Despite early signs of improvement in some sectors of the American economy, there is no denying we remain in recession. When unemployment is on the rise and houses are threatened with foreclosure, luxuries like collecting contemporary art often take the first hit. For this reason, I asked three artists – Peter Everett, Kindra Fehr, and Russell Wrankle – the following questions:
• Has your studio practice or creative process changed?
• Are you using the same materials, making budget-conscious decisions, perhaps ‘recycling’?
• Are you producing smaller, fewer, cheaper artworks?
• Are galleries granting longer or shorter shows? Fewer/more solo or group shows?
• Do you have any advice to offer others?
What happens in the marketplace has very little impact on what happens in my studio. Art has never been practical for me, nor has it been about money. While I do sell work, this exchange has always been unrelated to my creative process.
Many creative disciplines seem to share and benefit from this separation from the practical or directly instrumental. Where would we be if science, poetry, or philosophy were required to always be practical? For me, art is independent of economics—it is about play, curiosity, and exploration. There is a leap of faith required of artists and the culture that supports them, a commitment without a guaranteed return. A confidence that good things will come from an engagement with the arts.
I feel lucky to work in higher education—the university system has been a generous patron for me. It facilitates my work and exploration in return for my mentoring and teaching students. Of course universities, including my own, have been impacted by the economic downturn in serious ways, but my art has not. I believe artists need to buffer and protect their creative process from the pressures and influences of economic swings. A day job, a patron, savings, or just a general disregard for the sale of work can do wonders.
In terms of galleries, I largely work with non-profits and art centers where I have greater freedom to pursue ideas and work of interest to me. These spaces have been hurt by our economic woes and need the community to support them through the lean times. A silver lining to our current economic situation is that it has shaken out some of the artists with marginal commitment to what they do and those more interested in fashion and money than art. I have seen a difference in my students—many are still going into art, but it is a decision of the heart more than ever. The leap of faith is large and I believe the work being made will have more soul because of it.
Right before this economic downturn hit, I had made a shift to painting larger and returning to my first medium of oil. Bad timing. It was only a few months later that representing galleries informed me that they have noticed a turn in the price point a collector will pay. Now they want small $300 to $400 works.
I’ve practically eliminated framing. As much as I really want to support my local framers, I cannot afford to pay for a frame that may sit on a painting for who knows how long before I recoup my investment. Gallery-wrapped canvas has replaced the beautiful frames I once purchased.
I tried to lower my monthly studio expenses, so left my studio of 12 years to share space. Once moved, we both realized that we each truly needed that space for what we wanted to accomplish; hence another move and higher rent which defeated the original intention (but has turned out to be good). The real creative solution came for me in creating teaching opportunities out of my own studio. Creating classes that were more than just an instructional art class and more of a full day experience – including art history, food, and very specific subject matter. What I have experienced is that for all the people who say they would love to come to these, many adults won’t give themselves the time or money. Yet, my children’s classes are full. As parents, we are more willing to pay for our kids to learn than for ourselves. (I say this as a parent, guilty of this myself). With this observation, I have also created more children’s art camps and holiday classes.
Yes, this economic downturn has been felt and I’ve had to adjust in numerous ways to stay afloat; but, at the same time, I feel grateful that despite its uncertainty, I am in a profession that allows me to be creative and can morph what I do into something that works. Many other professions are at the mercy of companies, and can be lost at a moments notice. I’m used to uncertainty, and that—in and of itself—has provided strength while weathering the storm.
We moved to Toquerville in southern Utah 9 years ago. I took on a part-time job driving the shuttle in Zion National Park, and have maintained that job ever since. When the downturn hit, I inquired about teaching part time at Southern Utah University, and landed an adjunct position teaching 3D design. My Master of Fine Art degree paid off in being qualified to teach at the university level. Teaching and shuttle driving creates the financial space necessary to continue on the aesthetic path that I’ve been on from the beginning of my art career.
My studio practice hasn’t changed much with the downturn. I’m still focusing on developing my craft and making the best and most meaningful art possible.
I’m doing more solo and group shows since I received my MFA. There are shows that do well, and others that could be better. I love it when a collector or anyone else purchases my work, but my motivation with art-making has never been money. When an artist derives their legitimacy as a maker from how much they sell, they run into the difficulty of making “market-based work.” And when that happens, the work gets watered down and becomes meaningless. I make work that resonates with me personally and if I’m successful, my work will tap into the elemental commonality that we as humans share, and hopefully there will be a “market” for what I make.
I recently had a solo show in Denver and the gallery owner encouraged me to make smaller, less expensive work. I made a few pieces within the lower price criteria and consider them reasonably successful. However, as one idea informs the next, these less expensive sculptures evolved into more complicated, time-consuming and expensive art. I would rather have my work available for various exhibition venues around the country than sell it at a price below what I think it’s worth.
Categories: Visual Arts