When I began reading How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Caroll Michels I knew I would need an occasional break to digest the information it contained. This is a book with insights and methods for furthering careers as visual artists. My choice of reading material for these breaks was a simple little book – or so I thought – Paris Seen By The Painter written by Suzanne Pairault in 1951 and translated by M. D. Clement in 1954. This small volume contains over fifty black and white images of paintings of Paris. As the introduction states “[the book was designed to] present as intimately as possible the Paris of today and the Paris of the not too distant past.” Published in 1954 by The Uffici Press it leans heavily towards artists of the mid-18th and 19th century.
As I looked at the paintings in the book I decided to find images of them in color. That’s when the “simple little book” became complicated. Of fifty-six images I could only find twenty-one that matched those published in the book and most of those were by well-known artists (Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, etc.). At times the versions I found depicted the same location but from a different vantage point or in a different season; for a few I could find no image at all. As I did this research I remembered a section from the Michels’ book.
The section was devoted to legal topics and included estate planning for artists and contained the following:
On a number of occasions I have been contacted for advice by family or friends of deceased artists who left no instructions regarding the disposition of their artwork. Particularly when many pieces of artwork are involved, it can be an overwhelming responsibility to make decisions without guidance, instructions, or suggestions from the artist. On the other hand, if a deceased artist’s friends and relatives are not conscientiously seeking a solution that is in the best interest of the artist, there is a good chance that the artwork will not long survive the artist’s death.
I started to wonder about the missing paintings which, although documented in 1951, could not be found (at least with all the resources of the Internet) today. Perhaps some were altered by the artists after they were photographed, but many of these artists died prior to the book’s publication. A quote from an Alliance for the Arts publication (Future Safe: The Present Is The Future) in Michels’ book was even more powerful given my investigation of the work in Pierault’s.
As an artist, you are used to being your own best resource, so it will come as no surprise that you must take the initiative in planning for the survival of your work…..The commercial success of your art should not be a factor in your planning – you have spent a lifetime making this art and it deserves to survive.
The first step has to be recording information about your work so it is readily catalogued. Once this is done, preparing an appendix to an existing will or to one you are drawing up becomes a simple matter. Thus rather than referring to each piece of work individually you can refer to the list (which can be updated periodically) to indicate future care of the work you leave behind.
Keeping track of all the work we produce can be a daunting task. I toyed with designing a database for my work when I started my full-time fine art career. But in doing some research I found a much better and more affordable option already in the marketplace. One of its features is the ability to establish provenance for each work. When a piece is sold updating the provenance ensures that fact will be on the list when you revise it.
So, if you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got some updating to do.