Technology has changed everything!
by Colin Ruffell for article in Art Business Today magazine
For most of my long and illustrious professional art career [he says modestly] I have had to ‘paint pictures and sell them’. In fact that was the phrase I used to answer the question “what do you do”.
But now, my answer is, ‘I paint pictures, publish prints, and sell them’. Not much different on the face of it, but very different in reality. And it is due to computers, inkjet printing, and the internet.
Only fifteen years ago, in the dim dark days before the cyber dawn and the inkjet print head, an artist who wanted to expand the efficiency and viability of his or her business by making prints had to use silk screen, etching, lino-cut, or engraving methods to create a time-consuming, hand-made, small-run of original prints.
Which is not very effective in leverage terms.
Or, you could use four colour lithography to make big runs of prints. The process involved monster Heidleberg high speed presses that cost an arm and a leg to set up and run. The print company probably wouldn’t use heavyweight fine-art paper, and the inks meant that the prints would fade in sunlight. Costs were very similar whether you had 100 or 1000, so you were tempted to choose 1000 so that the unit cost was affordable. The printer pressed the print button and a thousand prints were deposited into the tray in a few minutes. You had to publish the whole edition at once, and even though each individual print was reasonably priced, you had to have, and pay for, all of them. Then you had to store them. You needed to win the pools, or inherit a fortune, or sell your children, to afford to amass and warehouse a portfolio collection of say just twenty images. That is 20,000 prints. So most artists didn’t.
Gallery representation, if you were lucky, was for your original paintings or original prints, while big publishing houses looked after reproduction prints. It took them a year or more to plan and execute a sales campaign for a new repro image, and it cost a fortune to do it. Catalogues were printed, samples were put into portfolios and hawked around the galleries, or expensive space taken in trade fairs in different countries on different continents. Artists considered themselves very fortunate to be taken up by a publisher who would do this for them. Names like Frost and Reed and Soloman and Whitehead ruled the waves in the UK. Goodness knows the names of the big players in foreign markets, so goodness knows how one got in touch with the international market.
But not now. These days an artist can self publish and produce affordable high quality repros on demand. That fact alone needs to command great respect because it has changed everything.
The other thing that I mentioned was the internet. If anyone told you twenty years ago that you would be able to run an art gallery with the potential for 5 billion eyes to see your exhibits, change the stock in an instant, communicate with the whole world, find out about absolutely anything, send personal messages to thousands of people at once, almost for free, then you would have them banged up for lunacy or fraud. But it has actually happened.
And as for computers. The power and potential efficiency of spread sheets, cut and paste word processing, Powerpoint presentation, Facebook, blogging, Twitter, Google, Photoshop, i-phones, i-pad, Blackberry’s, Wacom tablets, digigraphs, gaming, ….aaargh!
Ye Gods, the world has handed us the keys to heaven, or the opposite.
Anyway, I think that you will agree that technology has changed everything.
Maybe the value and purpose of art hasn’t, and hopefully the role of the artist to see, and express, and create, and inspire, and wonder, is the same. But now the aspiring professional artist can use these wondrous new technological tools to do it better.