A Multitude of Markets
NANCY J. PAREZO
We have a myth in our society that art is divorced from economics
and marketing, that economics can only corrupt. To be art, an object
should have no other function than to exist, be pleasurable to look
at, carry an aesthetic message, and convey the emotions and insights
of the artist. To be a "real"' artist the myth continues, the individual
must produce art for the love of the act, for the creativity involved,
for the necessity-one has no choice but to produce art. The artist
has special powers which place him/her above society. This means
that he/she cannot be concerned with whether his/her work is of
society. An artist should not be concerned with the crass world of
commercialism and is even expected to disregard whether the artistic
creation sells or not.
The reality is that art is a special type of commodity that has
economic value and is sold in markets. An artist earns a living by
producing and distributing art, thereby earning a reputation so that
the works are seen and appreciated. Artists, like consumers and
collectors, do not work in social vacuums; they are players in "art
worlds," which consist of the artists themselves and individuals who
assist with the art末from the people and firms that produce raw
materials, to those who market, display, and sell the art, to audiences
and consumers, to critics who enhance reputations (Becker 1982).
For society, art does not exist until it is made public and shared. This
commonly means it is displayed in a gallery or museum, usually in
such a manner that it reflects ideas about the artist society, in order
to help it be sold. Economic exchange creates value. It
crystalizes and enhances preconceived images of all actors involved
in the art world. It conveys messages about life, place, ourselves and
others. If the art is from the Southwest, it must look "Southwestern,"
and if made by a Native American, it must look "Indian." It is for
and during an economic exchange that many such images are created.
While we have special trouble seeing art in our own culture as a
commodity, Anglo末Americans have even more trouble seeing the art
of native peoples from anywhere in the world as objects with
economic histories and destinies. Native peoples, like mainstream
artists in our own society, are thought to be above economics. Native
artists are categorized as "primitives" or "pure Noble Savages," living
naturally in a state of grace, under the control of religion, without
the stresses of civilization's economic and political structures.
Economics in any form, therefore, is conceptualized as an imposition
of colonialism or imperialism, irrefutably corrupting. And in many
cases it is. There is no question that the interaction of
Euro-Americans/Europeans with native peoples and the introduction of cash
economies has affected what art is produced, why it is produced, and
how it is distributed both within and outside the societies involved.
Many objects have been destroyed and stolen, alienated from their
cultures; only recently have native peoples began to acquire the
power to actively seek their return. One of the most famous cases is
the repatriation of the Zuni war gods. Because of this situation, some
scholars are now conceptualizing the fate of all native people's art as
a plight末the twentieth-century equivalent of the slave trade末in
which art and material culture are captured and transported to
distant lands, devastating and diminishing the maker's cultural heritage
and thereby "dehumanizing the Primitive Art and its makers" (Price
1989:5). The economics of art has a dark and complex side.
What is often forgotten in many recent critiques, however, is that
art has always been "sold" or "exchanged" in all societies, that the
movement of objects within and between societies is not solely a
product of Western imperialism and colonialism, that many objects
have been freely traded and still others produced intentionally for
sale to conquerors, that economic transactions do not have to involve
money. The marketing of art did not begin with Western contact.
People share and give gifts to each other and the gods. When
individuals from two societies meet, one of the prime mechanisms used
to establish relations is the exchange of art. This can be by force if the
encounter is asymmetrical with regards to power so that goods are
seen as booty, as occurred, for example, when Spanish explorers
conquered Puebloan peoples (Bolton 1916), or peacefully if the
encounter is more symmetrical so that art moves as gifts that
symbolically express the value placed on the meeting, as happened, for
example, on the Plains (Ewers 1984, 1989). (See Appadurai 1987 or the
extensive literature on trade and culture contact for more examples.)
To ignore the economic aspect of art and its exchange in native
cultures, to see the values placed on Southwestern art as coming only
from the politically dominant, i.e. Anglo-American or European
culture, is to conceptualize all native peoples as passive actors, boxed in
as in an old exhibit, frozen in time and space (see Parezo 1985, 1988).
This is just not the case. Art moves within and between societies in
the Southwest at the discretion of makers as well as of entrepreneurs
and consumers. Highly knowledgeable and sophisticated makers use
the available systems to their own ends, as do entrepreneurs
manipulating a variety of marketing techniques. As did Nampeyo and Maria
in the past, so does R. C. Gorman and hundreds of others today.
The art market wherein native peoples sell special forms of art to
members of politically and economically dominant cultures is the
international ethnic art market (Graburn 1976). This active and
evergrowing market is not completely symmetrical with regard to power;
native makers often have less control over the sale of objects,
especially at the beginning of their careers, and much art that is not
meant to be sold on the market is commoditized. But this is by no
means a slave trade. Nor is it a market (see Wade 1985) which, when
subdivided, is geographically delineated, acknowledging the effect
of place on art. Thus there is a market for Northwest Coast art, for
Eskimo art, and for Southwest art, each reflecting that it is produced
by "Indians." Within each geopolitically defined ethnic market, a
multitude of submarkets exists. Each has its own goals, modes of
distribution and production, values and marketing messages. All are
particularly dynamic spheres of culture contact, of makers and
consumers playing out their conception of what is art and what is not
art, what is good art and what is bad art. All of this is done partially
as negotiation within an economic framework.
The multitude of submarkets can be easily delineated. Of course
by erecting a typology of markets we make things simpler than they
really are, for the markets conceptualized by consumers and sellers
do not necessarily coincide with the markets conceptualized by
mak ers. And, as Graburn (1976) has demonstrated, one type of art or
object can be found in more than one situation or market at different
times, thereby losing and gaining value. Indeed one of the most
fascinating things about art is that it is very mobile末each piece has
a life history (Appadurai 1987), and actors move it around different
markets, making it a commnodity and decommoditizing it.
Often the artist cannot envision how a piece eventually will move.
For example, a Zuni or Hopi elder in 1875 making an offering for
use in a ceremony, intending it to rest in a shrine so that it could
return to Mother Earth, had no intention that a nineteenth-century
tourist or anthropologist would pick it up thinking it was "garbage
since it had been left to rot," take it home, and place it in a museum,
where it is given a new value as a symbol of peoples who would
eventually assimilate to the Anglo-American norm (Parezo 1985).
This movement and new imposed value is, of course, seen as incorrect
by the original maker since the misuse of the object's original
purpose places religious practices and the society in jeopardy. It is
regarded as correct by the members of the receiving society because
it "saves" part of what is thought to be a "dying" culture. The
movement of ethnic art is the source of much cultural misunderstanding
and conflict, especially when the transaction involves theft and the
unrecognized assumptions of the receiving culture that their actions
are philanthropic or "for the good of the makers or the art" (see Price 1989).
Markets and values change over time. Messages change and are
reevaluated as markets expand and contract, and as historical
situations and power relationships change. The markets and their
messages always remain complex and multifaceted. In general, the more
actors involved in the cross-cultural movement of an art form, the
more complex the situation, the greater the number of
preconceptions about other actors and their desires, and the more marketing is
used to translate. The simplest exchange situation is a transaction
between maker and ultimate consumer within a community with the
intended use mutually understood and agreed upon. Thus the oldest
type of market in which Native American art occurs in the Southwest
Many objects are made for and used within Southwest Native
American societies, often as gifts. One gives presents for friendship,
for love, for birthdays, for special occasions-to celebrate births,
comings of age, weddings, and other times of significance in people's
lives. The exchange of art helps reinforce values such as helping
relatives. I know a Navajo artist who always gives sand paintings to
relatives on birthdays and other special occasions so they can sell them
in Gallup and buy whatever they need-as he said, they are like
aesthetic gift certificates. Usually the family members sell the
paintings, but sometimes they keep them to decorate their homes.
The distribution of art solidifies and symbolizes social and
religious relations within the society. Hopi men, for example, still make
wedding dresses for their brides while the brides' families "payback"
the families of the grooms with forty to sixty baskets末a repayment
for the bridal robes, for the new household member, and for his
work. The baskets are made by the bride and her mother or donated
by relatives and friends. The brides mother gives plaques to others
over the years, building up credits to be called in at her daughter's
marriage. Women who have not participated in this regular circuit of
plaque-giving find they must buy plaques for a daughter's payback.
"In Second Mesa villages plaques change hands frequently as gifts or
'paybacks,' the value of which is not merely utilitarian or monetary,
but largely in their power to maintain balance in a complex system
of reciprocity" (Miller 1989:65). Art, channelled through mothers,
daughters, and sisters, changes hands several times.
Religious ceremonies still require handmade art: pottery bowls,
masks, baskets, costumes, religious paraphernalia and gifts to and
from the Holy People. Pahos, or prayer sticks, payback the gods for
their assistance in maintaining order, balance, and harmony. On
public occasions in Puebloan villages children are given gifts by the
kachinas末small plaques, kachina dolls, rattles, bows and arrows, as
well as food. Many of these objects with religious significance are, of
course, taken out of circulation after an initial exchange, ceasing to
be social or economic commodities. For example, to return to the
Hopi basketry example, the groom's large plaque, delivered to his
mother piled high with white cornmeal in the shape of a cloud is
retained so that at his death, his spirit might make the transition to
the underworld safely. "A century ago this plaque might have been
left at the man's grave along with other items his spirit would need
for its journey after death. Now, some Hopi families take the plaque
to the burial and then bring it back to the village where it is kept by
the man's mother or sister, safe from any who would steal it from the
grave to sell regardless of the harm done to his journeying spirit"
(Miller 1989:67). It is used by one of the religious societies or hung
on the family wall.
Art is also traded to others within the maker's society and to artists
and nonartists of other Native American groups through an informal
barter system and for cash. Hopi kilts are sold to Zuni, Acoma, or
San Juan. Because of the demand within the Pueblo sphere, few kilts
are ever sold to Anglo-American collectors. The same is true for the
Navajo wedding and ceremonial baskets often manufactured by
Paiute women. I have seen Navajo textiles in Zuni homes and Santa
Clara wedding pots in a Pima home末a wedding present from a
friend. Navajo painters trade for Navajo silver; Zuni potters give a
pot to an Acoma potter in exchange for one of her pots, reflecting
and reinforcing cultural specialization and interaction. Art in the
Southwest is social currency末part of the ever-flowing network of
reciprocity, before it ever reaches the external market.
External markets are situations where art is sold and intended to
be used by individuals from societies and cultures other than the
artist's. In the Southwest this is usually the wealthy Anglo-American
community. External markets often require the intervention of
middlemen to interpret the needs and desires of both cultures and serve
as entrepreneurs; in the Southwest they are called jobbers,
wholesalers, and retailers. It is here that the Southwest Native American art
market has been most affected by Euro-American culture, richly
differentiating it along axes of consumer demand, basic assumptions
about Native Americans and Anglos, intended use, and the nature of
the interaction. This differentiation exists due to the nature of the
market economy and the seemingly ever-increasing demand by
Anglo-Americans for exotic and handmade art forms that are easily
recognizable as being made by "others,"末however "the other" is
defined. It also exists because of the flexibility and ingenuity of the
makers. Most makers and consumers specialize in one or two types
of markets, although a sharp break between markets is false; they
blend on their borders. All are embedded in our perceptions of the
Southwest, Native Americans and their art, and their perceptions
Scholars and their special homes, museums and universities, have
been major consumers of ethnographic and archaeological art, called
specimens, a special type of material culture. Some of the first
exchanges involved explorers who wanted to take home a scientific
specimen of their expedition. This is very specialized yet extensive
collecting; specimen art is meant to be representative and typical of
the group, to stand for the society and culture, and often to show
internal variation. It does not have to be beautiful or unique. More
importantly it must be pure, uncontaminated by other cultures,
especially Hispanic, Mexican, or Anglo-American. Thus, older objects,
those that reflect remembered culture末what the grandparents or
ancestors made and used末is preferred. Ideally specimen art has been
used internally before purchase, but reproductions made by the artists
themselves for the anthropologist are acceptable for ethnographic,
but not archaeological, artifacts. The latter are called "fakes."
Specimen art is used to categorize cultures using various typological
schemes, such as evolutionary models in the nineteenth century, or
as evidence of scientific theories about origins, diffusion, cultural
development, and innovation.
Ethnic art has not always been conceptualized as fine art. In the
Southwest, Native American art has increasingly been sold as fine
art. Since the early 1970s this submarket has grown phenomenally,
as the Civil Rights Act reawakened interest in ethnic diversity, as
inflation and speculation drove the prices of European masters beyond
the reach of 95 percent of the population, and as the Wall Street
Journal stated that "Indian art" was a sound investment. Southwest
Native American art became big business. And it continues to grow,
conceptually caught between the folk art market and the mainstream
fine art market.
Fine art is collected. The fine art market is situated in galleries and
auction houses in urban areas, especially those with elite populations
and wealth末Santa Fe/Taos, Scottsdale/Phoenix, Los Angeles. The
hallmark of the fine art market is the original, one-of-a-kind piece
that expresses a special vision of the creator, conveying emotions and
truths to the viewer. In this case it is a marked form of truth that
needs translation because it is "Indian," exotic and mysterious,
possibly more of the earth and closer to nature than that of the
industrialized and urbanized East or West Coast, and always beautifill.
The marked form, like all forms of fine art, must be authenticated
and legitimized for the collector by art historians. Scholars and
museums legitimize and provide reputations and thereby raise prices
further by demonstrating the worth of a piece. Museums help display
quality pieces and have retrospective shows. The galleries, museum
displays, and shows are important distribution points for they show
a range of similarly marked art types, from gift/home decorations to
the most innovative modem or traditional works. Galleries and
museums amass. They educate the buying public and validate
authenticity. They produce messages. They say "this is 'traditional'";
"this is 'nontraditional and innovative but definitely Indian"'; "this is
'handmade'"; "this is 'quality.'" Some museums even sponsor special
markets; for example the Museum of Northern Arizona's Hopi, Navajo,
and Zuni shows. The Heard Museum and the Denver Art Museum
annuals are famous and draw collectors from all over the West. But
museums also take art out of the market by providing a final resting
place or home for the art with the intention that it be preserved for
the use of future generations and not sold again.
A unique marketing outlet for fine art, in fact for the whole
spectrum of arts ranging in quality and price, is the Indian markets, such
as Pow-Wows, the Gallup Ceremonial, and the Indian Market in
Santa Fe. Promoting craftsmanship and revitalization, these markets
are an outgrowth of earlier fairs that have existed since the Spanish
colonial period. Here individuals and retailers erect displays of
saleable goods and hold special competitions to recognize outstanding
A specialized fine art submarket is antiquities, a special form of
antiques. We have always been interested in old things, partly because
our country is so young. Native American history, especially the
obvious connections between prehistoric and historic Puebloans,
has become our own history. And what better way to display this
connection and heritage than through old pots? These can be ethnographic
pieces that are older than 1900 and hopefiiuy closer to the
protohistoric, but archaeological materials are even better. Pot hunting
has been big business since the 1890s and is still growing. As a
specialized form of smuggling it is now third only to drugs and arms.
Always destructive, quasi-legal, and quasi-respectable at best, it is
nevertheless entrenched. This illegal market is motivated by the huge
sums of money available in the legitimate market and, in turn, fuels
and fands the legitimate market. Old heirlooms, the desire for sacred
things, national pride, and high costs of that which is exceptionally
rare are too overpowering; prehistoric Southwestern artifacts are
firmly part of the multi-million-dollar "primitive art" market.
To become part of the fine art market, Native American traditional
art forms and specimen art had to be "revitalized" and recommoditized
with the help of Anglo-American middlemen and womenwho translated
consumers' demands and conceptions. Not all art
forms have been so "revitalized," that is, have made it into the fine
art market. By definition all paintings begin in this market but not
all rugs or necklaces-only the top 10 percent are sold as fine art.
The rest are marketed as craft. Some forms, such as Navajo sand
paintings, ojos, beadwork, or yarn baskets, will always have a difficult
time because of prior consumer conceptions of the proper materials
and techniques of art versus craft.
Other markets in the Southwest are seen as belonging to the larger
world of craft. The largest section of the craft market is what I term
"home decorations and gifts," art forms that bridge fine art and
souvenirs (Parezo 1983). In many ways this is the largest market
because it has the widest appeal to potential buyers, has the greatest
potential use, and is affordable for most middle-class patrons. There
is more standardization in the forms than in the fine art market, and
there is an emphasis on art that will complement Southwestern decor
in homes and offices. Interior decorating is all-important. As with
other markets, the crafts market has a long history. Originating with
the need for objects in the home末a Pima or Tohono O'Odham
pottery jar used to cool water in an Hispanic homestead末it moved
to trading posts, and from there into urban areas as Indian traders
became store owners. But one can also glimpse it at state fairs, at
county fairs, in shopping centers, and at home shows. The Flagstaff
Pow-Wow, the Northern Pueblo fair, and other tribal fairs are special
outlets, as are the native owned and ran guilds. These latter outlets
are increasing as Native Americans try to gain more control over the
marketing of their art.
The craft market, like the fine art market, has a significant resale
market, where individuals hunt for bargains. At swap meets, pawn
shops, estate sales, and yard sales, individuals search for special items
that have been recommoditized after a period of economic inactivity.
All resale markets have an element of bargain and negotiation, with
consumers trying to "find" or "discover" a treasure, a piece of art
that the owner does not know he or she has. The original artist has
little investment or influence in this game of consumers.
Souvenirs are mementos of journeys taken, of trips to strange
lands, of places other than home and the everyday, remembrances of
happy or remarkable events. The Southwest has been seen, since the
coming of the railroad, as the last frontier and the new frontier末an
escape from the rigors of the East Coast, a place to regain physical
and mental health, a place to capture the imagination. And where
there are tourists, there is a demand for souvenirs of the
experience末one wants to take home part of the Southwest. Puebloan potters
early recognized the monies that could be earned from selling wares
to middle-class tourists at the train station in Albuquerque. By 1884
Laguna potters were selling small water jars, sugar bowls, and salt
Souvenirs must be inexpensive, small (often miniatures of
traditional forms), easy to transport (fit into suitcases), and easy to read
(Graburn 1976). They must be easily recognizable as Indian, or what
the consumer thinks of as Indian. One hopes they are handmade by
Indians. But even this is less important than that they clearly show
some symbol of "Indianness" and "the Southwest." Souvenirs
require simplification and mass production, since the extra expense of
the addition of time-consuming, intricate details brings no economic
return. There are little or no monies given to the producer for
creativity or innovation. Indeed monies obtained from souvenirs are
conceptualized by makers as wages. Navajo sand painters who specialize
in souvenirs make as many as sixty highly standardized paintings per
day (Parezo 1983), and the number of similar turquoise and silver
necklaces and small pottery animal figurines is well known to anyone
who has shopped in Old Town in Albuquerque or at the Grand Canyon.
Most marketing is done through curio shops in urban areas, at
national parks, at tourist attractions, or on the main routes to sites.
But other retailers also sell souvenirs. Almost all shops selling Native
American art have a few "bread-and-butter" items末always
authenticated and usually at the higher end of the souvenir price range.
Artists also market for themselves at roadside stands, at gathering points
like the Four Corners Monument or the Little Colorado Gorge,
sometimes at fiestas, in the villages themselves, and under the portal
of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. Buying directly from the
maker, or at least from an Indian (for many Native Americans serve
as entrepreneurs and market the work of others), provides a special
experience for tourists. The experience is so important in Santa Fe
that the portal is kept pure. Non-Indians must use the plaza. In only
a single annual market, Hispanic market, is this pattern broken.
Art in the Southwest is a lubricant末it smooths the flow of
personal interactions and satisfies traditional obligations to help
relatives and friends, helping to restore and maintain balance. It also
lubricates interactions between cultures. Art as commodity helps
many native peoples participate in the larger monetary economy at a
time when traditional ways of making a living are no longer feasible.
Artists who have varying degrees of skill and desires can do this by
manipulating different markets. If there were only a single ethnic
art-fine art market, very few people could earn a living. The presence
of fine art, craft, specimen art, and souvenir markets means that art
as commodity functions in many different ways and conveys many
different messages. Yet all are interdependent, for they deal with that
which is distinctive, exotic, only partly understandable, and hence
This does not mean that the external art market is always well
oiled. People try to control valuable objects. The nature of this
control is currently under dispute and has been for a long time. Many
Native American artists do not wish to be shown and typed as
"Native American" or "Indian" painters. They want to be known simply
as painters. The introduction of Euro-American culture has had an
effect on Native American art through the introduction of
mass-produced goods and new types of markets. As Wade (1985:167) has
noted, "the rapid rise of ethnic art markets in the twentieth century
represents a dynamically interactive form of culture change, wherein
native peoples, grasping for cultural legitimacy and survival in the
industrialized West, accept the economic option of converting
culture into commodity." While I do not agree that by selling art Hopis
or Navajos or Pimans are "grasping for cultural legitimacy"末they
already have and know they have legitimate, viable, and strong
cultures末there is no question that the Southwest Native
American-ethnic art market is still asymmetrical. Native Americans are still
dominated in many ways by the encompassing society. The history
of the markets is in many ways a quiet, occasionally vocal struggle for
control over the processes, the sale, and the products of native
aesthetic culture (McNitt 1962; Wade 1985) as the submarkets
increasingly diversify and expand. Because of this increasing complexity, no
one individual or group is ever going to control them. Power will be
shared. And the messages and the values attached to the art Will be
shared, understood, and misunderstood.
By and large, regardless of the submarket, most Native American
art is still shown in outlets separated from mainstream fine arts and
crafts. There are galleries for Western art and galleries for Indian art.
There are special markets and shows only for Indian art, special
auctions, and special spaces to sell Indian art. "Indian" in the Southwest
is still separated and kept distinct, unlike most black art or that of
most other "minorities." This distinctiveness coincides with, and is
reinforced by, our idea of the Southwest as a separate and unique
place, different from all others. What is being marketed at all levels is
ethnic diversity, with roots in a traditional past, whatever the modern
garb. The main calling card in marketing the Southwest is still that it
is "Indian-made," stemming out of the mysterious other, of whom
we would like to be a part but will always be separated.
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