Deep Thought Thursday: Artists and the slowing economy

Today’s Deep Thought comes from Michael McCurry, who wisely asked about selling art during times of slow economic growth. I realized that I really don’t have a good answer for him and should know this. Maybe I can get some help from you. Michael wrote:

[It] is easy to see that, in many sectors, money is not flowing like it was. Given this, what new strategies, might we, as artists, consider?

For example: What, if any, kinds of art might still be showing strength in this economy? Matted prints, high end canvas originals, small inexpensive giclées. etc, etc. What kinds of venues might there be for any kind of original art, or reproductions that might work in this economy?

I am pondering this and I don’t think that one has to be an economist to be an observant, adaptable marketer of one’s art. Is there any way to collect  and share any brainstorming that your subscribers might be doing on this subject?

Can we help each other out here?

Image (c) Michael McCurry, Celebration

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12 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Artists and the slowing economy”

  1. I’ve only had a couple thoughts on this. 1. My high end originals are still selling. So I will be focusing much more studio time just on them and losing some middle-range sizes completely. Unless I fancy doing some regardless. 😉 2. For low-end/small work (under $150ish) selling direct is improving. I’m putting more effort into direct venues (my site, Etsy, Flickr, other types of online galleries) since bricks and mortar galleries who used to specialise in small works are either closing down or moving into reproductions and more mass-produced items. Not all of them, but I definitely seem to have lost that range out outlets to a great extent.

  2. I’ve noticed the smae thing as Tina – high end originals are still selling. Seems to me that the really rich people are doing just fine – it’s the middle and lower classes that are being hit the hardest by the mortgage slump. So I’m finding that the people who used to “splurge” on a small painting now and again aren’t buying anymore, but the people who really have a lot of money are. Therefore, I’m focusing my efforts on having my work at galleries that bring in the right clientele. In my case, the hipper galleries downtown that see a lot of younger traffic are complaining about the economy, but the ones in the mountain resort towns seem to be doing fine, so that’s where I’m sending my work! To me, it’s a location issue. Also, during times like these, I figure I just have to work harder to get my work out there. I figure if I can make it through a slowdown successfully, I’ll do that much better when the economy starts to improve!

  3. My business revved-up in 2001, right when I perceived that a downturn was possibly beginning. As it turned out, the economy actually held up pretty well. I think it would be a bad move to try to invest in an area of the market with art sizes or styles that you don’t normally do, nor have the “fire-in-the-belly” for. Stay true to your calling. Do what you have in your heart to do. Many of us aren’t rich, and can’t foresee what the big ticket guy will do. Maybe his futures stocks are tanking, and I haven’t a clue. Do I really want to start making big art just for a market that I haven’t been in because I think the rich are “getting richer” or whatever? But, evaluate whether what you do may sell at this time. My best advice is to continue to build your own infra-structure. Build your name, your brand, your inventory and your studio. Grow academically. Get better at what you do. BTW, my sales are smoking along at top speed. It may be a parenthesis, but I am not receiving indicators, personally, that I need to change. I just had an operation and will be giving my physician an artwork in lieu of payment. How cool is that? The main message I have is have a little faith, build your foundation, don’t be rash.

  4. I believe that in times of uncertainty that people receive even more comfort and satisfaction when buying something created by human hands. I think it is grounding for people to buy art from other people and less items from mega marts and stores outside of their control or sphere of influence. So far my sales confirm this.

  5. I think the availability of the intellectual property of art on the internet is changing how we digest our culture…One can now ‘eat’ the message of say a painting while sitting at home at the computer…Going to the gallery in person is almost redundant, especially if you ‘got’ the message already…like music, I foresee copyright reproduction royalty fees for the use of digital jpegs …CARFAC in Canada negotiates fees on behalf of artists & collects them on their behalf…they are in the process of amending their fee schedule to include the internet…Soon, visual artists will see these fees as another source of income…I hope…

  6. I have experienced the same thing over almost 20 years of being in the art business. As the economy slows the high end customers continue to keep me afloat. I have also noticed that people will continue to spend money on their children and art classes have been great over the last few years. Just my two cents.

  7. I think that the galleries are being hit hardest, increasing overhead costs and less ROI means that they will be looking to consolidate their artists and taking a good look at the work they sell (or don’t) they may not be taking on new artists so rejections are likely to be higher and existing artists may be let go on the other hand, people seem to be responding to selling online, especially smaller originals. they are less expensive, still an investment in original art and cheaper to ship. it seems that the more you upload the more chances you have to sell. Personally I have stepped up my creation of small works but I still remain true to myself and my work. I see the small works as stepping stones, ways to refine techniques and poses and to increase my skill. I think it is important not to sacrifice your vision for the almighty dollar.

  8. My research last fall, when I was rethinking my art business, led me to the conclusion that high end would keep moving. That would be my torsos, which also happen to be my favorite things to make. I kept making masks because I like them too and was pleasantly surprised to see them move well wholesale. My smaller pieces have sold less and less – it’s the middle class who buys those and they’re spending money on gas and food. I find selling on line tedious so haven’t much pursued that, although I did list a few of my better selling tile pieces with Etsy last year (without any of the extras they offer to get your work in front of people) and haven’t had even one sale. But I have sold off my blog which I didn’t anticipate (both torsos). I’ve also heard that sales always go down in an election year, but don’t have any frame of reference for that. I’m not sure I agree with Sari about “digesting” art on line. If that were true, books should have done the same thing for viewing art, and I know for a fact that seeing the real thing compared to in a book (or on line) always invokes an entirely different reaction because of color and tactile impressions. In fact my clients tell me that being able to touch one of my works has always been they biggest selling point for them.

  9. Alyson B. Stanfield

    These are terrific insights. Sari: I’m interested in knowing how CARFAC is negotiating on artists’ behalves and how that all works. Tammy: Interesting tidbit about lower sales in an election year. Now I’m curious. As for selling online, I think it happens when someone already knows your work. I wrote a recent post about this linking to a NY Times article on the subject:

  10. …The Canadian Artist’s Copyright Collective (CARCC) is the free affiliate when artist’s join CARFAC (Canadian Artist’s Representation Federation Artistes Canadiens)…CARCC is affilated with SODART in Quebec, which then affiliates with international organisations…(the French are very international here)…If you go to the CARCC website they explain everything & they even have a January 2008 pdf schedule of fees, (available for looking to anyone who visits the site), &, I discovered, the fee schedule includes internet images as well as movies, with suggested fees depending on the quantity of files…so, thanks for making me look…I can now legitimately get lunch money for the use of a photo or video online…yay!

  11. I live in Honolulu and sell art primarily to visitors to the islands. As such my laser prints have been doing VERY well. We call it suitcase art here, and I am grateful! People want to remember their good times, their trips, and a piece of art is something they can easily take back with them and enjoy for years to come.

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