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Thread: Opportunities for Fine Art....

  1. #1
    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Opportunities for Fine Art....

    To Jim Collum, Jack Flesher, or any of the other few successful fine art photographers reading here, how good do you think opportunites are for fine art photographers with very little exhibit history?
    Gordon Moat

    Gordon's question was glossed over in the thread on Focus Magazine where this was posted. I will try and respond.

    "successful fine art photographers" means different things to different people. Personally....To me a successful artist is one who makes an adequate living primarily from their personal art and who enjoy some respect from their peers. I don't count in this class people who derive most of their income from teaching art photography, these are photo educators. I know many painters who fit this definition but very few photographers. Personally, I only know only one, Witkin, but even he is doing commercial work now too. Caponigro told me a long time ago, at the height of his popularity (when "Running White Deer" was going for 12G), that he could not survive on print sales alone. If he were as well known a painter as he was a photographer he would have been well off. You would also be surprised how many so called successful FAP have other sources of income such as family money etc.

    While I am a reasonably successful photographer (I have made my living at it since 1978) I do not include myself as a successful fine art photographer yet, as most of my income comes from commercial photography, teaching, stock sales etc. In my best year, I sold 20G worth of FA prints, but the norm is less and varies tremendously depending on shows, books etc. Last year was good because of exhibits and the new book, but this year is down. It varies way too much to depend on. My dream is to get out of commercial photography, but I am in my twelfth continuos year of putting kids through private colleges with a few to go, so that is a ways off yet. This year I am working on getting more consistent with marketing my art with a new agent and some regional advertising in art magazines while I struggle to get enough time away from commercial work to finish another book/exhibit project that is years overdue.

    Gordon's question is kind of a Catch 22. You can't sell without showing (sorry web sales really only help support showing), but without a track record it is hard to get shows in quality galleries which actually know how to market photographs to real collectors who will pay real prices. There are opportunities always, but any art career is built piece by piece, first with small shows and (frankly) underpriced work, then better galleries and better prices, then small museums etc. etc. Frankly I think it is much more about hard work than raw talent (at least it has been for me). Tales of being "discovered" are rare and usually myths. Most people who are "discovered" have been quitely building a career and busting their a__ for along time. At some point all their hard work results in a qualitative leap.

    I am rambling a bit here, trying to answer a question that has no easy answers. Perhaps Chris Jordon will chime in. Of all the regular participants here who uses their own name, he is clearly the most successful fine arts photographer. I have watched him from afar build his career and he seems to have done a remarkably good job of it.
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    "Vocation to Solitude -- To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light." Thomas Merton

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  2. #2
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    Quote Originally Posted by Kirk Gittings View Post
    "successful fine art photographers" means different things to different people. Personally....To me a successful artist is one who makes an adequate living primarily from their personal art and who enjoy some respect from their peers. I don't count in this class people who derive most of their income from teaching art photography, these are photo educators. I know many painters who fit this definition but very few photographers. Personally, I only know only one, Witkin, but even he is doing commercial work now too. Caponigro told me a long time ago, at the height of his popularity (when "Running White Deer" was going for 12G), that he could not survive on print sales alone. If he were as well known a painter as he was a photographer he would have been well off. You would also be surprised how many so called successful FAP have other sources of income such as family money etc.
    two I know would be Geoffrey James and Lee Friedlander who I think also fit that (and probably Gabrielle Basilico too). Though in some cases income may not come directly from print sales, but the likes of commissions (which are generally different from commercial work) - they are being commissioned - as are many artists - to do their work.
    Last edited by tim atherton; 31-Oct-2006 at 21:27.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    Quote Originally Posted by Kirk Gittings View Post
    Gordon Moat

    Gordon's question was glossed over in the thread on Focus Magazine where this was posted. I will try and respond.

    "successful fine art photographers" means different things to different people. Personally....To me a successful artist is one who makes an adequate living primarily from their personal art and who enjoy some respect from their peers.
    Let me ask you a question. Do you differentiate between a successful fine art photographer and a successful fine artist? When I met with Tom Millea back in July 2005 for an interview for our third issue, he told me the story about an artist's name who I can't remember (and there's a reason why I can't remember) and Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso became successful because he had the personality that was able to deal with people, not because of his work. Yes, his work is very famous today, but how do you think he became discovered?

    I know many people here who would consider Steve Anchell a successful fine art photographer, but I'm sure many of you would be surprised to learn that he does not make his living from being a fine art photographer. He doesn't have the tolerance for dealing with galleries...neither does Ralph Gibson and Gibson is extremely influential today.

    Then again it also depends upon the definition of "success." Do you mean success as in financially or being able to have your work acknowledged and recognized but not bought? I think there are so many different levels in which one could achieve success, based upon what you view success as.

    One thing that all of the greats had in common was the ability to deal with people...if you don't have a natural business sense then it doesn't matter how good your work is, you'll never get noticed. You have to know how to market yourself, whether through magazines or e-mail blasts or internet searches or direct mail, exhibiting at photography fairs, etc.

  4. #4

    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    Thanks Kirk Gittings for starting this thread over here. I suppose I should add in a bit to this, or clear up a little on my views. I largely agree with Mr. Gittings about the success aspect, that is someone who is making a living from fine art photography. Oh, and the reason I have that in italics is that it is a term I rarely use.

    That PDN article a few issues ago mentioned $20k as the average, with a high of $40k for fine art photographers. It should be considered that this was from an overall industry survey, and that those responding mentioned what classification they best fit into. There was no mention of whether that income was solely from print sales, books, workshops, teaching, or some combination of these. Interestingly photojournalists were the next lowest income level classification, though nearly double fine art photographers incomes.

    Okay, so taking a little from the other thread, I know of a few artists who started their own galleries in wealthy areas. The success ratios seemed a bit mixed, though if someone has the capital to get that going, it can be one path. This is the exception. More common are those who struggle, get a little recognition, generate a few sales, then maybe roll that into better results down the line.

    I know many painters, since that was my speciality in college, and I still do oil paintings. Arguably more labour and effort, but each work can potentially be sold for much more than photography as art. Unfortunately, the hand skills can be elusive for some people, while others just don't want to deal with the mess of oil paints and cleaning brushes and equipment. Different realm.

    I can appreciate when Mr. Gittings relates his desire to move away from commercial work to just doing art photography. He would be substantially more in control of his efforts, schedule, and results. his commercial work is inspiring, and I think it would be a little sad to see that go away, but I wish him success in his art photography.

    So by success, it can be great to get into that first juried exhibit, or get that first award, or get that first sale. However, at some point, repeats of those things can leave someone wanting more, or at least questioning if there is more to come. Euphoria will only last so long. I would not mind being influential, well known, and recognized, though I need to keep in mind that I need to generate an income. I only managed to get my degree in art in 1998, so hopefully I still have a long (commercial) career ahead of me. I will continue to exhibit art photography, because I enjoy the open creative challenges, though my commercial work comes first.

    FocusMag has one thing very right, in that marketing yourself is very important. That was one thing I was trying to imply with my earlier post in the other thread; mainly the idea that I did not see marketing efforts as different between the realms of art photography and commercial photography. In fact I see the potential expenses as similar, yet the potential return of commercial work as a better investment in my (and perhaps others) futures.

    Hopefully this thread will continue. I exhibit with some very talented individuals time to time, and I would imagine these are things several of them also consider quite often. Thanks in advance to all comments.

    Ciao!

    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio

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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    As I near becoming a geezer, I realize that the ability to socialize with potential customers, regardless of industry, is far more important than the quality of the product. If talking about retail sales, I would include customer service under the socialize category.

    I, unfortunately, have a personality that stirs anger among those with sufficient disposable income to potentially enrich me.
    juan

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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    From my perspective success in any artistic endeavor has an element of money in it. Either you have the balance of the external world (business) and your inner creative world or you don't; if not then you have to have someone with whom you can develop this in a relationship, or be independantly wealthy. As a woodworker http://www.cfazio.com for 20 years making custom furniture I know the part of not making money real well.

    I have two gifted friends who are all but unknown.
    The comments above about promoting yourself cannot be over emphasized.

    chris

  7. #7

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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    I think a lot of fine art photographers who complain about not being able to make enough money from their art are also deluding themselves. Calendar photos, even if they are done with a large format camera and black & white film (!) do not automagically become profitable as fine art even if a gallery picks them up. Heck, the gallery probably isn't profitable either.

    You do have to do something stunning. That's the first step.

  8. #8

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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    > You do have to do something stunning.

    Very good point. There have been lots of threads about whether something is really "art", usually generated because of the success of the photographer in selling stuff that appears to be highly contrived and a one trick pony. While I would not want to hang this stuff on my wall, I can see why a rich art maven would want to own the flavor of the day rather than one more picture of an aspen.

    Kirk, perhaps you should carry an old porcelain toilet on shoots and stick in the foreground of all of the landscapes. Then you could sell your art as commentary on the disrespect of the people toward the earth. Frank, you could get some of those old men and some of those young girls... well, never mind, but you get point about contriving high art.:-)

  9. #9
    multi format
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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    is the measure of success relative ?
    i worked for someone who fit the criteria stated above
    she made a decent living from her work, she was respected by
    her peers, and she was very well known, yet when i asked her if she
    considered herself successful, she said NO.

    i think there is more to success than the above stated things, i am not sure what it is though ...

  10. #10
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Opportunities for Fine Art....

    Kirk's observations seem dead on to me. I know OF a few people who support themselves with print sales in the art market (Friedlander, etc.), and I have a handfull of friends who make a decent chunk of their income from print sales, grants, etc., while supporting themselves in related or unrelated ways.

    But most of the artists I know (even in more lucrative media like painting) struggle to break even. Most people are artists for personal reasons, not because they saw an opportunity in the market. Contrast this with advertising account executives, or plumbers.

    It's really the nature of fine art to be speculative. You do a project that's important to you, and then hope other people will like it enough to buy it. And why should they? When it works out, it must take a remarkable convergence of your vision and ability, opportunity to get your work in front of people, and whatever moods, whims, personal dispositions, cultural shifts, or fashion swings it takes to help people connect with your work.

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