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Drawing Water:
Who Makes Art Valuable?


Peter Walsh

     Who makes art valuable? If you buy any product in today’s global economy – whether it’s a pair of designer pants, a can of soda pop, a handcrafted bowl made in a small village without electricity or an expensive one-of-a kind oil painting – the price you pay is a complex mix of economic and social factors. You pay for materials and labor; distribution by a shipping and retail network; an image transformed by advertising and branding; and sometimes the “cachet” created by the fickle social interactions between you and the people around you.

     In the arts, not just the artist but hundreds of people have had a hand in the chain of creation and consumption that produces a meaningful artwork.

     As part of his ongoing examination of economics, artist Peter Walsh is drawing portraits of everyone involved in the making, showing and purchasing of the portraits themselves - from the meticulous craftsperson who makes a sheet of drawing paper to the high-flying collector who lays down her cash, from the worker who digs a pigment out of the earth to the gallerist who promotes the work and sets the price.

     Drawing Water is a multi-year art project that will be completed in a series of easy to accomplish segments – such as drawing the portraits of a particular group like “the papermakers.” The work is unfolding slowly, often with great beauty, as each individual is drawn and the often invisible connections to other participants begin to be revealed.

Joseph Fleming-Straus, Model for the Project Prototype, Drawn at Spring Studio, New York City on April 1st, 2007 - (26" by 19"), charcoal and chalk on paper, photo by Christopher Quirk.



Some Background Information About
Drawing Water: Who Makes Art Valuable?

    Drawing a likeness is a traditional art form that seems anachronistic in the era of digital image capture and manipulation. The strategy for “Drawing Water” is to use the dignity of the artist’s own labor and skill to honor the labor, skill and contributions of others. Hours spent looking at someone’s face and fashioning a portrait by hand is fundamentally different in meaning than the quick un-seeing snap of a camera. This difference will be used as leverage to create a broader portrait of human relations in our global society.

    Drawing Water is essentially about fair trade. Why does one person in the economic chain of creation make one dollar per day while another makes hundreds or even thousands for a similar amount of labor? How do we negotiate these asymmetrical relationships? How do we justly evaluate the contributions of so many individuals and communities? Walsh is working to answer these questions by using his own labor, skill and knowledge as a kind of human, non-monetary yardstick to measure qualities such as dignity and hard work, not just price and paycheck size.

    In Drawing Water, each participant is presented equally in same-sized portraits using identical materials to produce a non-hierarchical network of connections. Participation is voluntary, and financial, contractual and licensing issues will be negotiated to allow each sitter to participate in any potential profits.

Future Link (How are the Drawings Made?)>>

Who Will Participate in Drawing Water?

Future Link (Particpant Chart)>>


    Since the Drawing Water project will inevitably be a portrait of the broader web of connections between many people, exactly who these individuals are will have a large impact on what the final work looks like and means.


Possible Participant List

Raw materials growers,
    harvesters and diggers

    * Paper materials workers
    * Charcoal workers
    * Pigment diggers
    * Gum and resin collectors
    * Other workers

Art Supply Manufacturers
    * Paper makers
    * Pencil makers
    * Pigment makers
    * Eraser makers
    * Fixative makers
    * Framers

Artist and Support Staff
    * Artist
    * Photographer
    * Web designer
    * Accountant
    * Translators


Retail Sellers
    * Art Supply Store Staff
    * Gallery Staff

Transportation Workers


Art World Professionals
    * Curators
    * Critics
    * Drawing Teachers
    * Drawing Models
    * Residency Staff
    * Museum Staff
    * Granting Panels and Staff
    * Art Historians

    * Gallery and Museum Goers
    * Students

Project Board of Advisors

Photo Gallery

PROTOTYPES: Gallery of Materials Tests drawn with the help of
drawing models at Spring Studio in New York City.


     This is a brand new endeavor, but there are already so many people to thank. For now, thanks go out in no specific order to Deidre Hoguet, Chris Quirk, Amy Madden, Ben Goldman, George Ciscle, Leslie Newman, Noah Loesberg, Deanna Lee, Jan Razauskas, Gary Kachadourian, Sabrina Vigilante, Chick Foxgrover, Ted Vial and to Minerva Durham, Robert Diaz and all the teachers, models and artists at Spring Studio.

All Content Peter Walsh 2006-2007
Any texts or images appearing on this website are available for reproduction for free if they are used for personal or small-scale non-profit purposes. Such usage should be properly credited. Wider distribution for institutional or commercial use is available for licensing.