Hello, my name is Robert Durham and I do a lot of free-hand drawings. I have been told my whole life that I should not be working in construction and I should be making money with my art. I know nothing about how to do this. Is there any way you could give me some useful advice on how to go about it? Nobody else has ever been able to help me. I want the world to see what I can
do. Help me please.
Worry no longer. Kostabi is here. Just keep reading this column.
How do you deal with people who are not artists but are still jealous of A) your talent and success, and B) the fact that you're doing something you love?
These would be like jealous art dealers, right? A) Don't let them into your personal life, and B) Raise your prices and don't give them an exclusive.
Jealousy is a waste of time -- unless of course you can convert this primitive emotion into a healthy drive to conquer and demolish all your annoying foes and make the earth tremble at the slightest flick of your Winsor & Newton series 7 number 3 watercolor brush.
Get negative people out of your life. Surround yourself with positive, booster-type personalities, who only give you constructive criticism.
Only permit jealous people into your life if they compensate for this inadequacy by being extremely rich or famous, so the price you pay to endure their fits of envy is minimal compared to the glaze of their luster or gleam of their lucre. Killer good looks are not enough to compensate for excessive envy. If you are a talented, successful artist, doing what you love, you will attract enough of the beauties to easily facilitate weeding out the weenies.
What about the art fairs such as Art Miami? Are they a wise venue where artists can make connections?
Absolutely! An artist can learn more about the realities of the market by attending one important art fair than in a year of thorough gallery-going. It's also a pleasure to circulate in such a dense concentration of diverse contemporary art with thousands of people who share your passion for it.
Universally considered the world's best is the Basel Art Fair, held every June in Switzerland. Go at least once. In the U.S., Chicago is the most important, but New York's Armory Show is gaining momentum. My personal favorite is Artefiera in Bologna, because I'm such a huge star in Italy and everyone showers me with love, attention, show proposals and money. I've never been to Art Miami -- but it's probably good -- because Italians love Miami.
Some artists will sniff that it's beneath them to attend such "vulgar, commercial circuses." Let them scoff. It's their loss. And less competition for you. Don't forget to bring your intelligently designed business cards.
I was accepted to be represented by a gallery in New York, but besides the commission they will take, they are asking me for an annual fee to guarantee representation. What do you think? Is that the way some galleries work today?
If they ask for an annual fee,
quickly unzip -- and begin to pee.
To understand better,
read the next letter:
Thanks for the advice column. I need some. My question is about galleries asking for money to help pay for invite and reception costs for openings. Some big galleries in Atlanta, before giving shows to "small fry" artists, ask for $1,000 to cover expenses and refund half after the first sale. Art stars don't pay. So fine, it's the cost of doing business and it's a tax write-off.
So, I go to NYC, work it hard and get in a group show in Chelsea at what appears to be a good gallery in a great building. Their artists have gotten reviewed in the New York Times, Artforum and ARTnews. The gallery wants $500 to cover expenses and I get my share of invites, but no-money-back if I get a sale. After Atlanta, this seems normal enough. Nothing sells, but I get great response at the opening from people other than my friends (it was the summer dead-season but people still showed up).
The gallery says it wants to do a solo show. All is happy, yes? I'm taking the show down when the owner tells me that if I want a review I have to give a critic she won't name a painting from the solo show of his choosing. He liked my stuff, but only reviews solo shows. I said yes on condition I get to meet the critic. A few months later I get a letter finalizing the date along with a request for $6,500. (non-refundable) made out to the gallery owner to be sent ASAP.
I sent a polite letter back declining the solo show. They countered that it was normal business practice and that "after all, if artists want to show in NYC, they have to be prepared to pay as the city is very expensive." I knew their lease was up for renewal and found out from a friend who deals with the gallery's publicity that its stable of artists had been leaving them.
So, it looks like they may have been legit and got desperate or maybe not. Is it normal for NYC galleries (who do not present themselves as vanity galleries) to charge money to show artists? Do artists routinely pay $6,500 for three weeks of Chelsea wall time? Do critics get their pick of artist's paintings? $6,500 cash and a $6,000 painting can buy a whole lot of cheap sandwiches.
P.S.: In case your friends didn't tell you, you were adorable on Oprah all those years ago
A famous artist friend of mine recently told me, in reference to art dealers, "They're all assholes." I've never gone quite so far, but I understand the sentiment.
It's a game of give-and-take. Mostly take. In the beginning the artist does a lot of giving. The most important place to give is into the work itself. Make it truly great, exuding value, so you can negotiate with authority. When you've got the goods, they'll come out of the woods.
In the end the artist wins. Historically, how many famous dealers can you name? Kahnweiler, Duveen, Castelli, Duchamp and Vermeer. That's it. And Duchamp and Vermeer are much better known as artists, although they were dealers too.
Anyway, the artist ultimately pays for the wall space in one way or another. $6,500 is actually under market value for three weeks of prime Chelsea real estate. But that's not the way the game is played at tonier levels. The most prestigious galleries still implement traditional consignment deals at a 50-50 split with no extra fees. They exploit you in subtler ways, like buying the best painting out of the show before the opening, "for themselves," to show you their "commitment" and then quietly selling it for much more than double what you were paid, at a convenient later date.
Some of my Italian dealers are always buying works "for their cousins -- not for the market," for which they "deserve extra discounts." Why I never meet any of these numerous, beloved cousins is not a mystery. For info about paying off critics, read my 4/4/00 installment of Ask Mark Kostabi by clicking on the Featured Writers archive.
I'm wondering about the parties, schmoozing, cocaine and Gucci. Sometimes, actually a lot of times, I like to party. I enjoy the company of many artists. However, like a $500 pair of Gucci shoes, party party party with disregard for one's own health and sense of ethics seems to be very fashionable right now. My heart can't afford the coke I see getting sucked up any more than my wallet can afford Gucci.
I understand there is a certain amount of networking necessary, but to what extent should one schmooze, to what extent should one alter his or her limits to conform to this big burst of decadence spiraling out of Chelsea right now? I am concerned about my career as an artist, and I'm all for a certain degree of change and working hard to obtain my goals, one of which being to be able to party or not, when I want to or not.
I am not bogged down by a naive Romantic belief system, but to a certain degree, I do have some Romantic intention, I suppose, pursuing a career in art. We all have to work. We all need bread on the table. It is the losing of one's soul that I was hoping to avoid in this vocation.
At the present moment, I see that all around. Stars are born and fall every minute. The current system seems cold and brutal. I'm willing to play the game, but at what point can an artist begin to play on his or her own terms?
First of all, although your letter is funny, drugs are stupid. I'm all for having as much physical pleasure as possible -- but sex is much better than drugs.
I am totally baffled by how stupid people are by destroying themselves with the trash and poison they stick in their body. Some of my more twisted fans won't want to hear this, but: without a doubt, the single most important reason that I am a successful artist, doing exactly what I want, is that I don't drink, smoke or take drugs. This affords me the time and healthy state of mind to realize my dreams and inspire letters like the following:
I hadn't heard of you until I met your brother over ten years ago. One day he showed me a great deal of the work you had done and I was impressed and overwhelmed. He showed me books, prints, posters, paintings. It's quite an accomplishment. After learning more about your work, I became a fan. I even met you out here in Sherman Oaks at a show.
Now I hear from your brother that you're still drawing and painting like a maniac, writing for Artnet.com and having gallery and museum shows. I know what I can do during a day or even a week and think it's impossible for one person to do all that and remain sane. Are you an android, clone, maniacal genius or a higher entity? Since I can never get a straight answer out of your brother and I watch The X-Files, I believe anything is possible.
Sincerely, a true fan,
I am an android.
I have two questions for you, both of which were prompted by prior inquiries. In a recent response (to John M. D. Ciao) you mentioned the sad state of art education. I am in complete agreement; other fields reward and appreciate both education and experience in a way that the art world often does not. However, I would like to know your thoughts on WHY this has become a reality. As you said, "many of the new art stars can't even spell at a third grade level." Doesn't it seem like this has become the norm?
My second question was prompted by an early reader who expressed concerns regarding their predisposition to failure in the art world because of the strong likeness of their work to another's. My question is do you feel that similarities to those already recognized in the art world will hold you back? Does an artist need to abandon work that is similar to his or her predecessors in order to achieve success on a grander scale?
Art schools need to be much more rigorous, like law schools and medical schools. AND, they must simultaneously be much more wild and crazy -- encouraging insane experimentation and juvenile pranks!
But the students must be required to learn that the Surrealists already cut up dead cows in the early 20th century; that Arman made art using actual drugs as material (heroin-filled needles sealed in resin) in the '60s, 30 years before Tomaselli and Hirst; that Bruce Nauman cast negative space decades before Rachel Whiteread; and that Damien with an "e" wasn't exactly the first to put spin-art paintings into a serious art gallery.
Your second question, regarding "strong likenesses to other artists" potentially hindering art-world success, is partially answered above: it didn't stop Hirst or Whiteread. However, being very original is ultimately a plus, coupled with the requisite bulldozer marketing machine and loudspeaker tactics.
You're such a smart, funny card. I love your column. I have a little problem and I hope you can give me some advice. I feel terrible during the critiques at school (I'm an undergraduate, btw) -- I never know what to say, I just kind of stand there staring at the floor, hoping to melt into it. I do tell people whose work I like that I like it, but that's about it. I can usually think of comments after the class is over, but it's too late by then. I'm shy and generally recalcitrant anyway (except when it comes to actually painting), but I know I have to get over this. I've tried therapy and medication to no avail.
PEOPLE SCARE ME. I think I scare them. I just put out this bad vibe. I think it has something to do with being an only child and really living in my mind more than in the real world. My mother even dragged me to a witchdoctor in the hope that he could do something to curb my mental meanderings. I'm 27, so I pretty much think this is my personality.
Maybe I should just attack the problem in a kamikaze, immersion style -- make myself talk nonstop for a while. Just don't think, TALK. That's what I did when I first started painting again, and it really worked for me. I thought of coming up with some generic, suitable-for-all-critiques types of phrases. Stuff like "I think this shows a great use/understanding of color/line/etc." But that seems insulting.
I used to be one of those know-it-all types you mentioned in an earlier column. Maybe I just stopped talking when I realized I was making people feel bad, and vice-versa. Maybe I've become a closet know-it-all who does not speak for fear of reprisal.
What the hell should I do? Can you think of any other methods I might use to slap myself out of "myself"? If it were not for the love I have for painting I wouldn't care as much, but I owe it to my work to get over this shyness nonsense. I'm a great painter and I have drive, but I'm truly a social moron.
If you publish this, please sign it anonymous.
I don't understand why the witchdoctor technique didn't work. All the top artists go to witchdoctors regularly. Anyway, I asked my witchdoctor to analyze your letter and he said that you should hire assistants to paint your paintings so that you can devote more time to your wonderfully self-indulgent, confessional writings. Artists need mythology. And if you have a talent for writing -- use it to create and infuse the media with your mythical aura.
As for school, get out and move to New York as fast as possible. At 27 you're almost not even a 20-something anymore. You must exploit your youthful sex-appeal as much as possible before things start to sag. Use it before you lose it
Do you have a price structure for your work? My main gallery tells me I should never sell at a discount because it's a slippery slope once you go down that path. If someone pays $5,000 for one of my pieces in the gallery then I put one up on eBay and I get a bid for $3,000 ... do I go for it? What does the client who's paid $5,000 think?
I am currently raising my prices with authority. But I achieved this authority because I've created a genuine, not fictitious, demand for my work within numerous sectors of the art market. They really want my stuff. I created this REAL demand partly by being flexible: exploiting multiple distribution avenues, like eBay; more commercial galleries (which I've now dropped but don't regret working with); as well as prestigious galleries. Warhol too, worked directly with Martin Lawrence Galleries. Picasso had an "army of dealers" and kept the prices low so more soldiers could participate. You always hear about the importance of "quality." But quantity is also very important. If there is no material -- there's nothing for the army to fight with or fight for. That's why, although Duchamp is an art historical giant, you hardly ever see his work circulating in the market. Quality without quantity. Whereas Picasso and Warhol had both: Quality and quantity. And their markets are huge -- at no loss to their historical status.
Sell it for $3,000 on eBay. When they complain, tell 'em it's an auction, where prices are unpredictable, they're welcome to bid too. At the moment, millions of people buy art on eBay. And millions buy it elsewhere. What's important is to keep many good doors open. Don't let dealers close the Internet door for you. I've been successfully selling art through eBay for about two years now. Out of my 30 or so dealers, I've lost two, who cited eBay competition. Both came begging back a month or so later. I said "no," -- not out of revenge, but because I don't have enough work to satisfy all my new dealers which I've acquired because of -- or despite my Internet presence.
Really enjoy reading your comments and suggestions. My question to you is regarding a kind of "artist block" I feel I've been in for the last couple of years. I graduated with a BFA in sculpture 10 years ago now, and was recognized by the university as having "talent" in this field. Upon graduation I found myself more concerned with paying off student loans and bills than continuing my studies.
Eventually I turned to gallery work, as an assistant then eventually as a salesperson, to stay in touch with the art world. The work was so demanding and exhausting, I found little time and desire to go home afterwards and be creative. I wound up leaving the gallery world after much disgust, and am now in administrative work to hopefully free up my time.
This all boils down to one nagging question in my mind "Was I ever really meant to be an artist?" Now I am not so sure. I realize great things only come from great risks. I am only at peace when I am alone working on something creative. Many others must be going through the same thing. What do you think? Maybe I've already answered my own question.
BTW, I did have the pleasure of meeting you once at an art publishing company where I was scurrying around as a temp. Horrible company -- glad to read that you play psychological games with the big boys.
I agree with Joseph Beuys, who said that everyone is an artist. Spend most of your time alone, at peace, being creative -- but then also devote some very focused time on the war of selling your creations. Selling art can be fun if you approach it like the game that it is.
I visited your website and advice column for the first time today after seeing your recent ad in Flash Art. As I stated in the notes I left on your message board, I wasn't one of your biggest fans; you could even consider me quite skeptical in regards to you and your work. However, after reading your advice column on Artnet.com, I'm not ashamed to admit that you've won me over, for good or ill. I think you perform an invaluable service to novices such as myself, and I'm glad I found the column when I did.
Thank you. Artnet as a whole provides an invaluable service. I'm instantly hooked by any writing by Charlie Finch, Richard Polsky or Walter Robinson.
I am a student at California State University, Fullerton, and have had the opportunity to see a few pieces of your work in person there. I must say, after learning about you in classes, it is quite enjoyable to see your work on campus. It also gives me hope that -- even though I didn't shell out the $30,000+ a year to go to a "famous" art school -- I can make it with my talent, (bad) attitude and perseverance. I wonder, how does one join the "Kostabi factory" in New York?
I am in fact hiring new painting assistants. Send slides displaying skill in academic realist oil painting, with a S.A.S.E. to Kostabi World, 90 Ludlow Street, New York, N.Y. 10002. I pay $8.50 an hour plus bonuses based on performance.
By the way, although I sometimes wish I went to a famous art school, I benefited immensely from Cal State Fullerton's excellent art department. Fred Tomaselli went there too.
Happy New Year Mark,
I love the advice you give, can't help but chuckle half the time, it's so dead-on, matter-of-fact. I'm always curious how these letters get picked, is it luck of the draw, committee, or level of desperation? And oh yeah, There seems to an '80s revival going on again. What are you doing to preserve the retro spirit? Isn't it time VH1 did a special on '80s art stars? Just asking.
Scooterbugz and Ouija Dog
Dear Scooterbugz and Ouija Dog,
I personally pick the letters based on how valuable an answer I can give the readers. But I do like it when the level of desperation is high. It reminds me of my dealers, panting for paintings.
I understand that you neither conceptualize your work, nor make it. That is, you are left to sign whichever work your assistants create that you approve. I would like to know if you have an art background of any kind?
When one sends images of one's work to dealers and curators, is it necessary to put a copyright notice in order to prevent pirating? In other words, what protection does a person have from someone who might simply paint your idea, and take credit, not to mention the money needed to sustain more life and art making?
Dear Inca, (the person who sent this e-mail is using the name "Inca" but the e-mail address is from someone else. This is NOT a question from my favorite artist, Inka Essenhigh.)
You do not have to put a copyright notice on an artwork in order to have it copyrighted. Nor do you have to file it with the copyright agency. If someone infringes, you can successfully sue for copyright infringement whether the work bears the copyright symbol or not. You must however prove that you did it first. This can be done by using witnesses, exhibition invitations or video tapes of your cable TV show which document your titling sessions. (That's what I do.)
Some people will advise you to mail yourself photos of the work and to not open the postmarked envelope until in front of a judge in a lawsuit -- but this technique is ultimately not very credible: One could simply mail unsealed, empty envelopes to oneself and fill them with photos and seal them at convenient later dates. Better to take photos of yourself holding the work in a garden so that your age and the age of the garden is plainly evident. Even this can be faked in our age of digital manipulation but it's much harder, especially if you save the dated negatives with lab receipts.
In any case, don't put that stupid copyright notice on your work of fine art, unless it's an intentional conceptual or design element, like some of the graffiti artists did in the '80s.
Usually, only mere illustrators and amateurs put the little c with the circle around it next to their flamboyant signature right smack on the art piece, making it all look a little dopey.
How come your paintings are so boring? They all look the same!
You need to learn how to make interesting mixes of colors. It appears that you just use colors right out of the tubes without mixing. Your paintings are always too bright, too eye-catching and too desperate for immediate attention.
I can't imagine anyone would want to spend more than five minutes to look at one painting you made. There's nothing there to ponder, to feel or to absorb. They are too plain.
Yet you put yourself in the same sentence with Leonardo da Vinci.
"After you declare your singular identity, then you can safely introduce other styles or even other professions, like science, music or writing, like Leonardo da Vinci and Mark Kostabi did."
When someone mentions Leonardo Da Vinci, people automatically think of the Mona Lisa. When someone mentions Mark Kostabi, they think of eBay but not your work. Why? Because all your paintings look the same. You paint too many of the same things over and over.
Just because some idiots paid some ridiculous amount of money on e-auctions for your paintings, doesn't mean you are a MASTER!!! You are far from a master. You are more like a money-driven opportunist who takes advantage of foolishly rich people.
That's my honest opinion.
Dear Mark Le,
Why do I feel good when I read your tirade? I really would prefer love but your venom somehow pleases me. In any case, thanks for the advice. I will try to repeat myself less.
I love the column. It is soooooooo refreshing. It takes a pretty big person to be generous with advice that took years of learning the hard way to attain. It's great. Other people are so competitive and afraid that their underlings will surpass them that they either lie, claim not to know, or avoid the issue of helping other artists. I am just sick of snobbery and elitism in the world. It is particularly offensive to me in the art world where I like to think authenticity and individuality can be realized.
I hate these readers who write in to you complaining, not only of your art, but also of your cynicism treating art as a business. Cynicism is criticism. And criticism is great. It's the hallmark of intelligent opinion. And as far as I am concerned if we had more critical thinking , less following the herd, there just might be some improvement in things. Perhaps if these readers could see you more of the artist that you are instead of an aggressive tycoon we could all benefit. Does every artist merely want your advice on how to sell their work on eBay, Artnet, or galleriesareusdotcom? Are people so shallow that they can't see you as a resource for more substantive issues?
Which leads me to question the use of $ as a yardstick of artistic satisfaction in the first place. Personal enrichment, communication and confronting complexity still rate high up there as goals for my own artwork. God knows I have seen a lot of bad art sell for big bucks and lots of really strong work go unrecognized. Here is my question: How come I always seem to hear about the important openings after the fact? Can you please recommend a reliable source for those of us not "inside the scene" to keep current?
Is it true that Mark Kostabi and Thomas Kinkaid are in reality the same person? You never see them together and their work is of the same quality.
Gosh what an honor! David Hunt mentioned Thomas Kinkaid in his super-hip catalogue essay for the "Dusk" show at I-20 last year. My dream is to be referenced in a like manner. And maybe you've done it!
Until next time,
Readers are invited to e-mail questions to .
MARK KOSTABI is an artist who lives in New York and Rome. His latest book, The Rhythm of Inspiration, was just published by Biblos. ISBN 88-86214-99-5.