On the beach at Le Pouldu, near Pont-Aven, Brittany, there’s a leaning formation of rocks that could be organized a bit by looking down on it and laying the horizon fairly high in the composition. It took a while to get the position right. A few minutes into the painting I realized it would benefit with a figure or some other motif in the lower right. The next day I organized my daughter Sara to stand in as a model. This painting was among the ones I brought home that summer. Off it went to a gallery and subsequently disappeared into the great Diaspora where all paintings go.
Some months later I was thumbing through a book with illustrations of the work of Gauguin. Here, on page 75, was the same painting — produced in 1886 — same rocks, same high horizon, my daughter’s figure replaced by a Breton girl and a couple of cows.
This coincidence, like all the others, was just a part of the greater mystique that artists know about. It’s not only that there’s a brotherhood and sisterhood out there, but the phenomenon is without the constraint of time. It’s a plenum of inspiration and working-out from time immemorial — from the feeling of immediacy you get from those first scrapings on the cave walls at Lascaux — to the timeless smell and wet-spotted floors of a Manhattan walk-up. It’s even in the rhythm of pulling and tacking a canvas to a stretcher. There’s some sort of eternal music in the air, and if we listen and move with it we may have the feeling that we are taking part in a larger dance.
PS: “Neither Imperial Russia, nor the Russia of the Soviets needs me. They don’t understand me. I am a stranger to them. I’m certain Rembrandt loves me.” (Marc Chagall)
Esoterica: The book is called Gauguin and the text is by Robert Goldwater, a professor at New York University. He suggests that artists, even from widely divergent backgrounds, “have a uniform will to create, to invent methods to match visions, and the concentration on the artistic goal to be achieved against all obstacles.”
The following are selected responses to the above and previous letters. Thank you for writing.
The movie in our mind
by Michael Csontos
I have often wondered where the images come from when I see someone else has painted the same theme more or less. I am a surrealist and fantasy artist so the complete theme that I paint never seems to be done by anyone else but there are definitely areas of a lot of my paintings that keep popping up somewhere else. I deliberately try not to repeat someone else’s work when I paint which is a task in itself as I get lost in the technical aspects of painting once I start. In thinking about this phenomenon I wondered if all images since birth are put into the movie of our life in our mind then I suppose it could be possible that the painting of someone else’s work could of been used as a single frame of our visual perception and surfaced when it was related to or made a connection to what was immediately relevant to our circumscription of tribulations. If that is the possibility — if you consider an image crossing your state of awareness every 10 seconds and allowing 16 hours of awareness everyday, we have over 105 million images to pick from to compose into art. And that’s not even considering thumbing through other’s work in the art books or even clip art or TV or the movies or the internet or dreams or children’s story books or…
(RG note) They may come from some sort of universal subconscious or morphic fields. You can check out what artists had to say about this by going to Morphic Fields
by Phillip Carroll
I was at the Van Gogh show this last weekend he really was a wonderful painter and he puts us all to shame not so much with the amount of work, we all know he was prolific, but through his honest heart felt approach to drawing. I have seen hundreds of old master drawings as I am sure you yourself have, from Titian to Durer, to Da Vinci. Yet Van Goghs’ joy of drawing truly won my heart. Many of his paintings I have seen and a few I had not, which were wonderful, but I think the true spirit, the true wonder of Van Gogh lies in his ability to portray his sitters with an honest and brilliant self expression. Van Gogh does not just take from the sitter he breathes life from his inner self and gives birth through charcoal onto paper. I have always felt that drawing was truly the most eloquent of all the arts, it expresses or should the initial feeling of the subject which many times is lost in the final work of art. In our modern society we have lost the honest initial feeling of what a work of art is all about. We should all draw more and certainly from an honest point of view, if not to find out more about the subject, then most certainly find about ourselves.
The permanence of landscape
by Susan Holland
I was thinking of how paintings of Paris, for instance, are timeless and “belong” to the experience of every artist (indeed every person) who has been there. It’s the permanence of the landscape!! If you are there this year, you will see the very same buildings someone painted a century ago. The light will be the same.
This phenomenon makes for a very small world when it is about places which do not change. We cannot enjoy this so much in the US where we erect buildings and set up villages, and then plow them under in ten years to make something else. Who really is interested in pictures of the Kingdome in Seattle unless it is strictly for historical value? It was here and is now gone, and not particularly dear to the world’s memory unless you have been in love with Seattle baseball in the past 15 years.
The monoliths that were placed on beaches by The Great Artist predate even the “eternal” edifices we hold dear, and are there as are the stars for us to recognise and commune around. Is it any wonder the druids used stone monoliths as worship places? Is it any wonder artists get a sense of continuity when they paint antiquity?
Great minds thinking alike
by Pat Hoffman
I am a boater and when I took up watercolour painting a couple of years back dug through my collection of old boating photographs for prospective material, found one I liked and painted a picture which I gave to my mother in law. I recently saw a very similar composition painted by a well-known artist — done after my photograph had been taken. I know for sure the artist did not see my photo! And I could not have seen the artists work before I did my little offering.
A creator’s way
by Robert Levin
Making a work of art has something to do with the possibilities for change and transformation, both with the material and with the person doing the creating. I think of my work as an act of communication, not only with myself, but with the viewer as well. Perhaps what is communicated is more of an attitude than a specific idea.
Some of the things I make are concerned with seeing the world in a different light. In an age of electronic and cyber media, when we are being bombarded by images and asked to accept them as reality, it seems important for artists to present alternatives to accepted ways of seeing. Juxtaposing familiar images to create new ones, or presenting familiar objects in a different context are two approaches to this. They are also basic ingredients in humor, which is helpful too; in dealing with a mass culture that leaves you scratching your head.
Changes at Artnet
Cristina Ruiz, quotes from the Art Newspaper, January 5, 2001, contributed by Jim Pallas
When Hans Neuendorf, a former art dealer and one of the founders of the first international art fair in Cologne in 1967, launched on-line art auctions on his website, artnet, in March 1999, the move was a mark of Mr Neuendorf’s belief that the internet could sell high-value works of art. Artnet, which includes a comprehensive auction results database, a magazine, and a network of galleries and artists, became the first website to offer blue-chip works of art for on-line sale.
Now, less than two years later, artnet are implementing “a cost cutting program” which includes “reductions of personnel” and “the focus [of]resources on the two strongest product lines,” according to a company press release. In other words, the company has given up trying to sell paintings on-line, choosing to concentrate on prints and photographs and 18 members of staff have lost their jobs in the process (17% of the company total).
The move is expected to reduce artnet’s annual operating loss by $11 million. According to Mr Neuendorf, artnet will break even in the fourth quarter of this year.
Artnet’s first sale in 1999 included works by Warhol, Chagall, and Lichtenstein. It attracted bids from the US, Canada, Europe, and Singapore and a slashed canvas by the Italian artist Lucio Fontana, which sold for $168,000, is still claimed to be the most expensive work of art sold over the internet to date.
In the vast, uncharted territory of on-line art sales, the artnet leap of faith in 1999 spearheaded by art world insider Mr Neuendorf and combined with his company’s aggressive targeting of high-profile bricks and mortar galleries (today artnet represents 1,178 of them) sent a strong message to dealers and auction houses: get on-line or get left behind.
What followed was a frenzy of internet activity supported by a rush of venture capital funding and a buoyant US economy. Almost overnight hundreds of art selling sites appeared. Then came the Nasdaq crash last April, the increasing difficulty of obtaining VC funding, and the disappearance of many of the sites that had made their appearance only a few months earlier, including sothebys.amazon.com, a joint venture between the auction house and the e-retailer.
For the most part, expensive works of art (in excess of $50,000) have failed to sell over the internet. Buyers have proved unwilling to spend large amounts of money acquiring works they have not examined in person. Photographs, prints, modern and contemporary design, and collectibles have been the clear best sellers.
According to artnet’s chief financial officer, Grace Schalkwyk, “the largest revenues by far have been generated by prints and photography. Most of our top auction sellers are prints; for instance, Warhol’s “Campbell Soup” which sold for $64,000 or Picasso’s “Faune devoilant une femme” which sold for $46,000.”
Artnet’s experience is by no means unique and many of the art-selling sites that survive are re-evaluating their strategies, a sign that the on-line art market is in the process of correcting itself.
Priming the pump
At least some of the early success shown by stand-alone art sites was achieved by “priming the pump.” I know because I was one of the artists involved. A painting which I sold privately (for several thousand dollars) but which was listed on one of the sites was shown as “sold” on the internet for a considerable time and the company allowed it to be implied that they had something to do with it — which they didn’t. This one helped make it look like business was being done.
by I. Jean Pastula Ph.D.
I owe my Spirit to an insult! As a young Artist, I showed my work to a shopkeeper. He asked me to bring in a few works and he would hang them in his printing shop… The shop was full the day I brought in my works… I had worked for days to present my best paintings, best frames etc. Standing alone in front of all those strangers, he shouted at me, “God, you’re not even a good amateur. I wouldn’t hang this junk in the closet!” I stood frozen, unable to stop the tears, someone took my elbow and walked me out of the shop, and said, “He’s not a nice person — no one likes him.” It took three weeks of depression to dispel the mood of complete despair… I began taking three painting classes a week, at night after work, I studied the Old Masters, questioned any artist I met… I am now at a point that I can copy any Masterpiece, and out-create the best… And I keep a small Diary of comments, for no Insult could ever top that one!
by Sandy Sandy
I just got an interesting phone call from someone said they were from Mass Financial. They said they deal with accounts from CT & Mass. They wanted to know if they could buy the rights to use one of my images off the web in advertising. The painting is already sold, in fact it was the one that started my whole “Cave Art” series. I told them, “Make me an offer and I’ll consider it.” He said he’d call me tomorrow with an offer. I have no idea what would be fair, how big an outfit it is, what extent they intend to use it etc. Any suggestions on how I should proceed with this? Any idea what would be a fair price and if I should put any restrictions on it?
(RG note) Get a clear idea of what they have in mind using it for — and how often. Stuff like those blue dogs that Xerox uses everywhere net the artist quite a wee bit. If it’s to be a key image for an ongoing advertising campaign you might ask a small fortune too. If it’s a one-time use I generally say 25 to 50% of the selling price of the painting. Publicity or prestige benefits might be a consideration to keep in mind. Every situation is different and requires a bit of thought. If it’s minor, keep it simple, even verbal, and count on good will. If it’s extensive, consider a contract. The operative factor with contracts is time. You can live with practically any deal provided you know it’s going to run out in a year.
With regard to the owner of the painting — even though he does not own the copyright it’s good to let him know what’s happening—and word it in a way so that he understands the copyright situation (good till 50 years after you’re dead) and that he had the taste in the first place. If he makes a fuss and the ante is up from the Mass Financial people you might consider buying the painting back. I got around a non-understanding owner once by painting a somewhat similar but dedicated painting for the advertiser that worked better anyway.
by Ginny Brink, Wales, UK
I was lying in bed last night thinking about my work. I have just spent 3 weeks in the semi-desert in South Africa — I will be posting my sketches to my website soon. But what occurred to me then, and has many times before — that I devour your letters avidly, and in many ways have a glimpse into your ‘inner’ workings — but have no idea what your work is like. I love looking at Sara’s — it gives me an idea of her, and your, lives. Could I see some of your paintings? Are they on the Net?
(RG note) My work is at http://www.robertgenn.com/ There you will see three — that’s right three — of my paintings up — right on the home page. Click on one of those and you will go to a dealer’s site — with a selection of my work. Nothing’s for sale on my site. We change the three paintings regularly. It’s not a fancy website — but it works.
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Jolene Monheim of Montana who writes, “I really enjoy these twice weekly meetings. They always give me a little charge.”
And Betty Claudel of France who quoted Nietzsche: “Life without music would be a mistake.”
And Sophie Marnez of Lyon who saw this quote and asked, “And my walls, without paintings?”
And Janet Morgan who wrote with the following problem: “I just broke my right (dominant) arm, and am wondering if you have any advice about working with the non-dominant hand, or feet or whatever. I am typing with my left, can write only big and slow, but further into my healing want to try some art. Now I am enjoying relaxing, reading Harry Potter and figuring how to open the jam jar with one hand. Yours in plaster.”