Art Auctions

OK. I’m hot under the collar on this issue and this letter that I just received for a cause that I thought was legit just made me boil.

I had promised to send some work to an art auction that promised to give exposure to the artists and provide them with some compensation to take care of their framing costs and a small amount for the art work. The event was juried and subsequently, the organizers wrote to advise that two works had been accepted for the auction event. They requested by return mail that the minimum amount for the artist’s costs should be kept very low since the goal was to raise funds for the arts. The minimum amount would be the starting bid and would be given to the artist if the piece sold successfully. Anything more than that received on the final bit would go into the event coffers.

This seemed like a plausible arrangement until…..

The letter that requested details of each work and a maximum of three line biographical note to promote the artist and introduce the auction item.

At the bottom of the letter and form was this final comment.

With room for only 100 guests at the (venue) who will be bidding on auction items it is with great regret that we cannot extend an invitation to participating artists. Hopefully next year the (Event) will grow to be a bigger event and we will be able to involve you in the celebration.”

I was offended. The artists are the affair. It could not go on without them.
I had planned to attend the affair and frankly was prepared to pay the ticket price which included a few hors d’oeuvres. I felt the benefit to me as an artist was to meet the other artists and to network with both artists and purchasers.

I understood that the fund raising was meant to promote the arts, not to perpetuate the festival. But when I looked on the web site for this event, not one artist was mentioned; only the fund raisers were noted.

Artists should rebel against this type of fund raising. We don’t need to perpetuate the auction mentality that asks the artist, the lowest paid group workers in the Canadian economy, to donate their work for the least possible amount of money or for free so that purchasers can buy art at a discounted rate. The net result is that these auctions depress the value of all artists’ work.

In reply to the organizers, I said:

Please count me out. I regret that the donating artists have been sidelined in this affair. I note that on the web site, there is not one mention of the people who have been asked to provide the art work. I no longer am willing to contribute to a glamorous scheme that glorifies the restaurant and the festival organizers by taking from artists who make the affair viable and then tells them to stay away. I note that on the web site, there is not one mention of the people who have been asked to provide the art work. It leads me to believe this is more about self promotion, not promotion of the arts.

Here’s how art auctions do disservice to artists:

There are so many events where artists are asked to give up a piece of what they do for their livelihood in exchange for recognition or advertising of their work.

If an artist wants people to acknowledge their work, then they should send their best work. If an artist choses a less successful work than his or her best, then the advertising benefit is that the buyers get to know the artist as a mediocre one.

1. An artist needs to ask him/herself, how much publicity is really being provided? If there is a web site for the event and your name is not on it, you are not getting publicity. If the only publicity you are getting is the night of a noshing event, your work is vying with maybe twenty to one hundred other works. Ask yourself, how much attention is your work really getting? If you can believe gallery statistics, the average time anyone looks at a work of art in a gallery is three seconds. If you are in the company of some better known artists, all the major attention and publicity will be placed on those individuals. Second question to ask yourself: Who is getting the publicity?
Third question: How much of the proceeds are going to running the auction, that is, the administration costs? How much is actually being given to charity? While I had been led to believe in the beginning that this auction was being held to promote education in the arts, a later e-mail says “Please remember this is an auction to raise funds for our festival.” The charity proposal seems to have disappeared! This auction is about raising funds to do another festival, not to give to charity nor to art education!

2. Art auctions depress the value of artists’ work. It’s a question of supply and demand. There seem to be endless opportunities to contribute to art auctions. People who “win” the bids most often get the artwork at bargain prices. The bid winner now goes home with a piece of art, hangs it on the wall and no longer needs to go out and buy a piece of art at regular price! The artist has just reduced the possible art market by one. Add up all the artists in all the art auctions around you and that makes for a large quantity of art merchandise. The walls are filling up in the buyers’ homes.

The buyer has learned that one can purchase art at bargain prices at auction. Now they expect to wait for another art auction to do their art buying at a discount price.

The only person who loses out continually on this scheme of things is the artist.

It’s no wonder that the stats for the average Canadian Artists’ income is $18,000. This average includes those few that make a living at it, so just ask yourself: What is my real income from my art work? For the vast majority, it will be well under $18,000. That is why most artists have to have day jobs, a patron of the arts, or a private income before they can go full time.

3. It’s not a level playing field. At a recent Art Conference, a very well known Canadian artist said that when a print run is made of a new art reproduction of his work that he is provided with a certain percentage of free works that he is expected to use for auctions and other fund raisers. It’s part of the publishing company’s advertising campaign – but in this case it’s not the artist who is donating but the publishing company.

In all, it creates a dilemma for the artist. To donate or not to donate? That is the question.

If you are going to donate, at least you should be aware of the issues involved and check out whether or not there is a cause that you are willing to support. You need to know if you are going to get a tax receipt for your donation since you are giving up the opportunity to sell the piece yourself. You need to know if you will get sufficient “press” or advertising that will satisfy your goal of promoting your own art work.

What do you think?

I think I’ll just wait for the next art auction and buy myself some bargain priced art!

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