are you buying a signature?

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24/10/2010 by Sarah Ritchie

This question prods dangerously close to the unanswerable question “what is art?”.

Many years ago I visited a prestigious Auckland art gallery and perused the artworks on sale. One painting caught my eye – not so much for its appearance as its price tag.

The painting was a decent size, square and painted half in solid black and half in solid white. That was it. Price tag: around NZ$10,000 (the price of a late model second hand car). I remember wondering if the price was for the painting, or the signature on it?

Perhaps buying art can be like buying a brand name – a purchase made regardless of whether you honestly prefer the product over a cheaper alternative. As an artist, how do you become a “brand” (or “preferred signature”) that people seek to collect?

  • Find yourself a wealthy patron?
  • Work the galleries?
  • Work the media?
  • Have a style so unique you become the only purchasing option?
  • Discover your niche and build a fan base?

Art is a product not too dissimilar to other goods, and which can benefit from the magic wand of PR and marketing. If you approach the selling of your art like a business person, would you be more commercially successful? Probably. I am sure the other half of the battle is knowing how to play the art establishment’s game. Can an artist build their brand independently of the establishment? I don’t know.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to build your brand to such a level that your mere signature on an almost-blank canvas could sell for $10,000! Is that ingenuity, luck, laziness or conceit…or all of the above?

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