The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Maintaining a Private Creative Life


Before I begin a new book, I'd like to discuss an article I just read in the most recent issue of Art Calendar: "Side Trips and Detours: Maintaining a Private Creative Life" by Matthew Daub. He begins with:

Nothing confuses art dealers more than variety. When an artist reveals more than one body of work at a time, many dealers scratch their heads and question whether the artist really knows what he or she is doing. Graduate school acceptance committees usually react the same way, as do most exhibition jurors. Collectors are often confused and put off when an artist they have had an interest in suddenly changes direction midstream. While certain established artists may get a free pass when it comes to exhibiting eclectic bodies of work, for most of us, it's the kiss of death. This is a very real dilemma facing artists in the marketplace. If consistency is favored, does that put pressure on us to continue making the same work in the same way throughout our entire careers?

Good question!

This is something I've been thinking about for years. I always paint in a series (thematically) and change the theme every few years. For instance, my Wine series lasted one year and was followed by the All Cracked Up series which lasted five years. Now, I'm working on the Laws of Nature series. Those are just my series in watercolor. Simultaneously, I created other series in oil and in acrylics. My painting style is always the same, but the themes change.


When I approach a gallery, I highlight only one series. However, on my website I have several series posted. Looks like I'm guilty of doing exactly what Daub warns us against. As I wrote earlier, I have thought about this for a long time and it still nags me. Perhaps I should make a change.


What does Daub recommend? Having two sets of work: public and private. The public works are those that you want to hang your reputation on - and they are consistent. The private works are everything else we create. They may or may not see the light of day. I've heard of artists who use a pseudonym for these other works of art and openly sell them under that disguise. Not a bad idea, but tricky.


I'm still pondering all this and would like to know what you think.

What's your opinion?

20 comments:

Dan Kent said...

Pardon me if I am still hung up on yesterday's post, but I found a quote by Georgia O'Keefe where she gives the credit to the viewer! It is: "Now and then when I get an idea for a picture, I think, how ordinary. Why paint that old rock? Why not go for a walk instead? But then I realize that to someone else it may not seem so ordinary."

Re today's post: I'm nowhere near worrying about this - I should have such worries! But Bob Dylan springs to mind. Your approach sounds best to me, otherwise, the artist is stifled.

Robin said...

Your blog is wonderful, I am so glad I am following you Kathy. I have asked myself the same question about my work and I definitely have a split between what is public art and what is made privately in my studio, sometimes experimental, sometimes unsuccessful, but always a learning process. I think when a person is a "professional" artist they have more at risk when they share EVERYTHING they are creating because of reputation and expectations in the public arena. I recently (this past May) decided to expose some of my most private works at my graduate art show although I felt like I was exposing my weaknesses more than my strengths but it was part of the learning process of my 2 yrs in graduate school and I felt like I was taking a huge risk (the topic of my thesis paper, living with my inner critic). My artists friends all tell me being true to your art means showing it all, but I have to disagree and say there is a time and a place for everything, and because of all the reasons you list (confusion if a body of work is all over the place) artists have to make a clear statement or patrons won't understand what they just viewed... just my humble opinion.

PAMO said...

I'm with Dan- I should have such worries!
In professional articles about the retail motorcycle business, the authors often talk out of their ass- they don't have a clue what real business is like.
I think you do it just right Kathy- I wouldn't change a thing.
And I agree with Robin- a professional artist shouldn't bare all- that's just stupid talking.

Nancy Goldman said...

When I read that article in Art Calendar,it made me feel anxious because I am doing exactly what they say not to do. However, I am not in any galleries and haven't really found any galleries where I felt my work would fit so I think I will continue doing what I enjoy doing. Even though I consider myself a watercolor artist, I enjoy working in every medium. That is what energizes me and feeds my creativity. I'm all over the map, creatively, which may confuse some people but I think others may be excited to see what is coming next on my blog.
In any case, it is what I feel is right for me for now. Friends tell me that they recognize my style regardless of what medium I use or subject I paint so maybe it's not so confusing after all. Of course, if some well known gallery comes knocking on my door, ready to represent me, and they have some issues with how I'm presenting my work then we can talk....

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

My feelings are typically middle of the road. I understand the need for consistency and maturity in ones work. But, my greater worry is stagnation. Exploration and experimentation are essential from time to time.

I like the idea of collections or themes. One recognizes the artist's work and the artist has an opportunity to explore.

Casey Klahn said...

I have experienced magic with the focused series. So, I vote for focus right now.

I have thought about the pseudonym idea, too. I would think the time challenge would be the hardest pat of that.

Joanne Licsko said...

This is the tail wagging the dog. We are artist's because we have a passion that needs to be expressed. Those whose passion is collecting art hope to find that spark in the artist they collect. This brings to mind the creation of square tomatoes that packed well but had no taste; very convenient for the market, but the public didn't want them. It is the dealer's job to sell/educate the collector on the growth, expansion, evolution of the creative spirit. Should Michelangelo have stuck with sculpture and only shown his paintings to his friends.
Picasso demonstrated a fine example of an artist's work having depth, truth and showing his evolution as his life matured. It is obvious he investigated on style until he exhausted it, and then he moved on. His dealers marketed his work as periods.
I do agree that it is confusing to all if the artist is all over the place, that's counterproductive. However, isn't the choice to be a professional artist is full of hardship and risks. What makes it all worthwhile, is that we are free to make our own decisions and follow our bliss. Academicians and dealers who have a problem with this, have either forgotten the higher purpose of their position, or are just plain lazy.

-Don said...

What if those bodies of work have an obvious segue? For instance, I would know that the same artist created "The Laws of Reciprocal Action" and "All Cracked Up XXV". Although the artist has changed her themes; her approach, her compositions, her style and her color palette have remained consistent giving these two separate and distinct bodies of work a cohesive, unifying feel which belies their uniqueness. I think they would show well together.

With that said, this same artist's Wine series and Intertidal series are both so different from each other, as well as the aforementioned series', that they do stand alone. Personally, I have no problem with this. Each series has been well thought out and executed. By placing them in separate galleries on her website, the artist gives us the opportunity to get lost in each series and not get caught up in the contrasting styles between them.

In other words, I think your approach to your website is the same as your approach to galleries. You have separated the series and given the viewer the opportunity to peruse each in their unified whole.

Now, about me. When I read Mr. Daub's article the other day I placed my recent works into this context. Should I hold something back that I have created? Does my work stand both together and alone? Since I'm working on three distinctive series at the same time how do I not muddy my own water? My decision - When I look at my current series' as a whole, they do stand together pretty well. My approach to color, content and composition unify them in a way that keeps them from distracting from one another. So, I decided to stay my course and keep Mr. Daub's words in mind as a litmus test for the future.

Now, if I could only have a few collectors to confuse...

-Don

Ken Swinson said...

Presentation-wise, it's nice to have a common thread to tie a group of artworks together.

It's hard for me to focus on one idea for an extended time. I think i am guilty showing too much work at once, and confusing the viewer.

For the next year, I'm going to try and focus on only showing my latest series body of work.

I think it will have more impact and make a stronger presentation.

Eva said...

Yes, I think, like the masters,it's important to have consistency in one's art if one is trying to establish a following. I did it for over 30 years.When people saw my work they knew it was mine without being told. The trick is to keep it fresh and let it slowly evolve. It's a challenge, but it's a good one! Now that I'm retired I do what moves me in the moment, but I still have clients that want more of the work they collected and I oblige them when I'm moved to do so.

hwfarber said...

And my question is: Do collectors buy more than one piece from a specific series, or do they collect Cartwright art from several different series? I feel that, somehow, painting in a series is limiting your work to a specific type of buyer. Will the people who appreciate your work (but didn't buy All Cracked Up) wait for the Laws of Nature series?

I haven't yet received my copy of Art Calendar.

hwfarber said...

And my question is: Do collectors buy more than one piece from a specific series, or do they collect Cartwright art from several different series? I feel that, somehow, painting in a series is limiting your work to a specific type of buyer. Will the people who appreciate your work (but didn't buy All Cracked Up) wait for the Laws of Nature series?

I haven't yet received my copy of Art Calendar.

Margaret Ryall said...

I also work in series for extended periods of time but I also branch out during those periods into other things that interest me. Boredom is a big turn off for me so I need to constantly feed myself by giving permission to just create. When I have solo shows I highlight my series work. At other time at the gallery I participate in group shows and feel very comfortable putting in my other work. It is often experimental or explores different themes than my usual. I think all the work references me and my style. Truthfully, I'm not that concerned with the collector. I think people buy my work because they like a particular piece. That's why I buy work.

Carolina Moon Arts Studio said...

I am probably guilty of each comment here having spent many years experimenting and painting whatever i was attracted to be it a landscape, a flower or something inspirational. However, this last year i have focused on one series and have learned so much by working this way. Many of my peers have noticed the change in direction and commented on its depth and focus. So I cannot add anything that hasn't been already stated here except from my own experiences. I intend to complete this series with all i have and then decide which way to go next.
Thank you Kathy for posting this and for all the comments that followed.

Kathy said...

Hi Dan - I love the O'Keeffe quote! Thanks so much. It's a wonderful perspective.

Hi Robin - Thank you! I truly appreciate your insights and experience, and agree with your conclusion. I need to give this more serious thought.

Hi Pam - Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. You always have a great way of stating things!

Hi Nancy - I know what you mean, and this is my struggle as well. However, when I show my work to a gallery I only show them one series and, if they decide to represent me, they only sell from one series. It seems to work out despite the cautionary advice of this article's author. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Peggy - well put!! Thank you.

Hi Casey - your work is wonderfully focused. I can tell a Klahn when I see one!

Hi Joanne - you make a compelling argument; very logical. Deep down inside I think that I've come to that very conclusion, which is why I still show multiple series of paintings. Thank you!

Hi Don - a generous analysis! Thank you. I think your work is very consistent and the transitions you've made haven't been significant departures, so it all works well together. Your work is masterful and distinctive - I could pick your work out of a gaggle of paintings any day!

Hi Ken - looks like this article has had an impact on you as well! Thanks so much for joining our discussion. It's good to know your opinion.

Hi Eva - very sage advice!! Thank you.

Hi Hallie - interesting questions. In fact, there are folks who've collected something from each series I've painted, and many who collected from only one series. So, some folks are collecting "Cartwright" no matter what but not nearly as many who connect with a single series. I never know what to expect...

Hi Margaret - I share your feelings about boredom, which is why I experiment so much. And, like you, I've found that most people collect what they like. Few purchase for the investment -- but at least there are a few! Thanks!

Hi Carolyn - you've found a wonderful and exciting path in your artmaking and it's exciting to see it continue! You're wise to stick with it. Thanks for sharing!

Kathy said...

Hi Dan - I love the O'Keeffe quote! Thanks so much. It's a wonderful perspective.

Hi Robin - Thank you! I truly appreciate your insights and experience, and agree with your conclusion. I need to give this more serious thought.

Hi Pam - Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. You always have a great way of stating things!

Hi Nancy - I know what you mean, and this is my struggle as well. However, when I show my work to a gallery I only show them one series and, if they decide to represent me, they only sell from one series. It seems to work out despite the cautionary advice of this article's author. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Peggy - well put!! Thank you.

Hi Casey - your work is wonderfully focused. I can tell a Klahn when I see one!

Hi Joanne - you make a compelling argument; very logical. Deep down inside I think that I've come to that very conclusion, which is why I still show multiple series of paintings. Thank you!

Hi Don - a generous analysis! Thank you. I think your work is very consistent and the transitions you've made haven't been significant departures, so it all works well together. Your work is masterful and distinctive - I could pick your work out of a gaggle of paintings any day!

Hi Ken - looks like this article has had an impact on you as well! Thanks so much for joining our discussion. It's good to know your opinion.

Hi Eva - very sage advice!! Thank you.

Hi Hallie - interesting questions. In fact, there are folks who've collected something from each series I've painted, and many who collected from only one series. So, some folks are collecting "Cartwright" no matter what but not nearly as many who connect with a single series. I never know what to expect...

Hi Margaret - I share your feelings about boredom, which is why I experiment so much. And, like you, I've found that most people collect what they like. Few purchase for the investment -- but at least there are a few! Thanks!

Hi Carolyn - you've found a wonderful and exciting path in your artmaking and it's exciting to see it continue! You're wise to stick with it. Thanks for sharing!

meera said...

This is so disheartening! I came to art only a few years ago and have not had any formal training. As Eva said I paint what moves me at the moment and love to explore styles and subjects. Lots of times a subject matter moves/dictates me to paint it a certain way. Mostly I paint for myself but won't mind some success in recognition and sales :) The gate keepers are really guarding something aren't they? I wondered if I should comment -I am an amateur where as all the other commentators seem to be professional.

Jean Spitzer said...

I also love the O'Keefe quote. Art requires artist and object and audience, and all contribute to its meaning.

Mark Sheeky said...

Worries about consistency are groundless. You can only have one personality so an honest artist can't be inconsistent. If you have wide tastes it will help to produce lots of work, if you want people to understand you and your art better. That's all. It's another art vs. marketing illusion.

Kathy said...

Hi Meera - of course you should comment! Your thoughts are as important as everyone else's. Thank you for commenting and don't be discouraged. There exists no single "correct" approach in the art world and YOUR way is important, too. Keep going!

Hi Jean - Amen!

Hi Mark - I like the way you think. Indeed, authenticity is the key. Thanks!