Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Open Letter to Young Artists

Dear Young Artist:

My other half, Michael Bray, has taken on the research intensive job of cataloging my artwork. It's something we've been discussing, something that should have begun years ago and is imperative now that I'm fast approaching social security age. He's jumped in with both feet and is dumping images and whatever information he can dig up into a data base on a daily basis. I want to advise you as a young artist to begin this process right from the start of your artistic career, even if you don't think you're ready.

I didn't and I really wish I had. At least I have help at this late period. Not taking myself seriously and involving myself with the racing industry in the first half of my life, I shrugged it off telling myself I wasn't a serious painter or yet well-known enough. Now that my resume impresses even myself, it's a neglected aspect of my business that's about to bite me in the butt.

When I was a young artist spending most of my time at the track, I did still manage to paint and I did sell. Off and away those pieces went with no record of their existence at all. Don't let this happen to you. Those artworks sold because some of them were okay, not great, but at least should have been documented in some manner. When I evolved into being good enough for gallery representation, I was quite naive and never insisted on the collector information from the gallerist - just grateful to have them exhibit and sell my work. In one way, I understand why they don't want to freely impart this info - there are lots of unethical artists who will undercut a gallery. However, I advise you to stand your ground, insist on it and even walk away if they won't comply. I've sold hundreds of paintings through galleries and although I have images of those artworks, I have no idea where or with whom they ended up. Not good.

Michael has recently entered over 200 artworks that were sitting here on this laptop of three years. There is still an external hard drive and two old computers for him to plod through. Then, boxes of old slides and photos. Here's our typical conversation:

M: "What's the name of this painting?"
S: "Can't remember"
M: "What size was it?"
S: "Medium size (arm illustration)."
M: "I need to document the exact size."
S: "Can't remember."
M: "Do you think it was 18x24?"
S: "Yeah, that sounds about right."
M: "What happened to it, did it sell?"
S: "Uh-huh. Gallery X sold it."
M: "Who bought it?"
S. "They wouldn't tell me."

This is not a conversation for a professional artist to have with her business partner. I'm embarrassed but I'm telling you because I want to impress upon on all of you at the beginning of your fledgling career how important it is to keep decent records. Not just financial bookkeeping but a thorough cataloging of everything you create. In my defense, I've kept very good records for the last 10-15 years and can tell you who bought what, where, when and how much, members of the collector's family, what they do on weekends and what kind of car they drive. Regardless, that leaves several decades basically unrecorded.

Don't let this happen to you. It's a pain but make it a habit. You'll thank me later.

Regrets...I've had a few...

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