Saturday, April 17, 2010

Brian Walker Talks Art, Part II

An article in yesterday's Financial Express, "Art Market Breathes Again", noted that the art market is in a recovery mode after a two year hit as a result of the recession. I personally lack the background to know what it means for local artists here in Minnesota or in Sydney, Australia, but it can't be an entirely bad thing if a Giacometti sculpture sells for more than a hundred million dollars. People who buy art of that pricing scale are expressing an optimism that the value will be still higher tomorrow.

Earlier this week I spoke with Brian Walker of regarding the current art scene and the impact of the Internet. This is a continuation of that discussion. The pictures here today are examples of the work he represents.

Ennyman: I thought that when cable came along that it would break the stranglehold of the networks and give all the talent in this country new channels of distribution. What ended up happening is you just got a lot of schlocky stuff on 500 channels.

BW: That’s exactly right. Talent, true talent, is very concentrated, you know? And you know I'm a business owner and I want to be successful and I want to be successful for artists, but I'm also a realist and I don't think that we'll ever see a day where there's only 5-10 really major art websites, although there are a couple that are players. I mean Etsy, for what it does, is kind of a big player. There are others like that are trying to make their way. They do different things. I envision -- and it has a ways to go certainly -- as eventually becoming a primary, high end spot for, and not just price point, but for compiling and having a gallery full of 500 of the best artists we can find. I want people to flip through pages and every single piece, love it or hate it, you know art is so subjective, but every page you look at you're impressed and you like what you're seeing there. So to backtrack a little, I don’t think the Internet has yet realized its full potential in terms of art sales. People are still skeptical.

I hear this all the time, even from artists, but a lot from buyers and friends of buyers, and my best friend who lives in New York. He and his wife buy art all the time. They're huge art advocates, yet they've never bought art online and they probably never will. And that’s one of the problems, because people feel like they need to see it. They need to smell the paint. They need to be up close. And I disagree. We're going to try to break down that barrier. You're not going to win everybody, but I think that's one of the primary things that still has not completely clicked in. eBay does sell a lot of work. I remember seeing some statistics on it, mostly very, very low priced.

E: Right, when I go there, 2 out of 3 paintings don't get a bid. I was trying to determine whether I wanted to be there or not and I decided not to at this time. I kept checking, and I kept going to Etsy and EBSQ, and a couple others. I’m sticking my toe in the water and submitted my work here. But eBay just doesn't seem like the place for a serious person to be... although I did email a couple people who sell there who said by selling on eBay it gave them the confidence to go to galleries and get more serious about selling their art.

BW: Here's the great thing about eBay for an artist. They get 30 million visitors a day, so that alone is one incentive for an artist to go. The problem is -- and we see this a lot in the art world, you may be one of these guys -- I know several people who take this to the extreme and, I hate to use the word, arrogant, but it’s just an easy word for me to use. I come across artists like this all the time. I talk to them, there's a bartender in my right down the street from my office here, who I've known for quite a few years, he's been at the same bar for 15 years, bartending behind the bar, nothing wrong with the profession, that’s not my point, he is an excellent, excellent artist. I mean the guy's mind blowing. I've seen his work. I've seen him do a show or two. I love him. I said, “Come on, just be a part of us.” He said, “No way, I'm holding out for museum representation.” He's skipping all the galleries. His mind is set. And I see that a lot. Personally, those kind of guys would never even fathom being on eBay, because it sets a skill by association.

E: Well, when I left school and was seriously getting ready to have a show in New York, a 3-man show, and my life kind of bottomed out but at that time I remember talking to a guy and asking what it takes to make it, and he says you've got to eat bone soup for 10 years. I grew up a little too cushy to want to do that.

BW: You know Ed, here’s the thing. I think, and this is kind of hard to articulate but I'll try... I think that the reason that a lot of artists struggle, it's their own fault. There are 2 things going on, first of all they're not marketers. That's okay. You're an artist, you don't have to be a marketer, or a promoter. And besides, promoting yourself is the worst road to go. I mean you've got to start doing that but eventually,I mean, actors have agents.

E: I know, I've felt that way about a lot of people and that a lot of careers could be helped if they had a career manager.

BW: Yeah, well, our whole society is based on you not tooting your own horn. It's about 5 other people tooting your horn. And that's the bottom line on that. So we've got that problem but the bigger problem that I perceive and I may sound a little jaded only because I've dealt with this so much in our short 2 years, many artists are struggling despite themselves because they are holding out for something. And I'm sorry, you don't have to be in but you've got to be doing something. You can't live in a vacuum and expect the world to suddenly recognize you. You've done 10 high end New York City gallery shows, you've sold 20 of your pieces and that's fantastic, but it may end there.


Eye Pod Invasion (top) and Fabric of Time (bottom) are paintings of Ken Webb. Mixed Emotions is by Filomena Booth. Both painters are represented by Click images to enlarge.

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