I've been keeping track of the great Paleo-art debate on the Dinosaur Mailing List for a while now. It's generating a lot of buzz, and even my original blog post is getting some attention (and outside of ArtEvolved at that!) yet there are some very disturbing issues that remain.
For those of you who have read my posts on SVP 2010 in Pittsburgh, you may remember that I asked Greg Paul for advice on how to be successful in the paleo-art business. His response at the time seemed dismissive and even a bit antisocial - but now I'm shocked at how honest and realistic he was being. He got into this thing decades ago, and in his words, "would have no idea how to make a name in it today" were he to start over.
I have now a sinking gut feeling that what he really meant, in so many words, is that he's stuck in this profession and can't get out even if he wanted to. And it was a warning - think really hard about how badly you want paleoart to be your career. You think I'm kidding? Read this comment of his on the DML: it actually is NOT draconian or megalomaniac, and it's actually quite a tearful dose of reality.
An unfortunate problem with these discussions is that persons who just do not know about the issue seem to be obsessed with making arguments that are so disconnected from reality that they are from a galaxy far, far away. This has been happening with some really silly notions on what and how paleoartists can earn. This is bad because then those in paleontology may have a major misimpression of what is going on with the paleoartists they often work with. Some fellow actually suggested that a certain noted artist might earn, say a quarter million on a single painting. Let me be clear about this. There is absolutely no significant adult market for original paleo paintings in existence. There was one briefly after the first JP came out in Japan and some artists earned modest amounts, but then their economy went belly up. Lazendorf, a famed hair dresser with top level clientele packed his high rise apartment to the gills for a few years, and then sold it off for a lot of money and switched I hear to Asian art. There are a number of fellow paleo nerds who would love to have Hallett, Gurchie or Paul on their walls. And they can only afford posters. Considering the time etc involved it does not make sense to sell an original color of say 3x4 ft for less than some thousands of dollars. I have a website and I am easy to contact and have not sold an original to a private collector for years. As far as I know much the same applies to other paleoartists. Many a time I have been asked if I sell originals and when I tell them how much they are unable to proceed (also, because I modify old work a lot selling it off is not the best). A quarter million for a dinosaur painting, come on. And I wish. Now, maybe setting up a paleoartist site that includes a venue for promoting original art will improve matters. One can doubt that it will, but it it might work and is worth a try. Even if it does it will take years to build up clientele and no one will get rich that way. Books. Back when I did PDW, repped by top NY agent Brockman to a top NY publisher, it was the last few years that that was possible. The only adult dino books a major publisher will even come close to considering these days is a narrative tradebook, and the publishers actually require that it include minimal illustrations to keep down production costs and because they fear they turn off readers. If you do not believe this then you contact the tradebook agents and see what they tell you. I know the business. In general only university presses pick up those kinds of books these days and they
cannot pay useful advances and sales are so limited that they are in effect
vanity books. But what about kidsbooks? I and others have approached a number of juvenile book publishers and agents and no takers. (Maybe you noticed I have not done kidsbooks, that's why). Am not entirely sure why this is, probably has to do with publishers keeping costs down by using derivative art that basically rips some of us off. I was once on the verge of a big deal but the publisher at that moment decided to concentrate on fiction works due to changing market forces. Kids products and other licensing. A couple of agents repped my work and got nowhere. Again producers prefer to keep their costs down rather than pay significant up front fees or royalties. I have been told by product representatives that art derivative of mine seriously impairs my ability to get work, and that I need to do something about it. Which I am doing. Exhibits. This remains an important source of income. But musuem and science center exhibits managers chronically plead poverty (because they overdesign their exhibits relative to their budgets) and drive down payments to below acceptable levels. Because there are so many paleoartists willing to work for peanuts many are taking advantage of this situation. Also, there just are not that many paleoexhibits in production at a given time. Dino docs. Because cable programming is marginally funded the producers always plead poverty. Because of under cost competition -- some derivative of my work, some not -- I don't get that sort of work these days. How about selling stuff on the web? Ha, ha, ha, ha. That's one of the great jokes of the digital era. Someone was going on about how some paleoartists can charge lower prices because they are "more efficient." What a disconnect from reality and plain common sense. Doing dinosaur art is not following Moore's Law. Using copiers to quickly resize elements does help a little. But doing ORIGINAL dinosaur restorations is ALWAYS a long, tedious process that takes lots and lots of research including digging through often old and hard to get publications and travel. Using computers for rendering basic skeletons does not seem to save time (and I seem to catch more errors when using old analog methods, and the computer produced skeletons out there seem prone to low levesl of fidelity). I am as efficient as anyone when it comes to doing real paleoart. The one way to seem to become more efficient in this specialty is to be derivative rather than original, and basically use the published work of others to gain an edge on those very artists. And someone was giving us paleoartists wise and sage advice about how perhaps we should understand that because there is so much competition (much of which is derivative) that we should accept it being mere part time work that we do on the side. Aside from making us into mere amateurs, if I did that then I could not have produced all those nice skeletal restorations so many seem to really like (and in some cases use for their paleoart that then competes with mines). Think about. Really, think it through. To be blunt about it, if you are considering getting into paleoart, think about it twice, three, times and then four. The paleomarket will always be too small to sustain a large number of artists. Even so, I do think that the situation can be significantly improved if certain steps are taken. These discussions on these lists, although far more extensive than I thought they would be and perhaps tedious to those not involved in the issue (rather tedious to me for that matter), are very important to the field of vert paleo, and should have occurred long ago -- I have perhaps been tardy in waiting to bring up these issues. But one reason the discussion is longer -- and more vehment -- than it perhaps needs to be is because some who are not familiar with the paleoart facts continue to feel obliged to lecture us paleoartists, sometimes harshly -- about what we should to. Don't do that. And if you are going to debate me remember that I have long had contacts with top agents, attorneys etc, and of course I have little patience for tendentious arguments from those who lack sufficient knowledge to dispute the facts that I lay out. Treat me and others who have been in the bizz awhile with some respect. And never tell me, "but Greg, your work is so good, surely there is big demand for it if you just get the right agent" or so forth. Have heard that one before. G Paul
Without collectors there is no chance of moving that average up.
Is there any way to change this? I don't know.
The field gets better than it pays for. Tess
So based on what the pros have said, publishers want no-name artists without a distinctive style who will just copy whatever the executives think looks good. It's a crisis disturbingly similar to what Frank Zappa described regarding the music industry (warning - not for the easily offended) - sometimes, an old boring cigar-chomping executive who can admit that he doesn't know beans about a new product, but is willing to take an initial risk on new ideas like a real entrepeneur (hell if I know what it is, lets make a few thousand copies and see if it sells!) is the best thing for an industry - but sadly, we don't see that anymore.
Now publishers are crowded with self-righteous yuppies who are convinced they know what's best for you and me in the bookstore - they normally make meager marginal profits off of such crappy dinosaur books that you'd literally be better off buying used dinosaur books from 30 years ago, which for all their cold-blooded flaws were actually more accurate and more artistic than 90% of the digitally repackaged trash on the market today. Is it any surprise why publishers complain they are "chronically low on money" and have to hire the lowest bidder? The person in the executive chair can not dictate the taste of an entire population. When they think they have the right to do this, what they put out is often absolute garbage, and real artists go out of business. All these self-proclaimed experts of the corporate world who seem to think they know everything, as actually ruining and dumbing down the market to the point that good art/music/etc. becomes a foreign entity to the consumer. If you produce high-quality original work with some real effort and creativity, you won't get jobs. Or you will lose a lot more than you get. And then members of the general public who do know of people like Greg Paul will preach: "but you're so good, there must be millions of people lining up to buy your art, if only you could market this or that differently..." without knowing that these millions of people (apparently) don't exist because publishers essentially marketed them out of existence with a flood of bad books with dumbed-down wrong information and bad pictures, so that well-to-do connoisseurs of art assume that dinosaur art has no worth and just ignore it altogether.
And Greg Paul has a very nice website with professional flash animations, it's easy to find and very well-designed, easy on the eyes, shows his best work for all to see - yet still no private clients? We're long past the days of the Medicis, where artists were few in number and worked in guilds and schools, almost as a secret society of sorts, and were hooked up by their masters and well-paid by the wealthy, rather than scrounging for every potential crumb - and so imitating a master's style was respected, not reviled, and quality was increased over the years rather than diluted. Now "artists" are a dime a dozen, and nobody gives a hoot if you're a master with 20 years experience or just a thoughtless imitator without understanding and knowledge.
So here's this thing - what are your thoughts on this issue? In this age of affordable art classes, large numbers of artists, and free exchange of information on the internet, is paleo-art dead?
Is there potentially a bigger market for high-quality stuff that artists are just not reaching? And are book publishers just idiots for offering a pittance and even dictating what the art should look like (i.e. crappy Jurassic Park and Land before Time ripoffs redone with digital skin)? Would they sell more books if they took a chance on better artists who actually know what the heck they're doing (and therefore justify paying them what they truly deserve?) Can a bigger market actually be created (or reached, if it exists?) Is there a more efficient way of marketing art that nobody in paleo-art has tried? Ebooks? Kindle/nook? Communal online galleries? Online royalty licensing of images via Paypal or credit card? Any constructive ideas and thoughts are welcome.