Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Oct 18 2006

Episode 1

"What are you prepared to do?"
That line from "The Untouchables" is on my mind this week. I suppose the sudden cold turn here has me in a reflective mood. I think back on the last year and all the not-so-little successes that added up to one of my most creative (and most publicly promoted) years as an artist. It's also been a year that has tested me financially and spiritually.

Let's see, I had some great press - the national Blick Studio cover, a full page ad in The Artists Magazine sponsored by Blick, a wonderful critical review by a national journalist who has been published in Art in America and a couple of interviews. Creatively, I've had two major shows - a beautiful spring show in Boise and the current new show at Tag, many new works, new commissions. Finish that off with a lot of teaching, new friends and several new galleries representing my work. All great stuff! If there's been a downside, it's been struggling to find a balance between being percieved as an ebay artist and respected as a gallery artist. Sometimes I feel like I'm juggling quite well, only to find out later that I've been neglecting one for the other.

When Donna and I decided to sell and promote my artwork online in 1999, Ebay was relatively new. We began with a few auction listings and no website. Soon, we discovered a very supportive online community of artists trying to sell work through Ebay. We joined a group of them called EBSQ when there was something like 50 members. There are too many groups to count now and EBSQ is huge.

Artists selling their work online isn't a novelty seven years later. It's an established fact that artists can and should maintain an online presence to better reach other artists and collectors. It's been an evolutionary step for those of us outside the metropolitan centers. I'm not sure I would have been able to get started without the internet and ebay. I'm grateful, honored, flattered and still, I know I have to keep reaching for the next level.

See, our goal was never to short-circuit the brick & mortar gallery system with direct sales. True, many internet artists are completely fed up with the gallery system but I believe it's possible and even necessary to find a path that incorporates both. My partners in this have been my wife, Donna and Jerry Dale McFadden at Tag Art Gallery.

Jerry Dale and I began working very closely together about 5 years ago. We've grown successful with each other and it's been wonderful. In the last couple of years, I've prioritized JD by giving him first shot at all my new canvas paintings. It's worked very well in most ways.

1 Jerry Dale McFadden is ethical. I trust him.
2 I've found a community in Nashville that loves and supports what I do.
3 My canvas paintings are selling closer to the average price of other emerging national artists.
4 I can visit frequently and get inspired.
5 I get immediate feedback on new work.

So everything is moving along pretty darn well, right? Yes and no.

Tag has never looked better. Jerry Dale has the best and best looking gallery downtown. It's everything he deserves. The problem is that I still need to sell online for some of my income and, hopefully to gain more exposure ie: a wider (national) audience. The challenge is substantial as online auctions tend to drive original art prices down, putting the squeeze on galleries and....artists. How do I balance both?

I am an ethical person too and selling work through these very different and competitive systems can leave me feeling frustrated and a little confused. Auction pricing will never be equal to Gallery pricing. There will always be a stigma attached to ebay artists. There will always be a bottleneck in limiting yourself to galleries. Many of my good friends never go to galleries at all...and that's sad because....

Like it or not, galleries are not going to be replaced by the internet. There is nothing like the experience of going to a show, seeing the work in person, talking with the artists and enjoying a great evening with friends. Furthermore, some collectors will never purchase work they can't see in person. Why should they? Galleries facilitate a tangible, kinetic conduit that is central to visual art of all kinds. Finally, galleries also are still the only established way to create a sustainable career as an artist.

That final point is the one that sticks. I just want to keep painting! As I see it, that means continuing to search for the right balance between selling work directly and through honest, creative gallery owners like Jerry Dale McFadden.

James Pearson

1 comment:

PaMdora said...

This was a really interesting discussion you put out about Ebay versus galleries, one I haven't seen many artists discuss openly, but the I don't sell on ebay and don't belong to networks like you mention. I've often thought it would be interesting to try to sell something small on ebay just to see what would happen, but don't want to go through all the hassle. I don't really make small stuff anyway and fear the efffort to develop small items would detract from my bigger goals. I almost bought something off your ebay site btw, but christmas shopping has bit a hole in my pocket. Yesterday I sat down to skim through a kind of dumb lifestyle magazine my sister gave me called Domino (great name, but really obvious advice) and the big headline on one article struck me really wrong "Forget Galleries, go on to Blogs and Ebay" basically telling people they can get cheap art that way. I've always been very pro-internet and guerilla marketing and for that reason think it's great artists can sell their stuff on the web. But the media can twist that. Anyway, sound like you're doing pretty well for yourself. Life is always about balance, eh?