Rick Ransom is a big man. Used to be a body builder. He has hands like power shovels but look at his art and you realize those hands are as finely directed as any neuro surgeon's.
He's a quiet man. Modest. It took him a while to tell me he's an artist and when he said to me that much of his work was in recessed wood burning I was ignorant enough to equate that with chainsaw art. (For all I know, chainsaw art can be fine art but what I've seen in crude and destined for garage sales.)
However you feel about Rick's wood-burnt imagery –the personal reaction to any piece of art – the creative execution, the painstaking craft and the exquisite quality of the raw materials shine through.
I was still processing Rick's wood burning when he showed me the polar bear.
Not a literal image but an extraordinarily powerful impression, in translucent Italian alabaster. If I had seen this piece in an auction house at $120,000, I would not have been surprised.
And beyond the polar bear, the knives, the spears, the stone eagle… a body of work I could never have imagined originated in this singular, modest man.
Now Rick wants to sell and that means pricing. The questions start: how much do you personally like the piece? Are you a collector? Do you think the piece will appreciate? Will the artist go from relatively unknown to late bloomer? Might he be a Van Gogh, prized only after his death?
Do you like the piece enough to make an offer of any kind - and, if so, do you consider the dignity of the artistic process – the dedication, the time, the effort, all added to the intrinsic creativity?
An investor-buyer may here split from the buyer who simply wants to enjoy the piece, to have a personal non-commercial relationship with the art.
I don't believe there are finite answers to these questions and, ultimately, ignoring the investor-buyer (and so many of them can construct the market and their profit), it boils down to two factors: how much you like the piece and how much money you have.
Rick's a proud man. He believes that his ego is not invested in his work and that he'd as soon burn it as be insulted by a low ball offer. I see him differently. His ego is hugely invested. How else could he spend months on each creation? Why else would he be so distressed by a low ball offer that he'd rather destroy his unique creations?
In the end, the prices for Rick Ransom's fine art are simply figures that reflect not just the imagery but a respect for the work, the process and the dignity of the artist.
And if the figures price the pieces off the market, Rick Ransom doesn't much care. He'd rather see his work end up in the landfill than sell himself short. That would be a travesty. But perhaps, too, it would be a reflection of our indifference to the creative process.
Which brings us back to pricing creativity.
I've spent my entire working life as a professional writer. I've seen the price for my work - commissioned and speculative - plummet, not so much as a reflection on its quality or commerciality but as a long term trend that is affecting all writers and artists because the harsh reality is that the market is increasingly indifferent to the creative process and the artistic or literary quality of the work. I'm biased, of course, because this evolution affects my financial survival, but I see several reasons for the trend. Generalizing:
* Maniacally profit driven corporations have taken, and are continuing to take, over the markets for creative output: studios, publishers, broadcasters, content aggregators and distributors are monolithic money machines with no patience for the mid range book, the small and thoughtful independent film, the minority interest TV show. By and large they cater to the lowest common/highest profit denominator. The WalMart effect, if you like - and the problem with WalMart is not its existence or its operations but the fact that it gradually strangles all the more interesting alternatives.
Does it matter? Not for me to make that judgment but for you to ask whether you prize diversity, challenge, difference and, above all, independence of mind. Would you be concerned if there were never to be another To Kill A Mockingbird; another In The Heat Of The Night?
* Education systems which decreasingly value the ability to analyze and ponder, think, dispute and debate - the development of an independent mind - but concentrate on standardized tests, multiple choice and the statistics of a 'completed education' regardless of its quality. (If the huge majority of jobs are 'WalMart jobs' an independent mind is dangerous; who needs history, or art, language or literacy?)
* Digital technology and the internet/w.w.web have 'flattened' the creative process so that musicians do not have to be able to play, writers to structure, artists to draw. There's software not just to chek yore speling but to structure the story itself - to tailor it to the market rather than to the individual humans reading or watching. Software to compose music and auto tune voices and instruments. Programs to animate. All these are powerful tools but, like an AK-47 in a department store, they are damaging if they simply bypass the human brain.
An artist like Rick Ransom has the undying advantage of technique. There is no software to choose the claro walnut, to select the translucent Italian marble or to visualize, carve and polish.
But, in this increasingly homogenized market, where does an artist like Rick Ransom find the buyer or collector who will not only respond to the creative vision but to the peerless quality of his execution?
In the end, it all comes down to promotion, marketing, access and numbers. They're the memes that dictate the price of creativity. The idea itself, its execution, its originality… pretty much worthless.
And maybe in 2014 that simply does not matter.
Email Rick or Ruth Ransom: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or call 805-642-9255