With so many galleries, exhibitions and events being forced to close or cancel due to COVID-19, many living artists are understandably concerned with what this may mean for them and their families. Now is an important time to support our artists and the critical role they play in world society.
By ALAN SAMONS
Art lies at the core of human existence and has the power to influence an individual’s thoughts or beliefs. Nothing says more about a culture than the art it idolises. It represents what it values, what it thinks about, and essentially what it deems worth remembering. Art is the representation of a people, encapsulating their essence on every level. By purchasing a work by a living artist, you are purchasing a living moment in history, one that has been created to last for generations and will continue to speak and communicate to others in the distant future. By owning a work of art, you become a part of the history of that work, (referred to as “provenance” by auction houses, historians and dealers). In a way, owning a painting, drawing or sculpture is its own form of immortality that travels with the work throughout time. www.artrenewal.org
I have been an avid follower of Art Renewal Center for years and love the work on their site. The organisation has laboured to bring figurative art back into the mainstream. I unashamedly love figurative art and am often either baffled, or left speechless (not in a good way) by ‘modern’ conceptual art. But that’s just me. I also paint and make jewellery, and my themes are figurative in both. But that aside, I love the statement about supporting artists post-lockdown. Artists, crafters, potters, makeup artists, tailors and any other creative soul need to earn a living by selling their work. Most don’t have a financial cushion to fall back on in hard times. Sure, the Kentridges and Banksys of the world no doubt do, but there are equally talented people who produce work that will never see the inside of a gallery. They need your support now more than ever.
Sure, galleries bring the best and most expensive artworks to the public, but the artist rarely gets even 50% of the sale price. Galleries work hard – they have overheads, staff, printing and many more hidden costs that goes into representing artists. They need support too. But here I’m mainly talking about the person who works alone, possibly at home, even after hours because of a day job and who is now possibly unemployed. I’m talking about the little mom and pop shops (or in our case, perhaps two guys and a dog).
“I can’t pay you, but think of the exposure!” This is a phrase so many artists have heard many times during their careers, and after the lockdown I have no doubt many more will hear it. Many have complied – and will again – with requests such as these, because they genuinely believe that they will get the exposure, especially when starting out. To me, asking anyone to produce something they make a living from, for free, is a slap in the face. As a young fashion designer, many, many people tried that with me. Luckily, I had enough paying clients not to fall for the lure of ‘free exposure’. And when it comes to price, please don’t haggle. The maker has in most circumstances already under-priced themselves. Most do.
Artists, crafters and anyone engaged in the creative arts need to sell their work. Materials are expensive, even in countries like America, where everything can be bought with ease and costs a lot less than here. With our abysmal exchange rate and high cost of shipping, materials in SA are very, very expensive. Case in point is a friend who is a superb watercolour painter. I was aghast when I heard that a single sheet of top-quality paper can cost in the hundreds of rands. And costly materials
don’t guarantee success. For each one sellable work done on this expensive paper, perhaps another one or two are rejected as not being up to scratch.
Even in my own making life, whether it be a jewel, a painting or remounting an antique Japanese scroll, I barely cover costs. The money I receive is rarely reflective of what actually went into any of the pieces I create in terms of materials and labour, so I know the pain every creative soul has to bear.
When you buy directly from an artist of crafter – whether it be an expensive bronze sculpture, or a hand-knitted scarf, you are supporting a small business or individual who has put not just their heart and soul into a piece they’ve created, but also years of practice, training, tuition fees and hard knocks.
And, it is not just craftspeople who need support when times are tough. Restaurants, dog groomers, fruit and veg sellers and just about any small business will need support by their communities in order to survive post-Covid-19. We can all contribute. Order a cake from a home baker, have a shirt or trousers made by your local tailor. Buy some mugs or soup bowls from a potter. We have been spoilt by the big brand shops like Woolies and Monsieur Pricé, and granted, they are cheap by comparison, but by supporting someone who makes something by hand brings with it not only the joy of owning something truly original and beautiful, but it will put money in the pockets of people who need it and you’ll be keeping an actual person, not a faceless conglomerate, from facing poverty.
Now take your hard-earned cash and go stimulate the economy!