Art Business

Artists and the Short End of the Stick by Jeannine Cook

Every time one listens to the news these days, in no matter what country, it seems that someone is trying to damage or destroy someone else, or else trying to take advantage of someone else or another group.  It really is a time when one can count oneself very privileged simply to be able, in peace, to listen to bird song, see a lightning storm dance across the sea, see the flutter of leaves in a poplar tree. Even in the art world, alas, increasingly, artists seem to be getting very much the short end of the stick.  Of course, there are exceptions. Nonetheless, I have found, over the years, that many museums and art galleries have scant regard for contracts signed, agreements made or arrangements undertaken with artists. Expediency and politics rule. For the benefit of the administrative side of the art world, of course.

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The Two Aspects of Being an Artist - Creating and Selling by Jeannine Cook

This week is one of those times when being an artist in creative mode runs headlong into the other dimensions of art-making- namely, exhibiting to sell art.

Saturday next, 4th December, will be the sixteenth year that I hold my Art-Tasting, an open studio-cum-wine-tasting, at our home on Cedar Creek, above the golden marshes of McIntosh. It is a big party which means greeting a large number of friends, many of whom I have known for many years and who are faithful attendees of this event. Each year, too, the circle of attendees widens, something which I thoroughly enjoy, as people ask to bring friends. It is also, being an open studio, one of the main opportunities I have each year to have potential buyers view my art on display. The Art-Tasting is the culmination of a week of setting up the house to act as a gallery, hanging the art, preparing price lists and ensuring that everything else is in place, from wine to food, to lights, signs, wonderful friends to help me during the party. A thousand details. This all comes after a couple of weeks of hard work previously, during which I mat and frame my work, and another time preparing the personal invitations I mail out. The image below was on this year's invitation.

September Canna, watercolour, Jeannine Cook artist

September Canna, watercolour, Jeannine Cook artist

It is sometimes hard to change gears from being a solitary artist, trying to create work that is viable and meaningful, to an outgoing, social hostess and "gallerist". It means having to be ready to expose your inner self, which - almost in spite of yourself - you have revealed in your artwork, and have innumerable people assess what you have done, for good or for bad. Each person, of course, brings their own experience and optic to bear on what they see in the artwork, but they soon decide if they like or dislike what they are seeing. You are asked many times to explain and elaborate on what you have implicitly "said" in a piece of art. This means that you need to be lucid, concise and accessible in what you say about it... usually against a hubbub of talk and in a crush of people. There is too the awareness that what you say can tip the balance for or against a sale of work.

Selling is in part a gift, but also, I believe, an opportunity to reach out to people and share with them the joys and perils of creation. Honesty never goes amiss, I believe, and heavens knows, being an artist is a constant reminder of humbling endeavours. Nonetheless, there are so many moments of sheer delight that one experiences when, for instance, one is working plein air and the natural world is full of beauty and fascination. People can relate to such accounts, and I think it helps to amplify the understanding of a piece of art when you, the artist, share such experiences.

Meeting potential collectors personally, in my own home, has been a marvellous enrichment to life over the years. Most of our friends are muddled up, in some way, with my art. I used to have gallery representation, but I have realised that despite the effort it requires to try to represent myself and sell my art, the benefits of meeting kindred spirits far outweighs any inconveniences. It does not preclude showing in galleries elsewhere, but locally, I love meeting collector friends and friends who become collectors.

Nonetheless, after a couple of weeks of having my "selling" hat on as an artist, I have to admit that I revert to my quieter, creative mode with delight and some relief. I do recognise, however, that being able to reconcile the two Janus aspects of being an artist so pleasantly is a great privilege.

HP Computer woes for an Artist by Jeannine Cook

When a computer crashes, I am reminded saliently and uncomfortably of how much I depend on my office computer and laptop to conduct my art business. Alas, the beauteous world of salt marshes and surging tidal creeks is not the best place to find competent people to help one out - in fact, quite the contrary, and it seems that many local computer repair people are the heirs to the Devonshire coast wreckers of yore.

So the inevitable conclusion, when I cannot even print out an exhibition proposal correctly to meet a deadline, is that I need to swallow hard and buy a new CPU. One that will "reanimate" printers, scanners and all the other gizmos one seems to need in this hydra-headed image business. So a careful study of the latest Consumer Reports computer rankings heads me and my husband to the HP (Hewlett Packard) website, a serious mad-maker. Finally, we narrow down choices that we try to tailor and order on the website. After several attempts, which get one almost to the end and then cancel out, we decide to talk to a real live person. Finally, we succeed. Hurray!

We explain what equipment we have, all the accessories we need to connect to the CPU, ask advice and guidance, and eventually select a Pavilion Elite e 9250t. The scrabble soup of 8Gbs, 1TBs, 1GBs, LANs and SDRAMs gets sorted out. Credit card numbers, e-mail addresses and street addresses are carefully given and laboriously repeated back to us. Signed and sealed - with assurances of an e-mail confirmation to come swiftly.

No confirmation, even 24 hours later. So, armed with order number, my patient husband phones again, since the website doesn't want to recognise we exist. Surprise, surprise, the order has not been put through, despite confirmation. So we start again – with a promised additional delay in the delivery date. Not an impressive start and an augury we should have heeded! However, in record time, I meet the doughty FedEx man staggering up the front steps with the bulky box.

We then spend another chunk of change to bespeak the services of an HP technical representative to come and install the CPU, connect up all the other bits and pieces and get the wireless links going. The only trouble is that until a security code and password are delivered with much flourish and more delay, HP won't get organised on sending someone. We are now into a week of HP dances by now.

The very nice gentleman appears to install everything, on time, and efficiently. He gets quieter and quieter in the computer room and the hours go by. My husband and I exchange glances and raise eyebrows - I suggest cups of tea. Eventually we hear him phoning the HP tech support people and spending the next half-hour having a conversation with a well-meaning person yet again halfway around the world. Someone who is clearly out of his depth and of no use at all. More time elapses.

Finally as the afternoon dusk encloses us, we learn that despite all our earnest conversations and asking advice of the original salespeople at HP, we have ended up as the proud possessors of a totally useless piece of expensive equipment! The problem? Windows 7 !! Mind you, "Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit" - not just some humpty-dumpty Window 7 programme. We learn that this oh so superior programme, the guts of the CPU , doesn't like to have any truck with any of the other programmes we have for printers, scanners, even our brand new notebook and fairly new laptop. We go round in circles, almost contemplating buying new printers, a parallel CPU with another programme - until we get satiated.

I pick up the phone to HP to see if we can put on Windows Vista instead and end up with a very nervous young man who thinks I can get a CPU with all the other aspects we chose, but with Vista instead of this Windows 7 problem. But, he implores me, please, please call back in half an hour, because his superior isn't there. Has anyone noticed that no superior, anywhere, is ever available now when you ask to speak to a supervisor?

In half an hour, dinner guests are about to walk through the floor, when I am going through the same ridiculous mating dance of the duck-billed platypus of name, e-mail address, mailing address, when I have already given a ticket number of the whole sorry business. And, surprise, no supervisor is available. So at 10.30 p.m., we bid farewell to delightful friends, and I pick up the phone again. 76 minutes later, I am cut off, having had my ears assaulted by ugly, over-loud music and had parrot-voices of great formulaic courtesy. I succeed in getting a return authorisation number because there is no redemption for HP Pavilions with their Windows 7 guts. The singsong voice instructs me to print out the return label: I point out that it is
because we can't use our printers through this HP computer that we want to return it. Oh!

At well after midnight, I have been transferred to about seven departments, been put on hold interminably, had conversations which verged from near lunacy to constructive charm, and decided that HP was an company whose ethos reminded me of General Motors 25 years ago. I wondered whether - in our speeded-up world - it will take so long for another such company to unravel. Such a return transaction should have required one phone call, an explanation, exchange of identifying numbers, and the rest of the return and reinbursement arrangements should have been conducted internally, within HP. Not over two hours on the phone... with my having to repeat the same items over and over and over again to different people in different departments in distant lands.

Eventually, I was the proud possessor of two return authorisation numbers, for the CPU and for the installation fee, with FedEx instructed to pick up one from 7 a.m.-1 p.m., and the second from 1 p.m.-7 p.m. - go figure! FedEx sensibly picks up both packages together. But, and a big but, we await more tracking numbers before the three to five days for reimbursement kick in. Not too marvellous for an artist...

Well, after this saga, I am no further along in conducting my art business that ten days ago. But I am older and wiser as a purchaser of HP computers. Has anyone ever heard of that expression: caveat emptor?

Branding, images and self-promotion by Jeannine Cook

Just recently, it seems that every programme I listen to on National Public Radio or any magazine I read alludes to the necessity of branding in these times of high unemployment and economic woes. Very understandable, but as an artist, this is a topic that comes up, right from the moment one starts being an artist.

Listening carefully to the advice proffered and stratagems advised, I am often left thinking that the one thing I don't hear much talked about is passion. And yet, in the art world, without the passion to dream, plan, create and - frequently - promote, it is very hard and difficult sledding. So often, too, the passion that an artist feels is the best platform for other people to connect with the art created, making the artist the best sales person for him or herself. "You exist only in what you do" is a true observation when it comes to branding yourself in the economic and creative marketplaces. Federico Fellini, the wonderful Italian film maker, was very accurate in this observation.

Frederico Fellini in the 19560s

Frederico Fellini in the 19560s

Being true to a vision and belief in oneself means that there has to be a dialogue with that small inner voice that each of us has. The magic of any creative venture is that since each of us is different, responding to different experiences and environments, the art produced will most likely be individual and distinctive. That art can become a branding vehicle to make that artist's work recognisable, a vehicle to promotion if need be. In some strange way, too, an artist who is passionate and committed about making art creates work that rings true to the viewer, no matter what the type of art. Passion is one of the most fabulous attributes of a human being, it seems to me – in every realm of life – the essence of being alive. As Fellini also remarked, "There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life."