The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fineness, Greatness, and the Medium

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)

Have you ever looked at a painting and marveled at the masterful technique used to create it – and, that was all you took away from it? I have. I’ve seen mind-boggling technically precise work that looked more like a machine produced it than a human. Every tiny detail is perfect and the entire work is nothing but tiny details. It’s apparent that the artist worshipped technique above all else. Yes, we do appreciate “fine” works of art like this, but they’re not “great.”

Yesterday’s post featured Dewey’s comment that art is fine, it is said, when form is perfected; but it is great because of the intrinsic scope and weight of the subject matter dealt with, even though the manner of dealing with it is less than fine.

We can extend this discussion to include the relative importance of the medium employed by an artist. What is it’s role? According to Dewey:
The medium is a mediator. It is a go-between of artist and perceiver. The artist has the power to seize upon a special kind of material and convert it into an authentic medium of expression.

Sensitivity to a medium as a medium is the very heart of all artistic creation and esthetic perception. Such sensitiveness does not lug in extraneous material. When, for example, paintings are looked at as illustrations of historical scenes, of literature, of familiar scenes, they are not perceived in terms of their media. Or, when they are looked at simply with reference to the technique employed in making them what they are, they are not esthetically perceived. For here, too, means are separated from ends. Analysis of the former becomes a substitute for enjoyment of the latter.

So, I would conclude that the weight of the subject matter trumps technique and medium.

What do you think?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fineness and Greatness

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)
Image: The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! It's time to return to Dewey's book (and also to my diet and the gym). I've been pondering this passage and think it's a good one for discussion:

An attempt has been made to support the distinction between substance and form in works of art by contrasting “fineness” with “greatness.” Art is fine, it is said, when form is perfected; but it is great because of the intrinsic scope and weight of the subject matter dealt with, even though the manner of dealing with it is less than fine.

Are we to conclude from this that “greatness” (substance) in a work of art is more important than its “fineness” (form)? Does this mean that the artist’s primary concern should be weighty subject matter even if it’s at the expense of form?

I ask these questions because I’m confused by artists who value technique over content. While mastery of technique is a worthy goal and works of art that are technically perfect make our jaws drop, is it enough? Have these artists failed to meet a higher goal – that of self-expression? By this, I mean that perhaps, as famed art critic Arthur Danto believes, "For something to be deemed a work of art it must have meaning." By extension, we could infer that in order for a work of art to be deemed "great" it must have meaning.

What’s your opinion?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Foundation, Four Walls and a Roof

Image: The Law of Conservation of Mass
by Katharine A. Cartwright, 2010
watercolor on paper

Our discussions of John Dewey’s text inspired me to evaluate the structure of how I teach painting to my students. In my last post I stressed the importance of coupling intuition with knowledge in order to control and advance our artmaking. This viewpoint is the foundation to what I teach. Here are the four walls built upon that foundation:

Wall 1: Concept development. I use a process that I've developed to help students find their own voice. This voice expresses their individuality and unique relationship with the world around them. Until the student artist knows what to express there’s little need to continue. Therefore, this is the first wall up.

Wall 2: Material selection. Once my student has an idea of what to paint and its significance to him/her, we begin the process of selecting the materials most suitable for expressing that concept.

Wall 3: Construction. Next, my students carefully consider the symbols, style, composition, and palette that best support the central concept of the work. This step unifies all the elements of the painting so that self-expression is focused and unambiguous. The voice of the artist is transformed from a mumble to an articulate audible voice.

Wall 4: The student paints. I show them how to master painting techniques in their chosen medium and also offer critiques that allow them to analyze their own work and make corrections.

Intuition is essential during the construction of all four walls. Without it, student artists won’t be able to express their own unique style in their own unique "language."

The Roof: Gaining perspective. Finally, I help my students gain perspective of where their work fits into the contemporary and historical art scenes. It is from this perspective that they begin to understand their place and how to advance.

This building process requires me to nurture creativity, impart analytical skills, and encourage artistic maturity. I suppose I learned this teaching style by realizing how I best learn.

How about you?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art, Knowledge, and Intuition

Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

It’s my hope that I can do a better job at unwrapping Dewey’s dense text (Art as Experience, 1934) because it’s well worth it. I say this only from the perspective of one who believes that knowledge is beneficial, and the more knowledge we have the more control we have over our work.

For the sake of justifying my position, I’ll place artists into three general categories:
1. Intuition-based
2. Knowledge-based
3. Knowledge-based who also rely on intuition

Artists who solely rely on intuition to create without a formal education in art probably have the better chance of achieving true originality in their work, but also have the smaller chance of being able to control the quality, consistency, and path of their work.

By contrast, artists who enter the arena via a formal education in art have a better chance of controlling the quality, consistency and path of their work but have the smaller chance of being innovative.

To me, the perfect blend is mixing together knowledge with intuition because it’s these artists who can evolve on a personal level, which leads to the advancement of the arts in the broader sense.

The bottom line is that knowledge is control; intuition leads to innovation; and, the blending of the two is the perfect state.

That’s my opinion … what’s yours?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Failed Theories and Context

Art as Experience
by John Dewey (1934)

Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

Our good friend Casey was correct when he stated that Dewey is THE man when it comes to authority on this subject. So, let’s explore this book a little more. As you know, I’m not covering it chapter by chapter because it’s encyclopedic in scope. Rather, I’m cherry-picking quotations that I think will give rise to interesting discussions here. So far, Dewey has ignited a firestorm!

So, here’s more to consider: The theories that attribute direct moral effect and intent to art fail because they do not take account of the collective civilization that is the context in which works of art are produced and enjoyed. I would not say that they tend to treat works of art as a kind of sublimated AEsop’s fables. But they all tend to extract particular works, regarded as especially edifying, from their milieu and to think of the moral function of art in terms of a strictly personal relation between the selected works and a particular individual. Their whole conception of morals is so individualistic that they miss a sense of the way in which art exercises its humane function.

Go for it!

P.S. If you’re new to this blog and haven’t read the posts and comments from the past two days, please do. My readers made awesome comments! Please feel free to join in and WELCOME!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Moral Function of Art, continued

We had a great discussion yesterday and I think it deserves further consideration. It all began with a statement by John Dewey: the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.

This opened to door to some wonderful insights and observations posted in comments by my readers. Please take a look if you haven’t already. Dewey’s philosophy made us question our role as artists, and the historical role of our predecessors. Fascinating.

I’d like to use today’s post to continue that discussion because it’s too early to abandon it. So, please keep it going.

Now that you’ve had time to reflect, what’s your opinion?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Art as Experience: The Moral Function of Art

Art as Experience
by John Dewey (1934)

We’ve had a lively discussion here over the past week and in the last post I polled my readers to see how many of you would prefer to continue the open discussion forum versus book review discussions. Most of my long-term readers encouraged me to continue the books reviews, so I will. However, I hope that you'll continue to feel free to discuss whatever concerns you about art. We learn from each other.

Over the past week I’ve been reading John Dewey’s seminal book on art theory entitled Art as Experience (1934). This book is based on Dewey’s lectures on aesthetics at Harvard, and is considered the most distinguished work ever written on the topic. You might think that it’s too dated since the book was written so long ago, but that’s not the case. He deals with timeless issues in the broadest sense.

I can’t begin to review this book in its entirety because it would take years. However, I would like to spend a week or two considering Dewey’s ideas on the things the most interest us.

I’ll begin by citing Dewey’s belief that the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog discussing the definition of art, but we haven’t explored the moral function of art. Perhaps it’s in that function that we may find a definition – one that encompasses the entire spectrum of what it is we deem as “art.”

In considering the moral function of art, we can also flip over this coin and explore what would be an immoral dysfunction of art (did I express that correctly??). By contrast, art would become dysfunctional if it’s confined by bias, intellectual blindness, tradition, and lack of imagination.

But, are we ever completely free of our biases and traditions in artmaking? Should we be free of them? Do these hamper or facilitate the progress of art (e.g. innovations)?

Is there a better description for the moral function of art?

Here’s something we haven’t yet considered on this blog. What do you think?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Community Discussion ... Day 5

(right) sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

We began Day 4 by considering Mark’s question: “If nobody likes a painting is it bad?”

Margaret started the discussion with the opinion that art, because it is a creative form of communication that reflects the thoughts of the artist, can’t be bad for that reason. However, one could find fault with the technical aspects of the work if it isn’t well executed.

Rhonda agrees with Margaret, and feels that judgment of another’s work is a sensitive issue because it’s so personal. However, she notes that the works of many artists were considered “bad” during their lifetimes but were deemed a masterpiece posthumously. Great point!

Dan brought up for consideration the works of contemporary pop artist Romero Britto, who has reached celebrity status and markets a host of products with his work on it. Dan ponders whether Britto is attacked because of jealousy over his popularity and financial success as well as his non-painterly style. That’s worth a second glance, because – as he points out – this is the converse of Mark’s question; Britto’s work is deemed bad because it’s popular.He concludes that popularity or salability are probably irrelevant anyway, and that very good art can remain undiscovered and, therefore, never communicate with others as the artist had intended. A sad conclusion, indeed.

Susan’s comment returns to an earlier question raised by Margaret about “serious” versus “fluff” work. She remarked that quick studies are more like fluff whereas a mature painting is well-considered and takes longer to produce (a.k.a. serious work). However, she values the look of spontaniety and struggles to keep that quality in her more serious work. I chimed in to say that we’re all saying the same thing: “good” art is authentic work. It all boils down to the artist’s intent.

Carolyn noted the way in which Kincaid’s work is produced and marketed. Mass production by laborers who copy his work with just one dab of paint by Mr. K. and a final signature is the result of what probably began as a sincere effort by him to produce meaningful art. As Carolyn notes, authenticity has been lost.

L.W. gave us an entirely new perspective on this issue because of her previous involvement in European/Asian oil painting imports. These works were the types used on the sets of theaters, films, and TV and sold for little money. Her conversations with the artists who produced these paintings revealed that at least one of the artists who relied on this form of income used a pseudonym on this work and his real name on his “real” work. This allowed him to support both his family and his talent (makes sense to me!). Like you, L.W., I believe that artists are entitled to make a living doing what they do best.

Celeste closed the day’s conversation with her mental weariness of repetition. So many works offer the same concept or mimic one particular artist. Trends occur and more sales occur because of them. So, she posits, if you produce a painting with no other thought than to sell it then it’s a “bad thing.” (lol)

This concludes our four day community discussion …. or, does it? Would you like to continue this? Typically, I review art theory books for discussion here. But, our conversation is just as good as many of these books so I’m willing to continue my role as a facilitator for your ideas if you wish. When the conversation wanes I’ll start reviewing books again.

If you wish to continue, either pick up one of the threads of a topic or propose a new one. So far, it’s been great!! Thank you.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Community Discussion ... Day 4

We’ve reached day 4 of our experimental community discussion and I like where we're going! How about you?
We began yesterday's discussion by picking up on Dan’s topic about what spurs us toward expansion and growth of our art.
Here’s a summary of the responses:

I commented that since my process is concept-oriented, any advancement must come from intense introspection.

Elizabeth’s path began with learning a variety of media and techniques through instruction, but getting lost in technique at the expense of her “voice.” Finding it in the expression of the ridiculous and whimsical, she challenges herself to solve new and more challenging problems in artmaking.

Robin offers that every time we paint, we grow and learn something. Amen!! Her perspective is that we don’t always have to be pushing the envelope because art has a therapeutic and meditative quality that’s also important.

Celeste advances her work by taking two workshops per year, reading books, participating in blogs like this one, and also meeting with an art discussion group in her area on a weekly basis. She also goes to museums and watches artful programs on TV or DVD. Additionally she paints or draws every day. Sounds like a winning formula to me!

Susan returned to an earlier topic posed by Margaret about worthy vs. fluff work. She made a great (in my opinion) observation about the detrimental effects of doing quick work under time constraints which leads to work that lacks serious consideration. (Boy, I wish more folks would consider this point – it’s a good one!)

L.W. followed up on Susan’s comment by noting that quick sketching is a limbering exercise and not a serious drawing, which takes much longer. She applies this to the painting process as well, and is dicscouraged to find so many artists online that produce quickie small works for sale. The work is repetitious and boring.

Robin respectfully disagreed with L.W. since she repeats themes in order to further explore them, as did Monet with his lilies and haystacks.

L.W. responded that her intent isn’t to offend those who paint one particular subject, since she does it herself. It’s a matter of repetitious copying of previous work rather than exploring new ways to express the same subject.

This led Robin to ask a new question: Is it bad to want to paint htings that you know will be more salable?

I responded that my feelings are mixed. I wouldn’t deliberately produce work for the market, but at the same time I have sympathy for artists whose sole income is from the sale of their paintings. They have little choice but to find ways to support themselves, and that may include painting what’s popular. Hopefully, once they achieve financial independence they can produce authentic work instead.

Joyfulartist (do you have a name I may use?) posted a great quote from Bayles & Orland’s book “Art & Fear” – “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is to simply teach you how to make the small fraction that soars.” (p. 5)

L.W. responded to the latter comment by Robin and indicated that she wants to sell her work, however she doesn’t have a large enough inventory to begin. (That’s a good topic for later!)

Mark offers that it isn’t bad to want to paint something saleable. After all, portrait paintings (e.g. George F. Watts) do this. He also asks if popular art is saleable art? And, is popular art good because it’s popular? By extension, if nobody likes a painting, is it bad? These are great questions to consider.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Community Discussion continues ... Day 3

Our discussion is gaining momentum. Fantastic! Yesterday, Margaret got things started by expressing her concerns about producing worthy or “serious” work rather than fluff. In a simultaneous post (isn’t it funny how this happens?) Robin queried about what defines a “professional artist.” These two competing topics opened up two interesting pathways for conversation.

Here’s a recap of the responses:

Comments on Margaret’s question about “serious” work:

Meera offered that our passions should guide our work.
Robin agreed with Meera and added that it’s the only way to be true to our art.
L.W. reminded us of what a circus the professional art world can be, and to just “paint.
Hallie finds serious topics in Margaret’s work (as do I!) so it can’t be “fluff.”
Rhonda gave us insight into the fact that an artist’s work is serious if it’s heartfelt and an expression of one’s solo voice.
Carolyn has discovered the importance of content that springs from the roots of her soul in producing serious work.
Mark agrees with Carolyn and adds that it’s the artist’s intent that makes the work serious despite outside opinion.

Comments on Robin’s question about “professional” versus “amateur” artist:

L.W. offered the perspective that paid athletes can’t partake in the Olympics because they are considered professional. She expanded that to the IRS regulations in this country that require sales and deductions as a definition for a pro.
Hallie recounted many of the business responsibilities of a professional artist and decided it wasn’t her thing.

All this led to a new question posed by Dan:
What techniques do you all use to help spur expansion and growth?

Carolyn is spurred on by reading books on art techniques and experimenting.
Hallie agrees and lists a few great books to read.

Maybe we can continue discussing Dan’s topic today and then spin off into another area of interest.

Go for it! This is great.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Community Discussion continues ....Day 2

So far, we’ve had a great community discussion here – thanks to all of you!! It began with Rhonda’s question about fear and art:
fear of ruining a creation,
fear of judgement by others,
fear of taking on challenges.

Some of us offered up other types of fears:
fear of creating work that won’t sell (Lorna)
fear that our art won’t outlive us (Carolyn)
fear of expressing our true feelings in our paintings (L.W.)
fear of trusting in ourselves when subject to the authority of instructors (Sharmon)

And, some of us offered up solutions to our fears:
what’s the worst that can possibly happen? (Robin)
age gives us wisdom and perspective (Robin)
embracing “crazy” (Hallie)
create an art trust or will to preserve our work (Carolyn)
don’t let others dictate what our art should be (Sharmon)
creating a large volume of work diminishes and removes fear (Jean)
paint or draw every single day overcomes fears (Celeste)
realizing that making mistakes can be a positive thing (Celeste)
fear can make the process exciting and make us try new things for the thrill of it (Don)

These are great contributions to our discussion!

A special thank you today to all of our veterans who served so we wouldn't have to fear! Your bravery and sacrifice is extraordinary.

Who’d like to begin today's discussion?? You may either continue this discussion or begin a new topic. Go for it!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Community Discussion: An Experiment

Image: Stick path by Andy Goldsworthy

Following up on yesterday's post about the artist's community, your comments reflected how important this type of interaction is. Many of us work in isolation, or semi-isolation, and seek opportunities to have substantive discussions with other artists. That's how we found each other in the blogosphere.

So, I'd like to conduct a community experiment - a discussion among us that flows along a path that might occur naturally if we were all in the same room.

Let's exchange thoughts and ideas - related to art, of course - that interest us most. I'll delay reviewing the next book I'm reading until next Monday so that we have plenty of time to travel down a conversational path. My job is to facilitate the discussion through daily summaries that allow us all to continue the conversation.

So, for the next four days here's what we'll do: the first person to post a comment today gets to select the topic that most interests him/her. Subsequent comments should acknowledge the initial topic, expand upon it and even slightly turn the path. This is usually how live conversations progress over time.

Of course, we'll respect the virtues of polite conversation and respect all who choose to engage. So - let's begin! Someone start us off. Feel free to comment as much as you like.
Who's first??

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Community of Artists

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

image: "Rainshadow" by Andy Goldsworthy, 1984

Chapter 10: A Community of Artists, finale

It’s time to conclude Orland’s book and, in so doing, consider the communities available to artists. The author writes: Successful artists’ groups can (and do) differ wildly from one another in size, format, purpose and duration – but in most every case they reflect the only structure that could work for that particular group of artists. The tricky part is striking the right balance between common goals and differing sensibilities.

Over the years, I’ve joined formal art societies governed by rules, informal art groups governed by chaos, and art communities where a significant part of the local residents are artists or support the arts. For me, the most important aspect of any community of artists is the acceptance and encouragement of the free exchange of ideas, philosophies, and perspectives. If the community is too like-minded then innovation dies. If the community is too conflicted then the seeds of ideas can’t sprout. There’s a delicate balance. I like the mellow, laid-back, hey-that’s-interesting-let’s-explore-it approach.

Orland points out that small groups support give-and-take discussions more easily than large groups. True. I’d much rather be part of a small group, or a sub-group of a larger group. Once, I was president of an art league with a membership of over 300 artists. One year of that was about all I could tolerate so I resigned. Whenever a group gets that large there are too many rules and too much narrow-minded thinking. Socializing becomes more important than artmaking, and cliques grapple for control. That makes me run for the hills!

But, art communities in which artists thrive do exist. As Tom Kelly put it, we may make art in private, wrapped in our own techniques and ideas, but a piece of art lives when it is shown. Often, gatherings of artists result in “show and tell” and critique, or larger communities that support the arts make available numerous venues for exhibitions and regularly attend them. It's the resulting dialogue about the art that's shown that brings it to life. This is why the larger community is important to the solitary artist.

There are towns and villages that purposely seek to attract artists such as Monhegan Island in Maine, or Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Oil City in Pennsylvania that openly advertises itself as an artist relocation project. Six years ago I decided to build a home in one of those communities where I spend half the year. It's wonderful!

The point is, we artists can make our own communities (large or small) or move to communities that support the arts. Or, we can remain in isolation and join communities online through emailing and blogs and other sites. Because of the internet, we always have access to the global community of other artists. You can't get much more diverse than that!

As Orland reminds us, ultimately, making art that matters is intimately connected with making life itself matter. Doing so within an understanding and supportive community makes it all the better.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Community of Artists, Part 1

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Image: work by Andy Goldsworthy

Chapter 10: A Community of Artists, Part 1

Before I begin this final chapter of Orland’s book, I’d like to announce that on the left-hand column of this site I’ve created an index of art book reviews and discussions posted here. We’ve had some rip-roaring discussions that you’ll want to read, and often the authors of the books joined in! Just select the name of the author and it will take you to the first day of our discussion. Have fun and feel free to add your comments.

Back to Orland’s book. He begins this final chapter with a quotation from Alan Kay that I can relate to: The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself. Well, we may not be able to invent a fully predictable future without the interference of unanticipated events - but, I do believe in inventing my own future. Nearly twenty years ago I developed a philosophy that I coined "My Rocking Chair Story.” Back then, I had reached a critical point in my life that required changing nearly everything. As I considered where I would go and what I would do with the rest of my life, I had an epiphany. I envisioned myself as an old woman sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of a retirement home with a stranger sitting in the next chair. He turned to me and said “Tell me about your life.” Immediately, I realized that I wanted a great story to tell – full of accomplishments and adventures that were all true! So, I began to make life decisions that would make my life's narrative exciting and interesting. It’s been quite a ride!

By extension, we artist are inventive and (hopefully) have the freedom to chose what we’ll create and when. We can decide to make our voyage interesting or dull, exciting or depressing, jubillant or sad. It’s up to us individually and as a community of artists who can offer support. Taking risks and venturing forth into uncharted territories can lead to unimaginably rewarding experiences in art. And, if we help each other it's more rewarding.

OK, so I didn’t even get into Orland’s text today. Next time.

Carpe diem!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Ecology of Art

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 9: An Ecology of Art
Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

The title to this chapter confused me at first because my understanding of the word “ecology” is a scientific study of the relationship of living organism to each other and their surroundings. But, as Orland unwrapped his concept throughout the chapter it began to make perfect sense. He writes:

Now it must count for something that as a species we’ve been able to grasp the significance of such interconnections within the natural world. But where is our understanding or empathy for such connections in the cultural world – or by extension, the art world? As artists today we find ourselves in the same straits as other endangered species, surviving – when we do – at the margins of our ecosystem. Today neither art nor artist is offered a meaningful role in our culture, and while there’s no shortage of political and economic rationalizations for this, it makes no sense whatsoever in an evolutionary sense. Viewed in broad terms, art is an expression of human nature, and human nature is at least partly a product of natural selection. .. The traits we associate with artmaking arise from evolutionary sources – and suppressing those traits carries evolutionary consequences.”

Although I agree with part of this logic, I cannot agree that artists are an endangered species because there’s a universal support for the arts. For instance, musicians and filmmakers have an enormous following and have grown into multi-billion dollar industries. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t listen to music in one form or another or who hasn’t seen at least one movie. Artists have a voice in the political arena and are awarded presidential medals in this country and knighthood in England. Local, state, and federal governments provide financial support in the form of grants to artists every year. Worldwide, the fine arts (painting and sculpture) are housed in expensive and well-attended museums and galleries. Last year I gladly stood in line for over an hour just to pay the $18 admission fee into the Guggenheim Museum. That queue was much longer by the time I left the museum. So, I disagree with Orland that artists are an endangered species. Instead, I propose that the species called “artist” has become overpopulated in its niche. Breeding new artists is easy, but finding support for all them is not. After all, our resources are finite.

This is a somewhat depressing thought, but it also makes me all the more determined to make a place for myself. I’m not the sort of person who responds well to the suggestion that I cannot do something. I like the challenge and if I fail I can at least say that I tried.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 5, 2010

From Monet to Money, Part 3

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 7: From Monet to Money, Part 3

The conclusion of this chapter brings to light what most artists face on a daily basis: the fact that most of us are neither famous nor rich from our artmaking. But, isn’t that true for professionals in almost any discipline? The superstars are few among us. Today, we have an increasing number of “celebritants” (celebrity/debutants) whose only claim to fame comes from publicists and stylists who market them for their looks, questionable personalities, and outrageous acts. An artist could achieve notoriety in the same way but does that make their work more meaningful and valuable? Think of Thomas Kinkade before answering that question.

But, should we artists even be concerned with pursuing fame? For many of us, financial necessity forces us to find ways to sell our work. I have yet to meet an artist who prefers marketing their work to making it. Nor have I met an artist who’d give up painting just to pursue the life of fame (I probably don’t know enough artists because I suspect there are some who would do just that!)

As Orland puts it, the very lack of attention from the outside world also brings a healthy realization that fame and fortune are fickle rewards, and that nourishment for our work must come from other parts of our life – from friends and family, and from the satisfaction that comes from the making the art itself. And so yes, of course artists today are universally under-recognized and underpaid. But then again, how much money would someone have to pay you in trade for your promise to never make art again?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Third Law of Thermodynamics

The Third Law of Thermodynamics
by Katharine A. Cartwright, 2010
watercolor on paper
26" x 20"

Yesterday, I completed the ninth painting in my series "The Laws of Nature," which is a comment on the natural physical constraints upon man's attempt to harness and utilize the energy and materials of the universe.

"The Third Law of Thermodynamics" states: for changes involving only perfect crystalline solids at absolute zero, the change of the total entropy is zero.

Each painting in this series is based upon intuition with no physical references. Therefore, these represent what I see in my mind's eye. Today, I'll begin drafting the tenth painting in this ongoing series.

Happy painting, everyone!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Artists' Round Table (A.R.T.)

I'll take a short break from reviewing Orland's book today to discuss my morning. Some wonderful local artists joined me in a round table discussion about the various aspects of being a professional artist. There was no agenda so the conversation could freely expand and contract around our personal interests and experiences. As a friend of mine used to say, we discussed everything "from strawberries to the moon!" - as long as it was related to art.

One topic was the importance of dedicating time to make art; that is, having regular hours and sticking to it. However, a more important point was made by our good friend Carolyn , who wisely noted that making time in our heads is essential. This means clearing from our thoughts the numerous distractions and trivial concerns that prevent us from focusing on artmaking. That can be especially difficult for those of us who've spent a lifetime as caretakers of children, spouses, and parents. Our thoughts tend to stray even when we're in our studios and we tend to abandon our artmaking on a moment's notice when needed elsewhere.

So, a change in thinking must precede a change in our physical habits. This was an important and meaningful take-away from our meeting. I wonder what we'll discuss next month?

Monday, November 1, 2010

From Monet to Money, Part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 7: From Monet to Money, Part 2 - my viewpoint

Yesterday, I promised to share with you how I market my art. I don’t have any secrets to disclose and there’s no magic wand. It’s all about hard work and placing value on what I make. I can honestly say that almost every single day I paint (or work out a technical problem in my head) AND engage in at least one activity to promote my work. I’ve rarely missed a day.

So far, in 2010, I’ve sold 57 paintings. These painting are based upon concepts that interest me without regard to what is popular or more attractive to consumers – so, my work is authentic and aesthetically pleasing to me. Because I can't create 57 paintings in one year, most of these sales were paintings completed over the past five years. Twenty-one paintings sold at two solo shows in galleries last summer and the rest sold either at juried exhibitions, from my home, or from my website.

How did this happen? Hard work over a long period of time while exploring every reasonable and legitimate avenue I could think of, such as:

Websites: When I first posted my website through Artspan, I naively thought there’d be an immediate reaction to my work. Nope – nada - zilch. So, I printed business cards and brochures and distributed them with the hope that people would begin to visit my website. They did, but still no sales. It wasn’t until Artspan improved its ranking on search engines that buyers found me. Even so, I’ve made fewer than a dozen sales directly from my website since I began it and only one this year.

Galleries: I’ve never been interested in an exclusive relationship with a gallery and haven’t sought it. However, I do contract for short-term (1-2 month) solo shows in galleries with great results. I highly recommend this approach, and recommend that any agreement with a gallery should be in written contract form (check the fine print!).

Outdoor Shows: Every couple of years I participate in our local annual outdoor art show. This allows me to interact with members of my own community and I always make lots of sales. In fact, many of the folks who regularly collect my work live in my community. Repeat customers are very important! Although I didn’t participate last summer, I did make a couple of sales to folks who sought me from previous years. This means that handing out attractive business cards and brochures that people will hang onto is important.

Juried Exhibitions: Every year I sell paintings that are part of a juried exhibition somewhere in this country. I never get to meet the patrons, but it’s good to know that they connect with my work.

Corporations: Many corporations have art collections and frequently add to them. Sometimes a corporation will approach me about a purchase and other times I’ll make the first move.

To put this in perspective: my first concern is in producing authentic work that satisfies me. My second concern is marketing. As I mentioned earlier, I do something every day to promote my work but it doesn’t usually consume more than an hour or two unless I’m writing an exhibition proposal or framing work for a show.

Frankly, I’m not a marketing genius. Mostly, I’m concerned with the quality of my life. So, I paint because it makes me happy and engages me intellectually and I have fun with marketing because I can’t live in a house that’s stacked to the rafters with paintings. Also, it’s a great feeling to know that other people “get it” and connect with my work enough to want it for their own home/office/corporation.

But, one thing is certain: the more I paint and work at marketing , the more paintings I sell; and the more paintings I sell the more I establish relationships with collectors; and more collectors equals more sales. But, it’s not just about the money – it’s about connecting with other people, communities, and society through my art.

The best advice I can give is to believe in your artistry and "reach for the stars!"

What’s your approach?

From Monet to Money

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 7: From Monet to Money

I’m back from “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” in Washington D.C. where I was surrounded by 250,000 polite and sane people for the day. We managed to stand close enough to the stage to see the performers, and it was an amazing experience. Woodstock, move over!

Now, back to “normal.” Orland’s seventh chapter is about how to support ourselves as artists. He begins by advising us to be single-minded and pursue no other goal than making art. Of course, this means that there will be times of feast and famine, so it’s not for the tentative or uncommitted. He does acknowledge that most of us will need a steady source of income while we’re making art, and suggests two avenues: either find an uninteresting job that won’t distract us from our art but may, potentially, dull our minds OR find an interesting job in commercial art that stimulates us to be more creative in our fine art. These days, finding ANY job at all is a challenge!
The real problem for us artists is finding reputable venues and patrons for our art. Gallery directors have a difficult job these days since so many of us display and sell our work on the world-wide web. I read somewhere that two-thirds of all galleries that open will close their doors within three years. So, which galleries succeed and why? I don’t know, but Orland offers this perspective:

The director of one well-established West Coast gallery confided to me that fully three-quarters of her gallery’s sales were accounted for by exactly two categories of art: 1)Masterworks by famous –well, OK, “dead” - artists; and 2) one particular artist’s limited edition color lithograph of really cute little white boats. So there you have it, a ready-made recipe for success. Be dead, or paint little white boats.

If we’re really serious about our art (and I am!) then we don’t want to compromise the content of our work by painting for tourists. So, we paint for ourselves - but, how do we sell it?? Orland has a formula for this scenario as well: if the only goal were to attain quick visibility in the art world, the formula is absurdly simple: devote ten percent of your effort to artmaking, and ninety percent to marketing and self-promotion. And, if you stop for even a moment you’ll “drop into oblivion.”

Personally, I’m not interested in joining that type of rat-race. So, tomorrow I’ll share with you my approach and hope that you’ll share yours as well!