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Art Theory: Idea workshop. Warning, not the truth here, just a venture. Examining what makes an image worthy of saving and what it does for us.

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Old June 8th, 2014, 01:14 PM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Default On the art market (1).

I visited an art fair about a month ago. The fair itself is not worth reporting, but it allowed me to watch a conference about the art market (by chance, actually). It was an interesting peek about the way of thinking of gallerists and you may be interested in a summary.

First things first: this is about visual arts: mainly painting (including tags), sculpture and photography. It is essential to keep this in mind, but also to compare the marketing of visual arts with the one of performing arts (e.g. music). I may sometimes refer to music to point the differences.

The person holding the conference works for 52 masterworks, which is a cross between social site, crowdfunding and online gallery. That obviously tainted their presentation, but they also refer to a study by the insurance group AXA, which you will find here: http://www.axa-art-usa.com/news-even...ollecting.html

Please download the pdf from that page and read it through. Read in particular pages 12-13 and the three different types of collectors: art aficionados, traditionalists and investors. This text builds on that study.

The conference started by discussing social networks like facebook and explained that a turn in trends on Internet use in the past years. Internet users used to go to the Internet to seek information. The latest trend is to use social networks to gain social status. People will post on social networks so as to show their (online) friends how cool they are and they do this by posting about emotions. For example, they will post about a concert or a vernissage and explain (or show through photographs or videos) what great time they had there.

This is exactly what art does. It gives the user an object to post about and an object about which they would experience feelings. A few notes from me on that point:
-this is true from paintings/photography, but also from music
-it is more socially acceptable and more “upper class” to post about a vernissage or concert than about the last expensive fridge one bought
-this “I experienced something great and you didn’t, aren’t you jealous” game existed before the Internet, the enlightening part is not that it is the internet, it is that it is about emotions.

From that point, the conference discussed art collectors. I was actually surprised that they only discussed collectors as if there were no other market, but apparently there is not. If you are not a collector, that is if you just need one or two pictures for your home but do not intend to make it a hobby to buy visual works and participate in art fairs, vernissages and similar meetings, you are of no interest to gallerists. This is a very important point and I will come back to that in another thread.

A note from me: this is an essential difference between visual arts (painting, photography) and performing arts (music, theatre) as one cannot collect music concerts for example. We will see later that there is an essential similarity nevertheless.

The discussion of art collectors brushed on the 3 types from the AXA study: art aficionados, traditionalists and investors but mainly discussed the aficionados. I understood after finding the original study (the AXA study): they are, by far, the largest group of customers. Investors are a distant second (and a search on the subject shows that there are special markets for them, e.g. with storage rooms in airport so that they can quickly swap works of art on the market) and traditionalists were not really discussed outside of an historical concept (I had a feeling that they were not really understood). In the AXA study, the 3 types are discussed pages 14 to 21.

So what are the aficionados and why do they collect art?

This is where the conference departs a bit from the AXA study (only a bit). It may be that the differences reflects the fact that the lecturer came from Germany and ran an online art social site. In that conference, the aficionado, which forms the main group of art collectors, is male, about 40-50 years old and a successful entrepreneur. Most important for him is the contact with the artist.

A note from me: this is the similarity with music. I just happen to know a bit of the jazz scene, and I would say that the people orbiting around the actual musicians actually do the same. They did not manage to be musicians themselves so what they are actually seeking by contact with actual musicians is some kind of surrogate social status. None of this was said in the conference, obviously, but it would also make sense in the context of visual arts. The people who collect paintings or photographs are not artists. Instead, they chose to work hard and long hours to build a successful company and make money, usually by exploiting their underlings. Collecting allows them to meddle with the “artist” crowd and be surrogate artists.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. There was a great absent in that conference: the works themselves. Not one single time did the lecturer talk about trends in graphic arts or what would make a successful painting. He only talked about the artists. This is what his customers (the collectors) are interested about. And this was also quite apparent in the fair: the “artists” were all visually recognisable in the crowd be it by their dress, hair style or behaviour. This also explains why most of the artists are male: the customers are male and need somebody they can identify to.

I have also wondered for years why nobody presenting himself as an artist runs a part time “normal” job when so many are really poor (at least I have never met one). With this system you cannot do that: the aficionados are entrepreneurs. One cannot believe to imagine how much they despise the people running day to day jobs: these are the people they exploit every day to become rich (think Dilbert’s pointy haired boss). They won’t identify to someone who runs a day to day job.

At the end of the conference, my understanding of the art market was quite different than at the beginning. I understood that the gallerists mainly sell social status. The actual qualities of the works are secondary, at best their only useful feature is that they can generate emotions, but even that is not essential. First comes the personality of the artist and the artist should be the kind of person that the collector dreamt of being in his youth but chose not to be to become rich instead. Add some social meetings where the most generous collectors can shine amongst their peers and discuss who is financing the most promising creator and you got a market.

A sad market, I would say.
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Old June 8th, 2014, 02:21 PM
Antonio Correia Antonio Correia is offline
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Thank you Jerome for this text. Interesting. I will keep reading this thread as he grows.
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Old June 9th, 2014, 12:23 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Jerome,

You've totally gotten my attention with this view. I now have to read the reference and get primed.

Thanks,

Asher
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Old June 24th, 2014, 07:58 AM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Interestingly, it seems that all recent web sites designed for art collectors are based on the social network principle. The art collectors are supposed to use them with a pre-existing social network of other art collectors (“friends” in Facebook parlance). On the site, they are supposed to interact with these pre-existing “friends”, discuss vernissages and social meetings, present the works of art they recently acquired or the artists they discovered, etc…

This is part of a more general trend that has begun with the birth of social networks around 2006. Prior to that, the Internet were a place where people from all over the world met people they would never had met beforehand, either because they lived on another continent or because they belonged to completely different social circles. With Facebook, you come with a set of “friends” you already know offline. Per definition, these people will belong to your social circles: people you met at school, people you work with, neighbours and family, etc… For an art collector site, these would be people you already know from vernissages, cultural clubs and functions, etc…

The big advantage for the people running the site is that you only get real, money-laden collectors. Before 2006 there was a saying that “on the Internet nobody knows that you are a dog”. People could and did impersonate what they could not be in their social circles. One could, for example, come from a social background despising art and pretend to be interested in art or even an artist. I believe that some people actually started a career that way, all you needed was to be able to produce a few good pictures ans start a web site. That was sufficient as a business card at the time.

With Facebook and social sites, you cannot do that. This is a big advantage for people selling art: one cannot pretend to be a collector without having a boatload of friends already collectors to vouch for you. You can register without bringing your “friends”, of course, but you won’t have contacts with anyone. And a social site without social contacts gets quickly boring, so that quickly weeds out people who will not be customers. Good riddance: the site does not want you, since you are not a customer.

But I wonder how this will work in the long run. If you are one of these collectors who already know people from vernissages, cultural clubs and functions, etc…, why would you need to interact with your existing friends via a computer? It is more fun and more natural to simply meet them at vernissages, clubs and art functions.
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Old June 24th, 2014, 08:09 AM
Doug Kerr Doug Kerr is offline
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Hi, Jerome,

Very interesting essays.

Thanks for your insights.

Best regards,

Doug
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Old October 26th, 2014, 02:39 AM
Michael Nagel Michael Nagel is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
{...}
When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. There was a great absent in that conference: the works themselves. Not one single time did the lecturer talk about trends in graphic arts or what would make a successful painting. He only talked about the artists. This is what his customers (the collectors) are interested about. And this was also quite apparent in the fair: the “artists” were all visually recognisable in the crowd be it by their dress, hair style or behaviour. This also explains why most of the artists are male: the customers are male and need somebody they can identify to.
This is a very acute observation. I noticed the same in some presentations/announcements for exhibitions/art fairs and always wondered why, but now it makes sense.
On the 'artists dress' - this is something I noticed as well. The purpose of the artists dress is to make him recognizable, different from the crowd, different from other artists and yet clear that he belongs to the group 'artist'.
The guilds with their traditional clothing are history and yet some of the traditions survived in a different way - not only for artists.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
I have also wondered for years why nobody presenting himself as an artist runs a part time “normal” job when so many are really poor (at least I have never met one). With this system you cannot do that: the aficionados are entrepreneurs. One cannot believe to imagine how much they despise the people running day to day jobs: these are the people they exploit every day to become rich (think Dilbert’s pointy haired boss). They won’t identify to someone who runs a day to day job.
Well observed again. Nothing to add here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
At the end of the conference, my understanding of the art market was quite different than at the beginning. I understood that the gallerists mainly sell social status. The actual qualities of the works are secondary, at best their only useful feature is that they can generate emotions, but even that is not essential. First comes the personality of the artist and the artist should be the kind of person that the collector dreamt of being in his youth but chose not to be to become rich instead. Add some social meetings where the most generous collectors can shine amongst their peers and discuss who is financing the most promising creator and you got a market.
I see two things maybe worth mentioning.
There is the gallerist/curator who has a lot of power in this market as long as the individual artist has not a reputation/market value that makes him/her desirable to increase the reputation of the gallerist/curator himself.
Just putting in different words as you above: I have the impression that the art itself is just a token of the relaionship between the artist and the collector.
Marketing and customer relationship management are quite important as it seems...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
A sad market, I would say.
I am getting more and more the impression as well...

Best regards,
Michael
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