Thursday, December 20, 2007

anthenaeum's wild imagination exhibit: outsider artist james harold jennings (part one)

North Carolinian Ginger Young collected an exceptional group of works for her curated show: Wild Imagination. The exhibit, featuring rarely seen works by six self-taught artists from the American South, is currently on display at Alexandria's Athenaeum (Dec. 15, 07 - Jan 27, 08). The entire show has a combined commercial value over six figures and is whispered to be attracting the attention of some noted Smithsonianites. I have never seen so many Howard Finster's works (there are eight) in one venue; they excitingly and aptly depict several points along his artistic journey.

It's rare indeed to find such a collection of true outsider artists anywhere locally except for at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore, or at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, or in the Outsider Art Show held there each January. Rarer still, is when one finds them in a quiet and unobtrusive historic hall used for part time ballet classes and other cultural events.

Young assembled such revolutionary outsider artists original works such as Howard Finster, Mose Tolliver, Jimmie Lee Sudduth, James Arthur Snipes, Nellie Mae Rowe, and James Harold Jennings. Amazingly, they all sit there on the wall with the light peacefully streaming in - check your hours of operation before you go - it took us two tries to gain access.

Of the Harold Jennings (1931 - 1999) pieces, one can see: Windmill; James Harold; Amazon Women; Indian Abstract; Spinning Man; Indian Family; Statue of Liberty; and Tall Woman. It's difficult to believe these works came from an eccentrically reclusive child who dropped out of school after the fifth grade. His school teacher mother home schooled him in the rural area of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He read dictionaries, encyclopedias, and magazines such as Popular Mechanics and National Geographic. Jennings worked for a time on his family's tobacco farm. Later, he was a night watchman and a movie projectionist - disliking both jobs.

When his mother died in1974, he received a small inheritance and supported himself by picking up bottles and cans along the road. Jennings' moved out of his home and began organizing three abandoned school buses, which were located across the street, in a sort of environmental assemblage. He slept and read in a big orange one, cooked and ate in another, and in the third, he created and stored his art. He lived from the late l980’s until his death in 1999 without electricity, telephone, or running water.

James Harold Jennings made by hand an estimated 4,000-plus works of art, most of them accomplished later in life. He worked non-stop and daily on his painstakingly detailed wood pieces. He carved and painted brightly colored figures with happy and bold strokes. His earlier works featured mechanical pieces with moving parts, but these tapered off as time went on.

Jennings’ was known to press his fingers into his closed eyelids for inspired ideas created by the blotches of color which appeared. Calling himself the “sun, moon and star artist,” he often used these symbols of nature. He began using scrap lumber to make assorted whimsical pieces such as whirligigs, windmills, and Ferris Wheels.

It wasn't long before pilgrims-in-the-know began searching him out. He remained shy and reclusive, but demonstrated pride with his spectacular crowns, symbolism of women, rows of Indians, animals, and imaginary creatures, all blowing about in the wind. He is reported to have said that his work was inspired by religion, but his inspirations came from experiences with “astral projection and metempsychosis.”

Jennings' work has been considered to be a outlay of Appalachian art traditions which embrace abstraction. Jennings' work was influenced by dreams, visions, and occasional articles and books.

Perhaps his visionary spirit finally got the better of him. On April 20, 1999, "Indian" James Harold Jennings committed suicide. His 69th birthday is said to have ended with failing health and fears about the impending millennium. Fortunately for us who did not know him, in 2002, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC, mounted an exhibition of his life and work entitled "Health, Happiness, and Metempsychosis."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

why every starving artist should be listing on eBay

The statistics for eBay art sales are a bit confounding if you try to pinpoint exactly what in the art genre is selling and why. But if you can believe Lisa Suttor, Founder/CEO of eBay Certified Provider who yesterday sponsored a workshop on Unlocking the Potential of Your Business, there were 32 million unique visitors to eBay on December 2 & 9, 2007.

Even though online shopping is still considered in its infancy, on December 10, 2007, the highest figure in retail selling hit 880 million dollars in 24 hours. That's HIGHEST EVER! 880 million dollars and a significant jump from last year on December 13, 2006 when the market hit the 633 million dollar mark.

Elsewhere on the web, we picked up unconfirmed stats. Estimates are that 95 million users spend $894 per second and another estimate has the same users spending $92,000 a minute (i know, the math doesn't add). Did you know 10 million or more e-Bay bids are placed every day? Daily, 100,000 new people register on eBay to buy and or sell. Each day over 2 million new items are offered and one estimate placed over 2,000 bids made on art work alone every hour. Amazingly, this afternoon at lunch a mere 206,888 items were available for sale (using a search field of all art). There were over 6,000 photographs and over 8,000 sculpture pieces.

You know, 6,000 or something photographs divided by how many million users? Part of the reason e-Bay statistics are unknown is because art is not a commodity that can be fully regulated, and e-Bay features such as e-Bay stores capitalize on compounded or referral sales. Quotes on revenue are difficult to track. We know of no known data on buyer demographics, original versus reproduction sales, numbers of galleries, independents, auction houses, etc. that may be masking themselves with e-Bay's anonymous trade names. And anyone in the art world is very familiar with the resale market of art, so tracking true and unique sales is quite a challenge.

Some limited statistics for major international auction sales can be found in database publishers like, Gordon's Art Reference, or Art Sales Index to name a few. Surely, if you as a starving artist want to PAY someone to give you rough statistics on what sells, there are a myriad of online companies specializing in just that feature alone. Probably the best source to date is Art Price's "Art Market Trends."

eBay does offer helpful tips to those who are just starting out and they include: organization tips; price selling point tips; timely days/hours to post; ways to capitalize on potential offers; ways to list your item to attract the most visitors; and something we touched on briefly yesterday - using the data to propel your art business forward as business relationship intelligence.

If the exponential growth rate of eBay doesn't scream, "Hey you, get off your chair and let's get listing," then I don't know what will. Consider this. Not only do you stand a very good chance (given proper marketing, etc.) of selling on e-Bay for MORE than what you might via other commercial channels, but now eBay offers the seller an opportunity to donate to a charitable cause of their choice. So you can profit and the world profits with you. Ingenious.

Make no mistake, eBay takes time to master and it's not for the weak of heart. Artists and galleries have to dedicate time to grow a successful eBay business. When you consider the global market artists have at their hands and feet through the eBay portal, it's time well spent. And remember ... you are not too late, you didn't miss the boat. This week and next present an EXCELLENT window for you to gear up and get ready for a successful (no more starving) 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Arts Professionals and Commercial Web Innovators: Trends to Engage Customers

Commercial web innovators such as Schwab, FedEx, OnStar, and eBay are some industry leaders who are developing strategies and tactics to engage customers online. David Zanca, SVP e-Commerce Technologies, with FedEx and Chris Murphy, Senior Executive Editor, with Information Week, hosted an Internet Evolution Webinar this morning to help explain leadership thought in developing and building valuable business relationships. The concepts being used in the commercial sector are directly applicable to the arts. For example, Schwab uses technology to listen to non-customers. OnStar relies on users for developing research. eBay uses in-person forums and data for information.

1. The arts community must continue to capitalize on improvements to technology access. Access creates an extended marketplace. This in turn creates value and improves overall quality of life.

2. Connectedness, communities, and similar interest forms (i.e. MySpace, Second Life, Yahoo Groups, Craigslist) will help to continue to create a marketplace that transcends time, space, information, and other previous obstacles. Increased access to technology results in increased personal satisfaction, business expansion, national economic growth, higher expectations, innovation, and investment. Similar personal interests will continue to drive community attraction - if you're interested in race-car art, equestrian art, or Japanese silk weaving - there's a community of like-minded enthusiasts for you.

3. The online arts community must work to create seamless electronic transactions and simple integration; key to improved business sales. One-stop "clicking" is imperative. Your gallery customers, museum attendees, and art community must be able to perform the intended action on one site (in one sitting) without having to click over to PayPal to pay for an artwork, or FedEx to ship an item, or worse - having to constantly click back and forth between a home page and various screens where art work is being displayed.

4. The arts world must shift from a "destination" perspective (i.e. clicking on to a particular museum) to a "connection" perspective (i.e. what can I do once I get to the museum - how does the museum connect me to the arts, to upcoming events, to resources, or to other people). Think of your site as a portal or a gateway. To achieve this, the arts world must continue to talk to all different segments of the population, must examine changes in the arts marketplace, and must strive to understand the available functionality of new technologies (i.e. how can we use Blackberry technology to improve arts awareness and advocate arts participation?)

5. Arts professionals must listen to and strive to remain aware of shifts in how people are working and what they need to perform their functions. This is particularly important in fundraising, development, and public relations campaigns. If we can provide people the capability to use technology, we can integrate the services we offer - thereby facilitating the connections.

6. Have you thought about blog applications, social networking, instant e-mail campaigns, using high-end graphics, or techniques for sharing best practices and exchanging knowledge? The arts already has the benefit of being for and about people. The winning business strategies moving forward will be centered on services built around what's valuable to the people in our colorfully intelligent community.

7. Finally, the arts site simply has to be visually engaging, welcoming, and beautifully designed. Some recent estimates give the average computer user 3 to 5 seconds of "decision time" in initial determinations of whether they will stay and browse. The more your site is designed for your community, the more attraction you will ultimately create.