Arts and Antiques Evaluating the starving artists sales

Photo Provided Starving artist floral still life painting

Every year, the month of January boasts the post-holiday sales for home decor. For an opportunity to spruce up the house and ward off the winter blues with a new work of art, January offers the starving artists sales.

Picasso for $50

You've seen the TV ads, "Buy a framed, sofa-sized oil painting for only $49.99!" You think to yourself, "For only $49.99, no wonder the artists are starving." Then, you temporarily consider checking out the art sale at the local hotel. You know better than to buy a work of art for a mere $50 bucks, yet you're still curious. Here's the scoop on the starving artists.

Your fantasy image of a handsome young artist standing at his easel with palette in hand overlooking a snowy mountain landscape creating a masterpiece just for you is just that--a fantasy. On some level, we like the emotional image that artists are starving for the love of art! We don't like to think of the art world as a business.

Assembly Line Art

Despite the reality check, the inexpensive starving artist pieces are often cheap oleographs. An oleograph is a commercial print. For example, an image of a still life is printed by machine onto a piece of canvas and allowed to dry. After drying, a clear varnish is applied to the entire surface of the canvas over the printed picture to simulate brushstrokes. Oleographs refer to an artistic imitation; just as oleo is imitation butter, an oleograph is an imitation painting. What do you expect for $49.99 ?

Machine-Made Masterpieces

Some starving artist sales keep the age-old art sweatshops in business.

In some cases, workers stand for hours in front of a machine that supports a long roll of blank canvas. The machine repositions the blank canvas at intervals automatically. Workers stand before a designated area of blank canvas at a distance from one other. Each worker is responsible for painting one image of the painting's entire composition. For instance, when producing a landscape painting, Artist #1 will paint a tree, Artist #2 will paint a bird, and so on. After quickly completing the work of his particular area, the canvas is mechanically repositioned to expose the next area of blank canvas. The workers repeat the process. So Artist #1 who paints the tree will stand and paint that same tree another 500 times or for the next 16 hours straight. All of the workers continue this piecemeal procedure until hundreds of look-alike landscape paintings are produced. Each completed sofa-sized painting is cut from the end of the canvas roll and stapled to a wooden stretcher. Crates of paintings are then shipped from sweatshops to your local hotel lobby.

Sign it

Since there are several artists involved in the factory production of paintings, who signs the paintings? There is one artist whose job it is to sign all of the paintings.

Now that you know the inside scoop on some of the inexpensive starving artists sales, don't you think that your $50 would be better spent on a good pencil sketch or small painting by a student artist from the local art school? I certainly do.

Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide and antiques themed cruises. As seen on NBC's The Tonight Show and Comedy Central's The Daily Show, watch Dr. Lori on the national TV morning show, Daytime and CBS 3 in Philadelphia. Visit,, or call (888) 431-1010.

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