• Michael Skalka

Let Every Voice Be Heard


Why do artists avoid being aggressive consumers?


I have asked that question both to my friends who are artists in my “civilian” role and have posed the same question while serving as Chairman of ASTM D01.57 Artists’ Materials. The goal of our volunteer group of artists, manufacturers, weathering companies and health/safety people is to create manufacturing standards for the art materials industry. I do not kid myself into believing that ASTM D01.57 standards are equal in “value” to other ASTM subcommittees that makes standards for bicycle helmets and screws that hold commercial aircraft together. For all of the scenarios that I can conjure, nobody has died directly from the use of poor-quality art materials, unless, you include artists who ignore safety labels and practice horrible, unsafe studio habits. Overall, using poor quality art materials do not result in really bad things happening short-term.


But again, why do artists put substantial trust in the art materials they purchase to function as expected? I firmly believe that most major manufacturers maintain a strong desire to make quality products. If they slack off, the consequence will be a lack of faith in all the products they produce and artists will share that lack of confidence in that brand with other artists.


I am focusing more on why artists don’t ask more questions or engage in a dialog with art material manufacturers to share opinions on what products are made, how they might be improved or what new products could be developed to expand creative possibilities. Currently, the only 2 paths exist to exchange ideas between artists and manufacturers is membership in ASTM and the technical help lines that a handful of manufacturers maintain to address questions and concerns.


Artists do not have the same manufacturing to end use infrastructure that other industries maintain. In the building trades, if the wholesaler, retailer or installer of a product discovers problems, they are apt to contact the manufacturer to complain and/or find a new supplier that has products that perform well. These industries buffer the consumer from problems with materials. The arts community does not have that middle agent to vet problems with products.


One solution is for artists who are members of painting group to employ their communications platform or group meetings to discuss art materials and to lobby manufacturers to add or adjust products they sell. While this may sound ridiculously simple, manufacturers do not want to make products that nobody wants to buy. A robust dialogue between manufacturers and end users creates a win-win situation. Artists are heard and manufacturers get feedback on what is good or bad, or is needed to help artists.


In conclusion, I encourage all reading this essay to bring up the topic of using their painting groups to create a unified voice to address concerns to manufacturers. Art groups can start by contacting product demo providers who can perform demonstrations of products and who can gather constructive feedback to relay back to their manufacturers. Some manufacturers are willing and available to address art groups personally. Create a roundtable event and invite a manufacturer to attend to hear from artists. Most manufacturers crave constructive feedback.

The Syntax of Color




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