What Artists Can Learn

From the Antiques Roadshow

Imagine one night in the distant future your great great great great grandchildren and their families suspended in their enviropods watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS (now in it's 143rd season) on videoport. Suddenly a piece of your art appears on a velvet pedestal surrounded by lights, cameras and a distinguished expert to tell us all about it. He ogles and fawns and gushes and expounds on how important your art is as its owner beams with pride. And the capper is the preposterous amount of money it's now worth! If you only could have made 1/10th that amount in your entire career, you would have been thrilled beyond belief.

Meanwhile back here in the present, you know your art's likely going to be around for a good long time, longer than you, and if you're like most artists, you'd rather see it someday critiqued and admired by experts than crammed into a storage unit, sitting in the dollar box at the local thrift mart or worse yet, tossed into a dumpster. The good news is that not only can you minimize the chances of horrible fates but better yet, you can even experience some of your future art stardom starting right this instant simply by taking a lesson or two from the Antiques Roadshow pros.

All you have to do is become aware of the types of factors that differentiate distinguished and exceptional objects from the countless trunk loads of inconsequential junk that are destined for oblivion. You'll see that treasures often share common characteristics in how they've thrived over time and increasing in value as well as historical significance. The more of the following characteristics you can incorporate into your art, the more meaning and value it's likely to have not only now, but way way off into the future as well.

* The most common shared trait among Antiques Roadshow standouts is the amount of effort that goes into producing them. When significant amounts of time, thought, skill, vision, technical mastery and care are spent creating things beautiful and enduring, that's special. So above all, take your art seriously. Never compromise on quality, and only let it leave your studio once you're convinced you've done the absolute best job possible.

* An object's condition almost always comes into play when assessing value. The most sought after pieces are often in spectacular and immaculate original or near-original condition. For you, this means one thing-- make your art to last. Use whatever materials and techniques are necessary for it to look as fresh, vibrant and indestructible 100 years from now as it does the instant it leaves your studio. Be aware that serious collectors appreciate durable well-made and built-to-last art today just as much as they will in the future.

* When experts examine valuable objects they look at EVERYTHING, not just what the artists or makers want us to look at. They go deep-- well beyond surface appearances and inspect them over and under, back and front, up and down, edges and borders, top and bottom, sideways and everywhere else. This means your art should look as beautiful on the parts viewers normally don't see as it does on the parts that they do-- on the backs, sides, tops, bottoms, and everywhere else. Pay attention to every detail. For example, a painting that looks as well-made from the back as it does from the front is always more desirable than a similar painting that might be equally appealing from the front, but sloppy or slapdash on the back.

* Originality counts. Antiques Roadshow finalists are hardly never copies or reproductions or re-dos or derivatives of other objects that came first. So be original; don't be afraid to experiment with what's never been done before or to go where no artist has yet gone just because you think you might fail or it might not sell or that someone somewhere might not approve. In other words, be bold and go for it! If you must, use art by other artists for inspiration, not imitation.

* The background or story behind an object is almost always significant. Good detailed well-documented incidents, events or stories specific to works of art not only entertain, intrigue and engage viewers but more importantly, they add value-- historical as well as monetary-- over comparable objects without stories. So make sure you document and note any details of interest for each and every piece of art you create. This may take the form of a blog, social networking page, image page, handwritten journal, printing or writing somewhere on the art itself, a video, photographs of you with the art or at work in your studio, or written or recorded materials that accompany each piece. Do your best to assure that everyone at any point in the future will be able to understand what they're looking at, what inspired you, how or where or under what conditions it was created, and similar incidentals. This information will contribute immeasurably to their overall enjoyment, in-depth understanding and appreciation of your work. A work of art with little or no documentation or story is just another pretty picture.

* Hand-in-hand with a good story goes good provenance, that is, the ownership history of an object. Good provenance contributes substantially to a work of art's significance and value from authenticity as well as historical standpoints. A well-documented ownership and exhibition history always enhances the value of an object over that of a comparable object without documentation. Whenever possible, keep track of who buys your art, when and where it sells, how much it sells for, which pieces show at galleries, which pieces get exhibited at notable shows, which win awards, which get reviewed or critiqued or blogged about, and so on.

* Reflect on the future and consider your art's potential history now. Many Roadshow relics are historical. They offer insight into the times when they were made and often represent seminal moments of days gone by. Think about how people will look at or respond to your art decades from now. What might make it historical? What might make it stand out? How might it signify or represent the ways people live their lives today? How might it reflect or document or embody what's happening now? The clearer you are on these issues and the better you chronicle them in relation to your art, the greater the chances of that art becoming valued and not forgotten.

* Whenever you get the chance, listen to how collectors talk about what they cherish the most, whether it's art, antiques, collectibles and any other treasured possessions. Find out why they buy them, why they keep them, why they get passed down in the family, sometimes for generations. Not only will you hear some rather fascinating stories, but you'll also hear about beauty, style, craftsmanship, uniqueness, endurance and other qualities and characteristics that make them stand out from all other objects. The more of these attributes you incorporate into your art, the more keepers and the fewer throwaways you will surely produce during the course of your illustrious career.


(art by William T Wiley)

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