The art of making a living
Knowledge Mushohwe Correspondent
Shona sculpture is highly regarded in Western Europe, the United States and even in neighbouring South Africa and the Internet may be used as a vehicle to help the market stand up and notice.
Art is rightly regarded as a luxury by the more affluent members of society.
The rich collect artworks as a hobby and are willing to part with millions of dollars for the most prized of paintings, sculptures and installations.
In Europe and the United States, art is exposed to a big market with members ranging from the middle class to the filthy rich.
The Zimbabwean art market, on the other hand, is much smaller.
Some leading local visual artists say other than from foreign diplomats, one or two Zimbabwean politicians and businessmen and a few companies, there is very little interest in the work they produce.
Given that art exhibitions in Zimbabwe are very few and far between, it is evident that the local environment is not conducive for the marketing of creative products.
The few visual artists that are lucky enough to exhibit their work are almost always disillusioned by the high commission rates charged by the galleries that routinely “feast” over a third of the total worth of the purchased art.
Zimbabwean art is available in hordes, but the market is small and probably shrinking further.
It is rare to see sculptures for example inside a local household, even though they cost very little and are widely available.
Is it because Zimbabweans do not appreciate their own art or because they do not have enough knowledge or understanding to make an informed decision?
Probably a little bit of both, but even in the developed world, it doesn’t take interest by entire populations for art to find its own niche market.
With the Zimbabwean economy going through a lean spell, it is becoming even more difficult for the artists’ products to get noticed locally.
What local artists know best is creatively produce and even in difficult times, they cannot shift attention to other industries.
Rather, they need to find fresh ways to promote and sell their products to an extended market.
The internet is providing new channels and new markets for local art.
Shona sculpture is highly regarded in Western Europe, the United States and even in neighbouring South Africa and the internet may be used as a vehicle to help the market stand up and notice.
Zimbabwean visual artists also need to understand the local market’s circumstances and needs.
Creating large bodies of work using expensive materials would be unwise if the artist only intends to find a customer after completing the composition.
Smaller artworks that cost less to produce are more ideal for a Zimbabwean market that does not give any guarantees.
Most artists are uncomfortable working in groups or on collaborative projects.
But being an organised group has a clear advantage over clusters of artists struggling to market their works individually.
The internet provides art marketing opportunities for both groups and individuals.
There are over a thousand independent websites that market artworks and only require a small percentage after the work is sold.
One of the best known and fastest-growing “buyer and seller” websites is called ArtPal.
ArtPal guarantees that the artist receives between 95 and 100 percent of the money realised from the sale. They do not charge membership fees and also offer a free Print-on-Demand service.
Vango?, another website, allows the artist to keep 80 percent of the money and gives more pricing power to the artist who is allowed to set five price points for any one artwork under $2000.
Art Storefronts allows the artist to build a store website within minutes and goes the extra mile by providing printing services to artists for free.
It has become important that artists look beyond art galleries’ waiting lists and show some initiative online where the market is bigger and more diverse.
However, going online for anything including art, has to be done with extreme caution because, just like the online customers, scammers are also waiting for an opportunity.