Can Google and Charles Saatchi save artists from (Damien) Hirstian self-promotion and the fate of Vincent van Gogh?

If I ruled the internet – and why not, if someone had to do the job – I might have a law requiring all artists to post prices for the paintings they exhibited online. I say this because it has been like torture inflicted on Tantalus not to know whether I can afford to buy a picture I fell in love with last week, checking surmises about the web site of Harold Francis Bell in my last post. I was wrong to suggest that HFB might have given up painting to concentrate on sculpture. There were two superb new portraits on his site, apparently of the same subject: a striking young woman in her late teens or perhaps early twenties, in a different mood in each picture. It’s the second one I specially covet, the portrait in white.

Most artists are as poor as most writers, which makes enquiries related to lucre uncomfortable in the extreme for people who, like me, detest monetary negotiations of every kind – well short of haggling. But except for the annoyance of the missing price tag – and PayPal button – not just on the Bell site, but hundreds of others, I find that I much prefer shopping for art online. No smarmy, oleaginous gallery owner or attendant stands slyly estimating my net worth as I walk around. No other prospective buyers wait for a turn at close inspection, ruffling my hair with impatient breathing. No inane comments distract me from being borne away to wherever a picture or sculpture takes me.

A discussion in the comments section among artist comrades on this very site last year taught me that many of them resent being dictated to by art galleries. So the question that interests me is, could search engines liberate both artists and art buyers from middlemen that both groups would rather do without?

The most innovative business mind sympathetic to artists’ struggles to make a living, and keen on helping, does not seem all that optimistic about the net as the solution to the problem – even though its owner has for several years had an outstanding online showcase for contemporary art. Answering questions at the Daily Beast last week, Charles Saatchi said:

The great majority of artists around the world don’t have dealers to represent or show their work. It makes it pretty well impossible to get your efforts seen, with most dealers too busy or too lazy to visit studios—[…] In reality, most dealers find new artists to show through recommendations from their existing stable—artists often urge their dealers to look favourably upon the work of their friends; furthermore, dealers usually believe artists are good judges of other artists’ work. All in all then, if you’re not in the right artistic social circles, didn’t go to a hip art school, don’t quite fit in, it can be hell to extract much interest from dealers and collectors.

Not once did he mention the internet as a meeting place for buyers and sellers. I wonder whether he has become disenchanted with the web’s potential as a marketplace cutting out dealers since The New York Times reported, three years ago, that

… he and his Internet team spend their days pondering ways of attracting more artists to [Saatchi Online]. In addition to Stuart, for art students, and Your Gallery, a separate area where artists of all ages can post their work and sell it directly without relying on a dealer or other middleman, the site offers links to museums around the world and a magazine with art world news and feature articles.

Much as I admire the Saatchi experiments, visiting sites showing works by more than one artist is, in my experience, much less enjoyable than time spent at single-artist platforms that catch my eye.

An individual showcase feels more intimate even than being a guest in a painter’s home; more like climbing into that painter’s head. It’s a chance to revel in various facets of the same sensibility; or of the same work – if, as on the Bell site, the software permits views that flicker pleasingly between a full-length picture and selected, magnified details. Whereas I clicked out of the multi-artist exhibition on the Imagekind site almost as fast as I clicked in, nauseated by the clashing colours and styles and too many images that shrieked ‘Hallmark,’ or ‘tea towel’, I lingered over the two new Bells, marvelling at how human beings learnt to depict sensitivity in a human face with thick and heavy oil paint – for instance, the tremulous uncertainty in the expression of the girl in white. Was it that same girl I was looking at in ‘Cheongsam,’ radiating self-confidence – or her sister? If the pictures were indeed two views of the same person, which expression was habitual for her? … and so on.

But how would I go about finding the Bell pictures on the net if chance didn’t put them in my way? At Empty Easel, someone advising artists about how to sell work online implies that the most important of seven tips for drawing buyers to their pictures is that these should ‘be optimized for search engines like Google and Yahoo. “Optimizing for search” just means using the same keywords in your descriptions and titles that art buyers use when searching for artwork online.’ The writer offers this example:

Untitled Fragments is the seventh painting in my series of geometric abstract artworks. I used bold colors and powerful brush strokes, as I do in all my paintings, in order to create a lasting visual impression. Art buyers (and art lovers) will see symbolic references to prominent 20th century abstract painters like Piet Mondrian and Georges Braque as I offer homage to their artistic vision through my own art. This artwork is still for sale, so if you’d like to purchase the painting just click on the buy artwork button below.”

Yes I can see the sense in that reasoning. Enabling steering by key words is probably as much as today’s search technology can help. It leaves a lot to be desired, though. Where Empty Easel’s sample of search bait mentions Mondrian and Braque, I might say Modigliani about the girl-in-white picture on the Bell site, and perhaps Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. But those names may not mean anything to someone who was never steeped as deeply in art history as I once was, or had time or the inclination to visit museums – so could be useless as both lures and guides.

What we want is a search engine you could direct by giving it the link to a particular picture, or uploading it. Starting with the image itself (rather than a description of it in words) and a simple instruction such as, ‘drawings like this,’ a searcher would receive a stream of offerings, with chances to narrow selections by, for example, dominant colours or classes of colour. I have gathered, though, that the software for image-based searching is still primitive – even if it is something of a holy grail for researchers because of the shift from text to pictorial (or video) communications that seems to be underway.

It makes me sad to say that I think it unlikely that artists linked chiefly by philosophy, or opposition to common enemies – for instance, crass art marketing and bullying dealers – could sell much serious art. In addition to the off-putting stylistic jungle I’ve mentioned in relation to Imagekind, I cannot see people as individualistic as most good artists agreeing on points as small but vital as, say, the price tags I want for works put up for sale. One collaborative, Art.net – also known as Art on the Net – specifically forbids any mention of money:

Our site is a non-commercial site and we request that artists not post prices or create commercial-like spaces here. We ask artists to not have things in their spaces such as order forms for art or commercial banners. Instead we hope artists will treat their spaces as if they were actual studios and gallery rooms.

The unseemly hawking must be done off-site:

Artists are encouraged to provide contact information for themselves in their spaces so that people interested in their work can contact them directly.

Though I find the reasons for that policy deeply sympathetic, I can’t help wondering why, since we are used to publishers and authors setting a price for books, painters should not be equally frank in stating what they consider their work to be worth.

So, to summarise conclusions from my woolgathering about the net as a virtual art gallery: in addition to price lists and swift payment tools like PayPal, I would prefer to see not collective displays but individual sites controlled by individual artists. And I want search companies to hurry up and improve their technology faster. Perhaps an ingenious startup will leapfrog over Google, inventing robust, efficient, picture-based sorting software before it gets there. . . Perhaps Charles Saatchi will finance this essential invention. Like Theo van Gogh, the art dealer whose faith in the genius of his desperate brother never wavered, even if almost no one else shared it, in Vincent’s lifetime – Saatchi does grasp what art means to artists. Baffled as I am by his enthusiasm for the stunts of Damien Hirst, I am impressed by his understanding what people good at making money seldom do, in my experience:

I hate to sound like a romantic adolescent, but I believe artists don’t generally see art as a career choice, they simply can’t overcome their desire to make art …

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “Can Google and Charles Saatchi save artists from (Damien) Hirstian self-promotion and the fate of Vincent van Gogh?

  1. Hello,

    I found what you wrote refreshing and interesting; I am an artist ( half Portuguese half English) and have had a tremendous lack of luck in terms of actual sales and this makes me really dissapointed and stressed. I have started using the Internet for the first time one year and 6 months ago, and posted my stuff online but apart from some kind feedback from fellow artists ( a bit like a pat in the back), nothing has resulted in actual sales. I love painting, did attend Lisbon’s Fine Art School in the 1990’s but I’m having such a hard time getting through it getting almost enough to give up ( BUT I WON’T) Anyway, if you’d like to see my Art all you have to do is click here http://www.ArtWanted.com/AnaJohnson
    If you are able to find some time it would be wonderful if you took a peek! In any case, hope this reaches you, and thank you! XXX Ana

  2. @Ana, thank you … I’ve only had time to whirl in and out of your beautiful — and beautifully organised — site, but will be back for a closer look, soon. I went to your Sketches page, and particularly like what I think is a self-portrait, at the bottom … I have so much more to say on this subject of selling art on the net (even without any qualifications whatsoever : ) …) that I shall be thinking about whether I should put more material into a long comment or write a second post on the theme in a week or so … Your persistence is absolutely warranted and should lead to results — if not necessarily in the way you expect. … Have you tried Saatchi Online yet?

  3. Hazlitt

    Hello Ace,its been such a long time. Good to see you out of prison and returning to more sociable employment!
    I read somewhere that this Bell chap does in fact admire Cassatt,but Modigliani influences seem rather a stretch.I’m not sure whether Bell was drunk but I remember him expressing a wish to hang his “White Dress” along side Whistler’s delightful Cicely Alexander(Harmony in Grey and Green),which as you already know is in the Tate.
    I met this Bell once at a cocktail party where he held forth heroically on this and that,and if he has anything in common Whistler it must be his colossal conceit.
    I remember him going on about the infinite ways in which painters treat the colour white.He had just visited the Zürich Kunsthaus where he was impressed with a Karl Stauffer portrait of a certain Lydia Welti-Escher.The picture according to Bell, was a masterclass in painting white.
    It wouldn’t surprise me Ace,if Bell, isn’t already marching down the Embankment,his painting in tow,and is about to leap up the Tate’s steps and proudly offer his work to the nation.
    I personally am in agreement with Charles Saatchi :
    “I hate to sound like a romantic adolescent, but I believe artists don’t generally see art as a career choice, they simply can’t overcome their desire to make art …”
    I agree with this with the caveat,that even the Red Cross needs funding..:)

  4. shawn

    hello, Ace, wonderful post. I think both the Hirstian self-promotion and the van goghian poverty hurt their art. this alternative is a good way to treat self-promotion with alot of self respect, freedom and individuality.

  5. @Ana, it will take an exploration of several days for me to see all I want to on your site. I noticed that you have price tags — and a system for paying in place. Very well done indeed. You seem to have mastered every high tech tool in existence to let site visitors look at your work from all the angles.

  6. @HazlittAce … really?! A compliment too far? — when you rename your bumbling blog host with such reckless extravagance? : ) Please tell me – and @Shawn, innocently misled by you — that that was only a typo made when you attempted Acc as an abbreviation? … Thank you, I have no particular complaint about my time on the inside, except for the chronically flat Perrier water. No bubbles! Disgraceful.

    === I’m not sure whether Bell was drunk but I remember him expressing a wish to hang his “White Dress” along side Whistler’s delightful Cicely Alexander(Harmony in Grey and Green),which as you already know is in the Tate. ===

    Oh dear, I cannot imagine Bell drunk, but in any case can’t and must not encourage you or any other comrade to spread rumours about the subjects of my posts. You do want me to have _someone_ left to write about, don’t you? Unfortunately there is no such thing as ‘behind your back’ on this interweb. No hiding what we think we’re saying in private about other people, so don’t blame me if HFB looks right through you the next time you meet.

    Am astonished by the scope your intelligence-gathering. Yes of course I know about Whistler’s Cicely Alexander and its precise location, as I do the position of every other picture on view there. But do I detect a note of mockery in your report of Bell’s fondest wish for White Dress? Misplaced, I assure you. Sooner or later your moles will reveal that Nicky – unless you’d rather I said, Sir Nicolas Serota? – consults me at least twice a day about new acquisitions. Not easy to get him off the telephone, ever, and he refuses to write email. . . and yes, he’s a fan of this blog, a bit embarrassing on the subject, if you must know.

    Oh and I much prefer WD to Harmony in Grey and Green. . . Such a grim-looking little girl, don’t you think?

  7. @Shawn, so glad that you agree! It is of course our youngest artists – and bloggers – like you and @Ana who are going to set the course for the future.

  8. Hazlitt

    “Oh and I much prefer WD to Harmony in Grey and Green. . . Such a grim-looking little girl, don’t you think?”

    Hardly surprising she looks grim Ace,so would you after more than 70 “sittings” or rather standings!
    Life is full of coincidences.
    I bumped into Bell yesterday,chomping on a saltbeef sandwhich outside Gabys Delli in the Charing Cross Road,right next to the Wyndhams Theatre.When I casually let slip your priviliged access to Nicky and some might say your Machiavellian influence guiding his acquisition policy,he begged to meet you and promised to keep you in bottled Perrier for the rest of your life,bubbles included.
    Brushing off breadcrumbs from my jacket,I promised to have a word in your shell like ear.

  9. Seventy standings. Good heavens. I wonder how many sittings it took for the portrait-for-the-ages of his mum. . . Am I the only person, I wonder, who thinks that Miss Cicely looks as if she’s in training to be a dead ringer for W’s mother, when fully grown? They do look remarkably alike to me — or certainly the expressions on their faces do. . . I know nothing of W’s system for naming his pictures, but might there be support for my impression of a strong likeness in the fact that one painting is called Harmony in Grey and Green and the other — according to Wiki — ‘
    ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother’ ……….. ?

    Er…um … ears. Not such a good guess this time, @Hazlitt. Not shell-like at all. Alas, they stick up over my head – and wave, like Martian antennae.

    … Still don’t think you should be distracting us from thinking about Bell’s work with these stories — unconfirmed, I must point out — of his personal habits. (Would eating roast beef sandwiches and showering your jacket with breadcrumbs necessarily be consistent with the image he wishes to project?) … Well, I’ve noticed a consistent reluctance to discuss the work of living artists by commenters, certatinly in this spot.

  10. Hazlitt

    “Seventy standings. Good heavens. I wonder how many sittings it took for the portrait-for-the-ages of his mum. . . Am I the only person, I wonder, who thinks that Miss Cicely looks as if she’s in training to be a dead ringer for W’s mother, when fully grown? ”
    Yes Ace you are!Cicely was only eight at the time of the “portrait”,His mother Anna, 68.
    Ah!you mean they both look grim?
    Can you believe it Whistler,who was renowned for being a slow painter(nicknamed the Flaubert of portraiture)actually made his dear old mum stand for the first three days of the famous Mother portrait until she keeled over,before he gallantly offered her a chair.She was dragged from her knitting after a portrait in progress had to be abandoned,when due to a riding accident,the sitter could no longer attend.She probably looks grim because she’s tied to the chair.
    That’s how the celebrated painting came about.
    Similarly,Cicely was asked to sit after her sister became ill and could no longer attend her sittings.
    I wanted to ask Bell about Whistler,I heard him say once Whistler is only about “good taste”,but I think he’s selling the Big Issue in the Strand.
    Talking of good taste Ace,do you like salt beef sarnies in rye bread lashed with Coleman’s English mustard?..:)

  11. Hazlitt

    I have been in a cogitative funk about your point concerning artist price lists and eventually decided it would be better for artists to price their work.
    I always believed,that if anyone was interested they would make contact,but it might be true that the absence of prices suggests enormous sums which is not always the case.
    Excited I thought I must advise Bell of my Damascene moment and so I arranged to meet him on the steps of the National Gallery early this evening,but he was late.As I gazed with Imperial pride down Whitehall I noticed some desperate ruffian, chasing the pigeons in Trafalgar Square with ravenous ferocity.As he got nearer I realised it was Bell,who also appeared drunk.
    I had intended to treat him to a meal,but I quickly made myself scarce,having just had my jacket returned from the dry cleaners.Does anyone count the pigeons in Trafalgar Square???

  12. shawn

    very very interesitng bit about Whistler’s mother, its a miracle that he still kept his paintings so fresh. Do you know if he scraped his painting down after every sitting like Sargent?

  13. Hazlitt

    Hello Shawn.
    I don’t know if Whistler scraped down as much as Sargent,but he was very easily disatisfied with his efforts and would never let anything leave his studio unless he was happy with the result.
    Sickert,who was once his assisstant,was often instructed during their evening meal, to return to the studio and scrape off a whole days work, in order to spare Whistler the ordeal.
    When he was in his early thirties he became interested in a classical revival exemplified by Alma-Tadma and A Moore and enthusiastically took on a huge commission,which he called the six projects, involving six classical female subjects,drapery etc.However after a years hard work in a Bloomsbury studio he gave up,unable to finish any of the large canvases.One of the Six canvases was seen and accepted by the delighted owner,but Whistler unhappy, refused to let it leave the studio and instead scraped off the whole canvas,saying he would start from the begining.Which he never did.This was during a time when he was in serious financial difficulties,owing money in all directions.

  14. Ah but don’t you see, dear @Hazlitt, that everything you’ve been telling us about Whistler’s models supports the impression that he’s given us nothing but gloomy, fretful, complaining creatures to look at? – : ) … even if, as you say, that was willy-nilly. . . Or has history also recorded the woman in Dejeuner sur l’Herbe moaning about being stabbed viciously by spiky grass as minuscule insect teeth sawed into her naked flesh?

    But yes, I do agree with @Shawn that your revelations about the circumstances in which W painted his mother are fascinating.

    Delighted and relieved to find that you like the idea of artists pricing their work because, yes, I avoid any mention of tiresome Emma Chisit for fear of embarrassing both me and the painter with work for sale online. . . You know, something we haven’t mentioned is the question of what artists’ galleries think of the web as a competing outlet. Unless the terms on which they permit sales in alternative channels are all spelt out in contracts, these days –? You must know the answer to that.

    … Hmm, I’d worry, if I were you. What would you do if Bell was ever pointed in this direction by Mother Google and he started telling us risqué yarns about _you_? Believe me, stranger things have happened on this blog.

  15. Hazlitt

    “I avoid any mention of tiresome Emma Chisit for fear of embarrassing both me and the painter with work for sale online. . . You know, something we haven’t mentioned is the question of what artists’ galleries think of the web as a competing outlet. Unless the terms on which they permit sales in alternative channels are all spelt out in contracts, these days –?”
    Picking pigeon bones from his teeth Bell explained that top end galleries have exclusive contracts and charge up to 50-60% commission,but lower down the market,it’s a free for all with multiple outlets.
    He reckons most galleries start at 30% commission.
    I mean how many visual artists are financially secure from sales of work?By the way,Bell has no insider knowledge of London galleries except from sleeping in their doorways!
    I can imagine the web is less a threat to the visual arts than print as there really is no substitute for enjoying/experiencing painting/sculpture than in the 3D world.Whereas print?
    You might be interested to read Tracey Emin’s recent veiws on pricing her work:

    “Money is a sore point. She launches into a furious attack on the Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell, who has denounced one of her prints in the RA that is simply the words “BUT I LOVE YOU” scrawled in large letters and “SOMETIMES I DON’T THINK” in small, which is on sale for £125,000. He points out that this is almost £5,000 a letter, that any street kid could do it. He calculates that another etching, sold in a series of 300, will make her £50,000.

    “F***ing hell! Do yourself a favour, Brian. Get a life, stop counting how much I earn. I imagine him in his kitchen, adding it up going: ‘All this money!’ and getting really angry. Demented man. I couldn’t believe how vicious and venomous it was when, actually, 30 per cent of proceeds at an RA show goes to the RA and its students”

    You tell him Trace.
    I’m off for a pizza with Bell in New Cross.I shall pass on to him your kind invitation to appear here!

  16. @Hazlitt, … astounding that Trace can now claim to have you on-side. . . I suppose ‘artists’ like that wouldn’t dare have comments sections open to the public if they posted prices for their dabbling online. I was listening a few months ago to an Alexander McCall Smith story — The World According to Bertie — in which an art gallery owner in Edinburgh has a local painter sign a perfectly blank canvas, which is immediately put on sale with the title ‘Piece on Earth’ and a price tag of GBP 32,000 (the details come from an Amazon reviewer whose summary I am using to supplement my memory.) Same idea, innit.

    Must confess to deepest puzzlement about why you have taken against Bell to this degree. Your mention of him picking pigeon bones out of his gnashers suggests that he was merely hunting … so why such an unfriendly characterisation here:

    === I noticed some desperate ruffian, chasing the pigeons in Trafalgar Square with ravenous ferocity.As he got nearer I realised it was Bell,who also appeared drunk ===

    I do know at least one person who swears he has seen bears fishing for salmon with their bare paws in wild country in the American northwest. Perhaps Bell was inspired by seeing something like that on the telly? … If teaching a man to fish is better than just feeding him a fillet, surely it’s to HFB’s credit that he catches his own fresh and organic vittles?

  17. Was going to post a long comment on my experience but performance is a very different beast to painting and quite dependant on middle men/women who want to put the work on. You’d need a lot more money and a hundred times more time if you wanted to cut out the middle tier of promoters. All that necessary Health + Safety stuff and various permissions to sort out is the very antithesis of creativity and drains away the will to live.

    The major problem at the moment is that the promoter becomes bored with putting on work, becomes a producer, then becomes a creative producer and before long is in the same market-place as you.

    Only because the creative producer also runs their own festival they can draw down money to fund their ideas for their own shows to be seen at that festival. They may not book you but they may offer you work making the show for their festival.

    The inevitable result is a donkey of a show that cost a lot of money and because it’s been produced by an ad-hoc assembled committee doesn’t have the legs to run any further.

    In contrast selling your work directly on the net sounds a breeze.

    Having said all that I’m pretty sure you could time-travel to Hollywood in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and hear directors/writers making the same complaints.

    Good to see Hazlitt is a fan of Gaby’s Deli too. Their couscous with oriental chicken is an almost Proustian experience.

  18. Well that’s all extraordinarily interesting, Alarming … sorry, I mean @Edward … because what you’re really saying .. as I read you …is that even though people like you and your WRAS troupers, because you are performers to begin with …. have the edge in the evolution of the art market, as this Ozzie Nicholas Forrest says here …

    === One of the biggest problems with contemporary art, from a long term investment and wealth preservation perspective, is the seemingly ever decreasing focus on the art object. The focus that was once placed on the art object is being placed more and more on the art concept as well as the increasingly popular notion of the artist as a performer and celebrity. ===

    http://artmarketblog.com/2010/06/21/what-art-investors-can-learn-from-gold-investors-pt-6-%E2%80%93-artmarketblog-com/

    … it’s still very, very, difficult indeed. ‘Drains away the will to live …’. Funny, but that’s what marketing my work does to me, though people who don’t find it hard will think we’re going a bit ott.

    I am in a moving vehicle, so might not be thinking straight … will answer properly later.
    A bit jealous of course that you and @Hazlitt can discuss this Gaby’s Deli and I don’t have a prayer of nibbling a single grain of couscous from where I am. [sniff] … But could you see your way to hunting pigeons with Bell in T Square? That can look a bit like drunken weaving when the hunter is out of practice …

  19. Hirst is a classic example of how it goes wrong. I saw several of his early exhibitions and you could almost instantly detect a talent.

    But because the media lept on him immediately the worst aspects of that talent bubbled up and he very quickly got tied up in pleasing the hungry dog.

    This would be fine if his work was circus or some Barnum & Bailey enterprise where a peculiar skill can be exploited for all it’s worth but it was a particular strand of contemporary art which doesn’t look good leaping through hoops.

    So now he’s back trying to gain credibility with some extraordinarily naff paintings.

    There are a few council-employed falcons on Trafalgar Square to scare the pigeons away. I wonder if they will be made unemployed by this new government’s obsession with cutting away any form of public service. Maybe as artists we need to design a fail-safe collection tin for the falcons to ensure a continuing chance of seeing one of these birds perching on the local statues.

  20. Recently, former colleagues of a friend commissioned a portrait of him after he left the organisation that employed them all. He answered my questions about the painter’s style, what sitting for him was like, … etc., etc., by sending me a photograph the artist had emailed him of the work-in-progress. To one corner of the canvas was pinned a photograph from one sitting that the portraitist was obviously using as a reference for certain details. When I asked if the experience wasn’t taxing and tedious, my friend said that on the contrary, the time seemed to race by at each session – because the artist was charming and had been entertaining him with delightful conversation, a flow that never seemed to stop and didn’t in the least interfere with his work.

    I suggested to another friend, a painter, that perhaps portraiture would be a species of performance art in the future – a multi-media exercise in which a videographer recorded the progress of painting a likeness … and that _that_ would be the finished art object – various views of the completed picture, and an edited version of its creation with sound and dialogue. I could swear that I detected faint retching sounds between the lines of the email I had in reply. . . But surely that’s the logical culmination of (i) the audience’s intense and increasing interest how art is made (eg., the unending popularity of the Writers-at-Work series of books, and the massive spread in the NYT a few days ago revealing exactly how John Updike researched and wrote his stories) … and (ii) the growing bias in the visual arts towards art-as-performance… ?

    … Yes I can believe that you saw something in the early Hirsts that’s gone missing since, @ET … I notice this degradation most in the evolution of novelists. After the marketing hype has gone full-bore, the writer nearly always seems to lose creative freedom and creative depth … Stumbled on a rare exception the other day … Peter Hoeg, more wildly inentive than ever, apparently, after the success of his Smilla novel; far less willing to pander to mass tastes . . . I’ve begun to keep boredom under control on long drives with his The Woman and the Ape.

  21. Hazlitt

    Apologies for my unintentional absence Ace.
    Bell and I have been held in custody for loitering with intent and causing a public nuisance outside Buckingham Palace.It started as a joke as we tried to sell the palace to passing tourists,although we did warn prospective buyers that the present owners were in a chain,we weren’t short of offers.
    Well there goes my gong! I really think it’s time I avoided Bell until he returns to his senses.
    Despite my best efforts the man is a magnet for trouble.
    Edward, I must congratulate you on your ability to sniff out a good deli.Gaby’s is indeed an oasis of sustenance and calm in the corporate farce food of London’s West End.Tell me,do they allow you to be accompanied by your pink pig,or do you leave him outside?

  22. Pingback: Go on, buy some art online: it’s safe to know what you like « acciaccature

  23. Hell’s Bells, @Hazlitt. …. is certainly tne impression you’ve been giving us. And yet you two continue to spend so much time together. Puzzling, that … I was hoping that @Edward would tell us that you were indulging in a little humorous exaggeration about the siize of dealers’ commissions, but as he’s been silent on that subject, I must continue to be horrified [all hair on end: like an Edvard Munch victim?]

    p.s. which of these do I mean, I wonder:

    It’s a merging of two separate phrases: “to knock seven bells out of [someone]”, which is 1920s British nautical slang, and “”hell’s bells”, which is an 1840s American curse, for which see here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-lik3.htm (VSD)

    from Phrasefinder

  24. Hazlitt

    “I suggested to another friend, a painter, that perhaps portraiture would be a species of performance art in the future – a multi-media exercise in which a videographer recorded the progress of painting a likeness …”

    Already available Ace.
    Bell and I were wandering around the RA shop recently when two videos fell out of Bell’s jacket…….er….Bell has just clunked the back of my head.Correction, they fell off the shelf.
    The videos satisfy all the criteria you have cleverly imagined would thrill oil paint fetishists.The painters were John Ward and Ken Howard.
    Bell has asked me to tell you he is a fan of yours and was hurt,that reading between the lines,he suspects you disapprove of him and our improbable friendship?I have assured Bell that this is untrue and that the next time we are in Gaby’s you must join us for some of the oriental couscous recommended by Edward.
    We of course,I can assure you,will be on our humble,coy,acolyte best behaviour,moths to the flame.

  25. Not sure @Edward will want to forage for oriental couscous or anything else with the likes of us. He and his merry band of Whalleys have just been kicked upstairs — by WordPress. See: … featured blog status, no less! http://en.wordpress.com/tag/whalley-range-all-stars/

    … Other matters. Desist, please, o kind @Hazlitt … Acc is a reasonable contraction of this blog’s name; Ace, … for such bumbling dunderhead ramblings … is not. Too much like the kind of hype I’ve been somersaulting backwards to avoid in mentioning the work of living artists featured in this spot, especially our comrades.

    … Fell off the shelf suddenly and hard, did you say? Onto your head? Ah, yes, … concussion would go a long way to explaining your transformation from one of the most pacific and diplomatic regulars in this spot – when it still had half a dozen of these to rub together, … .Would you please try the bottle marked ‘Drink Me’ – or whatever it was that Alice used to be returned to her usual size?

    A temporary blackout could also explain your rabid new enthusiasm for Trace. Others do not necessarily place the same value on her work as you do … [ahem] You might not want to read this with a hangover, if you’ve been out on the tiles with that Bellion again:

    But it is the sheer naffness of so much of the show that remains longest in the memory. Tracey Emin’s pathetically incompetent prints, one of them featuring a smudgy puppy, the other scratchy cartoons of male genitalia doing the high jump, are, I regret to report, selling like hot cakes, surely on the strength of her name alone. Her paintings, if they may be so dignified, one featuring purple squiggles and a bit of rumpled masking tape, the other the words “I love you, sometimes I don’t think” in dripping letters, resemble something produced in a psychiatric day centre rather than the work of a Royal Academician. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/7830939/Summer-Exhibition-at-the-Royal-Academy-review.html

    Well, I like that critic’s jargon-free reviewing style. Charles Spencer is his name. (Diana’s brother???)

    … but, on Trace, again… as the point of this post was to urge people to have the courage of their (execrable) taste buds, I can hardly complain, can I?

  26. Dealer’s commissions are a thing of secrecy as far as I can tell. They may tell you one thing but I’m not sure it’s the whole truth.

    We mainly do it all ourselves but we do work with agents in Europe – after doing it for years myself I finally had had enough of doing it plus there are some very good ones who are proactive on your behalf rather than waiting for someone to ring.

    A few year’s back we got a booking in Segovia ( the premier puppet festival in Spain ) through an agent with whom we had had a good relationship. However this time her private life had gone into meltdown and she screwed up just about everything you can screw up. We had no details, she had signed no contract so we knew nothing when we arrived. We ended up working an extra day which the festival paid us directly for. The discrepancy between the daily rate the agent was charging and what she was paying us was eye-opening. Something like a 45% mark-up.

    We did very well at the festival and got a lot of work from it but were obviously such a nuisance for the organisers that they won’t touch us with a bargepole again. A pity especially as it wasn’t our fault.

    But in the performing arts ( or whatever it is we do ) a lot of promoters don’t like speaking directly to artists and prefer paying an extra 15% to avoid having to do so. With the current downturn all this may change of course.

  27. antiphonsgarden

    The art world like society in general suffers from an ellbowkicking up climbing middle class/nepotist upper class/privileged “show off”decorative underprivileged, who have succeed to create themselves “go-between”jobs/functions creaming up the system.
    To be creative is a natural expression of our specie to communicate with other and one wonders if everything has to have “a price”.To survive as artist, maybe seeing the “whole picture” outside the paradigm frame of capitalistic (self) exploitation “for the sake of art ” or subordination to a “market worth hierarchy game”, can determinate the communication of the own art. New ideas of art for all, not ending in cheap trash production have to be invented.
    But its definitely not going to come from art councils or lobby’s subjected to their own interests.

  28. Hazlitt

    Hello Acciaccatura,
    My limbs are still convulsing from that verbal “50,000 volt tasering”.
    As soon as my legs allow it this “bumbling dunderhead rambler” is off for some recreational shoplifting with Bell….I shall keep an eye out for Alice..;)

  29. Hazlitt

    Hello Ac……er.. acciaccatura.I met Alice,palmed her a wad,took the “linctus” and returned to “earth”.
    Trace is not Alice but she might as well be in wonderland with her Queen Midas touch.We live in a debased political and economically corrupt,smoke and mirrors landscape.Trillions of intrinsically worthless paper money(Bretton Woods) is washing around the earth.Where to
    park it?Create a new commodity,set up a new index or stock exchange such as the Times-sotheby Art Indexes and embelish it with graphs and bingo!
    “This confidence feeds and is fed by a huge and complicated root system in scholarship,criticism,journalism,PR,tax deductions and museum policy. It cannot be allowed to falter or lapse, because of the inherently irrational nature of art as a commodity.Art prices are determined by the meeting of real or induced scarcity with pure,irrational desire,and nothing is more manipulable as desire.”
    Bell was discussing desire the other day,he’s really quite romantic,when he isn’t chasing pigeons.
    “The market is always converting works of art into passive fictions of eternity and immutability,of transcendent value for which no price may be to high.”
    There must have been thousands of performance/conceptual/Installation artists who have passed through Art schools in the last 40 years but it was Tracey (Hirst,etc)who recieved the call.Charles was too busy marketing baked beans and washing powder in the 70s,er ..how old is he?
    The art market as Robert Hughes asserts,bereft of an unlimited supply of old masters,has cleverly marketed the new,from mediocre to bad at prices that are high enough to stifle aesthetic dissent.Stifle dissent…..remember that next time you serenade around the RA Summer Show Mr Spencer!
    It seems the “creative pricing”the aura of personality in a celeb brainwashed culture has become the work.The silly drawing or vapid script on the wall are not the work,you are instead buying a relic of St Trace.
    The art world doesn’t have a Moody’s rating agency to downgrade a genre or a reputation,or a Warren Buffet to short the currency.Art dealers bid up their investments at auction.When Charles Saatchi recently decided to sell off his Hirst portfolio on the open market,Hirst panicked and quickly re-purchased his own stock.Was he worried it had turned toxic?
    There are still trillions of toxic assets hiding in bank vaults the world over.The world is probably bankrupt and so to is the art world.

  30. Hazlitt – When I was an art student in the mid 70’s the market was tied up by the likes of Freud and Hockney and the future seemed to be either teaching at art school, marrying someone with money and the desire to keep you, hoping someone in your family was rich and nearly dead or painting in between part-time jobs. We had one afternoon in 3 years dedicated to considering what might happen when we left college. I spent my final year stockpiling material so I could carry on as long as I could in the adverse climate that was promised!

    What Damien + Tracey initially did was bypass the Marlborough and Kasmin galleries of this world and go direct to the buyers. The aftermath of that explosion was a mass of artist-led galleries and independence. In theory that was a very good thing but the problem is that once your work has a certain price tag attached to it it can only go to the same people who bought all the stuff from the Marlborough + Kasmin galleries. So it returns to what it was once against.

    But I think that’s always the problem for artists outside of more integrated societies ( and even then ) unless of course you marry someone etc. etc.

  31. antiphonsgarden

    I just wonder if not being “too bright”, but obsessive attention sucking might be a crititeria to please the gallerist.You know, just narcissistic neurotic flashy enough, but dim enough to satisfy the dominant mindset of some.

    Could we rename maybe brit conceptual art as “white noses&sluts”?

  32. Well … this is exactly the discussion of dealers and pricing on terra firma (as opposed to this ether, where we know each other) I dreamt of having when I wrote the post. Magnificent stuff … Sorry I cannot really hold up my end at the moment (if at all.) Summer wandering, etc., … Lovely to just lean back, for the moment …‘listen’ to all of you, and reflect on what you’re saying.

    … That’s so depressing, about art dealers. Not just as a rhetorical question, @Edward … why is the life so hard – the terms of engagement so cruel – in nearly every branch of the arts, when art is the greatest, most reliable source of pleasure for so many of us, in a close tie with being out in ‘nature’? …

    Positively no taser unleashed on you @Hazlitt, how could you say such a thing… : ) … it’s just that I feel I have to defend Bell – as I would any other artist lauded on this blog. See? He has nothing to worry about – certainly from me. . . That’s a riff-for-the-ages about the art market, thank you … . : ) !

  33. Hazlitt

    Edward:
    Ah! happy days.
    “marrying someone with money and the desire to keep you.”
    What a terrible,decadent,mercenary attitude,treating love and marriage as a convenient career move?
    If you still have a few old telephone numbers?…..er..perhaps privately later on?..:)
    It’s amusing how artists feign to despise the market and its corrupting influence,but as you say can’t escape its vortex and eventually end up being the establishment.
    You have probably already seen Michael Landy’s installation,where he invites contemporary artists to throw unwanted failed peices of their own art into a giant glass “skip”.Very subversive,but ironically it will become successful and priceless…:)

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article7007181.ece

    I had intended to contribute a piece of Bell’s failed efforts,but he apologised explaining every one was a gem,an irreplaceable masterpiece.
    Acciaccatura!….I think the linctus is wearing off!
    If you bump into Alice…..be a gal….:)

  34. On the other hand the fashionable pick and choose manipulations of today’s dealers seem rather mild in comparison to those who ran the early Russian churches who blinded a few of their best icon painters so they couldn’t reproduce their magic for other churches.

  35. antiphonsgarden

    Edward, passive aggressive cynicism can be as deadly to some fragile artists, who honestly meant art was about creativity and skills.
    It takes a strong backbone to confront this people for what they mostly are : speculative charlatans
    pretending to be the judges of refinement and human expression.

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