About a week ago, we were in Sidney B.C. which is an island hop by ferry from Mayne Island, and we went to the oldest antiquarian bookshop on Vancouver Island. We are not strangers to this bookshop of course but it had been a while since we had popped in and settled into a good poke-around. Well, I found a gem that wasn’t really old at all, having been published in 2010 - The Twice-Weekly Letters: July 10, 1999 to September 25, 2009 by the Canadian landscape painter Robert Genn. The book is designed intentionally to be browsed with these short twice-weekly missives on anything and everything he was thinking about in relation to his painting practice and career. The book has a most impressive index to help research for material on a specific topic. The writing is more intentional than the journal of Emily Carr and broader in subject matter than the letters Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo.
I am just now, turning the pages, looking for a short quote to give you an idea but it is not that simple. Genn’s letters have a certain structure. There is the first paragraph which is often a quote from somewhere (current or past) that has sparked his musings. Then he starts to unravel its complexities and nuances followed by a P.S. or concluding quote and finishing off with what he calls an “Esoterica” which when I looked up the word means - things understood by or meant for a select few; recondite matters or items. All of this is compacted into each short letter intended to be read in an email that was sent out to thousands of subscribers in 115 different countries. Robert Genn was born in Victoria B.C. on May 15, 1936 and died May 27, 2014. I never had a chance to meet him personally nor did I ever receive his twice-weekly letters directly. However, he is someone who has been brought to my attention many times by other artists and art collectors with both admiration and respect.
I did however, most definitely followed his Ten Commandments of Pricing! This is a question I get asked a lot by other artists starting out and since I first began finding homes for my work when I was still a teenager, I have been at it for a while now. Though pricing is something every long-term artist must figure out, it is also a thing that the astute art collector should become knowledgeable about as well.
So let’s have a look at what Robert Genn has to say on the subject. Then, if you want, you can do like I have and sign up to receive these newsletters and read past ones that are made available by his artist daughter Sara Genn and volunteers through a website and subscriptions. Every second letter is now written by Sara which means the whole body of Roberts letters will be delivered again over the next several decades on the website The Painter’s Keys. But let’s give you the specific link to the “Principles of Pricing Art” from February 17, 2004 while noting that it was written before the major up-swing of social media and online direct sales by artists. This just means that now the independent artist must exercise the same control as the agent and dealer. The task of judicially managing prices within the art market has simple slid down squarely onto the artist shoulders. However, here you go and I would love to hear what you think…