Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Quandary of Donating Art (Silent Auction or Otherwise)

Often artists are asked to donate art for silent auctions to help an organization's fundraiser.  Many artists are happy to do this, thinking that at least their name gets out there, the art gets seen by public and peers, and it's an opportunity to move out older pieces that haven't sold or maybe no longer represent current style.  And, it helps the organization.

These are my offerings to the latest request.  What are they worth, to me, to the organization that has asked for donations, or to the potential buyer?  What value do I attach to these, as requested in the submission form?

Water on a Plain (diptych), 18h x 12w x 2d (each), Byzantine, Mexican and copper glass smalti tile on cradled birch panels
The region’s annual flooding was the impetus for this piece. Gently undulating strings of muted color with select brighter notes flow across the two panels, meant to evoke images of springs’s receding water, mud and vegetation as struck by the occasional glint of sunlight.

But artists may also see requests for donated art as a growing problem:

  • The number of organizations asking for donated art has increased significantly
  • Such organizations are willing to pay for catering, landscaping, mailing, janitorial and security services, etc., -- but not art!  This is especially upsetting when the organization is a gallery/ museum, actually in the business of promoting art. ( Musicians often experience this as well, being invited to play for free at a wine bar or coffee house for the privilege of putting out the hat or a couple of CDs for sale.)
  • Because the artist knows there will be publicity or that a potential patron will see and perhaps consider buying the art, there is incentive to offer one's best work -- even though actual monetary cost to the artist may outweigh any gain.
  • The artist's tax deduction is limited to the cost of materials, not the value of the piece.  Worse, if  a patron should decide to purchase that same art and donate it themselves a few years later, the patron will be able to deduct the entire value!  The rationale is that the IRS can point to a taxable event having taken place (the initial sale to the patron) as establishing value.  This seems to imply that 'buying' is more important than 'making' but I guess that's no surprise.  (Nor is the premise that deductions go to those who already 'have' as opposed to the 'have not' as in starving artist.)  

One organizations which seeks donated local art for its fundraiser has attempted to alleviate this somewhat by permitting the artist to get back 25% or 50% of the amount the art was sold for at silent auction.  However, in order to stimulate bidding, the piece is priced at 50% of its (artist assigned) value for a minimum bid.  E.g.  If I donate something that I would value (sell) for $1000, a minimum bid of $500 is asked, and IF purchased I would receive either $125 or $250 and have to pay taxes on that income.  (Of course, there is always the chance that there would be a spirited bidding war for the art, hardly every the case; almost everything goes for the minimum bid). My deduction would be limited to cost of materials (wood, tiles, glue, paint, paper, glass, matt and frame used in that specific piece.)  And that's IF the piece is purchased-- there are no guarantees. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to watch  folks totally ignore your art, and then have to go and pick it up, along with the shameful demonstrated knowledge that nobody likes your art, even at 1/2 price.  But I digress.  The point is that the value the artist places on the work is a matter which takes some hard thought.

Reclining Nude, 6.5 x 13, Watercolor on paper
Painting from a live model during a drawing co-op sharpens observation, decision-making and direct painting skills. Because there isn’t time to apply and dry multiple layers of transparent paint, an alla prima approach is well-suited to a more fluid, spontaneous impression.
The past couple of years the requesting organization is now 'jurying' their selections from the donations they have solicited (presumably to encourage the donating artist to submit their very best work so as to rise above the throng) but may end up rejecting the submissions altogether.  "We want you to donate, but oops, we don't think we want it after all…sorry" which is another feel-good moment for the artist.

So that is why the decision to donate, and what to donate, is a quandary.  Local artists usually know exactly where they sit in the art hierarchy overall (low), and do appreciate the greater rationale for supporting the arts in general, without personal benefit. We like art, we like looking at art, and we like having nearby places to do that, notwithstanding the success or failure of our own endeavors.  We know that donating is not going to earn us a one-man show at a museum or gallery.  These are reserved for those artists the organization would never dream to solicit for donations, recognizing that this is their livelihood, their creative passion…

So, what are these donated pieces really worth? Are they valid, authentic as art? Do they have 'decor' appeal?  Or do they have less value than a basket of high-end toiletries or double-insulated hunting gloves donated by local retailers?  Are they representative of what the artists does, what they are known for (assuming there is even 'known' status).  Will the organization be leading patrons around the auction offerings, pointing out this or that feature, adding bits of artist biography to prime the pump?  

Would love to hear from artists who donate to charity events, and how they choose and value their work.

P.S., apologies to those on outdated email list; just drop a quick email to be removed -- no hard feelings.

2X Torso, 9h x 6w x 6d,  Walnut
This stylized, full-figured torso with “sassy” gesture suggests qualities unique to a specific woman, as opposed to an 
idealized/ objectified female form.  Carved from a single block of seasoned walnut, the piece is presented with the grain, cracks and blemishes which naturally occur in wood

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