Category Archives: Economic art world news

Artists: What Do You Think About The Art World Today?

critiquing art work by a group member

In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive.  Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.”  He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”

I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.

Q:  What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?

E:   Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art.  Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything.  People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.

Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s  all about where’s the next big thing.

J:  I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time.  Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.

G:  Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.

C:  But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.

Q:  What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?

E:  Art fairs are like a big box store for art.

C:   I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors.  I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity.  Small dealers have been driven out of business.  Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer.  The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship.  These galleries have been closing.  People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.

Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art.  Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations.  People aren’t culturally sophisticated.  There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.

Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls.  I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls.  Their choices are driven by status or decoration.  They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste.  It’s cowardly, but also ignorant–  out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it.  For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.

An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”  (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)

The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable.   E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.

Artists:  what do you think of the art-industrial hive?  How do you want to reach the public with your art?

Blogging and Art: For Love or Money?

While discussing social media and internet publishing, people often ask me how people make money off their blogs.  The New York Times has a very informative and detailed article on this topic, entitled My Blog Is Also Paying My Bills.

My favorite quote in the article comes from a financially successful blogger named Steve Pavlina.  His comment mirrors exactly what I tell people about being a professional artist:  “I tell people if they want to start a blog just to make money, they should quit right now,” Mr. Pavlina said. “You have to love it and be passionate about your topic.”

In discussions about getting art out in the world and making money from it, I always end up saying exactly the same thing.  In the end, an artist must be primarily motivated by the love of making art.  There is a lot he/she can do to promote the work and bring it to the marketplace, but in the end, there are a lot of easier ways to make money than being an artist.  In fact, almost any way is easier.  Sensible people don’t choose to make a living as an artist.  Art chooses you, and you learn to live with (and sometimes by) it.

Internet Art Scams

Have you received an email like this?

“Good day to you.

I am so excited that I came across of your work on internet search,I am interested in purchasing these creative artworks from you………………..(insert names of several of your artworks here)

Let me know their various prices.and how much discounts are you going to give?I will be happy to have these selected artworks hung in our new home in South Africa. As well,I want you to take out the shipping cost.I have been in touch with a shipping firm that will be shipping other house decoratives.

We are traveling from our Seattle home to our new apartment as soon as possible.On Paying for the artworks,I will be glad to pay you with a Money Order or Cashier`s check in US funds that can be easily cashed at your local bank,please let me know on how to proceed for the payment of the creative artworks.

I will await your advise on how to proceed.Have a wonderful day.

Take care, Vanessa Everett”

I was contacted by two of my painting students, who forwarded this email to me, to see what I thought.  I had actually received the same one myself, and I just heard from another former student and artist friend that she was so excited, because she had sold some work to a woman in Seattle.  Unfortunately, I had to burst her bubble.

This is an internet art scam.  Here’s how it works:  the purported “buyer” expresses an interest in specific works the artist has listed on her/his website.  The “buyer” contacts the artist and asks the prices.  Eventually, a “shipping agent” needs some funds advanced, so the artist is asked for credit card information, just to get things going.  Sometimes, the “buyer” even sends a cashier’s or personal check from overseas.  It can take up to two weeks to find out the check is no good, during which time many artists deposit the check (which is usually sizable) and give their credit card information to the “buyer”.

Yes, I almost fell for this once.  I know that these scams are called “Nigerian scams” because there are so many scams being generated from internet cafes in Nigeria.  Apparently, the unemployment rate there is very high, and so are the computer skills.  But, the one who contacted me said he was from Holland.  Nice, rational, friendly Holland, I thought.  I went along with it until the credit card info was asked for, and then I knew it was all a scam.  (For a very good, detailed article about how the “Nigerian” scams work, see the New Yorker, “The Perfect Mark”:

Since then, I have seen many such emails.  They tend to follow a pattern, which I will outline here:

  1. They choose several specific works by name
  2. The buyer is overseas and also in the midst of moving from one home to another (this will provide them with an excuse for not being reachable, or the art not arriving, or other nonsense)
  3. Often the spelling and syntax is off, not what you’d see from a native English speaker
  4. There is always a “shipping agent” mentioned.  I ship a lot, and I’ve never used a “shipping agent”.  Do you know anybody who ever has?
  5. If you’re an artist, chances are some of your artist-friends(whose emails can be hacked from a list-serve they’re all on) received the same letter.  Does that sound legit to you, that a collector would spontaneously contact a half-dozen artists with completely dissimilar styles and want to buy their work, all at the same time?

Once you think about it, you realize how unlikely it is that a collector, in the middle of moving his/her domicile, would suddenly be inspired to purchase art, sight unseen, from a foreign country or a great distance, in any case.  The shipping charges will often cost more than the art!

Another scammer that approached me through an email expressed interest in carrying my art in his gallery in another state.  He told me that I would need to pay a small “deposit” of a few hundred dollars to cover “costs”, and then sales would be a 90/10 split (artist/gallery). This was a red flag.  What motivation do they have to sell your work if they’re only getting 10%?  I googled his very unusual name and found that he was a convicted felon for identity fraud, with several warrants out for his arrest.

Furthermore, I contacted an Illinois artist whose name he mentioned,to see what her experience was with him.  She told me she had already given him a credit card member to cover “costs”.  I advised her to cancel it immediately.  I also phoned a gallery which was right across the street from his gallery, and she said that, indeed, she saw the work of one artist in the window since it was leased (the artist on his website), but that nobody had ever seen the gallery open.   So, this “art dealer” had a website (it was rather crummy, and had only one artist on it (the one hanging in the windows), but still, it was a website) and an actual gallery space. He also had me check out a YouTube video that showed the vibrant gallery scene on First Fridays on his street.  Later, I realized that of all the galleries shown, his wasn’t included.  Pretty elaborate scheme!  I still wonder if the artist whose work is shown in his unopened space is in on it, or if she’s a dupe, too.

These scammers prey on artists, who are so desperate to make a sale and have their work recognized, that we often overlook common sense.  Here are some rules of thumb:

  1. NEVER give your credit card info to someone who approaches you through an email or in any other way
  2. NEVER advance funds to a gallery or collector.  This is not how business is done in the art world.  Any legitimate gallery is supposed to make money for you, not have you pay for anything in advance:  that’s why they take a commission.
  3. Online galleries should be free or take a very nominal fee and no commission on any sales.  They can make money from the ads they place on your page.

So, artists:  BEWARE!  If it feels like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  If it’s a bounty dropped from out of the blue, it’s probably a load of thieving heartache.  Sorry to rain on the parade, but this kind of trouble, you don’t need.

The Cost of Being an Artist

A few months ago (Feb. 7, 2010), I wrote about The Owing Project, my interactive art work about owing and debt.  I have been working hard on creating objects that express my feelings on this subject, and soon they will be installed at ARC Gallery in Chicago for my solo exhibition.

One of the things that I think about as I work is, quite literally, the cost.  I have to work for a living, and it makes me uneasy to take time away from my commissioned works (Ketubot, classes, etc.) to put so much time and effort into an installation.  The exhibit will include some paintings that can be purchased, as well as inexpensive prints of two of the paintings that will be available for sale at the desk.  But, most of the work is site-specific and not conceived for market.

I am haunted, as a person who lives in the world, by the specter of debt and owing that hangs over so many of us and indeed, our nation and our global economy.  I am conscious, as a responsible adult, of the expenditures for paint, chicken wire, auction paddles, cloth and all the motley materials I used to create larger-than-life figures, murals, etc.  So, I balance my work on this project with my work that pays the bills.

Why, you may ask, does an artist do this kind of work?  Because value cannot always be measured in dollars and cents.  There is a cost to always thinking of monetary value and disregarding spiritual and creative riches.  As my lefty compadres back in college protest marches used to say, “Give us bread, but give us roses!”  My view of socialist solutions to the problems of the world has gone from wine to vinegar, but I still hold to that principle.  And, from a pragmatic viewpoint, doing this work brings attention to all the work I do, and also sharpens my skills and expertise.

As I struggle to complete works that are outside my usual media (have you ever tried to work with chicken wire?!), I have found a remarkable synthesis of all the various elements of my creative life.  Indeed, this was the goal.  It has finally come together, and I can see the common threads stitching together all the things that I do.  So, I go forward knowing that all of my work will be enhanced, whether it is a larger-than-life effigy meant to scare myself (and you, hopefully) so you can feel the panic of owing as you enter the gallery, or the next Ketubah I will paint or class I will teach.  The bottom line is:  save your receipts, but don’t overlook the intangible values of personal growth and creatively connecting with the world.

 I hope you will come and play in my dystopia!  The Owing Project opens at ARC Gallery on July 21.  The opening reception is Friday, July 23, 6-9 p.m. , and the show closes Aug. 14.  The Owing Project is endorsed by the Center For Tax and Budget Accountability, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to “identify and analyze issues, develop policy options, and promote fair, efficient and progressive tax, spending and economic policies that improve the well-being of low and moderate income families in Illinois.” 

What debts do you owe?  What do you owe society?  What does the world owe you?  I shot these photos when I encountered a Tea Party protest in Redlands, California on April 15, 2010 (tax day).  I don’t know who they think paid for the sidewalks they were standing on, but last I checked, it was the tax-payers.



CFANN 2010: The Owing Project Kicks Off

CFANN attendee participates in "The Owing Project" by entering "Confession Booth" and answering questions: Do you have debts of any kind? How do your debts affect the way you feel about yourself? What does the world owe you? What do you owe the world? (photo by Raimonda Daras)Painting a mural of participants at CFANN 2010 with their words about owing and debt. (photo by Raimonda Daras)

Painting of Ed Daras, who said, "Prosperity is right around the corner." (photo by Raimonda Daras)Painting a mural of participants at CFANN 2010 with their words about owing and debt. (photo by Raimonda Daras)

Painting mural onsite at CFANN 2010 (photo by Raimonda Daras)


Failure Effigies

What debts do you owe?  How does this affect how you feel about yourself? 

What does the world owe you?  What do you owe the world?

The world is awash in debt, both on a national and personal basis.  Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy are in danger of defaulting on their national debt.  The US has a record deficit, part of which was borrowed to finance recovery measures.  Many of my friends and family members are facing financial strain, unemployment, foreclosure.  I am feeling the pinch, myself.

There is so much shame associated with financial crisis.  People would rather talk about their emotional or intimate relationships than their liquidity.  Everyone is trying to keep up appearances.  I think we suffer from an ec0nomy that is fueled by over-consumption,  so we are caught in the bind of wanting to cut back on our spending, despite enormous social pressure and aggressive advertising which encourages us to spend more than we can afford.

As an artist, I am interested in the personal and cultural affect of all this debt and shame.  I have faith that creativity and a positive attitude will help us dig out of the hole we’re in.  I think we need to take an honest look at the behaviors that landed us in debt, at the level of the individual as well as the financial and corporate structures that drive us towards insolvency and waste.  Just as we need to replace the gasoline-fueled  internal combustion engine as our means of transportation, we need to replace the wasteful over-consumption of goods as the driving force of our economy.  We need to think green.

Dirty Laundry

Tonight, at the Chicago Fringe Artists Networking Night, I will launch my Owing Project.  I will ask people to enter my “Confession Booth” and inscribe answers to the questions at the top of this post.  I will paint a live mural of their faces and include their words, as I ask them questions about owing.  I understand that, at an arty party, these questions are sort of a buzzkill, and may provoke a hostile response or an unwillingness to engage.  That is the risk I take.

I will collect the responses to my questions at CFANN, and they will become part of an installation exhibition at ARC Gallery this summer, opening reception July 23.

I invite you to weigh in with answers to my questions here.

Check out article on artists/entrepreneurs in Chicago Tribune Business Section

Ann Meyer writes about how artists are having success creating and selling works of fine craft.  Some of them combine art work with part-time employment; others were laid off or chose to leave full-time jobs.  It’s interesting to read about what their expectations are and how it’s working out for them.  Meyer quotes one of the artists, jewelry designer Julie Schwanbeck, who says that being laid off from her job was a “blessing in disguise”  because it allowed her to pursue her dream of making jewelry.  (See her beautiful designs at .)

I always say that, if being an artist was easy, everybody would be doing it.  On the other hand,  in this time of joblessness, who is better poised to create their own jobs than artists?  Artists are creative problem-solvers, scroungers, improvisers.  We take advantage of what we call “happy accidents” in our artwork, when a “mistake” leads us down a new and fruitful path.  If we apply this flexibility and resourcefulness to the problems of economic survival, we can find ways to support ourselves creatively.

Will we get rich?  Probably not.  Can we find a measure of economic security?  Very possibly, yes.  If we learn anything from this recession, perhaps it should be that a life driven by the urge to consume, to be defined by posessions, is not fulfilling, morally uplifting or beneficial to the planet.  It undermines our financial security and stability.  We can live with less, materially, while expressing the best of our creativity.  Read about some artists who are making it work:,0,5168609.column

Organic Growth, by Karen Gubitz, Woven Earth

Organic Growth, by Karen Gubitz, Woven Earth

Get Up, Get Out, Go See Some Art

Kerry looking out at Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee Art Museum

Kerry looking out at Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee Art Museum

I like to organize and conduct art tours.  It’s a good way to make sure I get out and see what’s around in the art world.  I offer the tours as a class to my painting students, artists and friends.  I spend time going over gallery and museum schedules and calendars, and map out itineraries of exciting work in Chicago and environs.  Ssometimes we visit artists’ studios and invite them to be our guest for lunch.  This offers a great opportunity for discussion of practical and creative issues.  We get to to see where and how artists work; ask what problems arise and how they solve them; and get an inside view to their creative process where it happens.

Desk Chair by Charles Rohlfs, 1898

Desk Chair by Charles Rohlfs, 1898

Recently, I took five artists (including Talia, an insanely talented sophomore at the Art Institute of Chicago) and an art fan to the Milwaukee Art Museum. We watched the sailboats on Lake Michigan from the wonderful outdoor cafe at the museum..  We viewed American Modernisms, two shows featuring the paintings of The Eight (a group of early 20th century American artists, including Robert Henri and John Sloan) and a fantastic exhibit of the eccentric, idiosyncratic wood furniture of Charles Rohlfs.

Portrait of Talia, by Ruti Modlin (her mother), acrylic on canvas

Portrait of Talia, by Ruti Modlin (her mother), acrylic on canvas

Afterwards, we traveled south to Kenosha and visited the Niemi Gallery.

Bruce Niemi with one of his sculptures; Ruti (artist in group)

Bruce Niemi with one of his sculptures; Ruti (artist in group)

Artists (and art fans) tour Niemi Sculpture Gallery

Artists tour Niemi Sculpture Gallery

Bruce is a successful sculptor with works in many public and private collections.  He lives just over the state line within spitting distance of I-94,which is convenient for clients to visit from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas.  He represents a varied group of artists, most of whom have works installed in the beautiful outdoor grounds of the sculpture garden.  Suzi (Bruce’s business partner and wife) mows the garden paths, being careful not to knock over any of the sculptures or take out the teeming beds of wildflowers surrounding them.  While we were there, a blue heron took off from the pond at the edge of the property.

Suzi handles the business end of running a gallery, while Bruce produces his own work and selects their stable of artists.  He finds that representing other artists doesn’t compete with sales of his own work, and that all the artists benefit from increased exposure and traffic at the property.  He participates in SOFA annually.  A graduate of NIU, he was chosen to create a memorial for the five students who were slain at the NIU campus in 2008 in a campus shooting that also wounded 18 others.  As an alumnus, he is donating a substantial part of his time to the memorial.

Bruce varies his work to suit the demands of his clientele and also his weathered body, which feels the effects of his work.  He has to pace himself to prevent the onset of numbness resulting from prolonged use of the grinder, which he uses to refine the edges of his welds.  He finds that there is a preference these days for stainless steel over steel that rusts, due to the misuse of Cor-Ten steel by artists in the sixties who didn’t weld their sculptures properly, resulting in monumental failures that have given rusted steel a bad name.


floor of Bruce Niemi's welding studio

In addition to the sturdy works outdoors, the Niemis feature more fragile works in a small indoor gallery.  Vivian Visser, whose delicate constructions containing natural materials are shown at the indoor gallery, connected us with Bruce and accompanied us on the art tour.    Her work was seen at the Niemi Gallery by curator and botanical artist Derek Norman, who invited her to exhibit in a group show of botanical art at The Art Center, Highland Park.

Vivian Visser discusses her work (center) at Niemi Gallery

Vivian Visser discusses her work (center) at Niemi Gallery

I always come back from these trips with inspiration, ideas and insights into how artists make it work.

“Another eyeful of attractive stuff”


Barbara Hashimoto with her Junk Mail Project.  See

Barbara Hashimoto, an installation and performance artist who focuses on environmental issues, gave me a heads-up about this interesting article by Blake Gopnik in the Washington Post (  Gopnik reviews an installation exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art of urban ephemera and points out that “they’re part of a trend that rejects the whole idea that art should be about providing yet another eyeful of attractive stuff. (Aren’t museums already stocked with as much of that as we could ever need?)”

Hmmm… I am moved by art that, as Gopnik says, “comes closer to activism — that gets people thinking about what needs to change, and maybe makes a start toward changing it. In these times of multiple meltdowns — in the economy, health care, climate, world politics — anything that speaks of change, of any kind, is bound to resonate.”  I am personally doing more artistic collaboration and created my first installation work this year that dealt with healing relationships (see

But, on the other hand, I love craft in art.  I love to see the expressive hand of the artist in created images and objects.  I think it is rather spartan to dismiss the contents of art museums as Gopnik does, as “fancy gewgaws that sell”.  I hear what he is saying about excessive consumerism and materialism in our culture in general, and in the art world in specific.  This is why I’m increasingly drawn to environmental and installation art that becomes social activism.

But, do we want art to be an either/or proposition?  Just because something is materially beautiful doesn’t mean it’s morally, spiritually or esthetically bankrupt.  There is great hope expressed in the gesture of a beautifully painted stroke, which carries within it all the discipline, tears,  yearning and timelessness of a skilled artist’s life.

"Art", by Shozo Sato

"Art", by Shozo Sato

Illinois Arts Council Report 7-09

From Shirley Madigan,  Chairman of the Illinois Arts Council

You have received communications from me in the last few months about the state of the Illinois Arts Council’s budget.  As many of you may know, this has been a very difficult budget process, the worst we have experienced in over a quarter century.  The budget approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor allocated less than $8.6 million in state dollars for FY2010.

You have felt the negative effects of the past two years’ reductions but they were small compared to what is likely happening this year. We have received notice from the Governor’s Office that an additional 5% reserve will be placed on our budget. Therefore the Council’s budget will be slightly more than $8.0 million.  In comparison, the FY2007 IAC budget was $19.4 million in state dollars. The Illinois Arts Council’s budget has plummeted more than 58% in three years. 

I have been privileged to be a member of the Illinois Arts Council for many years and I have never seen our situation so dire. Without additional state revenues, we may well have further cuts in the months ahead, and next year will be worse.

We have tried to keep you updated about what is happening, but we were hoping for better news to give. In this time of economic downturn and worry about the future, the arts are even more important.  History has shown what a positive and powerful force they can be in times of crisis.

We cannot thank you enough for all you do and we want to assure you we will continue to fight for the arts in Illinois and for the support needed for the arts and the people they serve from border to border.

We will keep you apprised of future developments.


Shirley R. Madigan, Chairman