Category Archives: Art

Price and Sell Your Lower Priced Art

Regarding your first question, how you decide to set your selling prices is entirely up to you. All I say in my writings is that lower priced works of art, no matter what they are, tend to sell faster and in greater quantities than higher priced pieces. Adjusting your art prices in any direction impacts your sales; the greater a downward adjustment, the greater your sales volume tends to increase– a suggestion I regularly make to artists who want to sell more art and who want to get more of their artworks out into the public. Lowering your prices is only a suggestion though. Do whatever feels comfortable.

Keep in mind, however, that the object of this game is to sell your art, and better yet, to sell plenty of it, and in so doing establish a good solid consistent track record of making sales on a regular basis. Think about it. What sounds better? That you sold ten pieces last month? Or one? Or none? If you tell someone you’re selling ten pieces of art per month, they don’t ask you how much you’re selling them for; they’re just plain impressed that so many people are buying. Who knows? They might even decide to buy one themselves. Keep in mind also that gallery owners love hardly anything more than artists who sell well.

And another thing– if demand for your art is modest, it makes no sense to price it to the max, to inflict pain on anyone who wants to own it, to make them wince as they write out the check or hand over the credit card. There’s no upside to that. The affordable approach is far more logical. Nothing is better for your reputation than to have satisfied buyers delighted with the prices they pay singing your praises to anyone who asks. When you get to the point where you can’t make art fast enough to satisfy the demand– that’s the time to start raising prices, not when things are slow or you’re trying to increase sales.

The trick to lowering prices, if you decide to lower them, or in providing lower priced alternatives to your more expensive works of art is not to denigrate the lower priced pieces in the process, or in other words, make buyers feel that they’re not getting your best efforts if they choose to pay less. No matter what people buy from you or how little they pay for it, they should always feel that they are acquiring art that is as collectible, well-crafted, thoughtful and as worthwhile owning as your more expensive pieces. Lower priced pieces may be smaller, sketchier or whatever else you have to compromise on in order to produce them, but one thing that they should not be is inferior in quality.

Too many artists deliberately sabotage their lower priced works, either verbally or technically, as if to say to buyers, “Since you don’t want to pay full fare, you can sit in the bleachers.” This is not a good practice. The best way to cultivate repeat buyers is to respect their choices, their budgets and their reasons for buying whatever works of your art that they can afford buy. You never know when a buyer who starts small might someday go on to become one of your biggest collectors. Allowing for that possibility is just plain good sense.

In answer to your second question about the availability of reasonably priced art in the marketplace, there’s an incredible amount of art for sale out there that can be purchased for under $1000 per piece, and often for well under that amount. All you have to do is go online and look. If you can’t find any, look harder. It’s there and it’s plentiful; believe it. One truth that the Internet has revealed to all of us is that there’s much more art out there, many more competent artists, and many more affordable artworks available for sale than any of us would ever have imagined pre-Internet.

By the way, if you’re already offering your art for sale online, seriously consider having a good selection of reasonably priced works of art available for purchase alongside your more expensive art. Most people who run gallery and artist websites will tell you (assuming they feel like talking) that their average online sales are typically in the $300-$1,200 price range. Sales over $2,000 to $3,000 remain relatively uncommon, though they do happen. The good news is that as people become increasingly comfortable buying online, higher priced sales are happening with greater and greater frequency. Most people are still getting used to the idea of shopping for art over the Internet, though, so help them out by giving them the option of starting small without having to risk too much money.

You also mention in your email that your prices are competitive with those of other artists in your area. Do you mean all other artists in your area or just those artists you know or those artists who you choose to compare yourself with? And if you’re selling online, do you mean all other artists online or just those whose websites you’re familiar with or who you follow regularly? What you may not be taking into account is that people also buy art from artists who you don’t know or who you’re not familiar with. You have to keep the big picture in mind, especially with the increasing viability of online selling, and continually compare your prices not only to those artists in your immediate circle, but to all artists and all available art in your geographical area as well as on the Internet in general.

Art Websites For Work

At the forefront of the online art revolution are a handful of websites that have transcended the individual artist or gallery web page mentality and evolved into massive clearinghouses of information. The best among them offer artists hundreds and sometimes thousands of ways to get informed, get exposure, make connections, organize their efforts, and advance their careers.

Founder and webmaster Richard Collins brought it online in May 1996 with a couple of pages. It has since grown to one hundred pages with over 2,000 links where sculptors can obtain information on virtually any topic having to do with the discipline. (Note posted March 2008: this website has changed ownership and is substantially different than it originally was.)

Collins’ mission is to define today’s sculpture industry and spotlight where within that industry efficiencies can be gained. He believes that by assembling numerous resources in one place, sculptors can save money and more effectively do business. They can use the site to locate and comparison shop for supplies, service providers, and outlets for their work better than ever before. Sculptor.org has links to tools, techniques, technologies, resources, organizations, legal issues, foundries, jobs wanted or needed, conservation and preservation of sculpture, sculpture as a business, and much more.

For people who want to see what’s available in the marketplace, sculptor.org has links to 300 individual sculptor pages. Collins is in the process of reviewing 500 additional individual sites for possible inclusion– 100 belonging to artists who have asked to be linked and 400 of sculptors he’s found in his own online searches. He has also linked about 100 commercial galleries and has located an additional 1000 online, but is primarily focused on individual sculptors at this time.

From a technological standpoint, perhaps the most fascinating links on the site are to machine replication services. These businesses use computers to design sculptures from scratch and also to work directly from models. They are able to scan models with 3-d scanners and either reduce, enlarge, or alter them. Finished designs can be “printed” or cut out at any time using robotic systems. Twelve such companies are currently listed.

Collins also helps sculptors establish better web presences as few are capable of doing so on their own. He’s invested hundreds of pro bono hours in these online projects and as a result, sculptor.org experiences periodic financial difficulties. In order to more effectively serve the community, he’s currently seeking funding and developing ways to generate onsite income.

Sculptor.org gets about 30,000 hits per month, 10,000 of which are classified as visitors– people who view multiple pages. Although Collins does not have much in the way of hard data, he says that business is resulting from “sculptors wanted” ads placed by people and companies looking to commission family or animal portraits, public works, and commercial pieces. Special effects film companies have also advertised for sculptors. Individual sculptors report increased traffic from being linked to the site and may be getting commissions as a result. Links to foundries, tool companies, and materials suppliers also get a high number of hits and are probably making sales.

An early example of a grass roots community website, no longer operational, was the San Francisco Bay Area’s www.artistresource.org. The site was not about selling art, but rather about bringing local artists together and giving them opportunities to get their art out into the public. Its mission was to create and maintain an online community for Bay Area Artists, to educate and connect people to the region’s art and artists, and to promote Bay Area art. Its geographic focus was very specific, extending South to Santa Cruz, through Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco, North to Ukiah, and East to Sacramento. No events outside of this area were posted.

Artistresource.org maintained hundreds of links to information about art classes, art techniques, shows, events, jobs, articles, places to hang art (cafes, public spaces, galleries along with contact information), resources for art supplies, art classifieds, studio spaces, forums, competitions, and calls for art. Artists were able post their shows at no charge. Link exchanges between this and related sites were free.

One of the highlights of artistresource.org was their “mailing list.” Every week, they emailed detailed information about ongoing shows, opening receptions, closing shows, art classes, lectures, and demonstrations to anyone who asked. Subscriptions were free– all recipients had to do was provide their email addresses. About 1000 artists and members of the art community were subscribed. This allowed them to stay informed without ever having to log onto the website.

Artistresource received no funding and was maintained by an average of six volunteers, some of whom lived outside of the Bay Area. In exchange for volunteering or submitting articles, artists were allowed to post portfolios of their work. The site received about 3000 hits per week.

Many visitors to artistresource.org used it to keep track of and attend local art events. Art students, of which there are thousands in the Bay Area, found the site especially helpful in navigating the art community. Artists who linked experienced increased traffic to their websites and those who advertised reported positive results such as finding students for their workshops and locating studio space.

At the opposite end of the continuum from non-profit endeavors like artistresource.org is www.artnet.com. This massive for-profit site has been at the forefront of the online art business ever since it first appeared in 1989. It was originally a dial-up service for an auction record database that enabled dealers and collectors to research art prices online. It has since expanded to encompass virtually every aspect of the today’s high-end art market. (Note posted March 2008: this website is bigger and better than ever, and improves every day.)

According to spokesperson Bill Fine, Artnet currently has links to 80 percent, or about 700, of the art galleries that regularly advertise in the world’s major art magazines. This makes the site unquestionably the best one-stop gallery shopping center on the web. A sophisticated search engine allows visitors to access galleries in a variety of ways including by name, location, specialties, artist names, current exhibitions, and types of art. Gallery rates for an Artnet website start at $2000. Galleries that already have their own websites can link to Artnet for $1000 per year.

In addition to galleries, Artnet also hosts and maintains about 100 web pages for individual artists. Fine says that the main reasons artists use this service are to get representation, make themselves accessible to major galleries, and sell art. For $1000, an artist can post ten images along with biographical and contact information for a period of one year or 30 works for $2000. Any artist interested in establishing a presence on Artnet should read on-site testimonials beforehand and contact current users in order to assess possible advantages or disadvantages.

One of the site’s most impressive features is Artnet Magazine, the internet’s premier online art periodical. It’s updated at the amazing rate of twenty to forty new pages per business day and contains everything from feature articles, current exhibitions, commentaries, and reviews, to detailed monthly artist horoscopes. Artnet Magazine is as sophisticated and informative as any major art publication, has acquired cyberrights to a number of the best articles and art writers around, and has hundreds of pages in its archives.

Artnet’s auction record database, meanwhile, has grown to nearly 2,000,000 individual sales records of works of art by 160,000 artists. Numerous entries are accompanied by pictures much as they are in auction catalogues. This too is the best online research resource of its kind. Subscribers have unlimited access to the database for $19.95 per month, although that will likely change to a per-use fee in the near future.

Artnet has links to the world’s major art fairs, museums, current exhibitions at its member galleries, chat capabilities, art services, and more. They are expanding into new areas of collecting and have begun hosting sites for dealers in antiques, ancient art, and tribal art. Two of their most recent additions are online art auctions and an art bookstore with over 12,000 titles.

The site averages 1,200,000 hits per week, about 300,000 of which are multiple page views. Substantial art sales are being made through participating galleries although dollar figures are not available. Most reported sales are to collectors searching for art by particular artists. Several individual artists have reported selling art to collectors who first saw their work online. Artnet auction selling prices average in the low to mid thousands of dollars per piece with one isolated watercolor on canvas fetching an impressive $168,000.

Here are some tips for anyone thinking about establishing an effective multi-purpose website:

  •  Know more than basic web design or hire someone who does.
  • Keep it simple. Large text or image files and moving or spinning graphics increase download time and decrease viewer interest.
  •  Stay focused. Don’t expand into too many unrelated areas.
  • Update regularly. If viewers see the same information over and over again, they’ll get bored and stop coming.
  • *Figure out the minimum amount of money and/or volunteer hours necessary to keep things going. Don’t expect revenues to pour in from outside sources. Generating online income is difficult.

Tips for Successful Art Openings

An art opening at an art gallery is always a momentous occasion. The atmosphere is upbeat; the art is fresh and new. Everyone from the artist to the gallery owner is optimistic about the prospects for healthy sales and favorable reviews. In a sense, the art will never look as good as it does during the opening, and as such, this special event always represents an opportunity for any artist to make a significant impression and advance their career.

A successful art opening creates a buzz in the art community, not only about the art and the artist, but also about the gallery. The better the opening, the more people talk; word spreads and attendance at the show increases. And we all know that the more people who see the art, the greater the chances of making sales. With this in mind, the following pointers are designed to make your openings successful in terms of publicity, attendance, and sales.

The best way to make an art opening work for you is to create a level of anticipation that encourages as many people to come and see your art as possible. In cooperation with the gallery, put together a compelling announcement or press release, get the word out as widely within the art community as possible– typically on social networking pages and area art and event websites– and make sure everyone sees it in plenty of time to make plans to attend your show. The announcement should be clearly written (so that pretty much anyone can understand it) and contain two to three paragraphs of two to three sentences each briefly describing not only the show, but also include an enticing sentence or two about the experience of seeing the art. That’s about all you need; quick and simple.

In addition to posting on local events websites, email the announcement to your email list as well as to relevant local arts organizations, notify arts publications that list local events, and make contact with any other media or online sites or blogs that regularly cover on local arts and culture happenings (including community access channels). Be aware of any deadline dates for getting your show listed, and send the email at several intervals, perhaps 2-3 weeks before the show and 3-6 days before the show. Don’t oversend; that can get irritatiing. If your gallery has an advertising budget, find out where they’ll be advertising and make sure your show notice appears in as many local and regional visual arts publications and on as many community events calendar websites as possible. You might even volunteer to help get the word out in this regard.

Once people know about your upcoming show, the fewer obstacles they have to overcome in order to get there and enjoy it, the better. Number one on the “remove all obstacles” list is DON’T require people to do something in order to get in. This includes insisting that they RSVP in advance, give their emails or other contact information at the door, and especially pay admission or make donations at the entrance. Artists and galleries, particularly those with low budgets or who haven’t been in business very long, occasionally decide to charge admission in order to help pay the bills. This is always a bad idea; art openings should be free.

Know up front that art collectors are not in the habit of paying to see art first in order to decide whether or not to buy it. Even a modest cover charge may discourage a good percentage of serious buyers from attending. Instead of your opening, they’ll go to someone else’s. Can you imagine paying for every art opening you attend? If you’re like many artists or more dedicated collectors, you go to dozens every year.

Some artists and galleries try to justify admission charges by promoting their openings as parties with music, refreshments or other forms of entertainment. Either you’re having an art opening or you’re having a party. Serious art buyers usually spend maybe a half-hour to an hour at any given opening. They are interested in art, not in staying for the evening and partying. Party people, on the other hand, may well pay admission and stay for hours, but they come mainly to party, not to buy art.

Charging for refreshments is another bad idea that discourages people from buying art. This is not nearly as bad as charging just to get through the door, but when you’re trying to sell items that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars and up, a little complimentary wine or cheese never hurts when the time comes for on-the-fence buyers to relax for a moment while thinking about whether or not to loosen the purse strings. Sure, a few freeloaders will likely come only to drink for free, but that’s how art openings are. If you have a low refreshment budget, buy cheap wine. For you who still insist on charging admission or selling drinks, at least have the common sense to comp your best collectors and their friends.

Always pay special attention to media people like critics or art writers, no matter how small or insignificant their publications or websites or how much you may disagree with their views. You want your shows to be reviewed, so make sure you know your local reviewers and introduce yourself at your opening. Beyond that, let them ask the questions or lead the conversation. Not everyone will want to speak with you, and that’s fine. Never presssure anyone; they’re perfectly capable of assessing the situation on their own. Publicity is always good, no matter where it appears or what it says. When someone writes about you, that means you’re worth writing about. And who knows– that upstart blogger who writes for iliketowriteaboutart.com may one day become the art critic for The New York Times.

Make sure all art is priced and that a price list and resume are visible and within easy reach of anyone who wants to learn more about you and your art. Interested buyers who may be seeing your work for the first time and like it often prefer to read about you first, before striking up a conversation. Even more importantly, they want to see whether they can afford your art. Those who can afford it and who are impressed by your accomplishments will then speak with either you or someone at the gallery.

Good Are Art Dealers and Gallery Owners

“I’m an artist,” you say. “I spend my life making art, slaving away, compelled to express myself for all the world to see and experience. The results of my creative endeavors zap practically every last ounce of my strength; so here I am surrounded by the product of my inspirations and ready to make money. But no. Something stands in my way and its name is art dealer. I can sell my own art thank you. I don’t need you and your gallery to take half of every dollar that my life’s calling entitles me to.”

Of course you don’t. You’ve got the perfect space to show your art, right? It’s a great location, convenient, with plenty of foot traffic and parking, and it’s near other retail establishments where people who to buy art tend to congregate, dine out, entertain themselves or shop for goods and services. Your space is austere, expansive, well appointed, professionally designed and lit, and when you show your art there it looks about as good as it’s ever going to look, outside of maybe The Louvre.

You have a large online following too. You interact effortlessly online, can organize, contextualize and present your art in ways collectors and other buyers can appreciate. As a result, your international audience can’t wait to see what you’re going to create next, with wallets open and ready to spend.

You’re comfortable around people who buy art; you’re well connected, you socialize with collectors, and participate in activities and belong to groups and organizations that they belong to. You understand how art buyers think, how much they know about art, and how to talk to them about art in language they can understand and identify with. You are an interpreter capable of taking art that may involve complex cognitive concepts, raw emotion or sensitive subject matters, and can not only make it palatable to those who might otherwise shy away, but also appealing in terms of the tangible as well as intangible benefits of ownership.

You’re at ease talking about art and money; you know how to price your art sensibly and within the context of its market, and can explain your prices to anyone who asks in ways they can grasp, and without unnerving them. You sense when someone is on the verge of purchase, ready to buy, and you know exactly what to say and when to say it in order to turn the deal, reveal the checkbook, and reap the financial rewards that your art so justly deserves. As for the plethora of parasites, blabbermouths, energy drains, poseurs, time wasters, know it alls, and deadbeats who endlessly hover about the art scene– you see them coming and blow them off with ease.

Just like art dealers, you are capable of evaluating all kinds of art by all kinds of artists all the time. You continually talk about art, interact with artists, study and learn about art, read about art, assess what qualities make particular works of art good or better or best, figure out what pieces to show and how to most effectively arrange and display them. You carefully examine, analyze and assess every detail of every piece of art before it leaves your studio just like gallery owners do with every piece of art they exhibit at their galleries. You make continual art-to-art and artist-to-artist comparisons, and use your extensive knowledge and overview of the local, regional, national, international or whatever art realms or markets you travel in to assure that your art not only satisfies your high personal standards, but can also withstand public scrutiny. Not only can you defend your art to critics and detractors, but you can present its merits ways that win them over to your side and advance your career.

You believe in your art to such an extent that you spend thousands or tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in rent, overhead and expenses to be public about your convictions, and to maintain a quality exhibition space conducive to persuading others that your vision is a valid one. That vision attracts a wide range of contacts from throughout the art community, and energizes them to such an extent that they reward you financially– with profit– allowing you to continue to put forth what you believe to be among the most worthwhile works of art being produced today. Art critics, museum and institutional curators, influential collectors, and others in positions of power in the art world talk, write, gossip, trash talk, hate, sabotage, and otherwise opine on your art nonstop and in every way imaginable. These people don’t bother you because at some level, you know they respect what you stand for and that you fully intend to prevail against anyone who tries to take you down.

Art galleries and dealers have nothing on you, do they now?

“So OK,” you concede. “Maybe they do perform a service and deserve commissions for what they sell… like say fifteen percent.”

The collector’s point of view:

“I buy art all the time and none of it comes from dealers,” you say. “I don’t waste my hard-earned cash contributing to some gallery’s extravagances. Screw those oversized, high-ceilinged, space-wasting progressions of near empty rooms in expensive parts of town. I know what I like, where to find it, what to pay, and I don’t need any art dealer to tell me any different.”

Of course you don’t. You live and breathe art. You spend eight, ten, twelve hours a day involved in art-related activities. You constantly monitor relevant art websites and subscribe to every trade publication that has anything to do with the art you buy or collect. You continually see museum shows, stay on top of the latest news, read books and catalogues and online updates, and talk with dealers, collectors and other professionals who know the art and artists you specialize in in order to stay on top of the market.

You’ve looked at art for years and years– decades in fact– and have seen tens of thousands of pieces, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. As a result, you’ve cultivated and refined your eye not only to the point where you can spot quality, but also make fine-line distinctions about it as well as any art business professional out there. You’ve discussed, dissected, and evaluated thousands of works of art with people in the know and can accurately assess the significance of whatever it is you’re looking at.

You understand the art market from both retail and wholesale perspectives; you follow plenty of galleries and auction houses, not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well. You know who’s showing what, and why, and how much they’re selling it for. You can spot good quality art at fair prices, and know the difference between a bargain and a third-rate piece of crap, not to mention fakes, forgeries, scams and cons. When you see art you like, you know what questions to ask, what subtleties to look for, how to inspect and assess its every detail, and why buying that art represents a constructive use of your money (“Because it’s cheaper than galleries sell it for” is not a good reason).

You can spot an artist with talent and potential before just about anyone else; you know when art breaks new ground. You know the difference between a leader and a follower, between “here today; gone tomorrow” and “here to stay.” You go well beyond what the art looks like and who signed it. You know how to inspect its materials and structural integrity, and are able to evaluate from a variety of standpoints how it’ll hold up over time. You can look at dozens or even hundreds of works of art by any given artist and separate out those that best represent the true range of that artist’s skills and abilities.

How overpriced can art be at these galleries?

I asked a former sales consultant who spent years working at one such gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA. “Signed and numbered, mechanically reproduced posters can be marked up 100 times or more,” he. “A poster costing only $10 to produce, is sometimes sold to the public for over $1000.

“Unsigned, unnumbered, limited edition etchings or lithographs by major twentieth-century artists can be marked up as many as forty times,” he continues. “For example, a Chagall lithograph that costs a gallery $100 might sell for $4000 including the frame. Art by artists like Peter Max, Erte, or Alexandra Nechita, can be marked up four times or more. This means that a painting consigned to a gallery for $10,000 might sell for over $40,000.

“To be fair,” this former employee adds, “high profile galleries have tremendous overheads. Some pay $60,000 or sometimes substantially more per month in rent alone.” The bottom line, however, is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, 70 to well over 90 percent of what you pay for art at art-target galleries does not go to the art or to the artists, but rather to rent, utilities, furnishings, framing, staff salaries, champagne and brie for art openings, and other gallery expenses. For example, if you pay $4000 for an unsigned unnumbered Chagall lithograph that the gallery bought for $100, it’s only worth $100 the moment it leaves the gallery, and you’ve just wasted $3900.

Through his gallery experiences, he– and all other seasoned owners and employees– know exactly who buys this overpriced art. While working at that Rodeo Drive gallery, he would keep his eye out for people sporting Rolex watches, alligator shoes, designer handbags, and other overt displays of wealth. “Well-dressed married couples in their forties and fifties are also likely buyers,” he adds. “But not newlyweds, and you never talk to people with back packs or rubber shoes, or to artists. They’re all wastes of time.”

While he worked at the gallery, he would typically strike up conversations with likely art targets and start by “qualifying” them, in other words, finding out whether they could afford the art they were looking at. Below are typical questions that art-target gallery sales staff (euphemistically called associates or consultants– which they are not) use to “qualify” buyers.

* “So, are you in town for the medical convention?” (A medical convention may or may not be taking place, but this is a great lead-in to finding out what someone does for a living and getting an idea of how much money they make.)

* “Have you ever bought art before?” (A “yes” answer is better than a “no,” but a “no” still allows the sales associate to continue the conversation by asking what artists they like the most, whether they’re familiar with any of the art they’re looking at, and so on.)

* A “yes” answer to the above question leads to the next question which goes something like “Where do you buy your art?” (Knowing where a person buys art is critical to making a sale. According to this former gallery associate, people who buy directly from artists are unlikely to buy at galleries. If, however, they buy at galleries similar to the one where he once worked, the chances of selling them art are much greater.)

* Assuming the art-target buys at higher profile galleries or has at least thought about it, the next question goes something like “Who are your favorite artists?” (If the person mentions names of artists or types of art that the gallery sells, this is good.)

Additional ways of qualifying art targets are beyond the scope of this article, but anyone who qualifies and shows interest in the gallery’s art is given immediate attention. A sales associate shadows the art target and either continues the conversation or remains in the art target’s vicinity making occasional remarks about whatever art is being looked at. The associate is trained to make the art target feel important, and when combined with the impressive trappings of the gallery’s lavish interior, the art target becomes seduced, tenderized, and readied to be sold to.

The sales person pays close attention to the way the art target looks at the art, prepared to spring into action at any moment, and move in for the kill the instant more than a casual amount interest is expressed in a particular piece of art. The associate’s goal is to remove that piece of art from the main gallery and suggest that the art-target study it more closely in a place called the “viewing room.”

The viewing room is usually a smaller room off of the main gallery floor with a door that can be closed for privacy. It’s specially designed for isolating art targets alone with their sales associates, and for showing art so that it looks its absolute finest. At one end of the room is a display area with sophisticated lighting where the art is positioned for viewing. The art target is seated across from and facing the art, usually on a comfortable couch, while the associate adjusts the lighting to perfection, all the while talking about how great the artist is and how fantastic the art looks. Under these circumstances, the art target is most vulnerable and the associate eventually pops the question “Would you prefer to pay for that with a VISA, MasterCard, or American Express?”

Viewing rooms are not good places for art targets to find themselves in unless they already know the value and significance of the works of art that they’re thinking about buying, or they know and trust the gallery that’s selling the art and have done business with them before. Below are additional tips, not only for avoiding viewing rooms, but also for avoiding becoming an art-target in any way, shape or form.

** Art-target galleries like the one where this individual worked are usually found in high traffic, high profile, commercial areas that attract wealthy people. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the Soho district of New York City, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square in San Francisco, and high-end tourist destinations like Carmel, CA and Honolulu, HI all have these types of galleries. Cruise ship art auctions are the high-seas version of art-target galleries.

** The substantial majority of art-target galleries are located at street level. Their opulent interiors are clearly visible through large picture windows and through glass doors that are often open to the street.

** Art-target galleries typically show art by artists with high name recognition like Leroy Neiman, Erte, Thomas Kinkade, Peter Max, Dali, and Alexandra Nechita. They also show prints by “Modern Masters” such as Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, and Miro; and, occasionally, prints by Impressionists like Degas, Monet, and Pissaro; or etchings by Old Masters like Rembrandt.

** Many of the unsigned prints sold at art-target galleries are mass edition lithographs removed from books or portfolios, posthumous printings (printings done after the artists are dead); some are even copies of works by famous artists done by other artists. All have very modest street value. Inexperienced collectors who buy these types of limited edition prints at art-target galleries often have little or no idea of what they’re really getting.

** Art-target sales people use pressure tactics to sell art (many work entirely on commission, so the only way they make money is to sell you art). Anytime you feel any pressure from an associate, no matter how subtle, to carry on a conversation, talk about yourself, and especially, to buy art, leave immediately. Questions about your credit limit or your financial situation are also immediate signals to leave. Depending on the sex of the associate and the target, pressure can even include flirting. By way of contrast, in the non-target art world, gallery personnel normally leave you alone when you look like you don’t want to be approached.

** Always ask your sales associate whether or not he or she works on commission. If they waffle on the answer, get it in writing. As stated above, many art-target sales associates work on commission. In other words, the more art they sell, the more money they make. And the more they sell that art for, the more money they make. So the goal of a commissioned art associate or sales person is to sell you as much art as expensively as possible. Recommendation: Do not patronize galleries whose sales personnel work on commission.

** Art-target galleries often have high profile art openings with security guards, spotlights, champagne, hors d’oeuvres, cameras flashing, and people at desks in the fronts of the galleries welcoming you, asking you questions and signing you in. Sales associates run around with clipboards, ready to sell. Likely art targets are waited on hand-and-foot, the entire event being designed to make them feel very, very important… and then to buy art.

** At art-target openings, gallery personnel typically stop you at the door and request personal information, ask you to sign in, or ask how you heard about the opening. Requests for personal information are always warning signs. Non art-target galleries rarely engage in such practices. You are being sized up for a hard sell– never forget this.

** Art-target galleries typically stay open well into the night when giddy revelers, out on the town and with money to spend, are likely to wander in after enjoying good food and fine wines at expensive restaurants. Two cardinal rules of intelligent art collecting, by the way, are never to buy art at night and never to buy it under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Being an art target can be loads of fun at the moment you’re buying art, but finding out what that art is worth months or years down the road when you decide you want to sell it or have it appraised is anything but fun. Of course, you’re entitled to buy whatever art you like, wherever you see it for sale, and pay whatever you want to pay for it. But if you care about the value of what you’re buying and how you spend your money, resist any pressure to buy, take your time, do a little price research in advance, or ask an outside appraiser to do it for you before you become an art target.

The creative instinct

Denver painter Elsa Sroka places her artwork squarely on the contemporary side of realism. Drawing from her own memories as well as a deep font of imagination, Sroka transforms traditional subject matter into partially abstracted yet lucid expressions of the things that feed her soul. An intense love of color and design, at times infused with her wry wit, forms the foundation of Sroka’s painting. She strives to communicate these facets of her aesthetic and herself to viewers, even as she seeks to fulfill her own drive to create.

Largely self-taught, Sroka hovered on the outskirts of the art world for years. She honed her sense of color by painting rooms in her home over and over until she found just the right hue. She worked on her technique by painting murals in her children’s rooms. And when the time came to evolve, she embraced the change completely, exchanging her day job for her passion. Success came quickly, and she burst onto the commercial gallery scene after little more than a year. Sroka met the challenge head on, and seven years later she has taken her place among the most notable contemporary artists in the West.

A Colorado native, Sroka grew up in a family of six children, all of whom were encouraged by their parents to embrace their creativity. Sroka describes her father as being passionate about art and architecture and having a constant supply of such projects available to keep his children engaged. “Art has always been a huge part of my existence,” says Sroka. Likewise, at school, art class was the only one that truly captivated her.As an adult, Sroka channeled her creativity into styling hair and spent more than two decades in that field. She considers her time as a stylist as informative for her later fine-art career, allowing her to explore color and design techniques daily. “I always imagined people’s hair as sculpture,” she explains. “Working with materials like hair textures that change from person to person, I was making quick decisions as to how to sculpt unique hair types into flattering shapes, as well as find flattering colors for each skin tone.” But dealing with hair exclusively didn’t fully satisfy Sroka’s artistic desires. As she helped organize art auctions at her children’s school and worked with them on their own art projects, she thought more about her own passion for design and aesthetics. Her next move was pivotal: she enrolled in art classes.

Sroka studied at the Art Students League of Denver for nearly a year before she decided to quit styling hair and make the leap to painting full time. “I wanted to make my own mark and express my own voice,” she says of the life-changing move. Painting on her own and at the League proved challenging for the artist, but at the same time, she felt as if she had come home. “I took a few classes that were completely over my head,” she says. “I had no idea of the basics—what paint to bring, what surfaces to paint on—but I also felt so comfortable in that world that it didn’t matter. I felt like I was in a foreign country, surrounded by and immersed in it, and I would naturally pick up what I needed. I also had an intense desire to learn and felt like I was consuming and devouring something that I was starved for. I still feel like that.”

She started off sampling several mediums, from oils to watercolors, and explored a variety of subject matter as well. Eventually, this trial and error led Sroka to her signature cows. While painting a chance portrait of a bovine, she decided she wasn’t happy with the direction the piece was taking. She began scraping the paint off and moving the pigment around, and before long she had transformed the composition into a more abstracted piece that revealed an energy and vibrancy the original image lacked. She incorporated this “accidental” technique into subsequent pieces and found a kinship with the process that soon became integral to her work

Oddly enough, Sroka’s painting experience was one of her first with cows. What began as random compositional elements developed into objects of sincere affection. “I fell in love with them through painting them,” says the artist of her cows. “It wasn’t because I grew up with them; it wasn’t any deeper connection to them, really. But I love how they have this expressive feel, and I pick out the cows that I feel a connection with.”

A cow on a couch, in a boat, or next to a staircase—these are the clever juxtapositions that situate Sroka’s traditionally bucolic subjects in a decidedly contemporary realm. “Why do cows and cattle always have to be in rural settings? I want them to have a more contemporary twist,” Sroka muses. Her spin on the usual pastoral scenes is evidence of her flair for the unexpected, while also incorporating a bit of whimsy into the work. Further, she treats each cow as its own entity, homing in on its individual characteristics. She believes she has gained a deeper understanding of the cows as a result of this approach and explains, “I feel like I know them. I feel like there’s a connection that I’ve made just in studying their faces and their body language so much.”

In contrast to her thoughtfully constructed cow portraits, Sroka’s painterly, demonstrative landscapes are spontaneous, often based on her reactions to color combinations. “Color is a really big thing for me,” she says. Indeed, many of her paintings are born of nothing more than a swath of color that speaks to her in the moment. She then incorporates other hues that complement her narrative and threads the assorted elements together, often adding glazes to produce cohesion among the layers. What begins as a simple, singular act grows into bold pairings and subtle shifts that swell and recede, producing a distinctive atmospheric depth and intensity.

A combination of her experiences and feelings, Sroka’s freestyle, impasto landscapes offer a counterpoint to her meticulously designed cow paintings. Each process allows her to access a different area of her creativity, and in turn informs and reinforces the other. “I love to have both,” she says of the two methods.

Sroka works in her studio, surrounded by tubes of oil paint, canvases in various stages of completion, and her many tools, among which are an array of brushes, scraping implements, and even her hands. The physical act of creating is paramount for Sroka, and she takes great pleasure in the tactility of her process. The mixing, painting, scraping, and smearing all foster an immediate and lasting connection between artist and work. When arranging compositions, she eschews digital editing programs, preferring to cut out and piece together found digital or magazine photographs by hand so she can visualize each new scene before translating it into paint.

Using digital images allows her to zoom in and capture each animal’s unique facial shape and demeanor. By keeping her compositions small enough to focus on her subjects’ subtleties, she can pepper her canvases with the “little bits” that give viewers a visual foothold. All of this results in carefully executed layers of rich pigment infused with the artist’s thoughts and movements. “It’s a process to me,” she explains. “I’m not afraid to destroy a painting and bring it back.”

Sroka has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Over the past decade, she has forged a new path, finding success and overcoming challenges along the way. “I have much more confidence in color and drawing now,” she says of her artistic evolution. “I also have faith that, when I let things go, I can bring the painting back in a confident way to control it.” Further, Sroka feels that her work with abstract landscapes has freed her to explore subject matter in a looser fashion and to access her intuitive side more fully than before.

Mondrian’s paintings

Before you start to think about Mondrian’s paintings,” says the Dutch artist’s biographer Hans Janssen, of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, “you have to realise that he was born, in 1872, by candlelight in Amersfoort, a backward, economically undeveloped town in Utrecht. And he died, aged 71, beneath fluorescent lights, on the 3th6 floor of a skyscraper in New York. That’s an enormous leap, from the 19th into the 20th Century – and I think it’s very telling for the artist.”Mondrian’s style evolved from landscapes and still lifes to geometric canvases

We are standing in The Discovery of Mondrian, the Gemeentemuseum’s major new survey of the work of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), which consists of around 300 paintings and drawings. It is the first time that every work by the artist in the museum’s collection has been shown simultaneously.

And, most likely, it will force anyone who thinks they know Mondrian, as a rational, rigorous painter of crisscrossing black grids embellished with blocks of primary colours, to think again.

Mondrian is best known for his stark squares and rectangles separated by bold black lines and sometimes painted in primary colours (Credit: Alamy)

For here, it is apparent, is an artist who went through many stylistic phases, as his paintings evolved from landscapes and still lifes that looked backwards, at time-honoured Dutch traditions, to the scintillating geometric canvases for which he remains best known today.

And Janssen’s point is that, while Mondrian’s well-known grids may seem simple and straightforward, it took him many years of experimentation and hard work before he was ready to produce them. Moreover, he did so, in part, in response to the great cities where he lived – Amsterdam, Paris, London, New York – and the dramatic forces that he sensed convulsing Western society within them.

Expanding horizons

Born in Amersfoort to a strict Calvinist family, with a headmaster and amateur artist for a father, Mondrian grew up in Winterswijk, a small town to the east of the Netherlands, where the family moved in 1880. Keen to become an artist, he travelled to Amsterdam, aged 20, to study at the Academy of Fine Arts.

There was a conservative, closed-windows mentality to his early work – Hans Janssen

“In the early work that he produced, from his years in Winterswijk onwards,” says Janssen, “you can still see, let’s say, the candlelight: ie that Dutch tradition of realism, stretching back to the 17th Century. Even in Amsterdam, there was still a very conservative, closed-windows mentality.” The influence of historical Dutch art is obvious in Mondrian’s early landscapes, which do not prefigure his famous grid paintings of the ‘20s and beyond.

Mondrian took quite a long while to develop his distinctive style – even when he was 46 years old in 1918, he painted more traditionally, as in this self-portrait (Credit: Alamy)

At the same time, Amsterdam encouraged Mondrian to expand his horizons. He fraternized in cafes with intellectuals and other artists, including the Dutch-Indonesian painter Jan Toorop, who introduced him to international art movements, such as Symbolism. Mondrian also indulged his love of dancing, and spent some of the money that he earned from sales of his landscapes and commissioned portraits on fashionable clothes: throughout his life, he was impeccably and elegantly dressed.

By 1909, he felt sufficiently self-confident to depart radically from 19th Century traditions – as witnessed by the way he transformed his studio. He got rid of some old-fashioned furniture, as well as several fusty carpets and drapes, and painted the walls bright white. For the rest of his life, Mondrian always arranged his working environment sparsely and meticulously, in a way that chimed with his abstract paintings – as journalists who came to interview him often noticed.

Mondrian was born in this house in the small Dutch town of Amersfoort – today it’s a museum devoted to his life and work (Credit: Alamy)

The most dramatic breakthrough in his art, though, was precipitated three years later, in 1912, when Mondrian, aged 39, moved to Paris. At that time, the French metropolis was the world capital of progressive art.

Although, to begin with, Mondrian’s best friends in Paris were other Dutch artists, he soon widened his circle, and became aware of aesthetic developments such as Cubism. Indeed, an exhibition held the previous year in Amsterdam containing works by Picasso and Braque had initially prompted Mondrian to consider heading for Paris.

Arriving in Paris, he felt excitement. “In his first week, he wrote a postcard to a girlfriend in Amsterdam in which he said, ‘You can so wonderfully be yourself here,’” says Janssen. “Which means that in a big city, you can lose yourself. There’s no need to show off – you can simply do your thing and be happy.”

Bright lights, big city

In 1913, Mondrian enjoyed success at the annual Parisian Salon des Independants, when one of his Cubist-inspired canvases received praise from the French poet, art critic and friend of Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire. The following year, Mondrian created his first completely abstract paintings. Abandoning figuration altogether was an immense step.

Mondrian stipulated some of his paintings should be rotated to unusual angles, as in Tableau No 4, Lozenge Composition (Credit: Alamy)

When the World War One broke out, Mondrian was back in the Netherlands, where he was spending the summer. Because his homeland remained neutral during the war, he decided it would be sensible to stay put. But it is a sign of how much Paris meant to him that, as soon as he could, once the war was over, he returned there by train in 1919 – and based himself in the French capital for the next 19 years. This period coincided with the heyday of his career, when he invented and expanded the timeless vocabulary of his visionary new visual language of geometric abstraction.

According to Janssen, other aspects of Paris, beyond the sphere of visual art, also had a decisive impact on Mondrian. “Mondrian moved to Paris because he wanted to be in touch with modern culture,” Janssen explains. “Not only within the visual arts, but also in a broader sense. Take dancing, for instance. Foremost among what he encountered in Paris was modern black American culture: early jazz and dancing – the two-step and the foxtrot. And he was always there when new things happened: when Josephine Baker made her first appearance in Paris, he was there.”

Mondrian’s work was included in the Nazis’ infamous Degenerate Art exhibition

Janssen believes that there is a profound relationship between dancing and Mondrian’s art: “When you dance, reality can feel heightened. And that’s what Mondrian was searching for in his paintings: a heightened experience of reality.” Certainly, his abstract paintings have a sure grasp of visual rhythm.

Moreover, Mondrian’s passion for black American music, which had been ignited in Paris, became more intense, as he attended concerts by jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington. “I have a hypothesis,” Janssen tells me, “that he must have talked to a very young Thelonious Monk.”

The playful Broadway Boogie Woogie, from 1943, can be seen as a top-down view of Manhattan’s grid-like streets – its title indicates Mondrian’s love of jazz (Credit: Alamy)

The influence of the dynamic, syncopated rhythms that he heard in New York’s nightclubs is evident in Mondrian’s late, great compositions Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), now in the collection of the city’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Gemeentemuseum’s unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie, the only painting that Mondrian worked on during the final year of his life.

Ultimately, the show at the Gemeentemuseum suggests that Mondrian wasn’t, as people often assume, a monk-like recluse, who devoted his life to abstract paintings with no relation to the real world. Rather, throughout his career, he engaged with, and fed off, aspects of modernity that he encountered in the cities where he lived. He loved music and clothes, always kept up with the latest developments in popular culture, including Disney cartoons, and had a vivacious love life.

Some of his early work suggests the bold use of colour that lay ahead, such as Evening, Red Tree from 1908 (Credit: Alamy)

In other words, he channelled the volatile energies that he sensed swirling through Western culture during the first half of the 20th Century – and he wasn’t afraid to let people know it.

In 1930, the American sculptor Alexander Calder, the inventor of the mobile, or moving sculpture, visited Mondrian in his studio in Paris. Janssen relates what happened: “Calder said to Mondrian, ‘Maybe you should take all these red, yellow and blue elements off the canvas and let them hang in the air, so they can move.’ Mondrian looked at him, and said: ‘Well, I think my paintings are fast enough already.’” Janssen pauses, before continuing: “And that really is the case: if you take the time to look properly at Mondrian’s [abstract] paintings, a world opens up.”

Separate the artist of the Art

Just how true is the following statement: an artist’s work should have value in its own right, no matter what sort of life the artist led, and even if they have damaged or hurt others? Perhaps we might put the answer on a sliding scale, for don’t we as a culture, hold it to be true when it comes to some artists, but not others?

Tate Britain’s current Queer British Art exhibition, which includes the work of the writer and collagist Kenneth Halliwell, is just one of a recent spate of exhibitions and film screenings that might prompt you to ask this question afresh. In 1967, in the tiny one-room flat the couple shared in north London, Halliwell bludgeoned his partner, the playwright Joe Orton, to death, before ending his own life. Clinically depressed, isolated and increasingly fearful of losing Orton, who was clearly tiring of him by then, he finally, as we’re pithily inclined to put it, ‘snapped’. Halliwell left a suicide note simply saying all would be explained in Orton’s diaries, “especially the latter part”.

The murder of Joe Orton by the artist Kenneth Halliwell was dramatised by Stephen Frears in the 1987 film Prick Up Your Ears (Credit: Alamy)

Halliwell is generally viewed sympathetically by writers and filmmakers who’ve documented his and Orton’s life together. The inclusion of one of Halliwell’s solo collages at Tate Britain appears to have invited no controversy at all. In fact, it’s Orton’s behaviour that’s hinted as being selfish or cruelly off-hand, and we’re often reminded both of Orton’s promiscuity and his rapid success as factors in driving Halliwell to such a desperate action. We’re given mitigating psychological complexities that aren’t always afforded when terrible crimes are committed, but I also wonder if, at its heart, there’s an unstated sense here of Orton’s culpability in his own murder.

Clearly it’s tempting to ask, would this be the case had Orton been female? It’s interesting to ponder how differently institutions today might view the power dynamics if that relationship had been a heterosexual one; how eager might they be to establish Halliwell as an artist in his own right alongside his female victim?

Outline of a dispute

One artist whose work is of far greater importance than Halliwell’s is the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. He is still alive and has never been short of major museum shows. Andre was married to the artist Ana Mendieta until her death in 1985, in what many still regard as suspicious circumstances. Mendieta fell to her death from the couple’s high-rise apartment in New York, and in 1988 Andre was acquitted of second-degree murder.

Artist Ana Mendieta fell to her death from the 34th floor of her New York apartment in 1985 – her husband Carl Andre was charged with her murder, then acquitted (Credit: Mendieta)

But despite the acquittal, Andre’s exhibitions have been dogged by protests by feminist activists and fellow artists. One performative protest saw demonstrators pour and smear red paint outside a gallery where his work was being shown. This was both an homage to Mendieta’s powerful performances in which she smeared herself and her surroundings with blood and a reminder of the violence of her death. And just last month, those attending a private view of Andre’s current show at the Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles – an outline of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca) – were greeted with a carpet of fabric laid at the museum’s entrance, on which rows of candles were placed and where outlines of bodies had been painted. Once again this was strongly reminiscent of the ritualistic aspects of Mendieta’s own body-imprint earth works, as well as a an imitation of police forensics. In addition, postcards were handed out with an image of Mendieta accompanied by the text: “Carl Andre is at Moca Geffen.

When the Ditchling Museum re-opened in 2013 after a major refurbishment, none of Gill’s abuses were addressed, though of course anyone who knew about them couldn’t help but be reminded when confronted by, for instance, a sensual and intimate drawing of his young daughter Petra in the bath. What you saw was altered by what you knew.

None of that demands that the work be censored. But context probably does matter. Gill carved many monuments and relief sculptures throughout his life, including the figures of Prospero and Ariel on the exterior of the BBC’s old Broadcasting House headquarters. He was also a practicing Catholic, and carved religious icons and altarpieces for churches and cathedrals throughout the UK, including his impressive Stations of the Cross for Westminster Cathedral. When MacCarthy’s book came out, there was a concerted campaign to rid the cathedral of this celebrated work. One might imagine the mixed feelings of some worshippers when confronted with these ‘inappropriate’ holy images, which are there, after all, to offer moral guidance, sustenance and solace. But it seems most have now come to terms with these works.

Does time absolve an artist of his or her crimes? Caravaggio was a murderer and a likely pederast, and yet that just makes him seem like a ‘bad boy’ for many (Credit: Wikipedia)

The Ditchling museum itself has now had a radical rethink: central to their current exhibition, Eric Gill: The Body, is the question of how knowledge of Gill’s abusive behaviour affects our impressions of his work, some of which is sexually and anatomically explicit. When organising the exhibition, the museum took advice from several charities who work with sexual abuse survivors.

Gill died in 1940, but we think today of others in the public eye and the continued controversy that surrounds them. Film directors Roman Polanski and Woody Allen come to mind and the utterly polarised reactions they both elicit, though both continue to work as productively as ever.

And of course, it’s never just about the work. What we do when we celebrate an artist is often to bolster the myth of their life. We do this with Caravaggio exactly because we’re fascinated by his earthy and seductive ‘bad boy’ image. That roughness and that sexuality makes him feel alive to us and incredibly modern, as alive as the figures in his paintings. And we do this with Oscar Wilde, who we celebrate today for exactly those things that ensured his condemnation in life.

Art

Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud fetched a record $142.4 million at auction. That was nearly double what Christie’s had projected, highlighting the unpredictability of art appreciation. Art isn’t science, but that doesn’t stop psychologists from trying to get inside viewers’ minds. What makes us like a few splotches of color?

First, we must identify those splotches as art. Researchers found that telling people to imagine themselves a year in the future (a tactic meant to induce abstract thinking) increased the chances that they’d say unconventional pieces such as Warhol’s Brillo Boxes qualify as art [1]. The way art is described also sways enjoyment. When subjects received an ambiguous explanation of an abstract piece (that is, an explanation including several statements, only about half of which fit the work), they liked the piece better than they did when they received an explanation that either mostly fit or mostly didn’t. Ambiguity apparently enhances intrigue [2]. Backstory matters, too: when people learned that an artist was eccentric—he mangled his ear, or carried stones on his head—they liked his work more. Unless, that is, the work was conventional or the artist’s quirks were described as inauthentic (as the researchers suggested of Lady Gaga’s antic

The viewer’s own torment is another story, however: Subtly priming someone to consider his or her mortality diminishes appreciation for abstract paintings, at least among those with a strong “personal need for structure.” But the effect is reduced when people are given the artwork’s title—provided, at least, that the title is clearly descriptive. So a name like Number 12 doesn’t do much, but knowing that a Jackson Pollock painting is called Guardians of the Secret seems to help viewers overcome their own angst and attribute some meaning to the mess before them [4].

Seeing a piece of art over and over can also increase our affinity for it. But this effect applies only to art that critics have deemed “good.” Repeated exposure to two works by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais enhanced subjects’ appreciation, while repeated exposure to the kitschy cottage-porn of Thomas Kinkade wore on them [5]. Here’s one thing that doesn’t seem to matter, however: which way is up. When subjects were shown 40 modern artworks in four different orientations and asked which orientation they preferred, their responses aligned with the artist’s intention less than half the time [6].

Finally, casual viewers with high taste-bud density don’t enjoy disturbing or provocative art as much as others do [7]. You knew all along that art appreciation was a matter of taste—you just didn’t know how literally.

The kinkiest art export

Exhibition of the Week

Kate Davis
Step into this Old Town gallery for a stimulating encounter with some original and powerful feminist video art, which includes a hymn to breastfeeding illuminated by a montage of medieval and Renaissance paintings.
 Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, until 8 October.

Also showing

Raphael: The Drawings
There’s just a month left to see the best exhibition of the year so far, a pitch-perfect selection of Raphael’s drawings that makes you fall in love with this sensitive genius who died, too young, in 1520.
 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 3 September.

Daughters of Penelope
Christine Borland and Linder are among the artists making guest appearances in this celebration of women as weavers. There’s a nice cafe too if you need a break from the fringe.
 At Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, until 20 January.

Michael Sailstorfer
Cars transformed into wood-burning stoves and a relentless popcorn cooker are among this sculptor’s uneasy meditations on nature and machines.
 Jupiter Artland , Edinburgh, until 1 October.

Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-33
The formal photographs of August Sander and the grotesque imagination of Otto Dix make for a powerful combination in a terrifying portrait of 1920s Germany, a democracy on the edge of disaster.
 Tate Liverpool, until 15 October.

Masterpiece of the week

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 The Madonna of the Meadow, circa 1500, by Giovanni Bellini. Photograph: National Gallery

The baby Christ looks almost dead as he slumbers, anticipating his destiny on the cross. Mary prays rather than cuddling or playing with her child as was soon to become common in 16th-century paintings. This sombre vision is set within one of the most haunting landscapes in art. A white-cowled farmworker sways enigmatically in the field in front of a walled village whose buildings are blank against the blue yet brooding sky. A sinister bird perches on a branch. Everywhere you look, a bleak anxiety infects nature. Who says Munch invented expressionism?
 National Gallery, London.

Image of the week

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 Europe’s kinkiest art export … one of the subversive drawings by Touko Laaksonen, who worked under the name Tom of Finland. Read all about it here. Photograph: Tom of Finland Foundation

What we learned this week

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Edinburgh international festival has burst into life with a series of prismatic projections

The city’s art festival, meanwhile, offers follies, broken statues and a surprise star

Yorkshire has been awarded £750,000 to spend on a sculpture exhibition

Art galleries are the new battlegrounds for political protest

Hypnotic video installations are the stars of the Edinburgh art festival

Our obsession with Instagram #foodporn is changing the way we eat

The winner of most upsetting Halloween costume in art: Donald Trump

Making art can help people to live with mental health issues

Igor Golomstock, the historian who exposed how totalitarians use art, has died

Ralph Steadman’s new illustrations fight for pandas, bees and chimpanzees

Photographer Justine Varga won the Olive Cotton award by not using a camera

The new Matisse exhibition is ruined by useless bric-a-brac

Tom of Finland invented a legendary gay aesthetic in his spare time

Get involved

Our A-Z of Readers’ Art series continues – please submit your artworks on the theme of U Is for Underwater.