Saturday, November 25, 2006

Spending Black Friday in the Red.

Black Friday has come and gone. Purportedly named for the ink used to denote income on the yearly balance sheet, it is the day that businesses expect to enter their annual profit phase. So everyone rolls out the sales in preparation for the orgiastic spending activity that consumers are expected to participate in. And yes, it is the beginning of the holiday shopping season. One can only guess at the sheer amount of completely unnecessary stuff that accumulates in houses across the country over this weekend. Much of it will be given away unsolicited, wrapped in more unecessary trappings... only to be rewrapped and re-gifted for the next obligatory recipient. The great consumerist cycle goes on ad infinitum (and perhaps ad nauseum). Of course I'll be a partially reluctant participant.

But I didn't go shopping yesterday... despite the dubious and shiny allure of abundant material choice. I spent hours with a friend scanning drawings at 600 dpi (dots-per-inch). Surrounded by the trappings of the arts industry, I had plenty of time to ponder relative value. Despite the hordes of folks swarming lemming-like to the strip and indoor malls, the purveyors of art saw little business in Pittsburgh. Gallery owners might hope for some evidence of the largely mythical "trickle-down effect", but they do so in vain. Art work makes the perfect gift... it is not something most would buy for themselves, yet it's very personal and unique. It's that ultimate luxury item that performs a mostly vague set of functions. Yet it's quite often "no sale" for those that toil in this strange commodified purgatory. Why is that?

One might consult Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for guidance. Where do we find artistic pursuits? For the artist him/herself we need to go straight to the apex of the pyramid. In order to produce and exhibit one's work, the lower levels of the hierarchy must be met. (Well... maybe not "Love/Belonging", considering the rampant stereotypes regarding the "tortured artist") It's an achievement to be able to construct your life in a way that allows participating in an activity that rarely feeds back to lower-level needs. Somehow, hundreds of folks in Pittsburgh manage to do so.

Having accounted for the supply-side, we must examine the demands of society. The majority who will buy art for others will do so to fulfill "Love/Belonging" needs, and perhaps those in the "Esteem" category. However there are plenty of more conventional ways to meet these same requirements. Sex and more traditional status symbols will consistently trump artwork in our society. Many will fall prey to the insidious effects of "branding" before they will ever consider buying a piece of art. And what art does sell will likely be the result of a more insular form of branding in the art world. Why buy an original piece by an unknown artist when you can convey your demographic identity by purchasing a print of some classic work by a dead famous one? What do you think is more likely to confer status upon the recipient?

It's easy to be discouraged by mainstream trends, whether they directly impact arts and culture, or not. I don't expect many folks to forego Hot Topic or Abercrombie and Fitch for the corner art gallery. But I feel confident in my assertion that any exceptions will be much appreciated by both the makers and dealers of art. If you want to maximize the impact of your dollar in spreading holiday cheer... consider buying art this year. It doesn't even have to be mine.

5 Comments:

Anonymous jefg said...

Enjoyed reading your comments as always, and what you suggest is a very noble undertaking. Art would certainly outlast most gifts given and received. The one thing that might make your suggestion untenable, however, (at least to me) is that art is such a persoanl thing. What I might enjoy having hung in my living room or study is not neccessarily something someone else might like at all. I suppose that can be overcome by paying attention to the art the person you are buying for enjoys. I may like having your work hanging by my desk (hmmmm..in fact, I do), but my brother may not. I might like your work (or taste), but you might not like mine. This is not always possible, unless you're in their presence at times art for sale is displayed. (We were fortunate to be in that situation last year, and it made us feel good to follow your idea and support a living artist.) And, one would have to judge whether what they're expressing about the art is simply in passing, or truly rises to the level of meriting the purchase for continuous display. That isn't the case with but a very small percentage of the population.
On the whole, a very good idea, and from what I've read on your blog you're doing what you can to promote people getting out and experiencing art of various types. Kinda like preaching to the choir, I suppose, but great ideas have to begin somewhere. Good luck.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jefg,

I think you're right about my "preaching to the choir". I'm sure that the majority of people that read this blog on a regular basis already have an appreciation for art. I just happened to get discouraged the last couple of days in talking to a few friends that own art galleries. I'm glad I'm not dependent on the sale of my art for a living- I'd starve almost immediately.

I also think you make a good point about the risk you take in buying art as a gift. I have had the experience of a lukewarm (and worse) reception after giving art. Yet it's a confrontation that has value anyway. I guess I believe that it doesn't even matter whether the recipient gives it away immediately to someone else. But I think the best strategy is to accompany the person to a gallery. And not just right before Christmas. Invite your friends to join you for a day/night at the galleries. It's a great (and cheap) way to spend time. It's enlightening and as long as you resolve not to make any judgements, or take anything personally- some great discussion usually results. I guess that's what I would like to see happen more- people actually going out together to see art.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Most galleries offer gift certificates. For those unsure about knowing the recipient very well.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous jefg said...

All those words and Susan comes up with a one-sentence common-sense solution. I'd say "leave it to a woman", but that might get me into deep deep trouble.

Personally, I view and treat going to an art gallery like going to an art museum, with the added bonus that most art museums don't let you leave with something you partucularly covet.

Merge, does it bother you that one of your pieces is now hanging in the corporate offices of one of largest employers in the area? Does that mean you've sold out? (tongue firmly in cheek)

3:46 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Jefg,

Yeah, I like Susan's suggestion. It includes simplicity and an opportunity for a shared experience.

As far as one of my pieces being in a corporate environment... hell, I haven't sold out, but I'd be happy to. I'm not particular about buyers. If George W. Bush wanted to buy something, I'd be more than happy to take his money. Times have changed. You wouldn't find too many recalcitrants that would refuse a purchase. Bring on the corporate sales!!

10:21 PM  

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