Sunday, August 30, 2009



Most artists today are not selling as many works as they produce, and for many of us, the art is piling up in the studio. So, when we are asked to donate paintings to fundraisers, we can easily be tempted by the idea that it is good to be seen, important to gain exposure. And of course, if we believe in the cause, we would like to help.

While non artists are entitled to a Fair Market Tax Deduction for the artwork donated to charities or museums, artists can only claim a income tax reduction for the cost of their materials, not for their labour, or for the established recorded value of their work. There is no "write off value" to us.

Art auctions can be risky, as too often the artist's usual price for the work is not reached in the bidding. The artist has to accept that most often the charity art auction is a great place for a bargain hunter, and the only consolation for the artist is that we have helped a worthy cause. It is not uncommon for works of art to go for less than 20% of their established value. The best results come from auctions that have a trained auctioneer. Your local TV stations anchorman may not be able to get the bidding wars going. It's a good idea to ask in advance about the auctioneer.

Some art collectors will wait for auctions to get a bargain price for an artist they want. If they know that every year their favorite artist donates to the fundraiser, they have no reason to buy from the artist's gallery. It might be a good idea to stagger charities over time. Donate to a worthy cause this year, a different one next year.

Money is tight right now, and bidders have a smaller budget regardless of the desirability of the art, it may be better for you to give prints instead of originals if you are concerned that your prices will not hold up.

Some fundraisers ask for a total 100% donation, others will give the artist a percentage of the winning bid. If you feel you can only give 30% to the charity, it is perfectly OK to negotiate. Example, if a professional artist works on the donated painting for a week, it is a substantial gift to give 30% of your week's income.

I learned an important lesson this spring, painting to help raise money for an arts organization teamed up with a city project with a specific theme. Occasionally, I am inspired to paint a landscape, but I don't enjoy painting endless leaves. With this fundraiser, I believed in the cause, and I wanted to be included among the group of artists working for a new vision for our city. The problem was the subject. We were all asked to paint our local river. An even bigger problem, the river bed rarely has any water in it.

It was a struggle to find a part of the dry river that has any aesthetic value for me. In the end, after scrapping the first half-painted canvas, I stripped down my view of the river to the only part that I liked, the little bit of water there was, a 200 foot puddle of murky water. Sitting by the edge, at the right angle, the late afternoon sun sparkled like "Stars on the Water" (above). When I chose that view as my subject, I had a great deal of fun painting it, and I learned enormous amounts about light.

However, the painting did not sell, so the fundraiser did not benefit financially from my entry. I still own the painting and it does not fit in theme with any other painting of mine, so it will be harder to sell. The struggle to find the right subject matter, and the time it took away from my "real" work, left me with a deep dissatisfaction. The lesson for me is now clear. Inspiration is the heart of any painting. Artists owe it to themselves to be in love with their subject. I should have said "No, not this time."

At least, I have a painting ready to donate to another fundraiser.

A few questions to ask yourself before donating:

How many works am I willing to donate in one year?

Does this auction have too much art or too many items which will cause all donated items to go for very low prices?

Can I live with it going for a small fraction of it's value?

Sunday, August 2, 2009


"Nipped In The Bud"

© J. Licsko 09


oil on canvas

The painting shown here was painted as my response to a very disturbing subject. The painting itself looks mild mannered enough and it is unlikely that anyone would guess it's true inspiration without accompanying words. It's raison d'etre is that I saw something that disturbed me greatly, and have been bothered by it for a long time.

It is said that the painting Guernica was Picasso's response to the atrocities of war. In my youth, I said many times with mocking irreverence that Guernica did nothing to stop wars. I questioned whether art in general had any real influence that mattered. In truth, I must confess that I have never seen Guernica in person, and I have been told I should reserve my judgement until then. Good advice for any subject, but I feel now that I have come to understand Picasso's Guernica with the struggle over my painting "Nipped in the Bud".

For those familiar with my style, you may have noticed that I like to paint pretty subjects. They frequently have a suggestion of something deeper, occasionally even sinister, but always it is my desire to add beauty to the world, and not add to the pain. There is enough already.

With "Nipped In The Bud" I felt challenged to use the pain that I felt, and still feel for the subject, but doing so while remaining true to my own style. It took many months before my muse dropped it on me. It felt like that.

I searched for a venue that might be looking for the subject matter. I searched the competitions lists, fundraisers that might benefit the victims or subjects of the paintings. Nothing showed itself. In the end, I painted it for myself, and here is where the reference to Guernica comes. In no way, am I comparing myself to Picasso, but I now understand when an artist is tortured by something, painting it is the best way to calm the beast. A small peace comes from the expression of it. I never had any illusions that my painting will change the ugly practice that it speaks of, but I have been able to put the thoughts of it into perspective. I can live with them, and if perchance there is the possibility that even one person was influenced by it and stopped their cruel intentions...well, one can dream.

The finished painting hung in my studio for several months before I heard of a planned exhibition by the South Bay Area and Peninsula Woman's Caucus for the Arts. They published a call for entries. The subject was "Control". It was to be juried by the Guerrilla Girls West. Most of you know that the Guerrilla Girls, whether East or West, have been bringing attention to the fact that women artists are underrepresented in the art world, past and present, in historical accountings, museums, and galleries. I am a fan of their work.

"Control" the exhibition, is a display of 79 women artists, all making a visual statement about the countless variations of control. There were no restrictions, we were invited to be even politically incorrect, control could be seen as positive or negative.

"Nipped In The Bud" , my entry, is my reaction to the 2002 film of Israeli director Doron Eran, created from a book written by Dorit Zilberman. The film "God's Sandbox" while having mixed reviews of it's directorial quality, stabbed me in the heart. I have wanted to find a way to express with my art my grief and outrage over the cruel and barbaric practice, female genital mutilation, more politely called female circumcision. According to the World Health Organization this practice has affected between 100- 140 million women and girls worldwide. Though illegal, this is even going on in Europe and North America. This protest is not against men specifically, this practice is thriving because of the heavy influence of grandmothers.

The image of a rose whose bud has been cut off before it's bloom, it is a metaphor not limited to female genital mutilation, but to all forms of oppression, including the seemingly innocuous verbal abuse. Someone who suffers the negative affects of control will never fully blossom to their full potential, never really know their full self.

I spoke in my post of June 3/09 Finding the Right Titles For Paintings about the significance of titles. This title "Nipped In The Bud" still sounds flippant to my ears, and not respectful of the subject. Nothing else appropriate came to mind. I stopped searching when I found that the phrase first appeared in a comedy by Beaumont and Fletcher in 1607. "Yet I can frowne and nip a passion Euen in the bud". The play is called Woman Hater.

At the:

Somarts Cultural Center,

Main Gallery,

934 Brannan St.,

San Francisco

I invite you to attend the opening of this very special exhibition August 6th, 2009, 6 - 8 p m, and watch the interview of curator Karen Gutfreund on Talk TV