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Old 12-31-2002, 07:00 PM   #1
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Guest Newsletter from Robert Maniscalco




Robert has given me permission to post his newsletter the "Pointe of Art: The Art of Professionalism here.

Robert is an accomplished artist and teacher, and I can personally recommend his excellent video, "The Power of Positive Painting." http://www.maniscalcogallery.com/maniscalco.htm

Quote:
POINTE OF ART
by Robert Maniscalco

"THE ART OF PROFESSIONALISM"

Few experiences give me more satisfaction than being part of the excitement
and awe of another human being responding to an invitation to enter the
world of an artist through his/her work. It's a miraculous communion; one
that needs to be celebrated and nurtured. For this reason, I can't think of
anything I'd rather do than be a professional artist, art dealer and arts
advocate. It's very easy to quip that art is just another business. But
really, it is so much more.

As a professional artist/dealer, I derive my income from the sale of art.
By this simple definition of "professional," it would be very tempting for
artists and dealers to forsake the goal of making great art in favor of
producing only what is marketable -- many do. It is, after all, the
definition of marketing to tailor production to what will most likely sell
(selling is trying to convince someone to buy something they didn't know
they wanted). True success, however, is when an artist's market and his/her
product are in harmony. It is the age-old search for one's dharma -- our
true gift to the world. The art profession, then, is more than a
livelihood, it is an expression of our connection with humankind. I believe
art, made and marketed with integrity, is one of the greatest gifts a
creative person can share with the world. As a community, we need to take a
stand for developing a standard for excellence in the creating and selling
of art.

I place a high premium on originality - I want to see the hand of the
artist. Rubber stamps just don't do it for me; for me, mass production is
the antithesis of art. I value a deep understanding and intimacy of the
craft, a full resolution of ideas and a mastery of materials. I admire
those who courageously respond to their world through their art -- free of
ego and pretension. I want to believe in the work; I want it to teach me
something about being human and I shouldn't have to need a PhD in art
history to understand it -- even though it may help.

In the world of contemporary art (living artists), prices are usually
determined by the quality of the work, the stature of the artist
(gallery/museum shows, notoriety, awards, collections, provenance of works,
etc) and the fair market value of the artist's work (what it has sold for in
the past). Artists are a good long-term investment if their work is of
consistently high quality and if the artist has proven he/she is on a solid
career track. There needs to be a documented relationship between value and
price.

For some reason, I have found that many emerging collectors need to be
empowered to trust (and to deepen) their own tastes when it comes to
choosing art. Sadly, I once attended an art auction (on a cruise ship)
where, in frustration that sales were slow, the auctioneer presented a
painting with its back to the audience -- we couldn't see the piece.
Amazingly, more people felt comfortable bidding on what they couldn't see
than on what they had seen earlier with their own eyes. This disturbing
episode brought home for me the central in-authenticity eating away at our
fine art market: misinformation and cynicism coming from those who are in a
unique position to know and teach the public about fine art -- our local
galleries and art dealers. Buying art requires a great trust which must be
earned, not squandered for a fast buck.

So, in the spirit of Time Magazine's selection of three "whistle blowers" as
Persons of the Year (see
http://www.time.com/time/personofthe...002/poyqa.html), allow me to add
my two cents. There are a number of marketing practices in the art-world,
which simply do not stand up to the light of day. One in-authenticity that
compromises the integrity of the legitimate retail art market is the big
business of presenting mass-produced "starving-artist" paintings as
originals. I'm talking about assembly-line art, usually imported in bulk
from third world countries, placed in large, elaborate, foam blown frames.
These are usually "oldish" looking paintings with subjects like little girls
on swings, Roman ruins or conventional florals. They are intended to fill
walls, no more, no less. Sometimes, however, they are presented as having
been painted by "undiscovered artists from Europe" and acquired as a result
of "extensive travels abroad." These dealers and interior designers also
sell "knock offs" (copies of great masters) signed with fictitious names and
no acknowledgment to their original creators. Paintings like these are
available at a very low cost through numerous international distributors and
marked up as much as 10 to 15 times their original cost. While some of
these galleries are candid about the origins of these products, many are
not. Let's be frank, there will always be a place for "starving artists"
paintings and "knock offs" but there will never be a case in favor of
pretense or subterfuge regarding the provenance (information about who
painted it, where it has shown, etc.) of a work of art.

Another common practice of certain galleries is to inflate the prices of
limited edition prints, selling them as "savvy" financial investments. On
that afore mentioned cruise ship, the auctioneer (a representative of a
large gallery in the northwest suburbs of Detroit) compared buying a
Salvador Dali limited edition print to investing in Microsoft during it's
infancy. Please! Just because a gallery prints a "letter of authenticity"
doesn't necessarily mean the image is authentic. And despite all the hype,
a Thomas Kinkade print is unlikely ever to appreciate in value (See "Thomas
Kinkade - Art Dealers See Red Over Financial Losses," Published 12/02/2002
in Crain's Detroit Business). Clearly, we need to set higher standards
regulating the print market, especially with all the new technologies on the
market. Legitimate, quality printmaking is an expressive media that must be
protected.

Perhaps the worst of these dubious marketing practices is the existence of
art "sweatshops," right in our own backyard. Certain art dealers are taking
advantage of illegal immigrants, paying them below minimum wage, to copy
other artists' work, signing fictitious names and selling them to local
corporations for ten times what they're paying these artists. This is a big
business and it is happening right here in our community.

Less serious, yet perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Detroit's
bourgeoning fine art market, is what one art dealer called our "wild, wild
west" mentality. Metro Detroit artists have little solidarity with one
another and almost none with their commercial galleries. Sadly, aside from
the amazing depth and availability of exceptional talents, what
distinguishes our city from healthier art markets is that Detroit artists
feel they have the obligation/right to show their work wherever and whenever
they can/want. While it's true, it is a free country; it is also true this
practice just doesn't work. At one time, artists would show at my gallery,
only to turn up two months later at a restaurant down the street or another
gallery across town, varying prices, according to how much commission the
venue "takes." In any functioning, thriving art market, this practice would
be considered grounds to blacklist an artist. Here, it's the way we've
always done it.

Detroit artists justify this practice by arguing they need the exposure when
in fact it only devalues their work, their reputations, not to mention the
venues in which they show. It's really very simple: value is directly
related to supply. No matter how fine the work, flooding the market creates
confusion and lowers values. This "revolving door" policy is the single
reason Detroit supports only a tiny handful of professional artists and
galleries. This is not to say restaurants, clubs, associations and
alternative spaces shouldn't play a role in exposing and developing new
talent. Detroit's unique artistic contribution, however, is being
squandered when our best artists flit around from flower to flower. Still,
there is a long tradition, even pride, in this ineffective, free-wheeling,
"guerrilla" marketing method. Detroit artists deserve better. One
solution: if an artist is that prolific, they might establish relationships
with galleries and exhibition venues in other cities. That's how national
reputations are established and local values raised.

Artists, galleries, art centers, councils, guilds/clubs, schools and
alternative venues must come together to determine how they each can
contribute to a common good. Until then, serious art collectors will
continue to go elsewhere to buy their art -- or worse, languish in apathy.
Meanwhile, many legitimate, gifted artists (and venues) must continue
fighting for survival in this gray market. Detroit is enjoying an upsurge
of interest in the arts. The potential market is poised and ready. Are we?
Let's not let these ridiculous practices stand in the way of Detroit
becoming the international art center it deserves to be. I do not accept
the cynical notion of the "starving artist" or that Detroiters are
"blue-collar" and therefore not interested in culture. That's just too
absurd for words. But here's one: Degas.

It's up to our schools, guilds, commercial galleries, non-profit spaces,
agencies, councils and alternative venues to provide leadership and a
commitment to the creative members of our community. We simply can no
longer afford to stand by and allow the art market to be handled like a
college food fight. If we artists want to be taken seriously by the larger
community, of which we are an integral part, we need to develop professional
standards. I believe people are willing to pay for quality and integrity.

What's the moral of the story? Could we as a community benefit by valuing
creativity and professionalism a little more? Sure. Do we need to be
diligent as we work together for a healthy arts community? Definitely.
Since I opened my gallery six years ago I have learned things about the art
business I sometimes wish I didn't know. What keeps me going are the little
epiphanies along the way, when a person invests in themselves by purchasing
their first original artwork or discovers a new way of looking at the world.

We can't be afraid to take a close, hard look at ourselves. Sugar coating
the truth and burying our heads in the sand won't cut it anymore. We all
must take responsibility if we really want a healthy art scene. My hope is
that conversations such as these will encourage more dialogue. Clearly
there is a need and a commitment within our community to come together for
the common good and I am confident the results will be powerful. We need a
fully functioning Detroit Art Dealers Association to deal with the issue of
exclusivity, among many others. We need forums to educate artists and arts
venues about professional marketing and the roles each of us can play in
creating an even playing field. We need to ask questions. For instance,
how should the mission of a non-profit exhibition space differ from that of
a commercial gallery? We need to generate communication and abundance
instead of cynicism.

Who knows, it may lead to my walking into someone's home, where an inspiring
work of art graces the wall - a work of art to which the home owner is
passionately attached. We will stay up late talking and learning more about
life and one another than we ever dreamed possible. That kind of success is
very satisfying. To me, that's what this business is all about.
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Old 01-02-2003, 01:23 AM   #2
Alicia Kornick Alicia Kornick is offline
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Thanks, Chris, for posting this newsletter.

As a matter of fact, I had just returned from dinner with my 26 yr old son, where we had a discussion about "modern art" and painting what sells. There is a local artist whose work he has seen who has gotten some national notoriety and supposedly is selling quite a bit of work. The work is abstract and rather absurd, but for some I guess the weirder the better. If that is what you like.

My son's position is that it is "original" art and comes from within whereas the type of paintings that I do, realisim and portraits in particular are "pretty to look at" but in his opinion they are not original because I don't "make them up from out of my head".

I tried to explain the difficulty and amount of time and study one must devote when one paints in the realist manner. No, I don't just go pouff and slap something on a canvas. My husband had the good sense to intervene into the conversation and point out to the child that he was upsetting his mother. Rather than spoil my dinner, I changed the conversation.

Then I came home and read the newsletter you posted and immediately felt redeemed. I could slap out a few absurdly abstract paintings a day, and given the right market maybe even sell them, but I would be lying to myself. I hope one day, my son will come to realize the difference between painting what is currently selling and painting something for posterity.
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Old 01-02-2003, 02:11 PM   #3
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Old 01-04-2003, 09:41 AM   #4
ReNae Stueve ReNae Stueve is offline
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Chris,

Thank you for this post.

Alicia, our children must have compared notes before dinner. My daughter and I have had this conversation. She loves my work the way it is, mind you, but mentions that I need to create something with a little more "edge" to it, a little more "weird" in order to sell my work.

Her argument: the world is no longer populated by soft glowing figures in repose, we are hard, scared, dismembered individuals in pain. And (where have I heard this before) talent = technology.

My argument: we are the prisoners depicted in the "Myth of the Cave" in Plato's "Republic". What you see in the shadows is not what is. I am compelled to paint what I see beyond the cave door. At the very least, to serve as a counter balance.

Who knows? All I know is that I'm "compelled" to do so. It's what comes out of the end of my brush.
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Old 01-04-2003, 02:01 PM   #5
Alicia Kornick Alicia Kornick is offline
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ReNae,

There are enough dismembered and painful things to look at, I don't see any reason to create more. Come to think of it, I don't think many 26 year olds are buying art work. I had to laugh because one of the best portraits I've done is of my son. He likes the portrait! Maybe I should do one ala Freud's portrait of the Queen and see if he likes that better.
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Old 01-04-2003, 10:47 PM   #6
Jim Riley Jim Riley is offline
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Are we all reading the same page?

I read Robert's newsletter when it was first issued and again when posted on this thread and have a very hard time understanding how his concern about the behavior of those in the business of art can be interpreted as a criticism of "modern art". He points out the need to maintain fair business practices and avoid exploitation of art and artists (with a note that artists often diminish their own worth through poor business judgement).

His community is very fortunate to have somebody like him in this business and serving as a strong advocate of fine art and craft. His notes suggest that his goals are to establish excellence and do not seem to qualify excellence as exclusively representational.

It would guess that the "knock offs", in fact, are more likely to be traditional in subject and style. Why or where does this belief that "weird" and "dismemberment" sells come from? Is this the artist community's equivalent of the "urban myth"? I have visited many galleries over the years and found very little work that would qualify as disturbing. I have ignored a lot of "Modern Art" in my day but have to say that very few of those pieces have upset me as much as the many poorly executed painting otherwise characterized as "realism".

I think Robert's appeal is for excellence whatever the style, form, behavior, or business practices. He's a great spokesman for the Arts Community.
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Old 01-05-2003, 12:32 AM   #7
ReNae Stueve ReNae Stueve is offline
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Jim,

I regret that any of my comments sounded like Modern Art bashing. I was relating the newsletter's assertion that we would be better served if we didn't paint for the sake of sales but rather paint for the sake of paint and see what sells.

I paint what I paint but my daughter, like many a youth before her, prefers trendy things. Modern art is a lucrative trend in her observation. She views my art as a thing that must be lucrative and so her conclusion drew her into the conversation to which I refer.

My point is that the only way I can utilize my raison d'etre and really let go and create that which is in my deepest stirrings is to take my ego completely out of the equation. I must not put the condition on my creativity that it will appeal to the masses, or I will not have to worry about the archival quality of my work. This holds true regardless of which particular mass we are pandering to.

p. s. This is why portraiture is so attractive to me. With a clear cut subject and a private sale it serves as the lucrative side of my art while I continue to develop the master works within me.
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Old 01-08-2003, 03:11 PM   #8
Jim Riley Jim Riley is offline
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I didn't read all of Robert's newsletters but hadn't noted any tirades against "Modern Art". In fact one of his subjects concerns a man who has chosen to pursue modern art over more traditional art and writes a positive review in his Pointe of Art article titled "Time For Art - The Abstracts of Mark Wolak". Mr. Wolak also had a show in the Maniscalco Gallery.

His letter above does take on the question of reproductions and I have little understanding of his strong criticism of mass production. I think it fortunate that print technology is such that untold thousands are able to enjoy the best artist in any style short of the more esoteric. Most of the artwork hanging in my home (other than mine) is prints and while I would prefer an original Andy Wyeth or Robert Bateman, et al, I will continue to enjoy and share work that I will never be able purchase as originals. Most of us know artist and their works through books and though it's quite special to stand before the original and feel the presence of the artist a good print is not a shoddy stand-in. Several limited edition prints that I bought years ago for $250.00 and less are now worth $2500.00. Original art by this same artist has only doubled or tripled. Overpromise, real or implied, is not legitimate but good prints can be a good investment for lots of reasons.

He also didn't say anything about online marketing and wondered what he might have to say about its effects on the marketplace since he is an SOG member. As a matter of fact the whole subject of the portrait artist and relationship with the local Gallery would be quite interesting. I work with a local gallery and do my best to keep pricing the same whether the commission is a referral or direct. There is also the question of promotion. If my local gallery publicizes my work it becomes easier for the new customer to find me and deal direct. In any case I usually ask how they found me and contact the Gallery if they were involved in making me known to the client. Often the gallery plays no more a role in the commissioning process than being visible. The client walks in the door and says "Do you know of anyone who can do a portrait for me"? Should the Gallery get the same commission as an exhibiting artist?
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