Friday, September 28, 2012

Stolen Art

I’ve been known to exaggerate a bit, the title being a prime example. Let me explain. If you’re an artist who wants to sell the art you create, you need to put it into the public eye. (I make that distinction because there are, in fact, artists who do not want to sell their work and keep it secreted away; there are more people like this than you can possibly imagine!)

So, I have this issue with leaving my work hanging in places and then ignoring it for months. You know, you get wrapped up in other things. Believe it or not, I’ve left my framed and matted expensive cemetery photographs in the same venue for a year, without even ONCE checking the status of the show! (If my photos were children, they would have been legally removed from my custody years ago.) I used to think I was just scatter-brained, but other artists have confessed to the same sin.

Sometimes you get lucky and all your work is still there – and possibly the venue has even sold a few pieces for you. However, there are times when I’ve gone back to the venue and it was closed! Empty! Gone! You wait too long, and you’re screwed. Take my advice − don’t EVER leave a show unchecked for more than two months!

Now of course this is not likely to happen at a reputable gallery which has you sign a contract (which spells out both the artist’s and gallery’s responsibilities) before your work goes up. However, it’s far easier for emerging artists to get shows in coffee shops, book stores, and restaurants.

Galleries typically rotate their shows on a monthly or quarterly basis, so with these venues, you’re held to the gallery’s strict scheduling guidelines. Occasionally, I’ll do a show in a bar or other business establishment because it’s fun and the foot traffic is usually better than in an art gallery (however, your asking prices might need to be somewhat lower). Sometimes the establishment might say, “You can leave your work up until we find another artist.

When such an opportunity presents itself, it’s very tempting to leave your work up for several months. With more potential sales resulting from extended public exposure, why not?  In one instance, I had work hanging in the same restaurant for three years, rotating my work about every six months. It was a great opportunity in a popular location in an affluent neighborhood; they charged no commission and I made regular sales. Unfortunately, I sometimes fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. Before you know it, six months or more may have gone by, when you finally remember to go check on your work. One time I went back eight months after not checking a show, and all my work was stacked in the basement, soaked with water, ruined.

The images I’ve sprinkled about this blog today are some MIA (Missing In Action) photographs that I recently lost when a venue that was exhibiting my work closed up shop. Gothic Creations in New Hope Pennsylvania was in business for sixteen years. For the past five, they sold my work, at a commission. I didn’t get a lot of sales, but it was good exposure and my cemetery angels kind of fit in with the Medieval gargoyles in the shop. Foot traffic in New Hope is immense, as it is a tourist mecca.

After I got married in 2008, and had a child in 2009, it became more difficult to make the forty-mile trip to New Hope. The proprietor never answered his phone or emails. If the venue is quite distant from where you live, laziness can set in. Worse yet, after a time you begin to feel embarrassed that you’ve waited so long, and you AVOID making contact!

I decided to make a final trip to Gothic Creations, to collect my work and any monies from sales. I hadn’t been there in over a year and I was not able to reach them by phone or email. Imagine my surprise when I found a DIFFERENT business occupying the physical space! The new proprietor told me that Gothic Creations disappeared overnight, about six months prior. Rumor had it that the proprietor got himself a divorce for Christmas and moved to Germany.

What happened to all my work? I lost eight photographs in 16x20 inch frames and about forty photo greeting cards whose total value was about $1500. Perhaps my artwork now adorns the walls of some burgermeister’s chalet:

(Guest enters burgermeister's art-filled salon, eying pastry on table)

 Guest: "Herr Burgermeister, can this be stollen?"

Burgermeister (guiltily alarmed, whips around to face guest): "Of course not! I bought zem over zee Internet!"

More than likely, all of my work probably ended up in the dumpster behind the Gothic Creations shop. If I had been in closer contact with the proprietor, I probably would not have suffered this loss. While it’s tempting to enter a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with someone who is willing to exhibit your artwork and front sales for you, it’s also very dangerous.

Many people have suggested using ETSY (“the world's most vibrant handmade marketplace”) instead of physically exhibiting my work. The notion of doing all business over the Internet is tempting (and I do plan to become an ETSY artist), but just as hanging your work in venues implies a certain responsibility, online sales demands even greater responsibility, as you are now entering into direct agreements with customers. The Internet also offers greater anonymity, however, allowing you to remain up in the cloud somewhere, just out of reach of mere mortals. Read the cute announcement on the Gothic Creations website, and note there is no way to contact the person/people in charge.