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Prints vs. Printmaking by Andrea Knarr

Posted on August 26, 2013 by Patrick Hull

I do think that the concept of "printing" this gallery show (The Economics of Art 2013) is presenting is intriguing but, if I read it correctly, somewhat different from what printmakers like me are doing. For us, there is no "original" other than the print itself (called a "multiple original") in which the plate, block or stone is created by the artist from his or her own drawing etc., and is meant to be a fine art print. The image does not exist as anything else. An etching, for example, is made by drawing, then etching the image on the copper or other metal plate and cannot be printed other than by hand-wiping the plate every time the print is pulled. Then, if a digital copy were to be made of the printed image, it is not considered “original art” but is called a “reproduction”.

But the boundaries are becoming blurred because some work is created digitally and then hand-printed - often these are made as screen prints as my students do, but not always. Where "original" comes into play is whether the imagery is uniquely the vision of the artist, or whether it is "appropriated" from another source. If the main import of the imagery comes mostly from someone else’s work, we consider it plagiarism. An “original print” is one that is created to be a print by the artist on a matrix that is inked and printed by hand.

The digital revolution has wrecked havoc on the understanding of fine art printmaking - very few people knew what an original print was before digital prints came on the scene and now it is near impossible for us to catch up in PR - but it has opened up new tools for us as well.

Side by side comparisons of digital and hand-produced work are an effective way to sensitize the eye to the nuances in surfaces and the palpable experience of the hand in the work. A digital print conceived and printed solely through digital media has its own cache, but it is not to be confused with traditional printmaking aesthetics.

 

Andrea Knarr, Senior Lecturer
Head of Printmaking
Department of Visual Arts
Northern Kentucky University

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The Economics of Art 2013 - Part 2 - by Ben Schuman-Stoler

Posted on August 14, 2013 by Patrick Hull

This posting is part 2 of a 2 part feature article on The Economics of Art 2013

 

Galleries, Selling Images, “Affordable Art Market”

The success (profit margin), automation (technology), and therefore ease (appeal) of selling art prints online means there’s a low barrier of entry for just about anyone interested in offering artwork online. Any of the investors, collectors, fans, artists, galleries, and shops that were avoiding it for whatever reason are jumping in. Few are the spaces (though their number is growing at classic contrarian levels) that strive to exist solely offline.

It’s a strange sort of development. There’s a somewhat uncomfortable fusion of an “internet art world” with the art world you recognize in the galleries and spaces in the trendier neighborhoods in your city. All day we follow and peruse art on sites with millions of followers, based in a city we’ve never visited and led by people we don’t know, then maybe leave our computers to see an opening or an exhibition at a physical space, with people, in our own city.

With art prints, the market started offline but is having such a successful e-commerce phase that those who operate only offline have to respond by adjusting their business models a bit to keep up. Whether by allocating parts of their budgets towards building online stores or online advertising, or towards more granular efforts like funding social media presences, videos, and other more involved branding efforts, the barrier of entry is low enough that it’s hard not to feel like anybody selling artwork would be missing out if they ignore the internet completely.

The chronology isn’t entirely clean, but to oversimplify: The offline spaces sold art and were ignored or overtaken by online spaces, only for the offline spaces to realize what they were missing out on and get into that online marketplace as well. It didn’t happen so neatly, of course. Jen Bekman had a gallery of her own before she started 20x200.com. Some galleries transitioned into stores that resemble gift shops more than art galleries to better accommodate their product. Some websites have successful offline iterations. There’s overlap everywhere.

Jen Bekman saw the opportunity that an image-driven online world presented. We have Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and so on valued in the millions or even billions, and which are, essentially, ways to share images. Not so different from what a gallery does. While in their best shape galleries bring people together in spaces filled with art, show art, push people’s thoughts, support artists, and sell work, they’re also (in a disturbing minimization of their roles in society) about presenting images, challenging, inspiring, thought-provoking, entertaining images.

And the advent of the digital print almost completely cut galleries out of what’s being called the affordable art market, where artists can not only offer their work as prints or as objects, but do so for far less than a gallery might, and on a platform in which they have all the tools to sell their work themselves. Plus, not only can artists set their own commissions, entire communities of artists and buyers are now organizing their own shows or conferences, sometimes entirely online, well outside the purview of galleries.

In that way, we’re lucky enough to enjoy access to the creative process, personalities, and work of artists from all over the world more intimately than ever before. But what of the role of galleries who support those artists, give them a platform not only for promotion and sales but also for ideas? Are they irrelevant? What if the art world online needs them more than they know? Maybe galleries’ entrance into e-commerce is more than market competition but something essential for the well-being of art in general?

Or maybe, maybe it’s not so much separation or competition we’re seeing as it is an entirely separate realm and market coming into existence. After all, “fine” art (old and new) isn’t dying or even floundering (as the Christie’s and Sotheby’s people tell us over and over, art has never been bought or sold for as much as it has been in the Hirstian era). But it’s transforming. And “Affordable art,” always an odd term, isn’t a particularly new idea. What’s new is the updated power dynamics in the artist-gallery-collector love triangle.

Artists, who have for at least the last 500 years always been able to find new mediums or middlepersons or markets to sell their art, are perhaps, finally, on the verge of wresting control of the whole paradigm themselves.

Credibility vs. Commercialization

The question is whether that’s actually a good thing, because the problem is that in selling their work beyond the gallerists and web hosts, the new paradigm poses a problem for artists who have to fight to find the right balance between credibility and marketability. No longer protected behind the mystical shroud of Art, cast into the screaming chaos of the mainstream popular consumer market, they’re now faced with inexorable dilemmas that can actually harm the value of their work. Do I desperately snatch up every commercial opportunity online or do I hold out to a few big gallery shows every year? Do I bother everyone on Facebook with standard best e-commerce promotional practices, or do I stay quiet and not do too much self-promotion?

Some artists try to reject the promo, the #Branding work necessary to be a star. The stress of credibility, of social media networking, of the cool, of trying to make a dollar without being too “selly” – it’s enough make you want to give up and go to law school.

Is this feeling among (especially younger and older) “finer artists” a tacit rejection of the current realities of the commercialized art economy? If yes, is it not a tragedy that some of the most talented creators of our generation are refusing to play the game, even if it may lead to optimal visibility and chance for success?

Maybe it’s tragic only to the people that think the art market is going to last like it is. It might take another generation of artists and art world people figuring it out, but the internet has given a lot of the selling power back to artists. Paypal and Kickstarter, just to name two outlets, have made it possible to donate to a project across the world. And to artists that aren't interested in selling, the new paradigm has given them a possibility that is endless, a possibility of ways to not only share their work and ideas, but the possibility to make new work and new ideas with new people around the world.

There’s risk, too. If you do play the game, if you do commercialize, don’t forget the pacey fluency to everything in e-commerce. You are either the first to do a certain product, the first to do it that big, the first to put it on that medium, the first to do it on that medium with this kind of art – or you’re in danger of becoming irrelevant. That e-commerce race leads to a lot of garbage, like a lot of e-commerce in general, as everyone tries to jump on anything that might go viral, that hasn’t been done before, or crazy mashups of things tried previously. Page views, Facebook likes, reblogs – is this our new patron system?

But not all artists refuse to play. Some work to marry marketability and credibility with a consistent, instantly recognizable style they can put on everything from wood to candy. Some street artists’ work, for example, is immediately recognizable no longer just on walls, but also on t-shirts and stickers and backpacks and watches, all of which is available not just in a select number of galleries, but online and therefore across the globe.

In other words, the commercial art that artists from Warhol to Keith Haring pushed is fulfilling its destiny.

Take the “Art Toy” movement, which was barely more than a hardcore sub group ten years ago. It’s now a venerable art market force of its own, and like every subgroup that pokes its head through the crust and into the mainstream, it has its own spaces and legends and underground heroes and sellouts. It’s made a historic difference in terms of making commercialized art palatable in a post-quasi-meta-post-modern sort of way.

As Douglas Rushkoff said in the preface to Brian McCarty’s seminal book of art toy photos, the revolution is here to stay:

[The art toy movement] affirms the ever-present and indefatigable drive of artists to create inspiring and critically dimensional works no matter the medium, and whatever institutional forces appear to control them.

Basically, the struggle between credibility and the insistent pull of digital commercialization is just one aspect of the new, e-art-commerce renaissance. There are a lot of positive parts to it. Because in the digital economy outside of art, we demand so much transparency and openness and slaughtering of middlemen – at least enough to put bookstores out of business – and yet the “high” art economy for so long has subsisted on the inflation and murkiness that big galleries and auction houses sow into value.

The Economics of Art 2013

That’s what we tried to do in our show The Economics of Art 2013 at Vertical Gallery in August 2013. We tried to cut through the murkiness in the meeting of the e-art print world and the IRL gallery world. We hung originals next to screen printed reproductions of the originals next to limited edition digital prints, hand painted multiples, open editions and so on. Everything was for sale, from original work in the thousands to open edition limited prints for less than $40.

The speed of the art market has caught up with the speed of the rest of the e-world, and all the chaos that comes with it. This nebulous explosion asteroid thing that we now know as the internet art market – it’s here, so start changing your expectations.

Whether it’s “good” or “bad” for the creative world is too big a judgment, but it’s time we all accept what we’ve created, a marketplace where, as Hickey said, the market is everything.

Anyway, if the new art reality leads to a wider audience, more accessibility, less business or gallery interference, that can be a great thing for artists. It could be artists’ In Rainbows moment. But if in the end, like what we’ve seen in some cases with Amazon and iTunes, art is centralized online, with powerful gatekeepers, then the commercialization could mean a tyrannical turn for the democratization of the art market.

One cannot shake the feeling of the inevitability of change in this digital age, even when we don't know what exactly is inevitable, just that it is.

 

[Clare Vernon contributed to earlier drafts of this essay.]

 

The Economics of Art 2013 by Ben Schuman-Stoler

August 2013

bdschumanstoler@gmail.com

Artwork from the exhibition available at: http://verticalgallery.com/collections/the-economics-of-art-2013

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The Economics of Art 2013 - Part 1 - by Ben Schuman-Stoler

Posted on August 13, 2013 by Patrick Hull

Here is a smattering of the mediums on which art is available today online: canvases, skins, covers, iPad backgrounds, web designs, shirts (etc.), shower curtains, tote bags, chairs, duvet covers, blankets, steel, lockets, watches, tattoos, lamp shades, toys, windows, flags, books, and, of course, the daddy of them all: the art print.

The art world has exploded. Never in the history of human expression has this much art been available, for sale. And not just 2-D art on a flat surface to hang on a wall, but living art in all it’s glory on portable and changeable mediums. Tattoos alone! Where’s Walter Benjamin when you need him?

Quickly following the democratizing folk art and outsider art movements (which said, “Hey, you there, you’re an artist. You have a story. You’re wonderful AND marketable.”), we’re now living in the middle of a technologically catalyzed economic renaissance of visual expression. In a few minutes you can upload your own work to any one of a number of places who’ll produce your work, host images of it, fulfill orders, ship across the globe, and send you Paypal payments. All you need is some high quality images and a Facebook page (category: artist) and you’re in business.

Like with any business model it’s touched in the 21st century, from music to publishing to healthcare and so on, the internet and e-commerce have changed the way business is done with art. It’s led to a fair amount of confusion from galleries and collectors as well as artists, and to some revolutionary economic changes in the way art is bought, sold, and therefore created. In The Economics of Art 2013 at Vertical Gallery this month (which I co-curated with Patrick Hull, the gallery owner) we tried to tie it all together while keeping art the focus. We didn’t want an intellectual show, but we wanted to mark this moment in time, a time in which so many questions and changes are orbiting art - they seem almost to overwhelm the artists. This essay is meant to go a bit further into the developments and consequences of this new e-art world paradigm, a paradigm we may not all love, but that we should start to embrace as the new reality.

Art Prints

Let’s start with the world of art prints, which are everywhere including, of course, online. You find them not just in the big Art.com, Ikea, Walmart iterations. Prints come in almost as much variety as the 3-D art objects listed in the first paragraph: giclee, digital, silk screened, hand painted, matted, framed with basically anything that can make a right angle, with customizable anvas wraps, glossy or matte finishes, etc.

The internet art print buzzwords can make you dizzy. “Giclee,” “archival paper,” “high quality ink” – it’s all a fancy way to say what an art print is. An art print is one of two things: First, it can be a physically printed piece, all hand, paper, ink, block, stone, and template, made by pressing ink onto paper. See: printmakers.

An ancient art form, printmaking is done via lithographs, woodcuts, screen prints, etchings and so on. The value of these prints derives in part from the physical, hand-touched, personalized, crafted, and highly skilled process of pressing paper and ink literally onto the template. In this way, the first print is often more valuable than the last one (as the template wears), and there are actually a limited feasible number of prints before the template degrades. Despite some schools shutting their programs, printmaking still very much alive and we’ve seen newer programs like the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia grow into the space and embrace the tangible, human-touch of printmaking.

As Andrea Knarr (more from her in another piece in this space soon) says, “An etching, for example, cannot be made other than by hand wiping each etched plate every time the print is made. Then, if a digital reproduction is made, it is not considered original art but is called a reproduction.”

So here’s the second definition: An art print is a reproduction of a piece of art. It’s a “print” of it. Thanks to technological advancements in digital scanning and printing, though, we can create an infinite number of high quality reproductions (don’t say “copies”) of art. Now printers can print in almost any size, on the heaviest papers, with inks that won't fade or wear away for decades.

That second application of “print” is what you find for sale these days at nearly every art print, craft shop, gallery, gift shop, and general e-commerce site. Most sites devoted to selling art prints online have sprung up only in the past half-decade or so, and there are so many of them they’re impossible to count, all across the world, making millions and millions of dollars altogether. This proliferation of art, available online, produced for less, and for sale at a price college kids can afford, has turned the art economy on its head.

The Model

In 2007, Jen Bekman (of the eponymous gallery in New York) founded a website with the goal of making art affordable to all. Her site, 20x200, called on anyone with a $20 bill to become an art collector. She offered limited edition, high quality, giclee art prints (and the option to frame). She often relied on Certificates of Authenticity instead of hand signatures, which didn’t anger too many people, and was a huge success. 20x200 raised a bunch of money (somewhere between $2-5 million), and many people bought art. Bekman raised more money, and, from what information that reached the public, apparently got caught up in a classic start-up boardroom battle. The company stretched too far, bills and artists went unpaid for a while, and 20x200 went down.

Then there’s Society6.com, a bland and uninspiring site, which lets artists upload images directly to the site and choose their prices above the production cost. S6 then prints, on demand, the work on paper, canvas, tote bags, shirts, phone cases, and so on. There’s almost no interaction with other humans, and despite a reputation for low quality printing, S6 sold for over $90mil this summer. It’s the technology, S6’s hands-off approach, that makes them so valuable. It’s an incredibly 21st century model, and extra impressive how it has worked so well with art, which often likes to consider itself immune from contemporary economic trends.

In short, then, the 21st century internet start-up boom, the cash flow and the libidinous venture funding we’ve seen with our own eyes here in Chicago, has fused technological and e-commerce developments to reach (and perhaps swallow) the way art is bought and sold, and, therefore, how it’s made. To re-flip around Dave Hickey’s paraphrase of Andy Warhol: It’s not that commerce is becoming more artistic, but that art is becoming commercialized again.

Hickey was also talking about a quickly morphing art economy. When he wrote “The Birth of the Big, Beautiful Art Market,” he saw the gigantism of post-modernism and pop art’s effects on the mainstream commercial market then, saying, “Today, of course, it is all an art market, the whole of American commerce.”

Hickey saw the 1960s as another Mediterranean Moment, where a giant art market, democratized, was born. But if, in his words, the “new” art market was a fusion of the Eucharist and the stock exchange, all you have to do is add Twitter and giclee printing to make up the 50 years since.

Hickey shows how the art market’s dynamics diffused into the commercial economy at large:

First, companies introduced a hierarchy of “lines.” As an artist might produce prints, drawings, and paintings, American manufacturers began introducing “economy” and “luxury” lines to bracket their mid-range product – thus creating the possibility of the consumer “moving up” without moving out.

That’s still the same, but the new development is the ways in which the paradigm seemingly flipped: Either art has appropriated the approaches of 21st century e-commerce, or 21st century e-commerce has set the standards of the economy at large and art can’t escape it. Either way, like most other business models now, there’s a dash of 21st century technology, a hint of internet, a splash of speed.

[Part 2 to be published later this week.]

 

by Ben Schuman-Stoler

August 2013

bdschumanstoler@gmail.com

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Joe Maps for The Economics of Art 2013

Posted on August 03, 2013 by Patrick Hull

Maps are a way not only to get from point A to point B, but also from concept to concept, or, as in the case of the map for The Economics of Art 2013 at Vertical Gallery, from concept to concept while going from point A to point B. This hand made map also serves as a route around the gallery, and a guide to the prints and original works on display. Thank you to Joe Maps for creating the guide for tonight!

We will be giving away 100 signed and numbered copies of these unique maps at the gallery during the opening reception tonight, 8/3, 6-10pm.

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