Appeal and provenance (On Selling Art)
Robert Genn

June 25, 2010

Dear Rodney,Quite a few letters come my way from artists asking how they might go about 
marketing a body of work. These days, jpegs often show mysticism, spirituality and 
other unique visions. Many artists have put their hearts and souls into it, often 
over a considerable period of time. They need to see some acceptance, if not some 
greens. "After all this effort," wrote one lady, "I need really obscene prices."

Many of these artists have never had gallery representation and have sold only 
intermittently to friends and neighbors. Some have placed great hope in the 
Internet, only to be disappointed. It's often difficult for me to tell people that 
no matter how worthy they might think their work is, it will probably not gain 
much acceptance in any venue.

At the same time, some art that comes my way carries with it a high degree of 
natural appeal. This sort of work is an art dealer's dream--stuff that flies off 
the wall without having to be talked up. I know what you're thinking--no, it's not 
always the trendy or safe art seen in bargain meat-hook galleries. Natural-appeal 
art can actually be quite different: modern, inventive or even spiritual and 
mysterious. Fact is, it has some sort of a built-in trigger that causes folks to 
express themselves with their wallets.

But funnily, most natural-appeal art is price challenged. That is, it can't always 
achieve obscene prices. Appeal-art is most dependent on the eyes of the beholder.
To get obscene prices you need provenance. This means critical approval, applied 
journalism, promotion, advertising, big dealer commissions and perhaps the 
appearance of participation in a movement or a greater cause. No matter the merits 
of the work, a lot of informed insiders up the ante. 

Further, there's a funny phenomenon that happens with high-provenance art. It 
comes from a quirk in human nature. With its magical, mystical nature, art can be 
very much like some religions--the more preposterous the claim and unlikely the 
story, the easier it becomes to find a convert. Find two converts and you have a 
market. Find a group of converts and you have a movement.

My frequent advice to spiritual, mystical painters is to link their work to a 
worthy cause.

Best regards,


PS: "That which costs little is less valued." (Miguel De Cervantes)

Esoterica: The accumulation of art that is going nowhere can be a significant 
problem. Compulsive workers may need placement even more than green feedback. 
Destinations other than galleries might be considered. Sometimes deals can be cut 
for foyers of office buildings, apartments, hospitals, etc. After trying every 
commercial venue she could think of, one subscriber found a benefactor willing to 
pay for more than 200 frames. She proceeded to thematically decorate and enhance 
an elderly-care home. Visitors now cruise the legendary halls, much to the 
amazement of the residents.