Thursday, January 25, 2007

Work Begets Work


Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to speak to groups, large and small, interested in living a life of art making. They obviously arrive at the workshop with all kinds of questions and expectations but the questions I most often hear are, “Where will I exhibit my work?” “What price should I put on it?” And “Will it sell?” It is interesting that these questions apparently begin nagging them before they have a body of work to exhibit, price and sell.

Someone once told me that "it takes 10% talent and 90% passion to become a successful artist”. If you don’t believe that, just watch a child who loves to draw, paint, or play with clay. Keep them supplied with art materials and they will not only create a large body of work in a short period of time, but they will also improve their skills along the way. They don’t worry about where each masterpiece is going to hang (most likely on the frig) or what monetary value it might possess. That comes later. They just want to create.

Harley Brown recently wrote, “A raging ambition to succeed in the arts is much rarer than the talent itself. This is why, in all the arts, only five per cent make it to professional.” If this is an accurate statistic, then there are a lot of people out there who consider themselves an artist but are not living out their dream of working as a professional artist. Why is that?

The world is filled with talented people who have the ability to create all kinds of fabulous art, but they have not put in the hours needed to develop their skills. You might have aspirations and even inspiration but you will quickly learn that art making is mostly about perspiration once you decide to create a large body of work. Work begets work. And art making is a lot of work. Solitary work. Physical, mental and emotional work. It takes time and it takes energy. And it rarely pays the bills. (At least not all of them.) A major consideration.


Max Steingart said, “Obstacles don't matter very much. Pain or other circumstances can be there, but if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to get it.”

I have met many people who received their AA or BA in art when they were younger but went on to become a pharmacist, accountant, office manager or something. I meet these people in my evening oil painting classes during their retirement years. They hope to be discovered as "the next Grandma (or Grandpa) Moses”. They have all kinds of dreams. But before they have even signed their first painting since those golden college days, they ask, “Where will I exhibit this, what price should I put on it and do you think it will sell?”

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Artistic License

I recently received an email from a friend whose son works in a local coffee shop where original artwork is displayed. My friend is very disturbed by the current exhibit because of its graphic nature. And in all fairness, it is also considered by the artist to be very “dark”. There is even a warning posted before you enter the exhibit area stating that it might be considered unsuitable for some audiences. (Not a bad idea considering several of the large oil paintings contain imagery of women dressed like prostitutes with gun holes in their heads, nude men being tortured and other nightmarish similes of man’s inhumanity to man.) My friend asked if I would give her my opinion on the work, which I am glad to do. So I checked it out and, as it happened, the artist came into the coffee shop during my visit.

It’s always a good idea to meet and listen to the artist talk about his or her work, if at all possible. I have learned that, even though I might have some personal opinions, it’s best to try not to judge a work by its subject matter. I’ve found that I often change my opinions anyway (for the better and even for the worse at times) after listening to them speak. I remember making a quick judgment years ago about an artist’s work, thinking in my mind that it was very chauvinistic, only to learn that it was really about the artist’s empathy for his wife during the delivery of their first child. Oops.

The coffee shop artist was a friendly enough guy despite his sadistic exhibition. He was, in fact, very likable and open to explaining his motivation for the vulgar imagery. It seems that he was recently assaulted in NYC and had issues. Demons to battle. It was interesting to listen to him talk about his experience and how he has recently become bored with this internal exorcism and would like to move on to a different subject matter. Sounds like he’s learned some things from his work.

The ubiquitous question out there about art is, “Does art have to be beautiful to be valuable?” Obviously the answer is, “Define beauty.” “Define valuable.” It is very subjective on both accounts. My opinion is “Absolutely not.” Just because I want my paintings to be beautiful doesn’t mean that I think all art needs to be beautiful. I believe that all art has value, beautiful or not. There is intrinsic value in anything where lessons can be learned—even if that lesson is to move on.

I think the most important thing in any work of art is that the work is honest. By honest, I mean that the artist is not trying to be something or say something that they aren’t really buying into themselves. Sometimes what someone has to say in all honesty is ugly, vulgar and very offensive. Listen to some of the music out there. Read some of the literature. Watch some of the movies! Or then again---don’t. The beauty of free choice is that we don’t have to subject ourselves to any of it if we don’t want to. But if we choose to, we should be careful not to make quick judgments, but rather, learn what it is that the artist is trying to say. We don’t have to agree and we don’t have to like it. It is just art.

My personal opinion about this artist’s exhibit is this: I have no problem with whatever it is he feels he needs to do to recover from his personal nightmare. My problem was not the subject matter, but that he used a Bob Ross technique to paint the mountains in one of his paintings. If he had painted his mountains with a pallet knife to be “kitschy”, then I would be okay with it. However, he told me that he was seriously trying to paint mountains by using a pallet knife in the style of Bob Ross. I find that very offensive.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

A Mandatory Mess

It’s 2007 and I have hit the ground running. My beautiful new studio was completed just two days ago. I am currently tearing my old studio apart (120 fully packed sq. ft.) and moving everything into my new space (470 fabulous sq. ft.). What a mess! But messing something up to transform it into something “readable” is what I do. I make problems and solve problems all day long from one paint stroke to another. Art making is a messy business. It’s also a lot of work. But it is so worth the efforts. And hopefully, much is learned in the process.

The question I get asked the most about my work is, “How long did it take you to paint that?” My answer varies year to year—“43 years going on 44.” From the time I began mixing paint at the age of ten until today, I have been learning how to create and solve the problems of art making. It’s an ongoing process, of course, that I hope to never stop. Gertrude Stein once said, “I am not young enough to know everything.” Well, I am getting older by the minute and still have a lot to learn.