Consumer ethics and buying art

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by TheFlyingCamera, Aug 14, 2007.

  1. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    At what point do you say that an artist's personal beliefs/behavior/etc become sufficiently obnoxious that you refuse to buy their artwork? I think it is much easier to overlook disagreeable aspects of an artist's personality when you don't interact with them directly - either because they're already dead, or because you are buying through their gallery, and so you don't have to interact with them directly. From an artist's point of view, I think this is probably the single greatest justification for having a gallery - they keep your public at arms length, so they don't piss you off, and you don't lose sales because you piss them off.

    To me, I think that when buying art, it is still a consumer-based transaction - I expect certain levels of professional, courteous behavior from the person from whom I'm buying it. If it was a gallery that treated me poorly, and the artist is represented by more than one gallery, I'd buy from a different gallery. Just like buying a car - if one dealership has a bad attitude, I'll shop elsewhere the next time I want to buy a car. If I'm dealing directly with the artist, and not going through the gallery, and the artist is rude/obnoxious/abusive, I'll have to seriously question my art budget allocation to their work - after all, art is an entirely discretionary purchase - there's no survival need being met by a photograph on the wall.

    Do you make a distinction between politics and personal behavior? I think political leanings are a much bigger gray area than demeanor... would you draw the line at racist beliefs? what about membership in the Nazi party? the Communist party? If their artwork does serve to advance their political agenda? If their work is divorced from their agenda?
     
  2. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Presuming the work has a legitimate provenance (i.e., it hasn't been stolen or looted), I wouldn't be too worried about the personality of the dealer. If the work is worth it and the price is reasonable then the work will last much longer than the transaction.

    As for the beliefs of the artist, I guess the questions for me are whether those beliefs are embodied in the work, and whether the purchase of the work will advance those beliefs.
     
  3. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    A fascinating point. Much Nazi propaganda was superbly executed, as was a good deal of Soviet Socialist Realism. How far can those beliefs still be advanced? 'At all' is too far, but I don't see vintage propaganda as doing this. And yet, I'd not want revolutionary Chinese art on my walls...
     
  4. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    I have seen some constructivist art by Communist artists of the Soviet era that I would purchase if my pockets would allow. but alas...
     
  5. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I have a friend who stopped practicing law to follow his dream of becoming a published writer. He had written a humorous blog for several years, and on the recommendation of his agent, removed everything that had any political leanings at all. They both feared that any political or religious references would scare away sales.

    I would agree that professional behavior is important in the long run - bizarre behavior may attract attention at first, but most likely scares away sales in the long run.

    Does political art actually work? I think of the photographs of Tina Modotti - her early work was very good, but her later work, in my mind, became so political it lost the art.
    juan
     
  6. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    To me, this question is theoretical, to the extent that I have never been attracted to the art of someone I considered personally obnoxious. I do find there are quite a number of artists whose work I simultaneously respect and loathe (Richard Wagner, Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, to name but three). YMMV.

    Regards,

    David
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Indeed. Stalinist or fascist art at this point tells us something about history and is likely to contradict it's original intention by way of irony in its new context, or it might reveal something about other art of the same period that couldn't easily be seen in its own day.

    On the other hand, I don't think I'd purchase a racist work by a living neofascist artist.
     
  8. panastasia

    panastasia Member

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    Like real estate, the value of artwork is determined by what someone will pay. Clearly consumers with unlimited funds can influence the market and overate the artist if they're satisfying a need to do something with their wealth.

    Pop Artist, James Rosenquist admitted publicly in a television talk show interview in the early 70's that "Pop-Art is a big con". Unknown artists were allowed to use his ID on their work, according to him. He also believed that the consumer was generally ignorant.
     
  9. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    Flying Camera's question had a lot to do with the transaction and sales part of buying art. The few times I have purchased photographs have involved either a gallery or being at an art show, i.e. weekend craft fair. In all cases, for me, there was a relationship established, however brief, and that was largely the foundation for the sale. If I had seen a picture I really liked and the photographer was a real dickhead with me or with others, I'd probably walk on.

    Any transaction seems to involve some sort of relationship. With a couple of photographers, that relationship has become an ongoing thing, and I continue to buy their work, largely based on that -- and that I also like the work. Politics or religion? Really gray area. But then I'm not likely to establish a relationship with someone whose ideals or beliefs repel me.
     
  10. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I could give a personal example of a living artist whose work I admire(d), but whose personal demeanor has subsequently demonstrated their own low character. This has soured me on ever buying their work again, as I don't think it in my best interests to reward that behavior.

    It poses an interesting historical question, though. What about someone like Van Gogh? Today, his paintings are some of the most valuable on the planet. But if you were living in Paris in 1889, would you have bought one of his paintings from him? Considering that he suffered from essentially (by modern standards) untreated mental illness, and was a challenge to be around even for his brother, would you have put up with his behavior?

    On a different level, what about Frank Lloyd Wright? Obviously, a lot of people felt his antics to be tolerable, but would you have accepted his telling you what furniture you could or couldn't have in your house, where to put your paintings, and what colors you could or couldn't paint the house? He was known to re-visit houses he designed, and re-arrange the furniture, telling the owners they weren't living properly in HIS house!
     
  11. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    By now it must be decades ago that the Israel Philharmonic had to decide whether or not to play the music of Wagner, a rabid anti-semite whose work was admired and exploited by the Third Reich. They came to the conclusion that the music transcended the politics of its composer and the appropriation of the Nazis. IIRC it was by no means a unanimous decision either.

    Today, Wagner isn't here to strut, nor are Nazis (I'm sure there must be some hiding in closets here and there...the racist mentality certainly still exists) openly able to inflate their babble with operatic puffery. Has time allowed Wagner's music to belong to everyman on its merits alone? Perhaps, but I doubt it.
     
  12. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    I think that once you had heard pronouncements of his such as "If the roof doesn't leak, the building isn't modern enough!", you would be able to figure out where he was coming from without too much trouble!

    Regards,

    David
     
  13. catem

    catem Member

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    He only sold one painting in his lifetime, so I guess the answer historically is "no". In his case I would think that was more to do with his style of painting than anything (although he probably wasn't his best ambassador). There again, his style of painting does fundamentally reflect the person he was - you can't separate the two...Now we appreciate the elemental and yet quite pure nature of his work, which at the time probably seen as just scary and odd, and definitely not "proper" art.

    You can't separate artists from their work. Sometimes their belief systems are more obvious than others, sometimes they express more universal values. I guess for me it would come down to which of these seemed most obvious - if I didn't know more about the artist. If I knew the artist had truly objectionable values, I wouldn't buy a work of art from them, because a connection with the artist, as well as the work, is important for me (not that I buy art or photographs to any degree).
     
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  15. scootermm

    scootermm Subscriber

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    I see what you are getting at with these hypo questions.... but really when you distill it all down its almost irrelevant. I studied architecture in school and know my fair share, or at least a little, about FLW and architectural history... and this is a moot point, in my opinion. It didnt take long for the general public to become informed of the artistic temperment of F L Wright. No one hired and/or commissioned Wright for the task of designing and constructing a house that would eventually be "theirs" (as in, it would actually be owned by the owner). He was hired for his artist nature, for his conceptualization and for his "statements". Not for the functionality of his work.... I mean take as a prime example Johnson Wax HQ building, the people who work in his gorgeously designed and executed "Great Room" just plain hated working in that room... it was loud, chaotic, and anti-productive, or the fact that fallingwater is indeed FALLING.
    In my opinion he was an architect hired to make an artistic and historical statement and did so eloquently and with mastery.
    the general public wouldnt want to work at the Wax HQ, nor would the general public want to live/own fallingwater.
    In short, and to return to your original question, the people who hired him ARE the exact people who should have hired him, and when they were the wrong people is when the turmoil between "owner" and "designer" ensued. So hypothesizing about whether "we" would want him to tell us where to put furniture, what colors, etc etc isnt really relevant, in my opinion.


    and to return to your original post Scott.... for me personally, for the living artists, I personally will never spend my money on artwork created by someone that I do not care deeply for. And for that matter, more than likely I wouldnt spend money on artwork created by a dead artists unless I indirectly "care" for them. IE, if I could afford it, I would own work created by Weston and/or Strand, mainly because I have read extensively about them and through this reading I have gained respect and knowledge about them as individuals and artists, in short, I've grown to posthumously "care" for them.
     
  16. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    Although I understand completely what you are asking, the question is some how incongruous to me. Can we really so cleanly separate art from artist? Where is the dividing line? Where does the person end and the work begin? Art worth buying is an outpouring of the artist's soul. It is a statement of what is right or what is terribly wrong in life or in the world. Anything less is just so much....commercial crap.



    Hmm, yes. Definitely. Where such a distinction exists in the individual. There is a further distinction between the person and the message or, at least there can be. And there is a subtlty there that I think I could go on about for pages.

    Finally, I think it is an important and intersting question that you have posed Scott. However, I also don't think it is worth loosing too much sleep over...as an artist...and I'm not entirely clear whether you're asking this as a buyer of art or as a producer of art. I don't think an artist should concern himself with this at all. If he has something to say, he should say it with all his might and not concern himself at all with whether...his politics, or personal conduct is commercially viable at this particulat moment in time and under the currently reigning political forces. There are lots of people out there in the world. Not all of them fell out of the current politically correct mold.
     
  17. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Brad- I was more asking it from the consumer's perspective than the artist's perspective. I fully expect as an artist to give expression to my personal beliefs/feelings/politics/identity/what-have-you, and I'm not going to censor that to fit some marketing proposal. If someone doesn't buy it because they disagree with the ideas/sentiments in the image, that's fine with me, as I'd rather not have my images in the hands of someone who is only buying it for cynical reasons (percieved investment value, etc). There was a contretemps kicked up in another thread here that spurred this line of inquiry, as people responding to that posting were saying something rather different than the responses I'm getting here, which I find interesting.

    I was trying to identify IF people would refuse to purchase a piece of artwork that devoid of context they found aesthetically pleasing, when placed in the context of the living artist and his/her opinions/behavior. Also, WHAT was the threshold for saying, "No, I won't buy this work now, even though I like it".
     
  18. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I think you have to distinguish between the artist-idiot and the salesman-idiot, even if they are the same person. If the salesman is an idiot, I'm not going to bother making any transaction, unless there's something really worthwhile in the artwork that will offset the idiocy.

    On the other hand, the question of the artist-idiot is a more problematic one.

    Louis-Ferdinand Céline, for instance, has written absolutely condemnable things about Jews before WWII, and he is still strongly criticized for doing so. But he also wrote "Voyage au bout de la nuit" which is an immense masterpiece of anti-war literature that is widely read, appreciated, and taught in schools. It's much harder to take a stance because he seemed to contradict himself between these works.

    Publishing "Bagatelles pour un massacre" (Céline's antisemite pamphlets) does not carry the same value as publishing the "Voyage." Indeed, you will find the latter before you ever find a copy of the former.

    So I don't know: should we make judgements work by work, or on the basis of an overall oeuvre? And what if the oeuvre itself is incoherent?

    There's also the question of buying vs. using the work. If you pardon the rather gruesome comparison, buying Mein Kampf does not mean the same thing if you're a historical researcher that uses it as document than if you're a skinhead kid that actually put into action what it says. Both people have bought the work, but they have used it in different ways that carry different ethical considerations.
     
  19. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    THAT's the distinction I'm interested in probing. What is that limit? is it always case-by-case, even within the oeuvre of a single artist? (the rest of your post seems to indicate yes, as the later cases of Celine and Hitler point out). Is there ever an absolute threshold, or a tipping point? How deep of a principle do you set? To take another contemporary example, Jews who won't buy German luxury cars. For some Jews, buying a Mercedes or BMW is tantamount to hiring your own murderer, even though they themselves are living sixty plus years after the events, and the companies themselves are no longer the same companies that supplied war materiel to the Third Reich. Some folks would consider that reaction (don't buy the car) to be stubborn and overly judgemental. Others would say that it is a laudable stand on principle.

    So when do you draw the line, how long do you keep it drawn, and what for?
     
  20. BradS

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    --- "refuse" ---
    For me, this makes the question purely hypothetical. Only because, I don't think that, for me, the actual reality of purchasing art has ever been so...what is the word?....cerebral? I'll simply observe that when I have laid out money to buy art, I don't ever remember thinking about it that much.

    However, I have admired much art and walked away without even thinking about making a purchase. Perhaps, subconsciously becasue I was not acquainted with the person. I have also walked away from a piece that I liked very much but when I spoke to the artist, was repulsed. This demonstrates my point. I don't think I "refused". I don't think I thought about it that much. But, I certainly did not buy or even so much as look at any of the rest of his work.

    So, I guess what I am trying to say is that in the many, many instances when I have not bought, when I have failed to buy a piece that I liked, the decision was made subconsciously - long before I could explicitly refuse to buy. And, I do believe that a lack of a personal connection with the artist may have been a significant factor in that subconscious decision making process.
     
  21. laverdure

    laverdure Member

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    If I was in love with a Leni Riefenstahl photograph and had to have it, I still wouldn't hang it in my house. I'd keep it in a box with the cheap pornography. I would find it creepy, eccentric and distasteful at best to see one up in someone's dining room.

    I would never buy art from someone (an artist) I knew with whom I had bad associations. But it would take a lot more for me to learn a distaste for someone I'd never met, or at least didn't often have to interact with. I can forgive a lot in strangers and dead people.

    I'm generally against idealogical stands. By the way, it's not just luxury cars. VW is considered one of the worst, and it was an economy car until recently. Still holding grudges against the Germans is a prejudice I'm happy to allow in old people, but it's not pretty in the young.

    Having a problem with a dealer is something else altogether.
     
  22. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    If we're talking about salespersons we don't like, why is art a special case?

    I'll buy various commodities from companies or persons I don't care for, if I need or want the product, and the price is reasonable, but I would include in the "price" the question of whether it is furthering some other agenda that I disagree with (e.g., fascism, products made with prison labor, religious fundamentalism, etc).
     
  23. Will S

    Will S Member

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    I'm not sure I would describe this behavior as "antics" though he was obviously sometimes a difficult person. I have read that he was horrified at the furniture that he saw owners bringing into the houses he designed. To solve the problem he started making the furniture too. I live in a house done by one of his students and, while most of the furniture is built in, I wish that he had done more since it is very hard to find things that match the house that don't cost a fortune. I also curse the former owners at least once a week for something they did to "fix" the house that I'm now having to restore back to its original condition. I know that the paint colors are an important part of the design as well since Wright chose them to flow from light to dark as you move through the building. I think that changing the colors changes an essential aspect of the design, sort of like re-orchestrating Goetterdammerung for accordion and bagpipes, or taking a 1MB capture of "Pepper No. 30" and running it off on your inkjet. All of the essential information is still there, but it is hardly the same thing anymore.

    Thanks,

    Will
     
  24. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    but, that's different entirely. Buying a car is not the same as buying art....unless, I suppose, the car is a Ferrari or Aston Martin.
     
  25. TheFlyingCamera

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    Actually, I'd argue that most cars are more like buying art - there's a substantial difference between an automotive requirement and an automotive luxury. Most of us don't NEED to buy a car, and most of us don't NEED a car with a six speaker stereo, multi-position power seats, XM Radio and dual-zone climate control. While not all automotive purchases are discretionary (if you have to drive a vehicle for a living, or your workplace is far enough from your home/distant enough from public transit), it is largely discretionary income that is spent on an automotive purchase. Once you're spending more than about $15K USD on a car, it is discretionary. If you live in New York, ANY amount on a car is discretionary spending.
     
  26. scootermm

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    I imagine its fairly obvious the difference in responses you are finding. This is a discussion about a concept/idea. The prior discussion you are referencing was much more pointed and specific. They will obviously conjur up different responses.