Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Limited Editions: Let's do the math

After the 2012 Houston Fine Arts Fair I received this criticism from the gallery:

Your work generated a lot of interest. One feedback we wanted to share with you was related to the size of the addition. Several collectors indicated that they would like to own unique/more exclusive pieces.

So I emailed the gallery with this question:

Can you tell me what an 'exclusive' edition size is?

And I got this reply:

As far as the size of the edition is concerned, some collectors thought that 250 was too large and that the piece they are getting was not unique.

I expected a reply with a number, so I asked again (which I should not have had to) and got this answer:

I have seen artists doing it in one of two ways: either limiting the edition to 10 prints or mounting prints on panels -- whether aluminium (sic) or wood and positioning them as originals.

Well, that’s not helpful.  The most useless, and false information, is …mounting prints on panels -- whether aluminium (sic) or wood and positioning them as originals.  Printing on panels or aluminum (correctly spelled) is not an ‘original,’ it’s another print made on a different medium.  Presenting a print on a different medium and calling it ‘original’ is a lie and is unethical.

My Certificate of Authenticity states: Other limited editions are available in other sizes and media.  That means ‘other sizes and media’ are not originals but are prints on another media.  I include this information so the buyer will know exactly just how exclusive an image they’re getting.  In my view this is called ‘doing business honestly.’  So, …mounting prints on panels -- whether aluminum or wood and positioning them as originals… is dishonest and I won’t do that.  I’m a little surprised that a gallery would suggest that; after all they’re supposed to be ‘experts.’

The real issue here is ‘exclusivity,’ or the perception of exclusivity; this is not a new issue and I’ve been hearing this same old thing for decades.  Quite frankly it is nonsense and I’m tired of it.

This ‘exclusivity’ business goes back to painting, which is a one-of-a-kind genre.  Painters make one painting and sell it (if they’re well-known and represented by a good gallery) for a large sum of money.  Sometimes the painter will scan or photograph their painting and sell reproductions for a vastly smaller sum than the original.  This is a very old business model and it works for artists who produce one-of-a-kind, singular works.  Unfortunately the ‘painting model’ has been forced upon photographers, and now digital artists, and it’s not a good fit.  In photography the idea that the negative can be printed again and again limits exclusivity and it also limits price.  Anything that’s not a one-of-a-kind cannot be sold for one-of-a-kind prices and photographs are much cheaper to buy than most paintings.  The ‘photography model’ also holds true for digital art; just replace the term negative with digital file and we’re singing the same song.

So if one painting can sell for $10,000 a lucky photographer might get $1,000 for a single photograph.  This is why many art collectors begin collecting by buying less expensive photographs before they spend tens of thousands on paintings.  This is also the reason photographers must sell multiple copies in order to making a living commensurate with their painter counterparts. 

Photographers, and now, digital artists, have created limited editions to provide some ‘artificial rarity’ or ‘exclusivity.’  The market doesn’t seem to recognize that each print from a negative or each print from a digital file is, in fact, an original.

My edition size for the particular body of work I showed at The Houston Fine Art Fair is two-hundred-and-fifty prints, 250.  I arrived at this number after analyzing artworks that were editioned between 10 and 1000.  I made my decision on the knowledge of the realistic prices I could ask, my need to earn a living and on being able to offer some form of ‘exclusivity’ based on the size of the edition.  I also have another motivation that most artists I know don’t share; I want people to own my works, so I make more than one copy available.

Let’s do the ‘limited edition’ math and find out what ‘exclusive’ really means:

250 = size of edition.
7,000,000,000 (7 Billion) population of Earth

Now let’s figure out what percentage of 7 billion 250 is:

250 x 100 =25,000
25,000 divided by 7,000,000,000 = .00000357

This shows that 250 is .00000357 of one percent of 7 billion.  That’s pretty darned exclusive!

The standard argument against this formula is that 7 billion people do not collect art.  This is true.  In fact over 2 billion people on planet Earth live in abject poverty, so no, they don’t collect art.  Let’s choose a smaller number of ‘global art collectors’ and take a guess of 500,000, a half million people planet-wide who do collect art.

Let’s do the math again, with different numbers:

250 = size of edition.
500,000 = estimated number of ‘global art collectors’
250 x 100 = 25,000
25,000 divided by 500,000 = .05

This shows that 250 is .05 (five one-hundredths) of one percent of 500,000.  That’s still very exclusive!

I think the arithmetic shows that even a ‘large’ edition of 250 is very, very exclusive.  And that still puts 250 of my originals in the homes of collectors. 

The mathematics shown above proves that an edition of 250 is in fact very exclusive.  Now let’s continue the math and figure out the income potential for the artist:

My price for this particular edition is $600.00 per print (unframed, print-only).  If I were to sell out the whole edition of 250 I’d earn $150,000.00 ---but that number isn’t entirely correct.  The gallery keeps a 50% commission so my real earnings for selling out the edition is $75,000.00.  And let’s figure $5000.00 in expenses to produce and ship the artworks leaving a net $70k for selling out an entire edition.

Is this not as much money as you’d thought?  Art may be subjective but math is objective and doesn’t lie.  This is where the numbers fall.

Forget that crap about ‘prints on panels and aluminum’ and let’s now do the math for a ‘gallery acceptable exclusive’ edition:

10 = size of edition.
$600.00 each = price of artwork.
$6000.00 = total income from selling out an edition of ten.
-$3000.00 = less 50% gallery commission.
-$300.00 = production cost
$2700.00 = net profit to artist for selling out an edition of ten.

So an ‘exclusive’ sold-out edition of ten nets the artist about $2700.00 and that is not ‘earning a living.’  You can’t afford to continue making art at these rates and edition sizes – despite what your gallery thinks.

Once you’ve sold out your ‘exclusive’ edition of ten you’re done.  You’ll never earn another dime from that image.  And guess what?  The gallery is done with you too!  They’ve earned as much as they can from your ‘exclusive’ edition and if you don’t have something equally popular that they’re willing to exhibit you’re all done but the gallery will just find someone else’s ‘exclusive’ art to sell.

The gallery cares about ‘exclusivity’ but it’s at your expense and they don’t care about your ability to earn a living.

A gallery might argue that for an edition size of ten, to raise prices.  Every artist would like to sell their art at the highest possible price but that isn’t feasible for everyone.  ‘Unknown’ artists can’t command as high prices as ‘known’ artists.  Galleries that are perceived as ‘high end’ can justify higher prices than other galleries.  And photography and digital art does not command as high a price as painting and other ‘one of a kind’ works do.  One must be realistic and understand their position in the ‘art food chain’ when setting prices.

I think this notion of ‘exclusivity’ is snobbish and elitist.  And I also believe, based on arithmetic, an edition of 250 is ‘exclusive.’  Again, two-hundred-and-fifty pieces measured against a collector-base of five-hundred-thousand people means the buyers of my edition are among only five one-hundredths of one percent of the total number of art collectors.

Really, isn’t 0.05% exclusive enough?

I’d like to know what YOU think.  You can’t argue with my numbers, there is no ‘wiggle room’ with math.  If you’ve got an opinion I’d like to know what it is.  Leave a comment below, or on Facebook.  If you disagree with what I’ve written, please justify your position with cogent facts.

Dale O’Dell
October 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012


Don’t be a dick.

That’s pretty straightforward.  One does not need to belabor the point.  It’s either your show or your artwork is part of a larger show, so be nice, be friendly, talk to people and don’t be a dick.  It’s simple!

Recently I was sent an ‘Artist Agreement’ (contract) to participate in the 2012 Houston Fine Arts Fair.  It contained standard boilerplate language that ensures the signer of the contract (me) will cover the ass of the Big Corporation that wrote the contract.  It was fairly typical except for this:

 If Artist elects to attend Exhibition, Artist shall contact [redacted] at least 15 (fifteen) days before Exhibition. A representative shall be in communication with the Artist. If you elect to attend, you agree that you shall dress and conduct yourself in a manner which is within the norms of a conservative art exhibition. You agree to abide by the code of conduct to be sent to you by [redacted]. You agree that if you violate any provision of this paragraph and/or the referenced code of conduct to immediately leave the premises of the Exhibition upon request. You acknowledge that failure to honor the request to leave may result in your being involuntarily removed from the premises. You agree to hold [redacted] and the Exhibition harmless from any liability resulting from such action arising out of Artist’s conduct violating this paragraph.

Seriously?  How to dress and behave is written into a contract?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  I emailed the contract-writers with this question:

I've never seen anything like this in a contract before.  Do you have a lot of problems with poorly dressed & misbehaving artists?  I assure you as a mature adult over the age of fifty, I do know how to comport myself & dress properly for any occasion.  Could you please send me the 'code of conduct' and the 'dress code' for this event?  Go ahead & have your representative contact me.  I had considered traveling to Houston for this but should I?  Is there any benefit to my presence there?  Does the gallery even want the artist present?  Please let me know if my presence in Houston would be beneficial or even wanted.

And this was the reply I received:

This is a standard clause included based on what we witnessed at some of the openings we        attended - both galleries and exhibitions, especially the ones which had open bars. It is business, not personal.

Artists are welcome to attend. It is up to you if you would like to. If it were a solo show, I would definitely encourage you to attend. Since this is a group show, it is different -- we have to be respectful to all 5 participating artists and cannot have one artist promoting his/her work at the  expense of the others. I hope you can appreciate it and can relate to it.

There’s a whole lot wrong with both the contractual obligation and the answer to my question about it.  First of all, as a mature man of fifty-three years of age I really do know how to comport myself at an art show.  Secondly I am insulted; the last time I was lectured on what to wear and how to behave was when my Mommy was sending me off to Sunday school, and that was a very long time ago!  Thirdly, there are no ‘standards’ in the art business, so don’t try to sell me that ‘industry standards’ bullshit, this industry has no standards.  I’ve been in this business for over thirty years, believe me, if there were any standards, I’d of found them.  Fourth, it is personal!  Sure it’s ‘business’ but it’s ‘personal’ too.  You can’t tell someone how to dress and act without it being personal.  And no, I don’t appreciate it.  Sure, I can relate to the fact that you are afraid I might embarrass you but your contract has no clause preventing you from embarrassing me.  What if you act like a dick?  Can I have the ‘art-bouncer’ throw you out?  Ah, but here’s the tell:

                cannot have one artist promoting his/her work at the expense of the others…

That’s the real reason!  No, I won’t ‘step on the toes’ of the salespeople.  You don’t want me there.  I’m not attending.  Thanks for helping with the decision.

I had wanted to go to Houston and attend the Art Fair but now I’m afraid I might inadvertently piss someone off.  I was looking for an excuse to go to Houston for some positive reason and this Art Fair was a positive reason but ‘behavior rider’ of the contract kind of pissed on my parade.  Not that I’d planned on misbehaving, I just don’t need a lecture in the contract about how to behave.  The gallery really does not want me there.  This isn’t all that unusual.  They seem to be enthusiastic about my work, but not so enthusiastic about me.  And again, this is not unusual.  They are afraid that I might somehow screw up their ability to make money off my artworks that I paid them to exhibit. 

I guess I’ll save the expenses of a third trip to Houston in one year.  I’d gone to Houston to attend my Mother’s funeral last month, and my Father’s six months ago; hence the ‘positive reason’ for a trip to Houston.  But they want the art sans artist.

I ought to just go on my own.  Pose as a buyer.  I should show up at their booth and get all excited about Dale O’Dell’s art.  I should act like I’m going to buy.  I should ask them, ‘is the artist present?’ and then get all bummed out and walk away when they say ‘no.’  That could be fun! 

Or maybe I’ll call up an old friend in Houston and ask him to attend ---just to check out my gallery and make sure they’re behaving themselves. 

I suppose if I were a Big Sports Star with a twenty million dollar a year contract, then a ‘morals clause’ would be appropriate.  But this ain’t no multimillion dollar sports contract; in fact I paid them a fee just to look at my artworks, and I’ll pay a percentage back to them if anything sells.  They really have no right to tell me how to act.  They should trust that I won’t embarrass them or, more importantly, myself.

Oh well, like I wrote, I have been in this business for over thirty years, so I’ve seen a lot of stupid contracts; I won’t even get into the one that began, ‘…agrees to be your exclusive representative throughout the universe…’

How about I write into the contract that the gallery has to behave ‘properly’ just the same as me?  What’s good for one is good for the other, right?  No?  Really?  Why is that?  Oh right, you wrote the contract.

How ‘bout you people just sell my artwork?  And behave yourselves even if it’s not contractually mandated.  Meanwhile I’ll be in my studio behaving myself.

I participated in the Houston Fine Arts Fair as a part of “New Emerging Artists” and the Art-Variant Gallery in Chicago.  It didn’t work out for me & I won’t work with these folks again  ---I’ll tell you more in my next blog!

Monday, September 10, 2012


On Saturday September 8th I finally did a photography ‘portfolio review’ at the MEDIUM photography festival in San Diego.  MEDIUM is a new festival and this was their first year.  The festival was well-organized and efficiently run and although I only participated in the portfolio review, the overall experience was positive.

Perhaps I’d been a little too cynical about this but having low-to-no expectations meant my expectations were easily exceeded.  Everyone was friendly and cordial and no one was overtly negative.

I met with two museum curators, one gallerist and one graphic designer.  The graphic designer was someone who was not on my list and I don’t know why they assigned me the guy.  I even told him when I sat down that I “didn’t have anything relevant to show, and if he wanted, we could just blow off the meeting” but he was interested in my works and we ended up having a very nice conversation.  When he said, “I need to find a client so I can use you” that was an honest compliment and I’m glad I kept the meeting.

I’d been assigned the graphic designer instead the gallerist I’d wanted to see.  The gallerist I didn’t meet was one of the people doing reviews at the MOPLA festival earlier in the year.   I’d sent a digital press kit to this gallerist after being rejected by MOPLA.  I don’t know if this person was avoiding me or if there was an actual scheduling conflict.  One seldom finds out just how these decisions are made.  But, as it turned out, the meeting with the graphic designer was positive.

One of the museum curators did fit my expectation of not knowing just how to relate to my work and not being able to explain exactly why.  She was nice, but not especially enthusiastic about my artworks.  I suspect my works were just too outside her ‘comfort zone.’  She didn’t really have much information to offer.

The other curator was a person I’d been trying to meet for over a year.  I’m glad I finally got to meet her.  Again, like the other curator, she was more interested in ‘traditional, straight photography’ but she was engaged with the work.  She noticed the subtle humor that infuses my work and appreciated it.  She also provided some ‘outside the box’ information.  She told me that the museums and high-end galleries don’t really have an appreciation for humor and tend to reject it.  That was new and interesting news for me and is very useful.  She also provided good contact information for other alternative exhibition venues.  All in all it was a good meeting.

The gallerist I met was also positive and, although my work wasn’t right for her gallery (which is typical) she also provided a lot of good alternatives.  She responded especially positively to my new works-in-progress, Quantum Realism, and wants to see more in the future.  This is good!

So, all in all, it was a good experience.  Here are some of the things I learned:

·         It occurs to me that there are some times in one’s career that are better than others to have your work reviewed.  I probably waited too long to do this.  At this point in my career (35 years, so far) I know who I am and am comfortable with my own works.  I’m not ‘seeking’ and I’m not going to change what I do at this point in my life.  My work reflects who I am and I cannot be someone other than me.  I also think that having your work reviewed too early in one’s career isn’t especially beneficial as the ‘experts’ information might be confusing to a young artist.  It seems to me that the best time for a review is early/mid career.  Too soon and you risk being overwhelmed, too late and the information you receive has diminishing returns.  Work for a decade, get yourself somewhat established and then go for a portfolio review.

·         I asked all four reviewers if my work ‘is photography.’  The graphic designer said he didn’t care; the work was cool, which is how I like people to respond!  The other three declared my work as ‘definitely photography.’  I still disagree but it looks like ‘the system’ wants to put me in the ‘photography-box’ anyway.  I suspect there are a couple of reasons for this.  One is this was a photography review so all the reviewers are naturally inclined to view things in photographic terms.  When I mentioned influences from outside the photography medium they were out of their element.  This speaks to the insular and self-referencing nature of photography that I’ve written about before.  The other reason I’m lumped-in with photography is because ‘digital’ is closely tied to photography and it’s such a new medium that doesn’t have its own history and therefore is more easily considered to be ‘photography.’  I mentioned to one curator that I felt that ‘photography’ is a term that is descriptive and the viewer has a certain expectation.  My works violate one’s expectation of what a photograph is supposed to look like and my use of the term ‘photo-digital’ is more honest.  She seemed to ‘get’ where I was coming from, but still said my works were ‘photographs.’  I’d like to discuss this in a more in-depth context with other ‘experts’ because it’s them and not me that will determine future definitions of what’s a photograph and what’s ‘digital art.’  I still think ‘digital’ will eventually be declared a separate medium and I still don’t consider myself a ‘photographer’ any more.

·         I told the gallerist:  “I want to work with galleries that are as enthusiastic about selling art as I am creating it.”  She got that.  I suspect the gallerists that do these portfolio reviews are more serious than the ones who don’t.  That means these are the folks you want to exhibit your works.

·         Having a lot of shows is good.  Having shows in prestigious galleries are even better.  Apparently I’m at a point where it’s more important where I show than if I show.  The cliché it’s who you know remains true.  I guess now I’ve got to figure out who’s important and convince them to exhibit my works.

·         One portfolio review session is probably enough, unless you want to meet someone specific.

OK, now I’ve done it and got it out of my system.  I don’t think I need to do another one.  These things are supposed to be good for ‘networking,’ something that never seems to work for me.  I intend to follow-up with all four reviewers but I don’t expect anything beyond.  Maybe it’ll be different this time (like I said last time).

The only “Wow” I got came from another photographer.

September 10, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Photoshop World & the Medium Festival of Photography

I’m off to the annual PhotoShop World expo in Las Vegas later this week.  I attend this expo every year to see the new hardware & software.  Last year’s show wasn’t so good; fewer vendors & everyone there seemed rather surly.  I hope there are more vendors this year & everyone’s in a good mood.  I hope the manufacturer representatives have some product knowledge this year.

I’ll post a report here in two weeks.

Immediately after PhotoShop World I’ll be heading to San Diego for one day at the Medium Festival of Photography.  On Saturday September 8 I’ll be participating in four portfolio reviews (see the blog that precedes this one for more info.).  This will be my first (and perhaps only) ‘portfolio review.’

I have mixed feelings about the portfolio reviews but feel I must do this since I’ve never done one, even after being in business for 30+ years.  I’m not sure if ‘photography’ curators are the right people to be reviewing my works.

I’ll make a prediction now; I’ll follow up in two weeks & see if my prediction comes true.  I predict:
·         Only one of four reviewers will respond positively.
·         The other three reviewers won’t care for my work, but won’t be able to articulate exactly why.
·         They say these reviews are good places to ‘network’ and ‘make connections’ but based on the past, I doubt anything of much use will come from it.

I’ve earned my cynicism; I’ll let you know how it goes.

September 3, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I’ve finally done it.  It’s been 33 years since my first exhibition, 30 years since I graduated college, 28 years since I opened my studio and 2 months since being rejected by MOPLA, I’m finally going to have my very first portfolio review.  Woo-hoo!  Fifty bucks per twenty minutes time with an ‘industry professional’ to get their learned opinions.

I don’t really know if I want this, but I suppose I need it.  My work has never been ‘judged’ by those whose opinions actually count.  Although I have an extensive sales history and a long exhibition history, positive critical reviews in the press, and I have been in this business my entire life so my ‘market review’ is positive, but, like Thomas Kinkade, I too seek approval from my ‘peers’ in the arts.  So here I go…..

I genuinely hope the four reviewers I will meet with respond enthusiastically and positively about my work and I also hope I can make some important connections.  These are my hopes; my expectations are much lower --- I actually have no expectations.

Some history:

Back in the 1980’s the FotoFest photography festival was getting going in Houston, Texas.  Since I lived in Houston at the time it would have been very convenient for me to pay for a review at FotoFest.  But I never did.  Back then, most of the ‘reviewers’ were photographers, and I didn’t (and still don’t) give a damn about what other photographers think of my work.  Most photographers are jealous creatures and even if your portfolio is great, they’re not going to tell you so because of professional jealousy.  Besides, if some photographer likes your work that’s nice but I’m looking for a reviewer who can do something if they like my work ---like give me a show in their gallery.  So I never bothered with a FotoFest review when I lived in Houston. 

Years passed and I didn’t think about portfolio reviews.

More recently I got to thinking that ‘important eyes’ have never really seen my work; although my photo and digital artwork is disseminated, published, exhibited and collected, to those big-time gallerists and curators, I’m unknown.  So, since I now live in Arizona, I contacted the curator at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson and asked her to review my work.  Surprisingly, she actually replied to my email and, unsurprisingly, she informed me that she doesn’t review photographer’s work.  Now, how the heck a ‘curator of photographs’ at a large, well-known ‘center for photography’ can even find new works without looking is something I do not understand.  Anyway (since I’d written such a syrupy, kiss-ass email) she told me to contact the curator of photographs at the Phoenix Museum and that she’d even contacted her about me.  OK, that’s nice.  She won’t do it but she knows someone who will review my works and she even semi- set it up for me.

But, after a half-dozen emails to the curator photographs at the Phoenix Museum went unanswered I was left to conclude that I’d again been blown-off.  No reply, no review.

I did get an email notification about the portfolio reviews offered by the Palm Springs Photo Festival this year but the sign-up procedure was so arcane I couldn’t even figure out how to register so I blew that off. 

Then MOPLA (The Month Of Photography Los Angeles) came along in April with their portfolio reviews and I signed up.  But they rejected my work as not good enough to even be reviewed!

So now I’m going to San Diego in September and, after three decades, I’ll finally have a conversation about my work with someone.  And there will be four of those ‘someone’s,’ including:

o   The curator at the Center for Creative Photography who doesn’t review photographer’s works.

o   And another museum curator I sent a press kit to after being rejected from MOPLA.  She never responded to my letter & press kit….. but I think she will now!

o   Another curator, and the fourth person is a gallerist.

I’ve already got my materials together because I’d done the work expecting to go to the MOPLA reviews back in April.  Unfortunately I did my homework but never got to ‘take the test’ because they pre-rejected me.  So now I’ve been reading up on procedures and expectations and I am getting things in order.

I plan on showing my work and will shut up and listen.  Again, I genuinely hope the four reviewers I will meet respond enthusiastically and positively to my work but that’s not my expectation.  I expect they won’t like my artwork.  But, if they can at least clearly articulate why my work is inferior, that’ll be good information.

I am happy to at last ‘have the conversation.’  Even if it’s only for twenty minutes per person and I have to pay them.

I’ll report back, hopefully with positive notes, in September.

June 27, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

About Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade may be one of the few artists whose work will not increase in value after his death.  There’s a ton of it out there already and it’s more ‘commodity’ than ‘art’ anyway.  Kinkade’s legacy will be debated for years to come despite his persona non grata status among ‘art experts.’

Ten years ago in 2002 I was a participant on a panel discussion at CopperCon 22, the science-fiction convention in Phoenix.  I was the ‘digital surrealist’ on a panel of sci-fi/fantasy illustrators and during Q&A time the subject of Thomas Kinkade came up.  As expected, pretty much everybody in the room from the panelists to the audience had a litany of disparaging things to say about the ‘Painter of Light’ and his cheesy paintings.  He’s an easy target.  I agreed with most of what everyone was saying; that his paintings are cheesy and commercial, they’re market-driven and generally eye-candy with little depth.  My view was that he’d basically painted one painting over and over and over.  After a while things started getting vicious and I had to intercede.

I stopped the Kinkade-flogging when I reminded the audience (consisting of young wannabe sci-fi/fantasy/surrealist artists) that despite Kinkade’s cheesy imagery he’d accomplished something everyone in the audience, and including us on the Panel of Pros, wishes they could  ---that is, Thomas Kinkade was Rich and Famous.  And who doesn’t want to be rich and famous?  Thomas Kinkade’s fame was the kind that few artists’ attain, which is being famous outside the world of art.  I told the audience that while it may be fair for us to criticize Kinkade’s style and subject matter, his marketing skills exceeded his artistry.  Simply put, Kinkade was a brilliant marketer (and perhaps fraudulent in the case of certain limited-editions) and it was his marketing ability above and beyond his artistry that convinced one in twenty Americans that they needed to own a Kinkade reproduction. 

There’s nothing at all wrong with being Rich and Famous and Thomas Kinkade was both.  I believe his religiosity was hypocritical and more marketing tool than belief, but that didn’t stop his ‘fans’ from buying his art.  The fact that he caused his own death by overdosing on drugs and alcohol doesn’t square with his religious, family-oriented, ‘clean’ seeming lifestyle doesn’t matter to me.  I know from art history that many artists have demons in the form of sex-drugs-etc. and it’s almost expected for an artist to be a little screwed-up.  Most artists are forgiven for this and Kinkade should be too (except perhaps by those religious types who take this more seriously than the rest of us). 

Thomas Kinkade died an unhappy man.  Despite his great wealth and international fame he was bothered by critical negativity.  Kinkade’s works will never hang in The Louve.  So what?  Thomas Kinkade’s works, according to reports, hang in one of twenty American homes --that’s about fifteen million American homes!  That is more exposure than any single painting in The Louve ever gets!  But Kinkade made a choice and he went for the bucks before recognition, so he got what he bargained for and he should have gotten comfortable with it.  With millions of dollars in the bank as well as millions of paintings in millions of homes, Thomas Kinkade had earned the right to tell his critics to fuck-off!  But he still wanted what all artists’ crave, which is peer recognition. 

So let’s take a brief look at Thomas Kinkade’s most important accomplishments:
·         He was able to earn a living as a full-time artist without the need of a ‘real job.’
·         He did what he loved.
·         He earned a shitload of money for it!
·         His work was widely collected by millions of people.
·         He was famous outside the arts community.
·         His works made millions of people happy.

That’s quite an accomplishment for a guy who essentially painted one painting ---over and over again.

Only three artists come to mind when I think of the ‘artistic-integrity + brilliant marketing’ scenario.
·         Ansel Adams was known outside of the art community and his works have both merit as art and commodity.  But Adams didn’t make any real money with his art until late in life so he was fortunate to have been independently wealthy.  Adams was born rich and died rich.
·         Salvador Dali proved himself to be a Great Painter before becoming a master self-promoter.  So he, like Adams, is in the Great Museums.  Unfortunately during his later years, recognition of Dali’s self-promotion exceeded the positive perceptions of his art thereby ‘tainting’ his later works in the eyes of ‘art experts.’  Dali died broke.
·         Peter Max took the opposite path of Dali.  Whereas Dali was recognized as a ‘fine artist who sold out.’  Peter Max began as more of a ‘commercial artist’ with brilliant marketing and only later found acceptance in the Great Museums.  Peter Max is still with us and still working.

Perhaps if Thomas Kinkade had lived longer he might have found himself on a path more like Peter Max’s?  We’ll never know.

What we do know is, despite what anyone might say about his art, Thomas Kinkade’s art made a lot of people happy.

Despite the Fame and Fortune, what’s more important for me as an artist, is that people possess my works and it makes them happy.  Kinkade accomplished both and more.

So, I’d call him a Successful Artist ---even if I don’t like his paintings.

That’s the view from my unknown and impoverished studio where I work diligently everyday to create works that no one seems to want…………………………………

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Great Photography you CAN’T see at MOPLA

I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the comments at the end of the Huffington Post article, Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA) Continues with "New Research" on April 9. (Link provided above.)  This is so absolutely normal.  A big-time arts organization like MOPLA and the Lucie Foundation put on a “Month of Photography” featuring what they say is Great Photography but the comments online are universally negative.  Comments like, ‘boring’, ‘vapid,’ ‘absurdity at its worst’ and ‘Now I know one thing I'm NOT attending any time soon...’  What’s going on here?  Why do the “art experts” continue to foist upon us imagery that “the people” see as, well, boring, vapid and absurd?

Because they’re not really “experts” at all, they’re caretakers of the status-quo.  This is not new.  Here’s what Salvador Dali had to say about it in 1939:

                Any authentically original idea, presenting itself without “known antecedents” is systematically rejected, toned down, mauled, chewed, re-chewed, spewed forth, destroyed, yes, and even worse--- reduced to the most monstrous of mediocrities.  The excuse offered is always the vulgarity of the vast majority of the public.  I insist that this is absolutely false.  The public is infinitely superior to the rubbish that is fed to it daily.  The masses have always known where to find true poetry.  The misunderstanding has come about entirely through those “middle-men of culture” who, with their lofty airs and superior quacking, come between the creator and the public. 

Salvador was quite right and nothing has changed in the 73 years hence.  The “art experts” aren’t really exhibiting anything new or innovative.  They and organizations like MOPLA are risk-adverse and they’re not going to show anything that their incestuous, self-referencing peers haven’t already anointed as acceptable.

I’m a professional photographer and digital artist and I’d planned on attending MOPLA.  I submitted my work for MOPLA’s “Fresh look portfolio reviews” and was looking forward to meeting some esteemed curators, gallerists and other “industry professionals.”  Unfortunately, despite my thirty plus years working as a full-time artist, over one-hundred exhibitions and the dozen books I’ve published, my photography was rejected!  It’s just a good thing I’m old and treacherous because if I had received this rejection as a young artist I might have believed my work was truly horrible and unworthy of even being seen by “industry professionals.” 

“The selection process was highly competitive and we regret to inform you that we are unable to accept your submission for the juried portion of the Portfolio Review.”

So how does a guy with an exhibition history that dates back to 1979, has nothing but positive critical reviews, a dozen published books with a long list of people who’ve bought my photographs manage to be so totally blown-off by the “pre-reviewers” that deemed my works so horrible as unworthy of even being seen by the portfolio reviewers?

Because my pictures don’t look like theirs, that’s all.  My works lack the “known antecedents” that Dali refers to so are “systematically rejected.”  I don’t like it, but I am used to it.  And yes, it still pisses me off!  I also know where to look for really interesting works, they’re in a file marked “REJECTED.”  If you’re looking for Great Photography I don’t think you’re going to find it a MOPLA, or any festival.  What you will find is photography that they tell you to believe is Great ---and it might be, but don’t believe them, trust your own eyes and come to your own conclusions.  And if you should disagree with the “experts” that’s OK because if enough of “the people” reject Bad Art “the experts” will eventually catch up.

Here’s some of the works rejected by MOPLA.  These works were deemed unacceptable to even be reviewed by “industry professionals.”  Compare the rejected works to the MOPLA slide show and come to your own conclusion.  If you leave a comment, you are now an “art expert.”

Path to Enlightenment



Bureau of Expectations

Camel's Eye

[Here's a link to MOPLA slide show from April 9 Huffington Post article.]

Compare the images here to the Hufington Post slide show and tell me what you think.  Please leave a comment!!!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

UPDATE! (To the blog no one reads)

There has been a change to this story!  No, I’ve not been paid but I might be (some day).

Upon checking the Summary of Images Sold on the website on April 13 I discovered (much to my surprise) the image mentioned in my previous post “Pay the Artist” has now been listed as sold.  This does not mean I’ve been paid for it (I haven’t) but it’s at least listed as “licensed.”  This is good, but it’s still bad too.  Here’s the weirdness:  Given the long preproduction lead times for calendars, the image for the 2012 Chihuahua Calendar was most likely licensed in the summer of 2010.  Since stock photo agencies don’t let unpaid-for images out of their possession I should have been paid sometime in the Fall of 2010.  I wasn’t, nor was the image listed as “licensed” at that time.  The fact that Alamy licensed the image but never listed it as “licensed” on my Summary of Images Sold page I’ll call unethical business practice #1.  Since I work directly with some calendar publishers I know they don’t pay licensing fees for images until the calendar has been on sale for about six months.  So, if I were paid “on time” I should have been paid in December of 2011.   I wasn’t paid, so I’ll call that unethical business practice #2.  Now, since the calendar has been on sale since (approximately) the summer of 2011 and I bought a copy in December and only now, in April of 2012, has Alamy listed the image as “licensed” that’s unethical business practice #3.  Finally, since Alamy’s license stipulates payment before publication and most likely Alamy has already been paid, they’re using my money for themselves because they’ve not paid me yet.  This is unethical business practice #4.

So Alamy has done four shitty, unethical, things so far regarding this one image:
·         They licensed it without notifying the artist (me) it had been licensed.
·         They allowed it to be reproduced without it being paid for.
·         They allowed the reproduction to be distributed without paying me.
·         They only listed the image as licensed in April 2012 although the calendar had already been on sale since late 2011.

The Alamy stock photo “agency” is behaving extremely unethically.  I almost wrote, in my opinion but their unethical practices are in fact, FACT.

For an image licensed in 2010, reproduced and sold in 2011, which was only listed as “licensed” by Alamy in the 2nd quarter of 2012………. I hope to be paid by the summer of 2012.

This is shit on a stick served up by assholes running a “stock agency” in Britan!  This is BULLSHIT.

At least they got the price right.  They actually licensed the image for $150.00.  This is a too-low, shit rate, but it’s the “going rate” so it’s as much as I can expect.  Also, since a sub-agent was not involved I got 60% of the sale instead of only 40%.  So I’ll get $90.00.  I hope.  I still haven’t been paid.

This whole deal stinks.  Alamy is a operating very unethically.  I can only imagine all of Alamy’s malfeasance that I DON’T know about.

Here’s the original blog.  For what it’s worth….

About not getting paid (again)

Every Christmas I give my wife a Chihuahua calendar.  Twelve months of cute little dog pictures never gets old.  This year I found a 2012 Chihuahua calendar at a store in the mall.  I hadn’t realized that one of the calendar pictures was mine until another photographer called me.

Oh boy was he pissed!  Not at me thankfully, but he was quite justifiably angry because he hadn’t been paid his portion of the licensing fee from the stock photo agency that had supplied the picture to the calendar publisher.  He’d looked me up because his picture in the calendar had been supplied by the same stock photo agency as mine.  I was easy to find because the credit line read: © 2011 Dale O’Dell/Alamy.

So he found me and called, which is a smart thing to do.  As creative artists we tend to get isolated in our studios and taken advantage of in business and if we don’t share information it just gets worse.  I’ve made these calls myself and I always try to be as helpful as possible when I receive them.  He hadn’t been paid, and wanted to know if I had since our pictures had both come from the same agency, Alamy, in England.  To be honest, I hadn’t checked.  While I had the guy on the telephone I went to the Alamy website, logged-in, and went to the ‘summary of images sold’ link.  I know that most calendars are prepared about eighteen months in advance of publication so I went back a full three years to look for the sale.  Nope, no sale recorded.  In fact there were no sales at all, ever, for my particular Chihuahua picture.  No, I didn’t get paid either.

Now he’s even madder.  He’s pissed at the calendar publisher for violating his copyright by reproducing his picture without compensation, but that’s not where he should sic the lawyers.  You see, when a picture is infringed upon, stolen is the more accurate term; the ‘thief’ does not credit the photographer and a stock agency in print ---that would actually be stupider than the original image-theft.  The fact that every picture in the calendar was credited indicates to me that a legitimate reproduction license was bought.  That means the end client, the calendar publisher, acted in ‘good faith.’  They licensed the images, paid the fee, and credited the agencies and photographers in the calendar.  The problem as I see it does not lie with the client, but rather with the stock agency, Alamy.  They’ve licensed images, collected the money, and then in violation of normal business ethics and their own contract, failed to remit payment to the photographers.  This happens more frequently than you’d think, especially with unethical stock photo agencies.  They’re all bad.  Alamy is one of the worst.  There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ stock photo agency any more.

He wants to sue someone.  I know the feeling, I’ve been there.  I gave him the name of a lawyer in New York who’s experienced in stock photography matters.  He could sue the calendar publisher.  They’d most likely respond with a copy of the license agreement with Alamy proving they’ve got a legitimate right to use the image.  That would mean the photographer’s problem is not with the publisher, but with Alamy, who’s supposed to be acting on his behalf, and paying him (and me) his portion.  In that case he’s generally fucked (to use a business term).  Good luck suing an England-based company in American court.  And for what?

“What are you going to do?”  He asked me.

“Nothing.”  I answered.

“You’ve, no we’ve, been ripped-off!  Copyright law is written in our favor, there’s a clear-cut case here.”  He ranted.

Yes, yes there is.  We’ve both been wronged.  Our works have been stolen and someone else has profited from the theft, both the publisher (who profits from calendar sales, although I suspect they did pay the license fee) and the agency, Alamy especially (who profits from the licensing fees our pictures generate, and in this case they kept one-hundred percent of the money); we’ve been hosed and there’s really not a damn thing we can do about it.  I calmly explained this to him.  He was very unhappy, but he seemed to be getting my point.

To clarify my point let me say this, we’re the only ones who give a shit.

This is how it works:  Although copyright law is written in favor of the artist, artists stand little chance in court.

First of all most large corporations have buildings that devote entire floors to lawyers and they are paid specifically to kick the asses of pissant little ‘vendors,’ ‘content providers,’ and self-employed one-man freelance artists.  They will pay tens of thousands of dollars to staff attorneys to avoid payment of photographers’ invoices for a couple hundred bucks.  That’s how they think and operate, folks.

Secondly, this isn’t a copyright-infringement case; it’s a breach-of-contract and conversion case against the stock photo agency, which to make matters more complex, is in a foreign country.

Thirdly, if the case made it to court (which it wouldn’t), no court, judge or jury really gives a shit about some little artist who didn’t get paid for some stupid dog picture.  They don’t get it.  What they ‘get’ is stuff like grand theft auto, pedophilia, or murder and can’t relate to ‘stolen pictures.’  They don’t give a shit about the Chihuahua picture someone ‘stole’ from you, it’s not important to them, it’s just a picture.

The law is on our side and the court could give a damn.  The most you can hope for is to find a lawyer who can write a good Demand Letter and hope the recipient makes good after being threatened.  In this case I’m one-hundred percent sure that Alamy would just come up with some bullshit excuse for not paying you and, using nicer terms, tell you to fuck off.  That’s my experience with them.

On the Alamy website there is a ‘price calculator.’  According to their pricing a full-page photo in a calendar, distributed in the U.S., with a press-run of 3000 copies, the photo would license for $290.00.  (This is for a ‘rights-managed’ image, I don’t do royalty-free or microstock.)  But Alamy’s ‘price calculator’ is bogus, I know of no instance where they actually charge what their ‘calculator’ says.  I’ve been working with one of the larger calendar publishers in America for the past ten years and prices paid per page for images have steadily gone down.  They pay $150.00 per image per page, not $290.00.  Based on my experience with Alamy, if $150.00 is ‘standard’ then they’d license the image for $75.00.  Of that $75.00 rights-managed licensing fee they remit 40% of it to me.  So I’d get $30.00 of a $75.00 sale that should have been between $150.00 and $290.00.  Got that?

For thirty bucks it just ain’t worth it.  Heck, forty percent of $290.00 is $116.00 and that’s not worth a lawsuit either!

That’s why I’m not concerned about it.  I’m not happy about it but getting ripped-off is part of the game, and it is a ‘game.’  If I’d of licensed the image myself, I’d of made sure I got paid.  With Alamy, I’m just one of thousands of photographers supplying millions of pictures to them for free, to license for whatever amount they feel like; they’re not in business to give a shit about me (or the guy on the phone).  If I were to complain to them they’d deny there was a problem and if I pushed…… they’d kick me out the door, they don’t have to give a shit about individual artists.  While each of us individually cares about or own incomes from licensing fees from Alamy, all they have to care about is their total bottom-line ---which isn’t dependent on any one photographer. 

So fuck it, what’s the point?

Last year I discovered another one of my pictures, licensed by Alamy, was reproduced in numerous places online by clients like Apple and other large companies.  This one was a unique digital illustration and not some generic photo of a dog.  I didn’t get paid for that one either.  And again, Alamy was the problem because they licensed the image without remitting my portion of the fee to me.  When the credit line reads photo: Alamy/Dale O’Dell, I know exactly where the image was obtained.  I was pissed.  I wanted to do something about it.  I thought about it, considered my options and then came to the depressingly inescapable conclusion, its more trouble than it’s worth, what’s the point?

Sad, eh?

This is just how things are kiddies.  If you’re a creative person working in any of the arts, you will get ripped-off.  We’re in a ‘Rodney Dangerfield profession,’ we just don’t get any respect.  Our ‘product’ isn’t valued and things with no perceived value get stolen without a second thought.  The thing is we expect a certain amount of theft from certain ‘end users.’  What we don’t expect are those (like Alamy) who are supposed to be our ‘partners’ who have the same ‘self interests’ as we do to rip us off, but they do.

But then ‘stock photography’ is a stupid business.  Really, is giving pictures for free to some company to license for whatever amount they feel like and then remit whatever amount back to the photographer they feel like (or if they feel like) very smart?  Uh, no!  So ya just gotta figure you’re gonna get hosed from time to time.  Alamy is bad, they’re stupid and unethical, but they’re not unique.  All stock photography sellers suck from the corporate giants like Getty and Corbis to the mid-levels like SuperStock, Masterfile and all the rest of the wankers.  Don’t even get me started on microstock (but then who gives a fuck if you don’t get paid forty percent of that dollar they sold your picture for!).

I’m old enough to have earned my cynicism.  I just hope to be paid more frequently than ripped-off, so I end up with a positive balance sheet.  I know they’ll (or someone else) will do it again.  I’m just so tired of fighting just to be treated fairly, but I can’t fight every fight.  I’ve given up, it’s hopeless.  I know my place in the economic food-chain.  I lost thirty bucks on that one, the price of a dinner.  I can certainly skip dinner so someone at Alamy can keep a few extra unearned bucks.

Oh, they say it was a ‘mistake?’  THEN PAY THE ARTIST!

Yeah, good luck with that.

From the Den-of-Cynicism.
February 2012
Revised April 2012.
All is normal.