The Laws of Nature

Monday, August 2, 2010

Art Societies & Such

Hi all! I'm back in NY for a week to hang a solo show entitled "Eggsistential" at the Viewpoint Gallery (41 eggshell paintings). I'll return to Maine next week for the rest of the summer. I've missed my daily "chats" with you all and hope to make up for it by summer's end. In the meantime, I've been thinking about the role of art societies and want to solicit your opinions.

Over the past decade watercolor has been the dominant medium for my work (I use oils and acrylic to a lesser extent). During those ten years I've competed in a number of national and international exhibitions sponsored by watercolor societies such as the American Watercolor Society (AWS), the National Watercolor Society (NWS), the Transparent Watercolor Society of America (TWSA), and so on. When I can, I visit these exhibitions in person and I receive catalogues from most.

It's apparent to me that these societies greatly influence the subject matter and techniques of the artists who compete or who strive to become competitors. There's always a large number of flower paintings, people paintings, and city scapes in these shows. There's also a lot of photo-referenced work. And, there's a lot of ultra-realism. And, there are a lot of imitators of other successful artists from shows past. It's gotten to the point where I can predict what a national/international watercolor exhibition will look like before I even see it.

It seems to me that these societies, which serve as the gatekeepers to what is acceptable in the watercolor world, have very conservative taste. Avant garde work has little to know chance of finding entry into these exhibitions. This reminds me of the Paris Salon, so entrenched in its traditional taste that the newly emerged Impressionists had to find their own venue so their work could be seen.
So, here are some questions for you: Do you think that art societies, with all their influence, help or hinder the progress of art? Do they keep step with the contemporary dialogue in art? I'd love to know your opinion!


Casey Klahn said...

Hey, Katherine! Have fun in NYC, and best wishes on your show!

One of my pet peeves is the photo referenced work prevalent today. I am okay with anything, really, but this "genre" is the least common denominator. You are very right to complain, and I think that arts committees should get a clue.

Even my very enjoyable master copies (I am studying figure images by Degas, da Vinci, etc.) I do without gridding at the beginning stages, and often never using grids. I have at my disposal several types of copying devices, but what tremendous loss one gets from using them!!!

I generally support the classic realist movement, but don't participate myself. Too fundamentalist, IMO. And, like you've alluded to, the obvious image that was a photo, and is now essentially rendered as a painting, is low stuff. For one thing, the image just becomes a showcase for technique.

I could go on...

Anonymous said...

Welcome back even if only temporarily! Best wishes for your show- I'm positive it is stunningly fabulous!!
I can only relate to this point from the angle of quilt shows. Believe me there are very similar concerns. There is a place for these societies- but they do self contain to a point of being predictable and boring. It is up to the artist to step out and change direction. Once there is a break out artist who obtains success- watch out for the long line of imitators. I suppose it's just what we humans do.

hwfarber said...

Hi. I thought of you this morning; even re-read your post from July 18. Here's a new post--coincidence?
or telepathy?

I think all organizations have expectations and influence--I avoid joining anything (especially if Society is part of the name). Membership in these groups is, I think, important for an artist of your caliber.

Good luck with the "Eggsistential" show.

-Don said...

You ask a very eggsistential question here. Do we focus on our uniqueness or do we focus on a way to exist? I'm still trying to figure that out for myself. Right now, I'm on the outside knocking on windows hoping to be seen because the doorman doesn't seem to have me on the list...

Good luck with your "Eggsistential" eggsibition. I wish you much success!


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Best of luck with your show.

I think you touched on a great issue. I've noticed this problem in the watercolor, pastel and colored pencil societies. I think it's more than the societies. The magazines are just as bad. The paintings that get accepted into the big shows and magazines are wonderful. But, just as you say, the variation in approaches is generally limited. Even the experimental paintings start looking like each other.

That being said, the creatives stick out when they get into the shows! Miles Batt comes to mind.

(Apologies for the double posting; I needed to do some editing!)


Robin said...

Hi Katherine, does your own style "fit" into a category? I have always had trouble thinking of art in terms of categories; I think there are always going to be outstanding paintings that draw a judge or a patron to it, regardless of the subject matter, but maybe I am naive. In my opinion, watercolor is a traditional medium and it will always be a battle to prove otherwise. And do we have to depend on awards or show entries to validate our art? (maybe so, sadly.)

Mark Sheeky said...

Best wishes for the show!

You said... Do you think that art societies, with all their influence, help or hinder the progress of art?

It depends what you call progress and art...

...Do they keep step with the contemporary dialogue in art?

No. I agree with you; they tend to be conservative. I bet one could analyse their archives for 50 years and each year would look the same.

Joyfulartist said...

Congratulations and good luck with your show! I wish I could be there.

I have participated a little in national shows and a lot in local competions. I'm thinking you have hit the nail on the head. Perhaps one has to "pay their dues" and paint to please the judges until they get a name and then they can please themselves. I've decided to mostly please myself and skip the judges. I hate having to paint one thing for the gallery, one for competition and no time left for what I really want to do.

Dan Kent said...

Well I read this a few days ago, but things have been so crazy here I only now have time to comment. First, of course, it is such a treat when you post (but I understand, I do.)

Anyway, to the subject. I think watercolor is often not respected. It is not represented well by galleries in large shows like Art Basel). I wonder if this is because many artists historically would use watercolors as studies for works in other media.

Another reason, though, may be because of the restrictions by societies that you describe. Oils and acrylics are far more daring and are perceived to be more modern these days.

So you are pushing the envelope, I think. And that is never comfortable. But it is what you must do and it is what the medium needs.

And best wishes for your NYC show! How wonderful!

Eva said...

Years ago I was a signature member of a couple of w.c. societies before I had to make a living with my art and then I didn't have time to fool with them. You know the the society's initals beside my signature didn't do a thing for my work. In fact I spent more time explaining what they meant.I quit paying my dues and I didn't notice a difference in my sales or acceptance into shows or galleries. Katherine Chang Liu once said she had never entered a single society show and we all know her name.I'm sure a big name gallery in New York or LA could care less about it.

Elisha said...

I agree to a point. I think that there are too many people who use photographs just as they are and therefore they don't make any artistic choices themselves. Although I don't have a problem with copying devices. Vermeer used a camera obscura and if it's good enough for him.... I never use a photograph without making dramatic changes, either in the color and/or the composition.
It is painful to see paintings in magazines where it's obvious that the person never learned to draw/paint from life.
I was in a charity auction last year and I watched a young girl do a painting from a photograph out of National Geographic. I was amazed that not one person from the non-profit gallery the auction was for mentioned that she could not do that.
It's clear that those societies do serve a purpose and while the art is not necessarily to my taste some one out there seems to like it. Plus if they didn't exist what would the other artists have to rebel against?

It's unfortunate that there is not a wide range of subject matter in the shows or magazines, but a wise teacher once said to me, "Maybe it's time to change it from the inside?" You just have to realize that then all the people who paint flowers will have to rebel.

Carol said...

Hi Katherine and all,

I ran across your blog through a friends site. I was very interested in your comments regarding the art preface this...I have an MFA and BFA and am an art teacher at the college level. I have observed that these societies like NWS, AWS, etc. breed their own artists. If you are a member already, your chances of getting in a show are great. If you are a "known-super-star" or have a following, your chances are greater. In one local show where I live, the juror selected an average show, but all of the cash winners were her "Facebook friends!".
And then the society has the audacity to think you should be honored by adding their initials to your signature!!! I should add MFA after my name since that is where I paid my dues and developed my work. I think it is the hardest for educated and experienced artists to see shows where shlock art is accepted in and awarded and qualitative work is passed over. Another observation is that societies are often coffee-clatches for a lot of dilletants. I am sorry to say it is usually a female thing.
So I am off to my studio to produce more of my So. Cal realism
with photos as my reference. You can e-mail me at with comments .My site is at


Carol Cottone

-Don said...

OK, It's been long enough, already! I'm having some major Kathy withdrawals here.

JK. I hope you're having a great summer. I know you'll be back revitalized and better than ever for this next winter season of painting and blogging. I hope your shows are all going well and that your studio time has been some of the most productive ever.

I really like Carol Cottone's response here. I'm now going to go check out her website...

Missing you...