When you represent an artist the one question that you will get asked over and over again is ‘will they make it’? Now I am not really sure what that question means, but I know what they mean when they ask it. And what they mean is dependent on what segment of the art world they inhabit. If they are an art consumer or collector then what they mean is ‘will I make money on this….or at least not lose money’. If there are dealers they actually mean ‘will I be able to flip this again in the not too distant future?’. If they are an artist themselves they mean ‘is he going to be famous’. And if it is the artist themselves they generally mean ‘will I able to give up the day job at some point?’ So will Joe Machine make it?
We’ll let’s breakdown what is laying underneath those questions, and look at how ‘making it’ can could be measured and then come back to that question.
If you look at the answers that those above questions seek to uncover then I make the presumption that ‘make it’ can be judged by success in either, all, or a combination of four main categories.
- Audience Reach
- Critical Acclaim
- Resale of Investment Value
So how do we judge success in these categories?
Creatively – Now that is a very personal one, so I will not dwell on that for too long. Does the artist feel that they are creatively fulfilled by their work? If they do then have they ‘made it’? Well perhaps on their terms but certainly not to the rest of the world. Who cares? Was Francis Bacon creatively fulfilled?
Audience Reach – Surely if you are reaching loads of people then you have ‘made it’? You would think so wouldn’t you? Well ask Jack Vettriano, the man who has produced one the most iconic images of all time and he will say yes. Ask the slightly more fickle and…dare I say…snobbish art world and they will say no. Having you painting recognised by the millions that shop in IKEA does not mean you have made it….often quit the reverse.
Critical Acclaim – Do people whisper you name in awe? If so it still may not mean that you sell. Critical acclaim is very very important but should not been seen as the ultimate prize. There are many artists that in their early careers were the darlings of the art world, but people just would not bite. Perhaps because the subject matter was too controversial? Perhaps because it may have seemed too faddy? Wha ever the reason it meant that people would not add a piece to their collection until they reached the final point……Value.
Value and Investment Value – Value and investment value are really two separate points but I shall deal with them in one go as they kind of go hand in hand. However they are both very different. ‘Value’ quite simple means what someone will pay for it. This is sometimes called ‘gallery’ or ‘wall price’. But does this ‘gallery price’ indicate the value of the artist work? No. Does it encourage people to buy the artists work? No. Because in reality any fool can hire a gallery, stick some work up, stick a crazy price on it and be lucky enough for some nutter to come along and pay it. What really matters is the ‘investment’ or ‘exchange’ value of the piece. This means the prices that are reached for an artists piece when it has been resold once or more. In other words, once the market, and not a gallery or the artist themselves, has set the price. And this is the point where it becomes very tricky for an artist. She can be creatively fulfilled, reaching lots of people, be having her skill and genius spoken about in hushed tones, and even have sold well at exhibitions…..but the seasoned collector, the serious art buyer, will not touch it because it has no ‘sales history’. They will spend hours poring over the auction results of an artist looking for the upward trends before they will part with their money.
It is for exactly the above reason that the criteria I use for judging if an artist has ‘made it’ is by looking at a combination of three of the above categories. I believe that if an artist has proven success in the areas of Audience Reach, Critical Acclaim and Investment Value then they have made it.
But the original question wasn’t ‘has Joe Machine made it?’. The question was ‘will Joe Machine make it?’
A very different question, but one I have a formula to answer it with.
For an artist to become successful she has to go through four stages. Forget about getting an agent or being exhibited etc, the true markers on the pathway to becoming a successful artist are:
- Selling a painting to anyone – this is normally friend and family if we are honest
- Moving on to selling out side of your direct circle – this is a big step, but normally means you’ve sold something quite cheap to someone who fancies it as a bit of decoration.
- Selling something to dealers and ‘first rung ‘collectors who dabble in the secondary market – This is really a big moment as it means that people are starting to see you as bankable. People are taking a punt and, more importantly, they are starting to resell your work. You are getting a ‘sales ‘history’. Congratulations.
- Then, finally, selling to serious collectors – Now momentum should carry you on from here for two reasons. Firstly, birds of a feather flock together. That means that once one collector is on it, then others follow – no one likes to miss out do they? Secondly, collectors now have a vested interest and rarely do they not ‘protect a price’ when something comes back onto the market. Meaning they will often bid up and item to above the current value rather than see something fail at auction.
Of all these stages number 3 is by far the hardest. Each are pretty tough to push through and is only achieved with a lot of effort, but in my experience moving from selling to ‘people who just occasional buy something because they like it’ to selling to ‘people that make their living through buying and selling art’ is really hard and where most artist get stuck or give up.
So when I am asked if an artist will ‘make it’ I look at where they are on the journey. If they are selling to dealers, and dealers are starting to trade in their items, then I see that as a very very positive indicator that they will go the distance.
So will Joe Machine ‘make it’?
Well in many ways he already has. Dealers a regularly buying his work and trading in it. Plus he has now moved onto the final stage and is starting to sell to some high level collections. I think the final ingredient, and one that is already showing signs of happening, is when Joe Machine starts hitting the auction houses. Then we will really see prices fly I think. Once a few people have made the serious money on Joe then the others will get in on the act and that is when things go nuts, because then demand outnumbers supply. He has certainly ticked all the other boxes. He is creatively successful in that he does what he wants to do for a living, his audience if growing exponentially every day, he has never been short of critical acclaim and there is proof that his prices have more than tripled in the last 3 years.
Joe works incredibly hard and seems to instinctively understand that if he sticks true to what he is doing then the established art world will catch up with just how fantastic and important he is.
Will Joe Machine ‘make it’? In my humble opinion? Yes.