Monday, September 21, 2015


Bear with me. This is starting pretty far off from photography. There's actually a conclusion in here, that's going to change my behavior.

Let's suppose it's 10,000 years ago, and you make baskets while I have fish. I want some baskets, you want some fish. So we trade. Fast forward a bit. Money has been invented, and you don't like fish any more. I might sell my fish to someone who wants fish, for money and then use the money to buy a basket from you. Basic stuff. Money is many things, but among those things it is a medium of exchange and an important part of a mechanism by which goods are moved from supplier to consumer more or less efficiently.

The point is that it's a mesh, a network. Goods flow around the system, money flows the opposite way, and in the end mostly people get what they need and want. We have a deplorable tendency to consider it a pyramid, in which the goal, the ambition, is to be on top. We'd like, ultimately, to get as many baskets as possible while giving away as few fish as possible. Success is seen as, essentially, persuading everyone else that your fish are so insanely valuable that they should trade you a truly absurd number of baskets for even a single one.

This is the perception of success in the Art market as well. This perception is flawed in a couple of ways.

The most direct and obvious way is that while we see the phenomenon of insanely expensive Art, the Artist isn't seeing much of that. Yep, those fish are extremely valuable, but by the time they're actually valuable, they're in the hands of some nameless third party who is getting most of the baskets. Indeed, it's usually some sort of corporate entity, perhaps headed by one chap, and the huge influx of baskets is distributed out to a bunch of worker bees in the gallery and so on. The perception that Gursky is getting 3 million baskets for one fish is false, although I suppose he's doing pretty well in baskets, as is the nameless chap operating the third party entity. But, nobody in this picture is getting 3 million baskets and swapping them for a yacht.

The second flaw in the ointment is that it's a mesh, a network, not a pyramid. If you want to sell Art, you should probably buy Art. If you want mainly to sell Fine Art Landscape Prints for a couple grand a pop, then you're not asking for an economy. You're asking for a system in which worshipful people deposit vast numbers of baskets on your doorstep, in return for scraps of paper with ink smeared on them. This isn't tenable at scale. There's only room for a few of those, and as you've probably discovered by now you're probably not going to be one of them. Everyone wants to be an apex predator, but it takes a hell of a lot of taiga to support one tiger.

In the modern system, a system that actually can sustain a lot more artists and art, we're working the mesh. A handful of loyal fans buy your blurb book and promote it out to their friends. You, in turn, give some money to a Patreon here, a kickstarter there. Money flows, art flows, the system works.

There's only a few Kardashians out there, but there's lots of blokes growing carrots. Becoming the former requires vast effort and vast luck. Pretty much anyone can start growing carrots, though.

In short: If you want people to buy your Art, you ought to spend some money on Art as well.

A corollary: I need to spend more money on Art.

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