When I moved my studio early this year, I hastily stuffed prints from one of the drawers—which had served as a kind of catch-all—into sandwich bags. Today I had occasion to take out one of those bags to locate a certain print and as I did so, it occurred to me that this bag of prints might be worth something. But what?
In the art market, they are saying there is a depression. Many of the artists I talk to say so, that there’s no market for art now. Other people I talk to (who are not in art but who talk about raising money) are excited about crowd-sourcing for technology projects. They cite instances where thousands of dollars have been raised for projects to finish everything from movies to smart transportation prototypes.
I see more people in technology and business these days than I see in the inner circles of art and printmaking. It’s a consequence of my thinking that printmaking is the ancestor of all technology and therefore, to understand and practice printmaking on the artistic level you need to know where printmaking came from (cave handprints) and where it is today (video games, as one example). Therefore, I meet a lot of geeks and hackers.
Wishing to share the printmaking gospel with more people (that’s what printmakers do), I go to many meetings where I can stand technology on its head and show my etching press as an example of technology antiquity. Then I ask these groups—hackers, business people, engineers, etc.—for help to create a factory school of printmaking art where I can walk my talk.
In starting a school the subject of money always comes up, and I think many of the people who watch me do my dog and pony act wonder when I’m going to hit them up for money. I never do, because the real value of the idea of a factory school is so great I couldn’t handle the amount of money involved by myself.
The bag of prints I took out of my cabinet that day, containing twenty-five or thirty etchings, is worthless on the art market, I think; but as a component of a fundraising scheme—a crowd-funding scheme or an auction for example—it’s worth at least $100 - $500. This isn’t enough to start a school, but it is worth a lot in the larger scheme of the school.
Considering these aspects of my bag of prints, I extracted a print and looked at it in the perspective of crowd-sourcing or auctions. It was a gritty-looking print I remembered as having made on a sailboat, the Kadeca, with Tom and Margie Kughler. Tom did the engineering and steel work of the Mini Halfwood press. I wanted to demonstrate printing a Solarplate (a technical process for plate-making in the sun), and to do this I brought my Mini Halfwood Press (Tom built both the Kadeca and the press, by the way) and the print I happened to pull out of the bag resulted.
By the standards of the art world, the print would not meet the professional, technical standards demanded by a commercial art gallery (such as Davidson Galleries, where I had my last one person showing in 1998). However, by standards of entertainment and teaching, storytelling and technique, it meets other standards and, as something of dollar-value or part of a larger scheme (such as a factory school of printmaking art) it may be worth a great deal.
Bears thinking, does it not?
Art ActionIt was around 1977, I think, when I was faced with a need of quite a lot of money in a hurry. C. T. Chew suggested I have an art auction. Since the law requires licensing for auctions, he invented the Art Action to get around the legal issues. His Art Action was similar to a Dutch Auction, where the prices go down instead of up.
At the live event, the audience is challenged to bid on a piece at the lowest price; they must resist the urge to call out, “Stop the Clock!”—the clock which was an Apple computer screen programmed with numbers that ticked down in $5 increments. Beer was served at the Art Action, which was held in Kent Lovelaces’ Stone Press art gallery, in Seattle.
Carl’s plan worked; I think we cleared about $7,000. With it I was able to transfer a certain videotape art work to film, using what was then a then-new technology for which I had to go to Los Angeles. The only problem with the Art Action that it alienated art dealers, and it was a long time before people forgot how I had actually depressed the value of my art. But I made a lot of new friends, a lot of people got art, and I got my video project done.
What it taught me was that there is an entertainment value inherent in printmaking—and that I was able to part with examples of my prints—which spanned decades—with impunity because I had multiples. It was for a good cause—the video-to-film work. It taught me that printmaking is an art form which builds bridges, not only a form of making consumer products, but also as a social art with economic power capable of achieving wonderful things.