Sunday, June 3, 2012
Accessibility in Art
Ok, I have not posted for awhile, but I find myself really needing to write this out. I was trying to hold out until I got done with my work for the school year, but this issue is really making want to say something.
So, one of the recent themes I have developed is "accessibility in art". What does this mean? For me, it means several things. It means accessible in size, content, price, knowledge and contact with the artist, and any other way I can think of. Take this piece, for example. I believe this piece is only 5.5" x 8.5". The small size brings the viewer in close and lets them have a personl relationship with the painting. Have you ever passed by a large piece of art that could be in a city square, or something like that? I was passing something like that in every other piazza in Italy. I felt like I was just outside the space of these pieces sometimes. Please don't misinterpret my comment for dislike of the Italian Renaissance masters. (Monumental works of art are great and among my favorites of all time - I got to stand next to "The David" by Michelangelo and it was beyond words. I loved it!) I can't wait to stand in the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica either. These are amony my favorite works, but let me explain the difference. I could say the same of some of the large scale scultptures and paintings from today. There is a room at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, CA, where there are these floor to ceiling paintings and I have to go all the way across this giant room to even get a perspective on the pieces. I can't feel like I am part of the art. It overwhelms me. There is art that I like that is like this. However, I feel that overwhelms me and inspires sheer awe. I certainly don't feel like i can own it.
For my art, and I believe the art of my family, we want the people to be able to have a personal relationship with the art, that includes being able to take it home if they like it. Here's the thing that makes it hard for the average person to take home a piece of original art work. Let's just take a 2' x 3' painting that is done really nicely and with a lot of detail. This painting could range anywhere from $500 - $5,000. Now, if you walk into a gallery that is full of $5,000 paintings, then your market (the people walking in) may know exactly what they are walking into and are fine with handing over that kind of money. However, we need to look at the sheer economics of the situation. You average person does not have $5,000 to spend on a painting. They may have that to spend on a used car - something that they can take to work and get them around town to do their errands, etc. Last time I checked, my paintings did not have an engine to start up and get people around town. Art is not a practical buy, it is something that is extra. I believe art is necessary, do not misunderstand me, but when it comes to getting kids to school and putting food on the table, a car wins out over a painting - every time for the average person. I can't compete against Ford and Chevy. It is just that simple. I want the largest group possible to be able to enjoy art. We talk about this as artists all the time, but then I see people pricing themselves right out of the market. If you go to an art festival, or a smaller gallery, and price a piece at $5,000, a lot of people are going to walk right by your piece after saying, "Wow! That is so great! Too bad I can't afford that."
Let me give you some background where I am coming from. I work with people who do not thin about buying $5,000 paintings. It is inaccessible. It is unrealistic. It is not going to happen for most people. Let's say that artist drops their price to $500. Ok, great, that person opened up their market some. However, let's look at the competition. IPADS, Laptop computers, weekend trips away somewhere, and cell phones, just to name a few things. Art will not win out with these things. A person is going to go for these things first. All you have to do is look around. What are people walking around more with? Original paintings or smart phones? It is not hard to figure this one out. It is the mindset of the average consumer. That person will walk into an art festival and art gallery (smaller one) and look at the price and they will check for a few things. "Is there anything cheaper that I can buy that I like or do they take credit cards/debit cards?" If you truly want art to get to more people, you have to factor in the economics.
I recently had a fundraiser for cancer. (Yay Gina! My wife completed a half-marathon to raise money for this cause. All proceeds went to Team In Training) The piece above was a raffle prize donation. In this process of fund raising, I talked with some people and they said something that they liked was that they could go somewhere and walk away with two framed pieces of art. Granted, I work small, and so does most of my family. Size is another feature of accessibility that I will talk about in a bit. The point is that people want to own art, especially original art that has a connection to an artist! This fundraising opportunity opened my eyes to what people want. The people that supported this cause were not rich, or even all that well off in most cases. They did like art and they wanted to feel connected to the art. Of course, the larger a piece is, they more hours you put in and you have to charge more. They key is to really understand the economics and the market for your work and be able to be competitive. When you price it low enough, people will alway choose original art over commercial and mass produced art. Hand made things are important, but you have to be able to produce it in an economical time frame to make it good for you as an artist. If I do a 10' painting, I am not pricing that thing at $100. It would be too many hours spent making it and a loss on other work. You have to get compensated for your time. If you want to price even lower, you can create some of the finely produced items - like giclee prints or prints on good paper and sign them. What I do, and my family does, we put as much of our hands on our work as possible to make everything feel like it has our personal mark - whether it is an artist statement, greeting card, or a painting. People want that connection with the artist.
That brings me to my next point. Content. Content needs to be accessible. i have to say, my colleagues who do more recognizable images - like landscape and figures, or some variation therein, have an upper hand on truly conceptual and abstract art unless they can make it more understandabe to the masses. Take a piece that truly comceptual, maybe even a performance piece, or something in that nature, but there is an element that can be purchased to take home or to an office and displayed. I like this type of art and feel it is very good. However, people who are not educated in some of the more recent trends in art could have a difficult time understanding this. It is not as accessible as something like a style done after the impressionists or something along those lines., If you do push the boundaries of art, make sure your audience can connect with it. I know this brings up the argument of who are we trying to please or communicate with, but let's look at it from the point of view of a viewer. I walk into a gallery and there are some great pieces on the wall or in the case, etc. However, there is not artist statement or description, just a title and price. Then, in another part of the gallery, there is a piece that I like and there is an artist statement with background of the piece and what it is about, etc. For me, I take the one with the one with a statement because I know the story behind it. I could do research or find the artist to get the story, but the brief statement is all that is needed to bring the viewer closer to the work. It is important for artist to be able to articulate their story about each work, even if it is only a few lines. It does not take much time and it brings the artist and viewer closer together and it can also bring a group of people who want to follow the artist because there are great prices and great pieces with a story.
Take the piece above. It is a watercolor and graphite drawing combined. Where did it come from? Well, I explored to idea of the simultaneous coexistence of opposites from when I was in school and had my undergraduate show, and I still work with this even today. I also went to Italy and was influenced by Italian architecture and arches from the Renaissance. I grew up in a valley where there were large expanses of fields and mountains in the distance. I constantly want to explore the relationship of nature an human influence and use of natural things (like stone). That is not a very long statement, but now it gives the viewer some background, and it does not hurt the connection the view has with the piece, it only adds to it.
I could go on all day about this, but these are some of my thoughts about art being accessible. That is what I am about. I will blog again soon after school work is done. Have a great day!