Meta-Practice

Artist’s Inventory Software Reviewed

My highly-opinionated takes on Artwork Archive, Art Cloud, Gyst, Artwork Inventory, and Tessera.

 

When I first reviewed art inventory software, it was 2008: the dark ages. In 2010, I started using Flick!, a Filemaker-based program. It seemed like the best option at the time, and in retrospect was laughably affordable at only $30 for a one-time license purchase. It has room for improvement but works fine for my needs… for now…

Recently I researched current art inventory software for artists (not for galleries, those are too expensive and sales-oriented). Judging by the more crowded market and higher prices, entrepreneurs have been paying attention. But none of the products soar.

CRITERIA

For my first criteria, I refer to the CALL workbook from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which identifies the basic functionalities required of inventory software:

  • Inventory number
  • Title
  • Date
  • Medium
  • Size
  • Images
  • Locations (current/home)
  • Value/Price
  • Exhibitions

The CALL workbook also suggests tracking contacts, but I’m not sure why you’d need to do it inside your inventory software, and not your native contacts app or Gmail.

Second, I’m not interested in turning my art practice into a profit generator, so I don’t need my inventory software to be sales-oriented. I have other software for bookkeeping and making invoices.

Third, I’m looking for usability and stability, to insure that my investment of labor and time will not be lost. Depending on one’s practice, it could take 10–40 hours to populate the database with existing works, and then a few hours every month to update it with new works, loans, etc. The software should be stable and operable for at least 5 years, if not 10 or 20, and ideally, 50 to 100. That means the start-up tech companies won’t fold, radically change fee schedules, or stop releasing updates for future operating systems. There’s a lot at stake—choosing this software is essentially betting a longterm stake on a developer’s longevity and commitment.

And if it all goes pear-shaped? My fourth criteria is that the software should have clear export functionalities. At minimum, you should be able to easily attain a CSV backup. That’s a common standard, but I still feel a tiny bit more secure with Filemaker-derived software, due to the durability of Filemaker itself.

To CLOUD OR NOT TO CLOUD

The first decision an artist may want to make is whether you need the software to be based on the cloud, or downloaded onto your computer. On the cloud, assistants can log into your account from any location without having to download the software. But when the software’s on your computer, you can work on it whether or not you have Internet access. Some cloud-based software boasts daily back-ups; downloaded software should be regularly, manually backed-up to an external hard drive or cloud.

I’d prefer software that automatically backed itself up. However I found the limitations of the cloud-based software were more significant and inconvenient than the relatively minor convenience of automatic back-ups.

 

CLOUD-BASED

 

The first screen upon log-in is the Location view.

Artwork Archive: The first screen upon log-in is the Locations pane.

Artwork Archive
https://www.artworkarchive.com/

Cost: $19/month
(Free and cheaper plans are available; I focused on comparing plans for professional artists.)

My take: Beauty, not brawns.

Pros:

  • Clean, easy-to-read interface.
  • Export to CSV feature.
  • Clean, attractive “reports” (printouts).

Cons:

  • Too simple. It’s not robust; the number of fields are too limited.
  • Too sales-oriented to me.
  • Artwork Archive has a strange organizing principle for their menu: Artwork, Locations, Contacts, and Insights (reports). During my testing, I kept ending up in the Location tab, but I’m only interested in locations as they pertain to artworks—the two are not of equal importance to me. It seems over-enamored with mapping.
  • Lacks a field for exhibition history (part of our first criteria); you have to add a new location for every exhibition, but if you have more than one exhibition at that location (such as your regular gallery), it could get confusing or complicated when you search for the work in an exhibition. You also enter dates as specific dates, but just because the exhibition ends on a certain date, doesn’t mean that the work will be received back right after.
  • Limited edition runs are confusing, because it automatically assumes that the location is your inventory. You can’t change it unless you register a sale. But what if part of the edition is at a gallery on consignment, or at the print shop that made it? What if you donated it, but it may or may not sell? What if it’s in transit?
  • The Reports feature is not very robust. To make one, you download a PDF. You can’t preview it first. You can’t seem to adjust the typography or add headers.
  • You can append which competitions you’ve submitted the work to, but that seems of limited value since nowadays so many calls are hosted on Slideroom or Submittable, where you look up that info.

A note about website integration: You can integrate your inventory with a website. I asked to see an example, and it prominently features the Artwork Archive menu bar at the top. Even if I used and recommended software to my friends, I would not want my portfolio to be branded by a product so unsubtly.

 

Too harsh?

ArtCloud: Multiple required form fields.

ArtCloud
https://www.artcld.com/

Cost: $19/month
(For $49/month, they’ll also host a website)

My take: If you need a cloud-based solution, go with Artwork Archive.

Cons:

  • Poor, annoying user experience. Dimensions, medium, and pricing are all required before you can create an artwork record. That’s not always possible. For example, if you’re having the work fabricated, or you’ve already shipped off the work, you can’t measure it. Further, artists who are represented by galleries don’t set prices. You should be able to create a record with the info you have and fill in blanks later—you shouldn’t be forced to make something up in order to save a new record. These are completely arbitrary limitations. Another example of this is that the inventory number field only allows numbers, no letters, dots or hyphens (the CALL workbook suggests including your initials, and possibly a letter to indicate a category, such as “P” for “painting”).
  • Buggy. I signed in for a trial, and created a new record, got a pop-up that a new record was created, but it’s nowhere to be found. I tried it again, with the same result, with the additional bug that the image field is no longer clickable.
  • It’s like an inventory system for an art business, with “Artwork” sharing the main menu with “Merchandise,” “Clients,” and “Invoices.”
  • No field for exhibition history (part of CALL’s criteria).

ON-PREMISE

 

Afterimages await.

Gyst: call me a design snob.

Gyst
http://www.gyst-ink.com/software/

Cost: $59–129 one-time license.

Note: I reviewed the webpage, but didn’t download a trial.

My take: Too many bells and whistles.  

  • Aesthetically challenged. The interface looks less goofy than it was years before, but it’s still visually harsh, with white text on solid red backgrounds (which may not be accessible to vision-impaired or color blind users).
  • Gyst is still a confusing amalgamation of an inventory system, resources (“Business Issues Advice”), and other functionalities of questionable utility, such as an artist’s statement archive, résumé archive, and bibliography (which text-editing software would be better for; they even suggest importing your grants and proposals from Gyst for “use in a word-processing program to fine-tune, spell check, and format”). Other potentially useful functions are underpowered: in the screen shown above, you can list expenses, but don’t count on basic calculations like multiplying the cost per unit by quantity.

 

Better a live donkey.

Artwork Inventory: a workhorse.

Artwork Inventory
http://artworkinventory.com/

Cost: $150 flat-rate license

My takeaway: A homely contender built with actual artists in mind.

Pros:

  • This came highly recommended by a gallery owner and artist who used it for years.
  • From the video, it looks like there are a wide variety of reports which artists actually use, such as price lists that are handsome enough to put in a gallery binder.

Cons:

  • It looks like Filemaker. The interface is small, pinched, and cluttered. A zoom feature would be helpful.
  • It behaves like Filemaker. Knowledge of Filemaker is not common among artists, and the learning curve can be intimidating. In Artwork Inventory, you navigate between buttons on the screen and in the menu bar. Even knowing how to use Filemaker, I found it a bit frustrating to get familiar with all the buttons and they way they are organized.
  • I watched the intro video and browsed the site, but there’s no contact info for support. I’d be nervous that software developed and maintained by a lone individual doesn’t offer any customer service. Maybe there is customer service only to existing customers, or maybe not, but there’s no way to ask first. The risk of the software not being updated for future operating systems feels larger when there’s only one person behind it.
  • You can’t drag images into the image field. That’s a minor detail that will add up when you’ve got dozens of artworks to inventory, or if you want to include multiple views per work.

There’s a tab for “website management” where the inventory software might become integrated with a website, which is smart and ideal, but there’s only sales language on it, no examples of actual artist’s websites produced with this integration.

 

 

One of Tessera's many windows.

One of Tessera’s many windows.

Tessera
http://arawak.com.au/

Cost: $249 flat-rate license

My take: The top of a small heap.

Caveat: I currently use Flick!, Tessera’s predecessor software, so it was easier for me to pick up its behavior. 

 

Pros:

  • It’s artwork-centric. It’s robust and customizable. There are lots of fields, including exhibition history.
  • There’s a help desk, and they responded to me.
  • You can export the data to Excel, or various formats. It doesn’t appear to include images, but it’s better than no export function at all.
  • You can drag images into the image field.

Cons:

  • It’s based on Filemaker and imposes some of Filemaker’s learning curve on new users.
  • Like its predecessor Flick, Tessera is really quirky. You can edit in some views and not others and often end up in odd views, having to find the close button on the pop-up window, or the back button. It’s a lot of mousing that would be better replaced with quick keys like shift-left arrow to go back, or command-w to close windows.
  • The customizability means there’s a lot of setup. Many fields have pull-down menu lists so you can create and select items from value lists. This way, info is presented consistently so records are easier to sort and filter. But that means entering value lists in a new view every time you want to add a new value. A smart way to do this is to enter all the values in your list at the get-go, but few artists who currently lack inventories will have that information organized and available.
  • Oddly, exhibition history does not have a values list, so then you have to re-type or copy/paste the name of each exhibition. This means it’ll be harder to search for everything that was in a particular exhibition, as typos will interfere with results.
  • A major flaw is that you can’t print a view. You can filter and sort results so you can see what you want on the screen, but then you have to take several steps to set up a new printing layout to re-create and print it.
  • Editions work strangely. There aren’t separate records for the editions. They just count them as multiples of the same thing. So then you can’t track which one is sold, who bought it, etc.
  • You can paste in information in the record, but it appears that you can’t attach info, such as an illustrated document detailing installation instructions, condition reports received from institutions, etc.
  • The dimensions don’t automatically convert. The price doesn’t include currency info. None of the other software offer this either, but Flick!, Tessera’s predecessor, did. It’s too bad this feature didn’t carry over.
  • The voiceover on the tutorial video isn’t properly mic’d. The echo makes it difficult to understand.

In summary, there’s more products, they’re more expensive, and they’re smarter and better looking. But few developers really understand what artists need, skewing instead towards art-as-business. Those who can offer power and flexibility make sacrifices on aesthetics and usability.

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Meta-Practice

Artist’s Resource: Creating a Living Legacy

Artists, get organized now and so you can thank yourself later.

I stumbled upon Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide (7MB) from the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program. It’s a thorough introduction and guide for artists for creating physical and digital archives. I highly recommend artists take a look. It’s a worthwhile thing to get organized, maintain an inventory system, and make sure your work is stored safely.

CALL workbook

I have a few systems set up, but could use improvement. I’ve adopted practices as I see how they make sense for where I’m at. But I should be thinking about what I’ll need in the future. For example, CALL recommends signing and writing an inventory number on every work of art. I have an aversion to signing my art, but will try to create ways to at least make sure my work is labeled somehow. They also suggest including your initials in your inventory number, which makes sense for galleries that work with multiple artists, but seems overmuch for my own work. Then again, my signature is inscrutable, so I suppose initials will help others. 

 

I  recently revisited my one-year goals, and wrote new ones. (I started this practice in June a few years ago,  so my “goal-year” begins and ends in the summer. It’s anachronistic, but increasingly feels right to me. Since moving to NYC, my life has become more affected by the rhythm of art “seasons”—intensive fall and spring activity, followed by slower summers. The relaxed pace in June and July offers a chance to get perspective. I feel more confident entering fall with fresh energy, and having a sense of purpose in the spring. My new year’s resolutions are more like mid-year reviews, where I check my progress or modify goals if necessary.)

It was useful to see these reminders about how to write goals in the CALL workbook:

S.M.A.R.T. GOAL:

S-specific, M-measurable, A-attainable, R-realistic, T-timely.

  • Specific goals depend on who, what, where, when, which, and why.
  • Measurable is accountability and tracking progress.
  • Attainable is a goal that motivates you towards achievement.
  • Realistic is a goal within your current abilities.
  • Timely is a goal with a time frame.

Suggestions:

  • Make all goals concrete.
  • Make the goal something you can clearly state in one sentence.
  • Make a clear end point. The accomplishment of the goal should be definite and visible.
  • Make sure the goal is something you can complete—factor in time and space restrictions.
  • Set a realistic date for completing your goal.

 
It is worth pointing out that this comes from an artist’s foundation—an example of an artist (or her legacy) occupying multiple roles within art ecologies. It’s a great example of what artists (or their executors) can give to other artists. Thanks Joan Mitchell Foundation!

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Meta-Practice, Research

Returning to the Crossroads: Life as an Artist

Wise words from the sage San Francisco Bay Area based artist Jaime Cortez, via the Congratulations Pine Tree podcast:

“As you go through your artistic life, the basic questions are always the same. How are you feeling about your work? Do you feel like it’s getting recognized and supported? How is your financial picture? How is your courage? And it’s always those variables, but they’re in different measures. You keep coming to the crossroads and the crossroads is always the same one, but every time you come to it, you’re gonna formulate a slightly different answer. Sometimes your courage is very high, but your finances are crappy. Sometimes you’re actually doing OK financially, but other pieces of your creative life are not so great. I think to me being an artist is about re-negotiating the same variables again and again to deal with your changing life, and you have to keep adjusting and re-adjusting and re-calibrating your decisions.”

Jaime Cortez, Congratulations Pine Tree podcast, Episode 19: “Naked Penises and Pine Cones (with Jaime Cortez,” December 28, 2014
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Meta-Practice, Travelogue

Residency wrap-up: c3:studio residency, c3:initiative, Portland, OR

Looking back at my 17-day residency.

The stunningly picturesque Mt. Hood is visible from many parts of Portland.

The stunningly picturesque Mt. Hood is visible from many parts of Portland.

From May 20 to June 6, I was in residence at c3:initiative’s c3:studio residency, which

“partners with local arts institutions to provide a studio residency for visiting artists… to develop work to be exhibited regionally.”

How it came about. I’d been invited by the Portland ‘Pataphysical Society (“‘Pata,” for short) to exhibit The Eve Of…. I needed to be in Portland to install the large sculptures and installations. With our budget stretched thin by the shipping and transportation costs, ‘Pata contacted c3. I’d heard about c3 from the art collective ERNEST—which is in a long-term, ongoing residency there—and had received updates about Andy Coolquitt’s residency for his Disjecta show. c3 was available and offered not only to let me stay during installation, but to come out earlier for a residency to make new work with a membership to Pulp & Deckle, the onsite papermaking studio they incubate. I said yes.

Getting settled. Founder and Director Shir Ly Grisanti and Program Manager Erin Mallea got in touch and asked me what I needed. They were communicative, prompt, professional, responsive, and happy to triangulate with third parties as needed. They picked me up at the airport; lent a bicycle for getting around town; connected me with a lender of woodworking tools; and hooked me up with advising hours from Jenn Woodward, who runs Pulp & Deckle. Furthermore, they arranged for me to present Make Things (Happen) at PSU’s MFA in Social Practice un-conference, Assembly.

A discussion about Make Things (Happen): Christine Wong Yap with Lexa Walsh and Julie Perini. Presented by c3:initiative and Portland 'Pataphysical Society for Portland State University's Assembly 2015. Photo credit: Joe Greer.

A discussion about Make Things (Happen): Christine Wong Yap with Lexa Walsh and Julie Perini. Presented by c3:initiative and Portland ‘Pataphysical Society for Portland State University’s Assembly 2015. Photo credit: Joe Greer.

c3 occupies a building with a small office, a cozy kitchen, a front room with a glass garage door that was an exhibition space, a larger middle room that I took over as a studio space, a shared bathroom with good-smelling shampoos and lotions, a closet with a large industrial sink and a few hand tools, Pulp and Deckle, and a one-room residence. The residence is sort of a white concrete cube afforded privacy with heavy black curtains. It’s outfitted with low furnishings that lend it a peaceful feeling—a comfy futon, pine credenzas with books and magazines, a lounge chair, and a tri-fold mattress, which turned out to be a nice place to sit cross-legged and work on my laptop. There’s also a large gated yard with patio furniture and plenty of space.

c3 is located in St. John’s, a neighborhood in North Portland. It feels like a small town. Its main street reminded me of Albany, CA, with its little movie theater, many bars, and vintage look. Transportation is pretty easy, with two bus lines that run to the galleries in the Pearl district.

Shir, Erin, and Jenn were incredibly accommodating. They said I was pretty much free to use anything in the office, kitchen, and closet. That meant I could print activity sheets for my Assembly event, had access to basics like olive oil and spices, and could use their washer, dryer and detergent, etc. These things seem small or mundane, but they make a big difference when you’re traveling.

What I did. In the first week, I made paper at Pulp & Deckle. I came to find the process of making paper to be pretty fun. The large sheets I started out with were technically challenging and physically demanding, so when I later made US letter-sized miniature multiples, I couldn’t stop giggling at how easy it was.

Making miniature multiples at Pulp & Deckle.

Making miniature multiples at Pulp & Deckle.

Plinth

Plinth

After that, I turned my attention to sketching, procuring, and making a plinth, A/V box, light blocks to cover ‘Pata’s clerestory windows, and scrims as backdrops for the handmade paper. I tend to work in ways that are very straightforward, and have found that attending to the physical space behooves the viewing experience. This was made possible with the chop saw, compressor, nailer, and Skil saw lent by Devan; Pulp & Deckle’s sewing machine; and a car lent by ‘Pata. I can be a control freak and it can be hard for me to ask for help (and flexible enough to accept it). But I thought about Torreya Cumming’s advice when I interviewed her for an essay for Art Practical:

“The first principle is beg, borrow, or steal. That is, don’t buy something if you need it once or twice, and you know someone who has one, or you can lightly hitch a ride on something that was going to be wasted anyway. This puts one in a complicated social network I call the ‘favor economy.’ Unlike some other barter systems, it relies not on a one-to-one exchange of goods or services, but on vague, consensus-based goodwill and mutual aid.”

I’m very grateful to Shir, Erin, Jenn, and Devan for providing the space, equipment, and knowledge for me to be productive. I feel really lucky to have been the recipient of so much generosity and hospitality. It’s an incredible feeling to know that I have plenty of time and all of the tools—physical, technical, and psychological—for the task at hand.

First Thursdays opening reception, The Eve Of..., Portland 'Pataphysical Society, Portland, OR

First Thursdays opening reception, The Eve Of…, Portland ‘Pataphysical Society, Portland, OR

Results. I’m very happy with how The Eve Of… looks at ‘Pata and also at its satellite location in the PDX Contemporary windows, alongside Ethan Rose’s excellent solo show. I owe huge thanks to Josephine Zarkovich and David Huff at ‘Pata, as well as Caitlin and James at PDX Contemporary. During the openings on First Thursdays, I ran into old classmates who’d moved to Portland recently, collaborators who happened to be driving through town, and even a colleague who I’d recently met in Wichita. Moreover, so many people came in to the galleries—friends, colleagues, supporters, and the curious. It was a very satisfying conclusion.

Christine Wong Yap, Projection, 2014, video installation: video, wood, fabric, acrylic, 80 x 32 x 32.125 inches.  Installation view at Portland ‘Pataphysical Society, Portland, OR

Christine Wong Yap, Projection, 2014, video installation: video, wood, fabric, acrylic, 80 x 32 x 32.125 inches. Installation view at Portland ‘Pataphysical Society, Portland, OR

The Eve Of…, including works created in residence at c3:initiative, will be on view through July 18 at the Portland ’Pataphysical Society in Portland, OR. A satellite exhibition is on view until June 27 in the windows project space at PDX Contemporary.

Correction: The link to photographer Joe Greer has been updated.

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Meta-Practice

The simple answer is that you should get paid when someone is profiting from your labor.

…However, providing content or services to a friend without being compensated does not mean that one is being exploited. If the terms of the exchange are mutually agreed upon, and if one person isn’t immediately monetarily profiting from the labor of the other, then it may well be a fair exchange, and one that is part of how solidarity and community are built within the field. W.A.G.E. advocates for equitable compensation, not for the total monetization and commodification of every aspect of our lives; we leave that to neoliberalism.

—W.A.G.E. as quoted by Bean Gilsdorf, Help Desk: Support for Artists, Daily Serving, May 25, 2015

 

 

How will I know if I am taking artists’ energy in exchange for an exploitative promise of “exposure”?

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Meta-Practice

Matter Over Mind: Work and the Importance of Rest

The non-art life that makes an art-life possible.

In the past three and a half weeks, I was home in NYC working my various freelance and day jobs. Artists generally don’t like to publicize their day jobs, for fear of seeming less serious or successful as an artist. But perhaps by omitting my jobs on my blog, I’m implying a falsehood that my art is my income. So: I work as an artist assistant, freelance art handler (recently at the Frieze and NADA fairs, and occasionally at the Museum of Arts and Design), and freelance graphic designer. This is how I cobble together an income to live in NYC, make art, and save up for and recover financially from residencies and exhibitions. The multiple streams mean I’m not tied down or dependent on any one employer (say, for fear of losing health insurance). The trade-off is that it’s financially precarious but strategically flexible. As someone at the Center for Cultural Innovation once explained, artists often advance opportunistically, by taking opportunities as they come.

For example, my residency at c3:initiative happened quite by chance: the Portland ‘Pataphysical Society invited me to do a show. I asked them to suggest places to stay. They asked c3. Then we figured out that making new work for the windows at ‘Pata fit c3’s mission. (Thank you Jo, Dave, Shir and Erin!) Luckily, the people I work with get that I’m a worker and an artist; they psychologically support me by tolerating my occasional unavailability. I realize how uncommon this is, especially as workers’ personal time is increasingly infringed upon by work responsibilities like answering emails, etc.

When I look back at the past few weeks, I’ve realized two small lessons:

I need to be intentional about down time. My body has been forcing me to take breaks via jet lag, exhaustion, and back pain. I’ve been working long days and late nights to maximize on art opportunities and income generation, and to reciprocate clients’ and employers’ commitment. It’s been a sprint. Running training plans outline different types of training for each day of the week, including speed, endurance, active recovery, and rest. Skipping the latter two is a recipe for injury. I have to fight the “cult of busyness.” It’s not enough to catch up on sleep, either; I can’t be like a toddler, toggling between ‘overdrive’ and ‘knocked out’—I need to be conscious to decompress. Though I want to be productive this residency, I also need it to recharge me. Period. It’s not about slowing down to serve the creative process. Utility isn’t everything. (E.g, I’m not a corporation craving insights on creativity and happy workers in order to increase revenue and productivity). I need to prioritize the inherent value of rest and recovery.

Follow-up is work. I left the residency at Harvester Arts on the day after my opening. It was emotionally satisfying to do so—I left just after the high point. But there were a few days’ worth of color-correcting, writing captions, blogging, web updates, bookkeeping, etc. that followed. Administrative labor is work. It’s often very gendered labor, which may contribute to why it’s often invisible and undervalued, as ET pointed out. I can’t fall into that trap. I need to acknowledge that a residency project doesn’t always end when the actual residency does. Just as I’d try to schedule out time to prepare for a project, I have to allow the time and energy for post-residency labor.

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Meta-Practice, Research

many artists who are commissioned by producers are already successful gallery based artists, being brought into the public realm with a support team in place.
The speakers acknowledge the need to change institutional structure in order to allow new forms of public art to emerge, and the need for artists, producers and curators to gain skills to make public art work in reality. Another change that might be interesting to explore is how public art could shift hierarchies, and allow artists at different stages of their career to develop projects they have already initiated.

Katy Bienart, “Lighting the touchpaper: Public art as situation or spectacle,” Public Art (Now) blog, April 27, 2015

Katy Bienart on Public Art (Now)

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