’m reading. Nice one.
iDavid, Yeah, I keep thinking about doing prints…
Interesting thoughts and things for me to think about. Thanks for the insights.
To answer your questions — if a gallery can’t sell your work A LOT better than you can, and if you as an artist don’t mind dealing with the commercial side of your business, then there is no reason for you to be with the gallery. A lot of artists are going that route and it is great that the option to do that is much more viable than it was historically.
I wasn’t asserting that artists have a mystical quality that makes them inherently bad at marketing. I was just saying that the majority of the successful artists that I personally have known over the years, HATE anything to do with selling and marketing. So they would rather have someone else do it.
My artists are taking a big leap of faith with me because it will be a while before I will be generating any significant revenue but they are interested in more than just revenue – they like having shows vs. selling individual work, they like the physical space that I can show their work in, and my efforts to reach people they would not know how or want to reach.
For people like you, I don’t think many galleries out there would be able to give you the $ that you could generate yourself. That’s why I haven’t approached you to come show in my space. 🙂
Lucky #13: It is a good life. It really is.
It is as usually as good as you want it to be no matter what… (That’s just my philosophy)
You need a Lamborghini to incorporate “all” your exceptional skills…
(Sorry about the big address to link to the picture. I hope it is ok to include the link of what I am talking about. If not feel free to delete)
tinkugallery, Hey, if someone wants to write me a check and make me an overnight millionaire, I’ll certainly give ’em a good listen 😉
And I don;t mind my work showing in galleries, either. I’ll just make the same deal that John T. Unger makes with them… 70% of retail price, cash upfront. No consignments.
somebody mentioned doing prints. signed prints? great idea. does your wrist scale?
Congratulations Hugh, sounds like things are going great for you!
Very much liked this post.
I’m not so sure about point #4. For true art collectors who invest in art with an eye on resale value, sure. But what about people who buy art just because they like it? What about supply/demand? If you create 20 paintings a year and there’s a long line of people willing to pay >$3K for one, is that good enough, or at least a good start?
I would love to buy a print! I’d also love to buy note cards with your cartoons on them since snail mail does have a certain grooviness to it and I’d like to think anyone receiving one would immediately want to check out gapingvoid.com.
Keep on keepin’ on, Hugh. You inspire me.
What advice do you have for a struggling writer, who’s working on his 1st book, but is mired in “what if this is crap?” and “what’s my ‘voice’… I can’t find it”?
Hugh I love the crofting analogy! I think I might be a shetel peasant.
As for the gallery thing its all about getting to your market. My mother is an artist and the kind of people who like her kind of work are the kind of middle to upper class people who like going to private views. She also once did have a sell out show when we lived in a big house in SA but inviting everyone she knew to the house throwing a vast party wine was cheap there ! I was only 7 but can remember tin baths stacked with bottles and ice.
I suspect anyone who buys your work will do so because of the backstory to the creation so a gallery where one just wanders off the street probably won’t be a good place to sell for you.
Another artist using the net to make creative works in a different way is Christine Kane who is using her very popular blog to fund her next CD – http://bemyrecordlabel.com/
I think gapingvoid.com is the best gallery you’ll find, Hugh.
What you said in your last post is right – the tech/VC/Silicon Valley/Web 2.0 community are always going to be your key audience. Having an original Hugh Macloed (or even a print) on your wall is the ultimate social object.
My online art store has some pieces from Yiying Lu, including her most famous, “Twitter Fail Whale” – It’s been my biggest seller … a big hit with the geeks no doubt.
Interesting stuff Hugh. I am delighted to see you are making larger pieces of work.
I too have recently started making work again after 10 years away from it and as such have begun considering the gallery issue.
I think for me the gallery system still has a valuable part to play if for no other reason than allowing people to see the work in 3D. This may not be important for initial interest but it certainly becomes vital at a point and I think your work is subject to the same audience rigours.
Your artwork is very different from your cartoons and consequently has a massively augmented set of criteria for appreciation: things that are deeply important to you and become important to anyone who wants to buy a piece for reasons beyond investment.
I don’t know how lofty your ambition is but if you want your work to be taken seriously by anyone it will have to have a physical presence alongside other artists and within the commercial gallery system is a far more likely place for you to gain that recognition and be judged alongside your peers. (I loved the idea about the installation BTW)
I think this would boost the respect for your work and allow it to be considered beyond the context of your blog. Perhaps, rather than eschewing the gallery system because you don’t feel you have immediate access to it, you should allow your blog to gain access on your terms and from a position of strength. Surely this would allow you the best of both worlds without alienating either.
All this said you have inspired me to think about including my artwork in my blogging and maybe one day it will help me get some useful group show opportunities.
Glad to hear all’s well with you.
A crofter, huh? I wondered what a good word was for the position I’m always in. I use “generalist” but I’m not sure if I like it.
Wrote this the other day, future-published to today, ironically the same day I read this.
I’m glad you’re tuned into something changing in you. That’s cool to be going through, and even cooler to be aware of it.
Unger’s story of his near death experiences was AMAZING.
There’s something beautiful in the fact that paintings don’t scale. It reveals the value in human creativity. It can’t be mass produced. It takes the time it takes. Deciding to be an artist means deciding to be wholy invested in creating, in putting ourselves into our creations. I love that.
I’ve found some benefit in relationships with galleries. Maybe not so much for the fact that they can show my art to the walk-ins and sell a few, and certainly not for the paranoia about contracts, but more for the information they provide. I get a sense of what their customer is looking for in art. I get a sense of how to package, how to market my work, how to reach the people who will love having my art. I have loved the journey of learning how to market my work. It’s been a large part of why this is exciting to me, thanks to you, Seth, Mark, Chris, and several other bloggers who have inspired me at various points. So, I like galleries for the feelers it provides out into the real world.
That said, I hope my blog becomes part of my creative legacy. I put daily thought into it, sometimes choosing my painting subject based upon an idea for a post like http://vinylart.blogspot.com/2008/10/do-be-do-be-do-ec.html from yesterday.
And I also don’t care about art community approval. I’m doing this for me, for people passionate about music and human creativity, and for my family.
Let me throw the scaling thing out there again. If your cartoons could be downloaded in high resolution files, I’d personally would pay $15 a shot. Then you would be outsourcing the printing, mounting, framing and hanging to the customer. Which I would be happy to do for you or is it for me??? And yes some people would ‘steal’ them by paying once and sending to their friends. But you’ve already done the work, you may as well get a handful of 10 bucks and a spreading ‘brand’. If 20% of the people who gains a stolen cartoon want to see what else you have to offer and your blog converts 40% of them into customers buy a legitimate one then you would get more cash. Someone who likes numbers can work out how many beers it would buy.
Every time I come here, I always find something inspiring and soul-moving. I’m also starting to doubt the truth in the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” The idea is really what counts, and if you have to learn to be artist, poet, author, marketer to realise your dream, so be it. Your success is what makes you the master.
I never saw a gallery show as a means to sell my work, but rather to meet the people I’m trying to reach with my art, whether the billionnaire art connoisseur or regular Joe. I work towards a goal of accessible art -art for anyone. I want people to find my work so cool, they want to carry it around with them everywhere, give it as gifts. Talk about it, sleep with it.. *ahem* are we still talking about social objects?
I’m looking forward to your book, congrats and thanks, as always, for your insight!
You have such a great blog I have given you a Brilliante Blog award for 2008. Just love your views on creativity, cartoons and all that jazz. Please visit my blog to collect your award,
Stormhoek is completely FABULOUS
Stumbled upon it in Tesco in today.
For a wine this seductive and deeply pleasurable, it’s an absolutely bloody bargain.
Just thought you (and others) should know.
Apologies for the non sequitor.
Another artist to check out is Michelle Keck, aka “The Raw Artist.” She did it her own way, eschewing galleries and selling her art on ebay. She is HUGE now, and has quite an enterprise on her hands. And yes, now she has gallery representation. Google her and check out her story.
I too am an artist, and I know the feeling. Your comment really rang true to me. “While I was working on Desertmanhattan, the feeling that “This is what I ought to be doing; this what I was born to be doing,” kept swelling up inside me.” WONDERFUL! I’ve experienced that feeling too. And it is a treasure! Ride it out!! Regardless of how your artwork sells, or what society deems it is worth, that feeling is the reason why you are doing the work, and the rest will fall into place.
There are two things in this world that I know without a doubt that I am supposed to be doing. One of them is painting. I have in the past lost touch with that sentiment, and that is when I suffer the most. Know that it’ll all work out, and because “something in [you] is changing” you are on the right track! Trust it!
Not to get preachy, just struck a chord. Congrats, you are in for quite a ride!
It’s not really that complicated:
The split between the production of innovative work against the backdrop of it being of value to the market is the big Art crunch.
Getting to eat and make the work you want to requires a fix for the above dilemma.
(If there’s a universal fix? I doubt it very much, but on a personal level it is possible, as long as you start in the right place, which you seem to have done.)
(Good luck! Am enjoying this new big plan.)
The question is not whether or not you want to be an artist or not. The question is are you ready to run a small business where the product is your artistic vision. It’s very simple. If you want to concentrate on your art, keep your day job and do the art “around the edges” of your life. If you want to be artist, you will spend a huge amount of your time running your business and still have to do your art “around the edges.” This is the experience of many career artists I know.
What ever you decide to do, go at it full speed ahead.
This is fantastic. I’ve recently started doing a similar project (although there are marked differences). I love the overall aesthetic when you view from a distance: it’s almost like a stone surface. But when you get close you get to see the many details and evidence of human thought.