Duraes West stand pictured to the left
Duraes West stand pictured to the left

Is good art sellable or sellable art good?

After three days of Art Expo Algarve (February 10-12, Portimão) and the growth of international art fairs, I am left pondering this question: should an artist curb their creativity to make sales?

If your art is selling well, is this validation that you have arrived as an artist? These questions can get very awkward …

At Art Expo Algarve, I saw many paintings being sold for a few hundred euros with a constant stream of enthusiastic enquiries, but are they selling “art” or pretty pictures?

If the general public does not buy your art, is it a sign that you are indeed an artist? Does an artist need to challenge the public with work that most people would never hang on their walls?

Artist Paulo Canilhas commented that “the public needs to understand what is conceptually behind artwork and not just purchase on its face value”. And yet, “all creative work should be considered a work of art”.

There is the space for good art and bad art, but how we define good art or bad art is interesting. It is not democratic and quite often what we consider good contemporary art was originally unpopular art. And when art becomes generally accepted as good art, it becomes too expensive for amateur collectors.

If an artist sells a large volume of work for a few hundred euros a piece, are they artists or decorators, picture-makers or professional illustrators? I think this is an important point – is an artist creating art to make money?

Portuguese artist Stela Barreto (centre); background: Durães-West’s painting Blue #3, 180cmx200cmx4cm acrylic on canvas
Portuguese artist Stela Barreto (centre); background: Durães-West’s painting Blue #3, 180cmx200cmx4cm acrylic on canvas

Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with monetising an activity you love, but I think we need to honour art. Society needs space for art to be created for art’s sake. Before you lynch me, allow me to explain.

I do not say this lightly but to encourage those young, struggling artists that doubt their talent and seek validation from the public domain. Yes, an artist might be creating terrible art in isolation, but they could also be creating great art, and, for the sake of art, we need our artists to sacrifice themselves and not sell out.

We don’t want them to compromise for the sake of financial gain. Artists, stay the course, get a second job to cover the bills – important public institutions keep supporting the arts; and to the art-loving public, take a risk on an artwork for your collection.

Art and artists need to be the ones on the front line forging paths into our collective future. They need to have the space (and financial security) to confront, to challenge the status quo and to help society to think beyond the everyday.

Art is the catalyst of positive change. Art should make us question uncomfortable truths. Originality is so important in a world where a simple iPhone can take a picture of a piece of art, print it out and frame it on a bedroom wall. We live in a technological half world of a billion online images, but this world can never compare to the experience of original art in the flesh.

I fully understand that, in life, we have financial commitments and white walls we need to decorate in our holiday rental apartments. Let the public submit to art and help artists support their artistic visions and not sacrifice for financial security.

aulo Canilhas work pictured to the left
aulo Canilhas work pictured to the left

The sad truth, only a minority of artists are able to resist the forces of financial need to survive and maintain their path. Most either have to come to some balance between satisfying their customers and their vision, and we all lose.

I congratulate Portimão Câmara for supporting John Ganhão and his dogged perseverance for the Art Expo Algarve project. It was so great to see 5,000 (or so) visitors from the Algarve interested in art.

I have a message to artists, galleries, art collectives, funds and curators: keep presenting art to the public that challenges them and I encourage you to participate at Art Expo Algarve.

To have a place for affordable work for amateur collectors alongside more challenging artwork for the serious art collector and investor is a positive pathway.

Artists, be brave and exhibit those works that you keep hidden in fear of ridicule, don’t sell out and have faith that the public will be shocked, delighted, confused, provoked and challenged.

A positive personal note from my exhibiting experience were the number of artists who loved my work, the four galleries competing for me to exhibit with them, the goosebump feeling watching people stop and look at my paintings and how fast they ran away after reading the price tag (apart from those two savvy collectors who understand the true value and investment opportunity of art).

Local economics and the public soul benefit from art fairs. Art Expo Algarve was step one. It has proved a point: the visitor numbers could not be denied; there is a need for this type of event in the Algarve.

We should take the public on a ride of art discovery, create debate, thought and new friendships. We need to challenge and enchant. “Art is Life” as Jerry Saltz, the Pulitzer Prize art critic, says, so let art be part of all our lives.

By Durães-West
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Justin Durães-West is a contemporary artist and painter living and working in Portugal. His new studio, under construction in the Alentejo, is intended to be a creative space where artists, technologists, digital nomads and computer programmers can live, create, work and explore. The works he exhibited at Art Expo Algarve can be seen at Quadro Gallery in Almancil, Algarve (Google location 3XM9+WR).
You can find out more information about the artist, his upcoming exhibitions and the location of Quadro Gallery by visiting www.duraeswest.com