I had a substantive conversation last night with a friend who is also an artist. Like myself, this artist had the advantage of being raised in comfortable circumstances in a family of successful professionals. Many of his friends, like mine, were reared and continue to live in those situations. I asked him if he ever felt that friends and family treated him like a “novelty” and was delighted by his laughing confirmation.
I paint the things I think because then I can make them real. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my noggin’ and my work allows me to sort that stuff out, and sometimes make sense of it. Occasionally, I’m asking the viewer to make sense of it for me. The ideas are rarely pretty, cute, or sweet. Look at the world we live in. On my good days I try create something visually compelling, and formally competent. It may even be beautiful. There is very little that is truly new in visual art, and that is not my goal. As I’ve stated before, as a painter, my work is bound to a long lineage of painters before me. It is also informed by my own experience and environment.
Talent or curse, painting came to be an avocation I could no longer ignore in pursuit of more common material benefits. Believe me, I like material benefits. Any romantic notion of an artist struggling in a garret is a load of crap. The creative process is hard. Artists practice the same base skills that are required in any successful venture; patience, ingenuity, decision-making, discernment, commitment and the ability to actually finish something that they commenced. My first inclination has never been the sale of my work; it’s been to get the ideas out there. But I am enough of a realist to know that sales provide more freedom, greater opportunity, and a roomier platform for an artist.
What I have a real problem with are those that don’t value the intellectual component of the work. There are those who try to helpful with “creative” ideas to “market” my work, but I have decided to pursue the difficult path of the painter that doesn’t paint what others want her to paint. Andre Malraux said, “The crucial discovery was made that, in order to become painting, the universe seen by the artist had to become a private one created by himself.”[i] I have chosen to live with this path.
What is the point of all of this babbling? I take this very seriously. It’s not a hobby or a craft. I just want lay people to understand why my temperature goes up when they make certain suggestions, and why I probably won’t follow their suggestions. For this reason, there are things I will and will not do. Some of these things include:
· I probably won’t paint what you tell me you think I should paint, and if I do I will charge you a lot more for it
· I will not exhibit work at a venue that also sells earrings, Christmas ornaments (and I love Christmas ornaments), or decorative pottery. Sculptural ceramics yes, but not pottery. (this does not include museums and their attendant gift shops, but I don’t think I have to worry about that)
· I will continue to make my Christmas cards only for the people I send them to
· I will never call an inkjet print a Giclée
· I will continue to believe that good art made today has to be about something - otherwise it is just decoration. And yes, I believe still-life, landscape, text and abstraction can all convey meaning. The about something has nothing to do with what or how something is represented. Goya and Rockwell shared the same sense of timing.
· I won’t faux anything. Faux implies that the work is either very old or made under duress, neither of which is true
· I will not buy any mass-produced wall decorations from a chain store unless they are plastic, illuminated and Santa
So, in a few years, I guess I’ll see you at the bonfire!