I joined www.linkedin.com. It’s like Facebook, but without all the personal stuff. People only post things regarding their jobs. I connected with a lot of people I don’t really know because it tells you that someone is a shared connection with someone else so you just press connect and they usually accept. There are groups you can join so I joined a bunch of art and art marketing ones.
What I learned is that for every opinion about how to do something, from making art to selling it, there is a counter opinion and factions of people who start arguing opinions, and soon we have an occupation with no concrete way to assess it. It reminds me of the family that airs their dirty laundry in public. Art and artists seem to make other people uncomfortable. I get the sense that people don’t respect art as a profession. Mainly because they don’t understand it.
Non-artists need concrete information to understand things and the truth is, there is concrete information, but some people, including artists, just don’t know it. A woman had asked one group to share how they know a work of art is a quality work. I said I use the art criticism format – description/detail, formal principles of art, and emotional content. She replied that she was surprised (read appalled) that details should go first. I’m all, what? The order is just the format used in the textbook I use at school called Art Talk. I am surprised that more professional artists don’t know how to criticize art properly – how do they know if their own art is good?
The problem is that some people do not give equal weight to the three components (ultimately four because using the other three you determine if the artwork is successful, the fourth component being judgment). This woman felt that emotion was the key to art and should have top billing. (Later she revealed that she was, in fact, a self-taught artist). Naturally, people in mathematics or the sciences, or any kind of non-art related business don’t think highly of emotionalism. These are the people who call artists artsy-fartsy. It’s all just very frustrating.
I connected with a gallery owner through Linkedin who viewed this website then asked me to bring a few things to the gallery so he could see them in person. Naturally, I was very excited that it took only a day to receive an opportunity and I felt like the universe was finally cutting me a break. When I did meet with him with a bin of paper collage pieces and two 18” x 18” paintings in tow lugged through the rain, he proceeded to share his opinion of why he didn’t think my artwork would sell in his gallery or this town for that matter, which was to do with price-point, materials, subject matter and pretty much my entire aesthetic. His advice was I should find out what the customer wants and make that. Landscapes would be a good choice, he said.
Funny that, because a few months ago, one of my students told me she was going to have a booth at the Ozstravaganza Fest in Chittenango, NY. I asked her what she was going to sell. She said she planned to take some fantasy drawings and make them into prints. I told her she should draw Dorothy and the other Wizard of Oz characters. That’s what people will be looking for – because locals tend to forget that this festival is international. People do find their way to that yellow brick road from all over the US and Canada and I think there were even people from the UK there this year! After the event, she told me she’d taken my advice, made the Oz art and ended up making over $500! Not bad for a thirteen-year-old, right?
So, I understand the gallery owner’s advice. I’d given the exact same advice myself to successful results. When I told the Oz/student story to my dad he said, “Why didn’t you do that?”
I think you know the answer to that. I can’t do that. I can’t make art that satisfies a need. Not now, not ever. I’m peddling the art I’ve already made, not trashing it in favor of a fickle customer’s whim. My whole belief system regarding art is that you put a piece of yourself in everything you make, kind of like a Horcrux in Harry Potter but without the negative part. You educate the potential customer about who you are…and they see you. They understand you, connect with you and believe in you. I feel like I am speaking a visual language, one you may or may not understand fully, but you might walk away feeling like you know enough and fill in the rest with your own context.
Yesterday at my sister’s garage sale, I sold four paintings. (Needless to say, I proved that gallery owner wrong – I can sell work in this town!) I sold one of my encaustic horse paintings to an elementary school-aged boy. I explained to him my decision to mount the work onto chalkboard painted masonite. The intent is that the new owner could write on the board with chalk, maybe draw horses themselves or name the horse – really anything. And in this way, he would be contributing to the meaning of the work and we would essentially be making art together. I feel that art makes that transformation even without an actual physical change – once it leaves the artist, it takes on new meaning, the one its new owner attributes to it. For example, a playing card can mean gambling or it can have something to do with fortune telling. Most likely it is a symbol of the spirit of gaming, which may be a nod to childhood, bringing along with it happy memories. And a horse is a horse, of course, of course.
I want to believe that I am right about all of this. Well, I am right. I’m just not making hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove it. But this woman is.
She was a music teacher but something possessed her to start painting. An empty wall in her house provoked her to think she could paint well enough to fill the space. This led to her quitting her job and painting full time. She then kept going to see a Manhattan art dealer for critiques. The dealer’s advice was to paint something that no one else paints. Be unique. She kept at it for months until she happened upon a cityscape idea that the dealer liked and now she’s selling paintings for $100,000 each.
When I told my dad, he asked, “Is this a real story?”
I’m like, “Yeah.”
So he said, “Why don’t you do that?”
I don’t watch Glee and I’ve never actually seen the High School Musical trilogy, but I am forever breaking out in song at work. I don’t seem to care that I am not a trained singer and never participated in chorus once I hit middle school. Someone will say something that triggers the first lines of a song I know the words to, and off I go in what I believe to be the same perfect pitch Mrs. Firth said I had at Tecumseh Elementary circa the early 1970s. I like the idea that life could be a musical, so maybe I will find success in music. Wouldn’t that be funny if me and this lady criss-crossed and I became an unlikely pop star?
But that would mean that no one should go to school for art or music. And that’s the other debate I’m finding on social media. The factions of self taught artists are against formal training because they think it’s hokum while the educated artists virtually roll their eyes. I think you know where I stand on this matter, being that I teach art and believe in the creative process, as well as a strong need to develop creative thinkers for all career professionals. The time-traveler in me doesn’t plan to go back and reverse my decision to become a trained artist any time soon.