“Great Expectations” and the need to Create Value in one’s Artwork
Attending the seminar, “Starting Your Own Art Collection” at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum and watching the film version of the Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Great Expectations” served as the impetus for this editorial. They got me thinking how the latest buzzwords of “creating value” actually translate to an artist.
Serious collectors are spending inconceivable amounts of money on art. In 2003, the late Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting Profit 1 sold for a hefty $5 million at auction, placing him in an elite cadre of contemporary artists. While it is commonplace for impressionist paintings to command tens of millions in today’s market, the irony is most people did not think that they were worth the canvas on which they were painted during their day. It begs the larger question, how is value determined? In addition, who determines it? Artists? Collectors? How do art critics and curators fit into the equation? As artists, we must ask ourselves a series of introspective questions: How does creating value affect me? Will the value of my artwork increase overtime? How can I make this a reality? Is adding value to my artwork even something worth considering or will it take care of itself? Is adding value to one’s artwork and marketing one’s artwork one in the same? Does having wonderful artwork ensures an artist of having value applied to it?
How does an everyday artist create value, which may translate to how can an artist professionally establish themselves with a view to sell their work in today’s marketplace?
In the true Hollywood fashion, the movie “Great Expectations” shows Ethan Hawk as an artist named Finn, being rescued from his life as a fisherman with the promise of an exhibition in an exclusive New York gallery. Robert DeNiro’s character, Leftig, is a criminal and thus, Finn’s unlikely benefactor, has arranged the exhibition; rented an apartment to serve as Finn’s studio; has provided him with a new image-improving wardrobe; and paid for the show’s marketing. To top it off, Luftig then purchases all the artwork in the show. Luftig’s actions has led to creating value for Finn for he has single-handedly raised his artistic profile and created a demand for his artwork. The concluding scene reveals that Finn has built upon this early success and has become an acclaimed artist. And yes, in true Hollywood fashion, he also gets the girl.
Since most artists are not actors in a Hollywood movie, this notion of creating value is a bit trickier.
During the seminar, the speaker emphasized that an artist creates value by developing what the seminar speaker identified as a “solid” career path. The good news is that all artists can do this by doing what comes naturally, e.g. becoming formally educated; receiving awards; participating in juried and museum shows; receiving commissions and making actual sales; and ultimately having gallery representation. The latter is key, because it aids in documenting sales and many of the aforementioned components. Of course, the more prominent or exclusive the gallery, the better the results. For most artists, discipline, hard work and time, lots of time, are the ingredients for creating a solid career path and therefore, value. Unfortunately, the expenditure of time and effort does not guarantee successful results. Some artists have raised the value of their artwork more expeditiously both through their own direct efforts and being fortunate objects of art collector’s desires.
At the seminar’s end, the speaker proposed his own Hollywood scenario of how art collectors can create value for a particular artist regardless of the solidness of his/her career path. He simply stated, “If everyone present [in the seminar] purchased a particular artist’s work, the value of his/her work would most likely rise.” This very scenario sheds light on the role of individuals, in particular collectors, no matter how serious, can affect an artist’s commercial success. Orson Wells once said “People know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Although this was allegedly spoken when he was a bit troubled with his funding sources, these words may serve as a useful tool when crafting ones own path to success.