Finding success in the art world doesn’t come cheap. First, more often than not, you need to buy the materials to actually make your art. Then there’s the time and labour you expend on creating that piece, and the work that goes into getting it shown or sold.
London-based artist Lucy Alves reflected on this in her piece “Buy Me for £146.09”, which we picked as our VICE Vision Winner from Xhibit 2020 – the latest of the annual exhibitions coordinated by Arts SU, the University of the Arts London students’ union.
The selection this year was as strong as ever, but we felt Lucy’s work deftly confronted a problem so many young artists face: interacting with art as a business, as well as a passion.
That angle emerged while Lucy was writing her dissertation, in which she examined how artists utilise the medium of the art market as their practice, focusing on “business artists” – such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons – who “focus on selling their work as part of their work”.
Exploring this topic got the Camberwell College of Arts graduate interested in money – “not necessarily in making money”, she says, “but more the idea that an artist is also a businessperson and has to market their work and sell their work in order to live. I became very aware that I was graduating and would have to take on this business in order to survive as an artist.”
Lucy’s way of communicating this tension was to depict the exact amount it cost her to print and frame her work, while also taking into account an artist’s fee: £146.09.
Of course, that figure only accounts for Lucy’s costs; pricing work for sale is a whole other challenge. Luckily, there are resources out there to help. “The Sad Grads Instagram account gives a platform to artists who graduated during the pandemic,” says Lucy. “There’s a-n, an artist’s network that has a PDF that helps you price your work. There are also formulas – like hours plus materials. There’s no right or wrong answer, I think you just need to make sure you’re not under-selling yourself.”
Lucy, too, has been providing emerging artists with advice on how to handle the art world, via the magazine she founded, Gatekeeper.
“I’ve always been very interested in art magazines,” she explains. “What gives them the power to choose who’s going to be in there? It’s gatekeeping, to some extent, and I realised there’s no publication out there that covers that topic from the point of view of the artist.”
The purpose of Gatekeeper, Lucy says, is to “give a platform to groups of artists or collectives – any creative that makes work either around the art market, or is tackling the commercial art market in some way and providing any sort of critical insight or an alternative ecosystem”.
Check out Gatekeeper here, and more of Lucy’s work below.