The way I look at it, a work of art requires the presence of two spirits. The first is the spirit of the subject matter — the object or thing that the work is based on — Nature’s spirit. The second is the spirit or interpretation the artist brings to the object — the unique style or manner that only the individual artist can give. Subject matter alone — the slavish copying of nature — does not make art. But art also falls short, in my opinion, when it doesn’t lean to some degree on the stimuli of place or subject.
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There are all kinds of envy — including the kind that Freud thought he detected. The kind I’m talking about is called professional jealousy. Some artists have it bad. Salieri had it for Mozart. Who wouldn’t? It’s supposed to be one of the main sins. I’ve had lots of confessional letters from artists. They’re jealous of the success and talent of others. It happens everywhere — at art schools, with the artist next door, even sharing the same studio. One woman wrote to say that the envy she felt for her friend’s paper tole drove her to stop working in the medium.
Some time ago, I wrote to you about Canadian artist Claire Sower, who’d recently signed with Agora Gallery in New York. For those unfamiliar, Agora is known for soliciting artists online — if you have a website, you may have received one of their emails. For a substantial fee, artists are given an 18-month contract for representation, a promotion package and, if accepted, the opportunity to exhibit at Agora’s polished, two-level gallery in New York. Though initially wary of a business model that profits from artist registration rather than sales, after some encouragement from a supportive gallerist friend, Claire decided to go for it.
“The easiest person to fool is oneself,” said my older brother, Dave, a musician, reminiscing recently about our dad’s idioms. With this cue, I realized that Dad must have had a unique set of material for each of us. Mine included “Keep busy while waiting for something to happen” and “Start with the foreground.” My twin James, a television director, chimed in with, “Don’t want to slump over the oars!”
Dear Artist, Almost everyone who reads my letters will have had this experience: You’re at…
While Nature Herself has the privilege of playing with light, painters must, in humility, play with pigment. The transference is tricky and many painters don’t play around enough to get the hang of it. Here again, the relationship between photography and painting is useful.
“Bokeh” is a corruption of the Japanese word Boke, which means “blur.” Backgrounds, particularly, are often rendered out of focus. You may be familiar with what are called “circles of confusion,” those round spots of light that occur in photos. Photographers spend some effort to get “good bokeh” as opposed to “bad bokeh.”
As part of the visitor’s tour of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., you can look at the recently restored, nearly 200-year-old Capitol Rotunda — a massive, domed, circular room that marks the geographic center of the city and where eminent citizens lie in state and important works of art are dedicated. Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington is painted 180 feet up on the 4,664 square-foot rotunda canopy. The neoclassical fresco shows George Washington majestically ascending to a godly rank, surrounded by Liberty, Victory/Fame, 13 maidens representing the original states and six groups of figures embodying the arts and sciences.
In 1967, two aspiring teenaged songwriters named Bernie and Reginald answered the same newspaper ad placed by a UK record label. Unknown to each other, they were matched when Liberty Records A&R Head Ray Williams handed Reg a stack of Bernie’s lyrics on the way out of his failed audition. Reg took them home, put them to music and mailed them back to Bernie.
Rolf Reichert of North Vancouver, B.C. wrote, “I am a hobby artist and would like to exhibit my art work at sometime or another, but don’t know what I should price it at. I don’t expect a fortune for my work, but maybe just my material cost and a little profit for my time would be fair. Is there a formula that I could follow to take the guesswork out of my head? Or should I look at other artists’ paintings and gauge mine from there? If you could give me a rough idea how I could go about pricing my paintings, I would be grateful.”
A subscriber wrote, “Many online galleries these days have a money-back guarantee. I recall your father mentioning that if a buyer didn’t like a painting and wanted to return it, he would gladly take it back in exchange for another. When I think of business practices, this great customer service ranks at the top of the list. On pricing, if an artist has work showing in an online gallery and that gallery takes 40%, and she/he has work hanging in a local gallery at a 50% split, and then they also have work for sale on their own website, how does the pricing work for all those different venues?”