September 2nd 2014 by Brian Adams
It should go without saying that artists are necessary to create art. Yet they struggle to make a living using their skills, and fewer still become the household names equated with multi-million dollar bidding wars among collectors.
The average artist, if one exists, might be lucky enough to have a few pieces scattered around a gallery. The truly blessed may even sell a few.
Sentiment 140503 by Qiu Shengxian, 2014
The romanticized notion of the starving artist isn’t helping matters. While the image of the tattered, splattered discontent works well in film or in a love song, it won’t keep an artist in business for long. Those who follow such stereotypes quickly discover that pain is a poor currency and living hand to mouth is difficult when one hand is busy holding a paintbrush.
Financial success for artists, as in most professions, ensures a certain freedom to follow a passion. However, artists function in an antiquated system where success relies on either discovery by a patron or exhaustive representation by a gallery.
In response, some artists have borrowed from the impressionists, who in the late 1800s splintered from the conservative Salon de Paris, to show their work. In the digital age, some artists represent themselves and pocket the profits through online self-promotion. It’s a risky proposition to forgo traditional representation and place your future on a Facebook page or maintain a website, but for some it is the only alternative.
These hurdles prevent an artist from their most important responsibility, creating art. And artists can create at an incredible speed.
Mark Saunderson, a long-time Hong Konger working to raise the city’s art profile and co-founder of the bi-annual Asia Contemporary Art Show, estimates that a fraction of art, between 5 and 10% of an artists’ catalogue, is ever on view for potential buyers. So how can artists receive representation, make money, and promote the majority of their art?
Asia Contemporary Art Show co-founder, Mark Saunderson
Saunderson and his Asia Contemporary Art Show partners recently launched an online platform, billed as “Hong Kong’s largest art website”, that they hope will help artists flourish. On the surface it seems like a viable solution, a website featuring an artists’ catalogue for anyone to snatch up a piece with a few clicks of the mouse or taps on their smartphone. It also provides updates when new work from an artist is available to purchase.
For a generation, that Saunderson describes as “buying their sneakers and music online”, this curated effort may be the best way to connect buyers and artists. But like many things in the art world, it’s not as simple as it seems.
The new Asia Contemporary Art Show website features more than 2,300 artworks.
Most buyers, Saunderson shares, want to see a piece of art in person. The goal for the Asia Contemporary Art Show is to assure buyers that artwork will be featured at the October event.
In addition to whetting appetites, the Asia Contemporary Art Show will once again include artists among the more than 80 galleries and 2,500 artworks featured, so collectors can hear the story behind the art. It may mean that someday a buyer can have his or her own Marshall McLuhan moment.
For Asia Contemporary Art Show artists, the website can offer virtual representation and curated content year round. Saunderson says that once they pay their deposit for each show they are added to the site. The collection is growing and now features 650 artists and 2,300 artworks.
If Saunderson and his partners succeed, artists may be able to live with their feet in two worlds. As Pablo Picasso once wished, “I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money.”
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