Friday, November 14, 2008

"Support the Arts, Buy a Painting"

This week I am working on a variety of small paintings, 8 x 10s and one 5 x 7 inch landscape. I have been telling friends that every vision for a painting that I've had in my head recently has been huge - and that I had set myself the contrary challenge of trying to do high quality small works, with all the feel of my large ones.

This week I have found myself thinking a great deal about something Jon Linton, the publisher of "Artbook of the New West" has frequently said; "Support the Arts, Buy a Painting." Jon would sign off his publisher's column in the magazine with that phrase - and perhaps it has been token phrase before the current economic crisis in America, but now it is becoming a question of survival for American artists.

Frequently I am hearing the alarm bells from all corners. Galleries struggling to make rent, buyers very hesitant. When purchases are made clients are going for small works or small handcrafted items. And it seems that the current situation in America is not just news, it is real and true economic reality, with many fine arts galleries feeling the pinch, many artists feeling the flattening sales climate, and I have been reading that even high end auctions houses such as Sothebys have been seeing works by historic masters go unsold, or be sold for much less than previously expected.

I know in the past when thanking collectors for their purchases I have said "art is not bread", in the sense that I know how fortunate a situation it is to have the luxury of enjoying fine paintings. In a situation like we now find ourselves in, most normal people will resign themselves to thinking about the basics, food, gas, insurance - the essentials. And something like art is sometimes seen as an optional commodity.

But as I have continued reading about the U.S. government's efforts to bail out our struggling banks and industries, I found myself remembering a visit to San Francisco in 2006. While my wife and I were there, we visited the historic Coit tower, and saw the amazing murals created by artists employed by the WPA. Beautiful murals, painted in the spirit and style of Diego Rivera, but exhibiting themes of America and California. And I know that when I thought about these murals later, and learned that the WPA had employed lots of artists on projects around the country, I was nearly reduced to tears. I told my wife "in the worst of times, the WPA did not forget the nation's artists." I wonder today if any national recovery programs will include the country's artists. I'm not sure that the public and political attention span would even take the time to remember the great works of the WPA artists. Or does today's generation even know?

But now, as I have some tinge of fear for what may become of American arts during the economic troubles - I think perhaps I was IS bread. It is possible that it is a luxury that we give little thought to when times are good. We partake, buy a painting or a sculpture, sometimes without fully realizing the contribution of artists to the culture and richness of the human experience. Yes, art IS essential. It is perhaps most essential at the times when it is in danger of being marginalized. When we are all worried about the state of things, art is also a great consolation on the story of the human experience, the love of nature, and the wonders of being alive in the world.

So I will end with the phrase I've borrowed from Jon Linton: "Support the arts, buy a painting."

Buy the bread. Buy the groceries. Put the gas in the car and pay the power bill. Take care of the family and do what you have to do. But if you are ok, and if you are able, NEVER forget that blank wall in your home that cries out for a great vision.

My sincere thanks to all my friends and collectors for their support!