A Van Gogh!

A Van Gogh!
From the artists at ArtWorks945

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Underbelly

Although artists may aspire to beauty, where there is money to be made, there will be people trying to make it. And where there are people trying to make money, there will be people trying to control the market.

Beauty it would seem has an underbelly.

After my latest trade, I corresponded with two different artists who talked about the underbelly of the art world. Regina Valluzzi (whose art can be seen here: http://www.nerdlypainter.com/) is both a research scientist and an artist. She made the following comments.

One thing I have noticed is that artists will protest vehemently about being sorted into categories that seem to describe accomplishment level, for example "amateur" "student" "emerging" "established" "acclaimed". Nevertheless, they (we?) do self-sort into levels.

According to Regina, the art world consists in levels of increasing perceived value. At the top are the untouchables: Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh, etc. At the bottom are beginning artists. And there are several levels between.

And who controls entry from one level into the next?

This is where beauty’s underbelly begins to pop out. One might think that the answer would (or should) be beauty: an artist goes from one level to the next when he or she paints increasingly beautiful paintings. But alas, it would appear that the control rests, at least in some important instances, with the galleries.

Laura Zurowski, who has a very cool website called ‘The Lovelorn Poets’ (http://www.lovelornpoets.com/), put the point to me this way:

The art world is ripe for a dismantling just as the music industry was shaken by the likes of Napster, MySpace, and other mechanisms (like the now defunct Aimie Street) for musicians to share their work outside of the corporate controlled music/radio industry. The elite "gallery" structure, which positions itself as the arbiter of quality and value, has done nothing but make most individuals feel that art is beyond their reach both financially and intellectually.

According to Laura, the galleries have imposed a structure on the art world that artificially separates art from most individuals.

And Regina pointed to the influence of galleries as well:

I suspect that buzz and other social factors in the art world create a sort of resonance or "virtuous cycle" as somebody transitions between levels. For example, if gallery representation is the mark of a newly established no longer "emerging" artist, gallery exposure may quickly lead to critical attention and more gallery representation.

Beauty thus has an underbelly; and that underbelly apparently has an enabler: art galleries.

At some point I hope to pursue the issue of beauty's underbelly, since it presents so many fascinating questions. But for now, I am most concerned about a problem that it presents for my project.

If I am going to trade up to a Van Gogh, I am going to need to jump from one level of art to the next. But how can I do that, especially if artists and galleries are hyper sensitive to perceived status and won't trade between levels?

As Regina said:

There are a few established artists who will trade with emerging artists, but generally they want to select the work they'll receive...As you continue, purely tactical trading is likely to send you on an extremely tortuous route through each band, and I question whether pure tactics will bring you a net trade-up (case in point - BOO).

You need a strategy.

I think Regina is right: I need a strategy.

I don’t have one of those.

But I know whom to ask:


I want a strategy that will allow me to move from one level of art to the next.
I want a strategy that will allow me to move from one level of art to the next.
I want a strategy that will allow me to move from one level of art to the next.


  1. Paul;
    I think you DO have a strategy, whether or not you're mindful of it. Your strategy is to create a smidge of extra value for artists involved in Van Gogh project trades, using the exposure generated by a blog mention. If you can capture some of that "value smidge" in a trade, logically you should be able to negotiate trades that move you up in value

    Since it's an interesting project, your blog exposure value should grow over time.

    So far so good.

    The value of exposure is likely to take you furthest with the artists who most value exposure, even when that exposure is outside the critical realm of the "Art World".

    In other words, you have a strategy that specifically adds value to trades with emerging artists. An emerging artist seeking exposure is (in general) still building a foundation of collectors. An unsold painting may become irrelevant before it becomes sold. So the direct financial value of a traded painting is a bit amorphous, and the value of exposure is high.

    Now what about an artist who may not have a strong secondary market, but who can be assured of selling, rather than storing, a majority of their completed works? The value of traded work is now less amorphous. The value added to a trade through exposure in a blog is also likely to be lower.

    I believe that pumping up your blog will be a key piece of your strategy to hop to more established artists' trades. You need a qualitative change in your blog - a strategy to reach new audiences and go viral.

    But hey - now you have 1 more comment!

    Regina, The Nerdly Painter

  2. Regina,

    I think you are right about my strategy. You are in some sense invoking Sarah’s Thesis – participating in this project very well may increase the value of the paintings involved. So trading down may in the end be a monetary trade up. Moreover, as you have also mentioned, exposure is always helpful for an artist. So there are alternative forms of value that are at play as well. In some sense, that was the point of Kent’s Thesis. So perhaps my strategy, to the extent that I have one, combines Sarah’s Thesis and Kent’s Thesis. And of course there may be some good old-fashioned irrationality at play. And of course I do have the Universe. It is on my side too, I’m sure of it. Oh yes, I almost forgot: there is also the internet. So we have: Sarah+Kent+Irrationality+The Universe+the internet. Is that enough to get to a Van Gogh? We’ll see.