Mall Galleries, London
The 'painting a day' phenomenon which saw 'lift-off' in 2006, generated a lot of artists producing small affordable works on a regular basis and selling them via the Internet. This in turn enabled a lot of people to buy original art for the first time. In time, it also widened the pool of people who bought original art and enabled some people to develop as art collectors. Many artists who kept to the discipline of daily painting also noticed how much their artistic skills improved. All to the good.
Since then our economic environment has changed and the big R has arrived. I've had a particular interest for some time in the impact of a recession on people making art and people exhibiting art. I'm interested in how it might change their behaviour. To that end I've been observing exhibitions for some time. Following the banking debacle last September, I've made a particular point of looking for changes in what gets exhibited, how work is priced and what sells.
What I've been noticing is
- Devotion pays! Any genre which has a devoted set of collectors continues to sell well and better than most (eg miniature art, wildlife art, botanical art)
- The type of contemporary art which used to be bought by bankers with bonuses appears to be becoming unfashionable. Values are dropping like a stone and some art is becoming unsellable.
- Established artists with are recognising that uncertainty makes spontaneous splurges less likely and while there is still money around, it's being spent more thoughtfully
- Professional artists with 'names', long careers, galleries and a dependence on sales for a significant part of their income are starting to exhibit smaller and more affordable works.
- There are much fewer places to exhibit art. A lot of galleries have closed (or will end up closing). However others have begun to recognise the importance of the Internet to stimulating sales and a number are currently investing in new websites.
Then last week I went to Originals 09: The Contemporary Printmaking Show and realised that in looking at how behaviour has been changing in relation to the recession, I've been too fixated on looking at what painters are doing.
Here were a set of artists who are being traditional and innovative in the approaches and techniques they are using for printmaking. Here was an exhibition where all the art is original - some of it is unique and some of it comes as a numbered edition. Prints were still large - and small.
In this show as in other shows of fine art prints, I've found I'm absolutely riveted by the artists' skills in composition and different styles of drawing and mark-making. It always seem to me to be hugely sophisticated compared to what I often see in paintings. I've also concluded that the practice of printmaking means many printmakers make more effort to identify elements of line and tone during the process of designing and making a print. It certainly seems to me that prints often have a lot more impact due to their strong graphical qualities. (Let's not forget that graphical qualities are what makes a representational painting call to you from tens of feet away and say 'come and look at me'!)
Prints on display in the East Gallery of the Mall Galleries
Just before Christmas I went to The Mini Picture Show at the Bankside Gallery which is a Christmas exhibition of small works by members of the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.
One of the things that struck me about The Mini Picture Show was how many prints it contained. It was pointed out to me that are many more members of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers than there are members of the Royal Watercolour Society. Plus the printmakers are probably more used to working in a range of sizes from large to small. They certainly swamped the show with their work - all of which was at very affordable prices.
I don't tend to buy much original art as I tend towards the 'buy the best and make it last a long time' school of thought and many paintings that I really like fall outside my affordability range and the size of the wall space available! Instead I bought two small prints at this exhibition - as my Christmas present to me!
The business bit of the equation
Every summer, as I loiter in the Large Weston Room at the Royal Academy looking at the prints in the Summer exhibition, the '"numbers lady" in me always makes a bid for attention. I ALWAYS end up mentally totting up the huge numbers of red dots for some of the prints and then multiplying them by the unframed print price and reminding myself every single year that a print has the potential to produce very significant earnings for an artist while not breaking the bank for the collector. It's a real win-win option for both artists and collectors.
Let's also not forget that prints are also frequently delivered unframed which means you don't have to go through the business of discarding the frame it came in because it doesn't work with your decor and replacing it with something else - so yet more money saved for the collector! (Remember if it was a painting you will have paid for the cost of the frame and the cost of the commission and VAT if relevant making the frame a ridiculously expensive part of any purchase of original art which in no way benefits the artist!)
I've also been told by a number of reputable galleries which deal in prints that they're very happy to sell prints online and are also very happy to offer a "sale and return undamaged" offer to their patrons who want to see the work.
Is printmaking the new 'painting a day'?
In asking the question "Is printmaking the new 'painting a day'?" I'm not trying to suggest in any way that printmaking is a new way of creating more affordable art. Mainly because printmaking has ALWAYS been a way of people being able to buy original art at more affordable prices.
Instead I think what I'm suggesting is that printmaking may experience something of a renaissance during the recession in relation to people who like to buy original art.
- For the artist who paints at present, printmaking offers an opportunity to develop and refine their existing skill set
- For the artist as business person original fine art prints create the potential for switching towards a different business model and one which lends itself very readily to internet marketing
- For the purchaser, original fine art prints offer an opportunity to buy original art at an affordable price
So - over to you.
- Do you think the recession will favour printmakers?
- Have you thought about getting into printmaking?
- What sort of changes are you making to your practice and business model as the recession bites?