Saturday, January 10, 2009

Starving Artists Sale: The real story!

Room For Art Gallery
As an art consultant, gallery owner and having worked for artists and publishers, I believe that art is for everyone, not just the wealthy. Over the years, you’ve seen the TV ads, "Buy a framed, sofa-sized oil painting for only $49.99!" Initially, you think to yourself, “Well, for only $49.99, no wonder the artists are starving.” You temporarily consider a quick trip to downtown or one of the suburban hotels where this magic is happening hoping to find an art "deal". Maybe the buy of a lifetime. It sounds too good to be true and in the back of your mind, you wonder if Bernie Maddoff or Tom Petters has anything to do with it. But times are tough and maybe you will find a new art star, a future Picasso or Matisse like artwork that you will be able to sell for much, much more sometime in the future. However, if you're thinking of going to this event, there's something you need to know.

The image of a talented young artist standing at his easel overlooking a beautiful landscape creating a masterpiece for $ 49.95 is fantasy. Most of us don’t think that there is a connection between overseas labor and a $49.95 painting. But there is. We all like the emotional image that artists are starving for the love of art! But let's be realistic.

While it is possible to get really impressive works of original fine art at very reasonable prices, that's not what's going on at the "Starving Artists Sale." What they're selling is, at best, assembly-line paintings which are produced by the thousands -- one identical painting after another -- over in China. The $49.99 sofa sized starving artist paintings are products of Asian art sweatshops. The inexpensive offerings at starving artist sales are either cheap oleographs or paintings produced in repetitious assembly line manner.

Starving Artists: The Process

Factory workers stand, for hours at a time, in front of machines that support a long roll of blank canvas. With brushes and paint, each worker is responsible for painting one image or portion of a painting’s entire composition. For instance, when producing a landscape painting, Artist #1 will paint a tree, Artist #2 will paint a bird, etc. At intervals the canvas is automatically repositioned to expose the next blank area of canvas to the workers who will paint it. The workers repeat the painting process. During the process, Artist #1 paints that same tree over and over again for the next 14 hours straight.

Well, just like Artist #1 whose job it is to paint that tree, there is another artist in the starving artist sweatshop who signs paintings. Despite their country of origin, the signed surnames on the majority of the paintings are not Eastern. Marketing dictates that westerners expect to buy paintings signed with western surnames like Smith, Worthington, or Jones, so the producers sign all of the paintings with a few of the most common western surnames. This assembly line art process continues until hundreds of look-alike paintings are produced. Completed paintings are cut from the end of the canvas roll, and stapled to a wooden stretcher, framed, and crated for shipment to a "Starving Artists Sale" near you. The framing is of inferior materials and often times will separate or warp after a month or two of variations in humidity.

While the assembly line process does result in an oil painting, it is anything but an original. It is mass-produced just like stereos or any mass produced item, and shipped wholesale and reflects little on artistic creativity. Further, your purchase does not support any individual artist anywhere, no matter what the sales ads may want you to believe. And I promise you, these works do not "sell for hundreds" to anyone who knows better. This "art" is absolutely not a bargain; it's just cheap.

What is an Oleograph?

The oleograph or imitation painting is a print. For instance, an image of a fruit bowl is machine printed onto a piece of canvas instead of a piece of poster paper. After drying, a clear varnish used to simulate brushstrokes, like clear nail polish, is applied over the printed still life image. This technique is done today with differnet composites of varnish or glue in many frame and poster shops in the U.S. with full disclosure as to the process. The oleographic process dates back to the 1800s. Its name refers to any imitation graphic work just as the term oleo is used to describe imitation butter.

While printed oleographs rely on machines rather than artists, the starving artist sales keep the age-old sweatshop in business. These budget paintings are produced by groups of underpaid and overworked factory laborers.

Now that you know the real story on the starving artists sales, don’t you think that your $50 would be better spent on a good pencil sketch by a student artist at your local college or university? I certainly do.

If you need some low-cost decor art and you like what the Starving Artists Sale has to offer, fair enough but do know what you're buying. It offers none of the purpose, soul and artistic creativity that people buy art for. You can get far better deals from your actual local artists, any day. The value of original art made by local artists in your own community is seen on many levels - support of the local art community, support of the local community in general, the story behind the art, the local "flavour", and the biggest reason to buy original art is so you own the original in all its glory, no dilution, no one else owns exactly that work of art. And the absolute best reason to buy any art? Because you love it and will smile every time you see it hanging on your wall!

Interesting Legislation

On a lighter note - Art Authentication - Jon Stewart Show

Our Friends:


  1. I love this post! I just wrote a post in my Wordpress blog on the same subject and included a link to this post. Thanks!


  2. Master Framing are the experts in framing in Sydney.
    We specialize in memorabilia framing, custom picture framing, canvas stretching and photo mounting.
    We have grown into one of the most competitive picture framers in New South Wales,
    offering a large range of picture frames and picture framing services.

    cheap framing sydney