Business challenges for the Visual Arts in the Digital Era. Part 2: The Fine Art Market

Hooray Picasso!! by ©2014 JorgeParra
We talked in  Part 1  about the major challenges most professional photographers have to deal in commercial/advertising markets due to the democratization process introduced by digital technologies, as cliches and new standards. like “good enough images” or “Your camera takes great pictures” have affected the perception of what a REAL professional photographer brings to the table for the execution of a project.
The Fine Art market has also been shaken in both directions, for the benefit of it, but also to absorbe certain negative aspects that are reshaping the way collectible visual art is perceived.
One one end, Photography has got another setback. Back in the analog – film- era, it was relatively easy to point out how many original prints were done from each negative. There was a lot of art, technique, craftsmanship and commitment for an artist to be able to identically reproduce a few ( limited number) of prints, and offer them for sale as a Limited Edition Series. A scarcity criteria will just pump the prices up as the availability of less prints in the market would command for a higher price tag to acquire one such work. Much certainly, serious Art Collectors look ONLY for this kind of work to invest in, and the smaller the number of originals in a series, the better.
Now, when discussing modern photography, digital technologies allow for endless reproduction of copies that look and feel exactly like the original,basically, you can provide an infinite set of originals, and then the scarcity criteria gets removed from such work, and it becomes an inexpensive commodity, sometimes termed Wall Art.
It is up to the artists to be able to generate a scarcity criteria, not only by limiting the number of original prints, but also by means of interacting more in-depth with the media, mixing techniques from different crafts,etc,etc, as to be able to provide try few true originals to the market.
There is also a number of ethical and moral issues involved here, since the “sudden” presence of a new series of images from an originally closed series, printed at a different size or using another substrate, has been used as an excuse to keep profiting, while theoretically bringing down the value of the first, “original” series. See for example the case for photographer W. Eggleston, sued by a collector of his work:
Many things can be said about the actual loss of value – or not- of the original Limited Edition Series”, which turned out to be” not-so-limited”, but one thing is certain: this situation is a by-product of digital technologies redrawing the art scene.
Painting, in it’s classical definition, has not seen the same abundance of copycats, as it takes a real artist to generate a copy of some artwork which could be truly thought to be an original, and even at that, there are numerous expert museum and gallery curators, who are usually consulted when a “new” painting from a classic artist emerges in the market.
With artists like Vermeer, who painted such few original pieces, you can easily tell which works are his and which could be just a fake.
That said, a new market for art reproduction of original artwork has emerged (more wall art), as thousands of digital prints from one original painting can be sold for a few dollars.
In general, the process of transforming once-original artwork, with limited originals, into a commodity, with potentially endless copies, and how to deal with it, is still a matter of discussion in art circles, schools and museums.
The situation gets even more complicated with digitally generated art, something that has been created not in the real world, but in the world of vectors, pixels and software (read about CGI, for dramatic examples), or a mixture of analog and digital, work plus the exponential growth of Motion Works. And it still gets even worse in the universe of social media sharing, plus all digital distribution channels, those that exist now, and those that are yet to be created!
In conclusion: I have the clear sensation that  we are living the “transition-to-digital period”, where many things are yet to be re-defined,  and this process will provide the changes in attitudes and concepts that are necessary to design a new business model for the Visual Arts, both for Commercial Work and also for the Fine Arts.
Digital Technologies are barely entering our lives and the more, massive invasion is yet to come (look for The Internet of Everything), so, as it has usually been the case with disrupting technologies and trends, we still don’t know where we are going, but it will certainly be a challenging process, full of new experiences, where creativity will be, as always, the key to the solutions.
Jorge Parra
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