I want to sort out my ideas about selling my artwork. It’s been coming up a lot lately in things I’ve been reading, conversations I’ve had, and especially with talk about the price list for this exhibition.

At the moment my part of the Citations price list has no prices on, and just asterisks pointing to a rather ambiguous “for acquisitions please contact the artist”. I was careful to use the word “acquisitions” rather than “sales” because I am open to people having my work, I’m just not sure exchanging money is the way to go about it. It might turn out to be the best way, but there’s no reason to assume it.

Let me try to write down what concerns me about selling my artwork. I should point out that I’m talking specifically about my own artwork, rather than artwork in general, because my concerns are very specifically tied to my own approach and practice.

I think there are really three issues. My decision to show my work or otherwise, and the effects of that decision on the work itself; the effects of other people owning my work; and the implications of someone owning my work in exchange for money. This is really messy in my head, so forgive my if I use headings and, perhaps later on, actual bullet points.

Firstly then:

Do I actually want anyone to see my work?

After all, it is a question of what I want. Where my work goes is an extension of what the work is, and what happened in the studio to get it there. In my studio there is nothing going on except me doing the things I want to do and not doing the things I don’t. When something is exciting, or interesting, or difficult and knotted and important to work out, then it’s worthwhile. When something stops interesting me and becomes ordinary, it’s not good. The difficult thing is trying to understand which is which. Sometimes I think learning to make artwork is a question of honing very carefully a finely tuned idea of what I think is good and what I think is not.

About a year ago I was making work at home (my studio is resolutely always at home) and wondering whether it made any sense even to show my work, let alone sell it. It seemed irrelevant. The things were made, it was good that they were made, and that was that.

I told a friend about this and it surprised her, as she considers the reception of her work by others to be a continuation of the making process. More recently I’ve found this to be true for some of my performative work like What To Do – which really is completed by its being experienced by an audience (I’ll come back to this), but this isn’t the case for a lot of my work.

Some of my work is mine. I made it for myself, out of things that I own and love, and I make the work because I want to have it. Some of these works aren’t available to see by anyone but myself because I wouldn’t consider it relevant, useful or interesting to show them. And sometimes showing work can do it harm:

My Raft (II) was a personal thing – not an artwork at all when I first made it, but just a thing I wanted to have – which did eventually make it into a gallery. It was an uneasy feeling, and perhaps retrospectively not the right thing to have done. In my room, the Raft had personal significance. In the gallery, it stepped away from personal significance and pointed to it instead. The tone of that pointing was out of my control. I think pointing at personal significance fetishises it, or fetishises the personal world of the artist, and that’s a dangerously boring thing for an artwork to do.

So some of the artworks I make can be blunted by being exhibited as artworks, when their communicative priorities have to change. Unexhibited, on my table or on the floor, the more successful things I make are significant and interesting and exciting to me. Exhibited, they can suddenly go quiet, and stop meaning anything to me.

Perhaps it’s at this point that the work departs from me and I have to accept that it’s operating without me. Perhaps the effect of showing work in an exhibition space is just to describe, a bit too emphatically, what happens whenever a work is finished, and set aside, and called artwork rather than just a thing.

No wonder I have trouble with this question of showing work, given my deliberation over the usefulness of trying to distinguish between art things and house things, and my reluctance to tie things down as being finished or unfinished.

But there are good things about showing work too.

Some works, like What To Do, contain the audience within the making of the work. What To Do was designed specifically to have a certain effect upon the audience, and you might say it’s that effect, rather than the script, the flip-chart diagrams, or the delivery of talk itself, that constitutes the work itself. And that effect (irretrievable as it is) lies only within the audience. This is a powerful argument for showing work, but in terms of my intentions at least, it doesn’t apply to all of the things I make.

Secondly: as I’ve been saying, I don’t make artwork because I want people to see it, I make artwork because it’s necessary to me. However I think I’m good at what I do, and since this is the thing I’ve chosen to take more seriously than anything else I do, I feel this serious activity of mine deserves recognition. When I do show work, in an academic or exhibition context, it has been recognized, and I want to build on this recognition so that if my work eventually turns out to be good enough to be of productive interest to other people, then there will ways for those people to find out about my work.

Clearly this can’t happen unless I show my work, and take the showing of it seriously. This means two things: marketing the exhibitions in a professional way (this is outside the studio), and thinking hard about exhibition conditions – this is inside the studio, and needs to be sympathetic both to the work as it is on its own, and the effect upon the work of being exhibited.

.. lots more to write, but tomorrow.

Advertisements