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  1. #1
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    Consumer ethics and buying art

    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. #2
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb View Post
    ...and whether the purchase of the work will advance those beliefs.
    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...
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    Dave Wooten's Avatar
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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...
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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. #6
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera View Post
    At what point do you say that an artist's personal beliefs/behavior/etc become sufficiently obnoxious that you refuse to buy their artwork?
    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

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    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
    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.
    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.
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  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera View Post
    .

    To me, I think that when buying art, it is still a consumer-based transaction - ...
    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.
    "Pictures are not incidental frills to a text; they are essences of our distinctive way of knowing." Stephen J. Gould

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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.
    Robert Hunt

  10. #10
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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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!

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