The Estheticist (Issue 12, August 2011)

The Estheticist is a free ongoing service of art consultation around practical, philosophical and ethical issues around the visual arts profession. To ask a question, email estheticist [ at ] Participants accept that their questions may be used for a printed publication that will serve as a professional development tool for emerging professionals in the arts. Your question will be confidentially and the question will appear as anonymous unless you specify otherwise.

To see previous issues, click here.

Note to our readers: You may have noticed that The Estheticist took a two month vacation. The hiatus was due both to a decreasing stream of inquiries and to our own summer slumber. Since we did not encounter major opposition to this gap, we may continue publishing issues in accordance to the level of inquiries and less in accordance to the monthly calendar. This is, in the end, a labor of love, so we may take advantage of the fact that we have no advertisers.

Dear Estheticist,

I’m a conceptual artist in a third world country who still cant live off my art. i tried to sell photographs but collectors here are still dubious about the medium and still cling to the idea of a unique artwork. I’m not complaining about having a day job to support myself and my art, but the resentment for artists who don’t need a day job inevitably creeps in sometimes. After seeing The Grirlfriend Experience and reading about Andrea Fraser’s work about being procured for sex by a collector for money and treating that as an artwork ( though i really really hate her, everything about her), im now contemplating on doing the same (or completely whoring myself ) just to have an edge and a bigger slice of the art market. I know those kind of under the table transactions are not new but will it really be worth it in the end?

The Martyred Whore

Dear Martyred Whore,

Fraser’s piece is about using conceptual strategies to make completely explicit that subservient relationship that artists and galleries can end up playing to collectors. It is very different from turning your entire production over to the whims of whoever you think may like your work. First, you should not compare yourself to artists who don’t have a day-job- each artist has a completely different set of circumstances in their lives and it is impossible to draw useful parallels. Your collector base may reside outside of your country, and there is also an advantage to living in a distant place from major art capitals. But under no circumstance should you sacrifice the integrity of your work: it always is so much better to have a day-job than start producing substandard or commercial work for the market.

As an aside, I would offer that the reason you dislike Andrea Fraser so much is because you identify so profoundly with her work. Its an old symptom amongst artists.


The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

Can curators be artists?


Obviously, a Curator.

Dear Obviously a Curator,

The curatorial practice is creative in its own right, but even if the curatorship of an exhibition is so brilliant as to have the resonance of an artwork, it should not aspire to be seen as one. Artworks are entities that call attention onto themselves. When curatorial projects behave that way, they usually do so at the expense of the artworks included. At some point in the 90s, around when Nicolas Bourriaud wrote Post-production, we thought that the era of the original art was over and what would replace it was only the ability to combine things, to paste together, the era of the DJ.  And in truth, this new activity has become an art in its own terms, curatorial practice included. But it has not replaced artmaking altogether. So when one curator tries to make his or her art using other people’s artworks, that usually doesn’t come off well. The problem is not on whether the curatorial practice can be considered a creative endeavor, but rather that curators who really want to be artists end up being bad artists and bad curators.


The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

An artist whose work I like has offered to trade their artwork for mine. How can I determine a fair exchange and talk about the trade in a way that makes our relationship stronger?


Dear Trader,

Your way of operating in this circumstance will need to be both pragmatic and generous, and will also depend on the current place in the career of both of you. If both of you are more or less at the same level career-wise ( critical recognition and similar market value for your works) there should not be much of a problem: both of you should give each other the freedom to choose a work within your oeuvre of each other’s liking and then do the exchange. If you are a younger  or less recognized artist than your friend, you should be considerate and defer to him/her as to what piece (or range of pieces) he/she considers  appropriate to exchange, and even when you are given green light to choose anything you like, you should exercise good judgment (try not to go for the huge piece that clearly costed a fortune to make or one which is very coveted).  However, if you happen to be in a stronger position (market and reputation-wise) than your fellow artist, you should ignore this difference and treat your fellow artist as an equal (Sol Lewitt was famous for doing this; he would exchange works with artists he appreciated and would trade works with them even though it was clear that whatever piece he was sending was usually worth much more than whatever piece he was receiving).


The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

As an artist, how do you price artwork? It’s painful to price artwork. Aren’t

they really priceless? Unless one has another job to pay for daily expenses,

artists need to make money, too, in order to live.

—Just wondering

Dear Just Wondering,

The reality of our world is that many priceless things have to be given some provisional price tag. Life is priceless, and yet if one dies there can only be a finite amount of money dedicated to this person’s life insurance. So the monetary cost of an artwork is an imperfect representation of its cultural value. As artist, you have first to accept that fact and then, if you do want or need to sell your work, adjust to the realities of the market around it. The variables will have to do with your place in your career, the impact that your work has had in the world so far, its uniqueness, etc. You can refer to the prices of other fellow artists who are in similar stages of their career than you.


The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist

Your opinion wil be key for an ongoing project we are going. A well known artist in Córdoba, Argentina, invited a renowned curator and three artists (including me) to curate a show of his work. My question to you is the same than the one the artist is making to us: what kind of work should he produce for this show?

I await your response.


Dear A.L.

In some cases, artists behave like those individuals who enter a tarot parlor so that a card reader will tell them what do to. The thing about those instances is that usually the person already knows what he or she will do- the card reader only helps him or her come to that realization and feel as if some divine power enlightened her to make that decision.

The well-known artist who invited you must have had his reasons to choose all of you specifically. You should explore with him a bit further as two why he chose you, how he thinks your perception will result in an adequate curatorship, what expectations he has of you, etc. Your mission is to help him articulate, through this kind of questions, those vague ideas about the show he would do and bring those to the surface of his consciousness. You are not to dictate to him what to do.


The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

How does an artist promote herself without interfering with the galleries she is with and has been with for 5-10 years.  Websites,blogs, auctions, social media and contests – how, without asking about each thing – to be moral, honest and still ambitious.

Question 2 (like press at whitehouse – two part question, sorry) How can an artist go from selling at okay price, to making a living – if she sells a lot, but has no fame to raise her prices – this is a big question, I know.



Dear B.

1. Most galleries welcome their artists taking the initiative at promoting their work- what no one likes is to have to carry the burden of doing all the promotion for one person.  The more you spread the word about you and your gallery, the better for both. However, galleries are there to represent you, and it doesn’t look very classy when the artist becomes the extension of the PR department of the gallery- let them do the dirty work whenever possible. Galleries preserve the aura of the artist- let them do that. Focus your efforts on the aspects that they can’t help you at- asking for residencies, getting speaking gigs, going to social events where you meet potential supporters of your work. There are many more ways in which you can promote yourself without spamming people every day.

2. Regardless of how much you sell right now, your prices can only go up depending on the demand, and the demand will only increase if more people become aware of, and interested in your work. And this will only happen if you constantly seek opportunities to advance your career- obtaining museum shows, getting into biennials, maintaining a certain level of activity, etc. If your career is on a standstill or you haven’t had major breakthroughs, raising your prices will only hurt you.


The Estheticist

The Neologist

Mock Turtle

Term used  to refer to nouveau riche collectors who buy the worst pieces by famous name artists —usually those which no serious museum will collect. The term comes from a character from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.  e.g. He has a mock turtle collection.

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