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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Starving Artists Group

Visual Art in the 21st century has gotten pretty weird.

Some people have lost the ability to distinguish between "original oil paintings" and mass-produced kitsch.

Every year around this time I see glitzy TV commercials announcing the arrival of the Starving Artists Group, Inc. - a Houston, Texas-based organization that travels from city to city selling their wares at suburban hotels. The Starving Artist Group is alleged to be a shady organization run by a husband and wife-team with questionable business practices.

These modern-day traveling carpetbaggers were exposed by the investigative work conducted by the folks over at Fine Art Registry dot com. It's a good read.

Here is a short quote from their blog:

When this fly-by-night outfit comes to town, it bombards local television stations with slick ads offering "original oil paintings" for $59.00 and less, and cheap frames manufactured in Mexico. I've checked the Texas corporation records and this company IS NOT IN GOOD STANDING.

My repulsion is not that someone would profit from selling garbage. We have all seen tacky imported merchandise for sale at the shopping mall. After all, this is America, and people sell and buy garbage everyday. Consuming garbage has long been an established American pastime. If someone is stupid enough to think they are purchasing an actual 24 x 36" landscape painting for $59, then what's wrong with that? All con artists know that there is a buyer for every seller, and there will always be suckers among us with money to spend.

It's also an example of marketplace capitalism at work when "garbage" is sold like a commodity out of the dark back rooms of a chain hotel for less than shopping mall prices. After all, if your are going to purchase garbage, why pay more?

But is it an honest transaction? And, what does it say about the general public's notion of art?

Perhaps the thing that disturbs me the most is the advertised premise that the product is in fact "art." How can that be disputed? The law appears to be on their side. The company probably pays their lawyers far more than their "artists."

Although it may be legal, it seems to me that the local media TV advertisement is exploitative and distasteful on several levels...

For starters, Starving Artist Group is probably exploitative of the creators of their product - and they make no bones about it. The so-called artists are undoubtedly slaving away in sub-standard factory conditions for pennies per day somewhere in the the third world. It would not surprise me to find that the "Starving Artists" are in fact child labor - exploited and indeed starving.

I have a dire image in my head of the actual assembly line where the mass-produced paintings are passed down from station to station along a chain of unhappy workers. It's most likely an efficient manufacturing process where each color is applied by a different painter. Working in teams, a large painting that goes to market in the US for $59 can probably be produced in less time than a pair of sneakers. It's a calculated repetitive paint-by-numbers process without a stitch of creativity involved. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the brand of paint they use in the factory is toxic to both humans and house pets.

The most disheartening aspect of the larger story is that there are actually hordes of starving artists living amongst us who are deserving of attention and recognition. They would be glad to sell their paintings, or even give them away to interested connoisseurs. For them, the concept of the Starving Artist Road Show must a major insult - a slap in the face.

Support your local artists, and stay away from scams like this. Please!