Thursday, November 28, 2013

Selling Art is Wonderful - It's NOT Selling Out

This week I am working on a painting that is slated to be a gift to the city of Oro Valley.  Can't reveal much in the way of details…more to come later.  I am also framing a group of works that will go to Cobalt Fine Arts for a small paintings show that I am in with my dear friend the artist Natasha Isenhour - called "Jewel Tones."

One thing that has been on my mind recently was a question put to me by a friend who is an aspiring writer…and that was the question about "selling out", i.e., having your art or what you do affected by selling.  The question wasn't loaded, and it was well meant.  But it did cut to the chase over the issue of the role of selling work and how that affect the creation of it.

I'll just come right out and say it, because the older I get the more honest I am - I LOVE selling work!  I love it.  The fact that people pay notable sums of money to collect my paintings is one of the most gratifying experiences in my life.  It tells me many things - primarily that the modes of expression that I have tapped into are not just my own.  And that when others see it something resonates inside of them, and they can then visualize the work in their homes or in some meaningful space.  That is wonderful - and having galleries back you because you have a reputation of selling, also a great compliment.

As to whether selling works affects my work - I can also be honest and say YES it does cross my mind, the fact of wondering whether a work might sell or not.  The way I see it, an accountant likes to get paid.  A teacher likes to get paid.  A doctor likes to get paid - why should an artist not like to make his or her modest sum?  I think this is fine.  It's totally normal.  My wife once made the point that in the vast majority of cases when one of my works sells, she said it is obvious why.  It is more detailed, more colorful, the contrasts are sharper - something is notable and raises the bar in those paintings, and as she said, those paintings are often the ones that sell.

However the caution that I work under is simple…I do not let the fact that certain works sell dominate the selection of new works.  It's ok to do something that is your bread and butter kind of work - that's fine.  But one must always keep an eye to the creation of new images.  All the time.  You have to remain an artist and the cash signs can't be the first things that decorate your goggles you see the world through.  The creation of new images is important also because when you consider your work in retrospect, even those 'bread and butter' paintings that you know collectors want and buy - even they were original works dreamed up, composed, and painted out of nothingness.  They too were new at some point, so you can't close down that regenerative process by which new works are made.

There is a sense that I have noticed - that an artist has to be so avant garde as to be a misunderstood pauper - and then they get some kind of stamp of legitimacy.  I think that is a bunch of crap.  I have seen artworks that don't communicate anything at all.  That seems to me to be representative of a breakdown in the relationship with the viewer.  And I am sure many such artists comfort themselves in the fact that they are doing something ahead of their time - so much so that nobody gets it.  Again, I don't believe that.  I have always said that an artist is free to go out on a limb if they want to; but that they can't turn around and blame everyone else if the crowd doesn't want to go out on the limb with them.  And from my experience in the art world, sales are not terribly common out there on the limb.  I stick a little closer to the tree…

Lastly I would say that it should not be unsaid that ART IS WORK.  Maybe that's why they call it artwork.  It is not gratuitous leisure.  It is work.  If anyone has the temptation to trivialize art, they probably have never wrestled with the difficulties of created a meaningful and complicated piece of work.  After I have spent three or four weeks on a single painting I feel that it is a wonderful reward when the work finds a home and makes someone else's living or working space beautiful.  I'm very happy that I can make a very modest living at it.  No, visions of dollars signs shouldn't ever be allowed to dominate your process.  But YES, selling is a great thing.  It gives you the confidence to dream big - and in many ways, helps you be more creative, more fulfilled, and able to be full of faith that you can make something equally great to the things that have come before.