In the pub the other night, I watched a couple of workmen fresh from plastering. Pints in hand, they were going over their lotto tickets. “All wrong numbers,” they said. Every examined ticket received a resigned smile and a mumbled “disappoint’n.”
Making art is like buying into the lottery. While we may play often, we may never hit the really big pot. Creatures of habit, hoping to get lucky or simply being stubborn, we continue to play.
Furthermore, driving out into the environment or entering the workaday studio, we can soon be in the company of negative feelings: “It’s all been done before,” “Why bother?” and, “There I go — failed again.”
But there’s something that keeps us buying tickets on ourselves. In the lotto that is art we still have a certain amount of control. Actually, we can print our own bloomin’ tickets. Talk about stacking the deck!
It’s our personal sense of uniqueness that keeps us reinvesting. Maybe you’re wondering how to give yourself a little edge so you might get more regular winners? Artists might consider repeating a few self-designed mantras. Better still, get up and sing:
“It may have been done before — but not by me.” “Something worth doing is worth doing differently,” and “Oh, the lovely feeling of failure.”
While it’s difficult to put a unique spin into every work of art, it’s this feeling of “first-time” uniqueness and personal, workmanlike exploration that rings the winning buzzer. And even mild distresses, distractions and disabilities make their chancy contributions. The idea is to walk away with a few items that are different from the standard fare. It’s a push, and it’s certainly not everything in life, but it’s way ahead of whatever’s in second place.
PS: When Barbara Walters asked Sir Laurence Olivier how he might wish to be remembered, he replied, “As something like an expert workman.” Barbara said, “Sounds so prosaic.” Olivier reflected for a moment and said, “Well, I think a poet is a workman. I think Shakespeare was a workman. And God’s a workman. I don’t think there’s anything better than a workman. Or a workwoman.”
Esoterica: We are workpeople who give ourselves permission to put our own individual spin to our craft. It is this spin that makes art so absorbing, so interesting and so valuable to others. It’s this spin that keeps us at it. You can have small wins practically every day, and what losses you may suffer can often be rectified on the next go-round. Artists spin their own lottos.
Investment of time and effort
by Gary Lanthrum, Manassas, VA, USA
There is one significant difference between returning to the studio, and returning to the lottery vendor. In the studio, something is learned each day that contributes to the next day’s painting. Occasionally, there is an “aha” moment that propels the next day’s art to a new level. Small advances in understanding composition, or color temperature, or value recognition provide positive feedback that keeps us going even when the total result is still short of what we are striving for. When buying a lottery ticket, each purchase is like the very first one. No lessons are learned that help the selection of future number. When we win, there is no feeling of accomplishment, just the fleeting pleasure of being lucky for a day. All lasting satisfactions come from investment of time and effort – and that is no lottery game. Ultimately, everybody who invests effort on their passions is a winner. Those that sit idly by waiting for luck to strike are perpetual losers even if they strike it rich.
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A dearth of home runs
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
I liken my artistic effort more to a major league baseball hitter. He faces a ninety mile an hour ball that is dipping and moving with a narrow piece of rounded wood. Even the best players fail to get a hit 70% of the time. Failure is the norm. Occasionally, though, a minor miracle occurs when the bat intersects the ball a certain way and sails way off into the stands producing the home run. A player practices for hours and days and years to improve his slim chances of hitting a home run. In the process, his average production improves. Artists don’t have statisticians like major league baseball but practice definitely improves our chances for the “home run” painting. In this sense we are workmen like your plasterers. Over the years our ‘average’ production gets better. We can still produce a lousy result or perhaps a great one. It is that potential that keeps us artists hacking away. I recall museums where a loosely hung large diameter red velvet rope separated the viewer from the masterpiece. I use to joke that maybe I could do one good enough to merit the red velvet rope treatment and as an ancient old man could watch the viewers admiring my masterpiece. The odds aren’t much better than the lottery!
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by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
I take many photos of flowers and fruit in our beautiful garden. I then cut the photo pictures to jigsaw into a whole composite picture, each flower in its full glory, interlocking into the next. It’s a lotto as to whether the whole ‘works’ or not! This then makes a scene in the garden. Do you think this is genuine art, creative and acceptable as an oil painted picture or a sketch in watercolours etc.? I would be most grateful to hear your view and the vies of our readership on this kind of creativity.
(RG note) Thanks, Russ. I don’t know about the others, but in my mind pretty well everything you assemble with paper, paint, clay, metal, wood or found objects is art. If it can be moved around and gives joy to make, it’s art. And even though the public may not treasure it the way they do conventional forms of painting, sculpture, etc., it’s still art. “Art is what you can get away with.” (Marshall McLuhan)
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by Peter Daniels, White Rock, BC, Canada
I never bought into the stuff of “It has all been done before.” When you think of your soul, and what uniqueness you bring to the table, it will astonish you how important your actions are to the universe! If you align yourself (soul) with positive purpose, you can work on dimensions that few have walked into before you. These old souls which have transformed, will guide you and become true friends to your journey! True purpose leads all of mankind forward!
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Doing it differently
by Mary Duffy, Newcastle, Ireland
Reading your letter this morning makes me realize I have hit the jackpot. And that I hit it every day. I can honestly say that I never feel “It’s all been done before,” “Why bother?” or, “There I go — failed again.” Never. Not once. Ever. And I wonder why? So many people artists, and others, expect that the artist’s life is one of waiting for “my muse” waiting to feel “in the mood” or some such accepted ritual. So, for me it’s different. My muse or mood never leaves me. I am always ready to paint and I nearly always paint en plein air.
I have no arms. I am 48 years old. I have been painting professionally for a thousand days. I am making a living – just. I paint in a different way than most. But I have been avoiding the life of the painter for decades. I find it hard to deal with condescending comments, and the traditional association of people like me with charity cards… the “foot & mouth painters.” I always give the Chinese saying in response, “One paints with one’s eyes and heart.” If this is not experienced by the questioner as me, the bitter and twisted cripple throwing down the gauntlet good and proper, as opposed to a great opening line, well then some real conversation might follow.
So, if the day is dry, and there is not a howling gale, and I can get help to load up myself and my car, I can usually be found out painting. But it is hard. I do get fed up walking this tightrope between being a painter and doing it differently. And yes, after twenty years of avoiding painting, and a thousand days of doing it despite myself, I do realize that my battle is within.
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by Lynda Hartwell
I do not understand the cynicism that says the painting genre is dead, “It’s all been done.” Hogwash. That’s like saying beauty is dead. Language is dead. Opera is dead? I’m an art collector, but not a well funded one. Still, since November, I’ve collected enough to open a small gallery. I’m a passionate fan of oil/acrylic paintings, and I find new (to me) artists on the Internet every day. The work I am seeing is astoundingly good. Furthermore, Robert, much of the work is unique. These artists are trailblazing into totally new directions that are not self-consciously different-just-to-be-different. Really extraordinary. Painting will never be dead as long as the good Lord keeps bestowing talent, and I don’t think that’s going to stop any time soon.
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Focus on the pleasure
by Marilyn Ross, Washington, USA
Regardless of whether our efforts result in “the really big pot,” we are already one-up on a majority of folks who buy lotto tickets. If the constraints of our lives were removed, freeing us up to do anything we wanted, wouldn’t it still be to paint? Just focus on the pleasure and forget “the really big pot.” Maybe the ideas will flow more naturally.
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Doing the impossible
by Jean McLaren, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada
I like your idea of finding new ways of doing things. I love doing what people say is impossible. It makes me stubborn to see if I can work it out. Because I work mostly with acrylic paint, and like working on canvas but like the look of using paper and attaching it to the canvas, I use Strathmore Aquarius II and attach it with gloss or matte medium, which is how I did the enclosed painting. Lately many of my friends say that they love to paint with watercolour but cannot afford the costs of framing. So I thought, why not paint watercolour with the Strathmore paper on the canvas. So I did! I let the painting dry thoroughly (overnight) and then sprayed it with Krylon Workable Fixative (do this outside because it smells awful) Give it 2 coats and let them dry in between.
Then give it a coat of gloss or matte medium. Voila — no frame needed. By cutting the paper a little smaller than the canvas and then painting the edges black you have a frame.
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Difficulty with comparisons
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
Many years ago I was living in Barcelona and befriended a wonderful ceramic craftsman/artist. Wonderful, both as a human being and as an artist. He showed weekly outdoors in a plaza. As we talked almost each week he became more and more despondent. Finally one day I showed up with some wine and we really got to talking. He blurted out, “How can a man show his art in front of that?” He pointed at the magnificent Gothic church standing behind us on the Plac de Pi. He kept on doing the work but his wife showed it. I never saw him again. I had expected the Rodin museum in Paris to be inspiring – it was totally debilitating for months. How can I compete with that? (Brancusi on the other hand got me to work.) I am lucky that I have a lot of ideas, good health and am as stubborn as a Mexican burro, but no winning lotto ticket.
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Not a loser
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
I am not in love with my husband’s habit of buying lottery tickets. Every time I happen to be present when he is checking the ticket in the mall and “not a winner” flashes on the screen, it gives me some perverse pleasure to shout loudly “LOSER!!!” to the resentment of all the people around the Lotto booth.
Last night while I was pouring hot water over my acrylic painting with the intention to “just scrape off a small area,” and large patches and lumps of acrylic paint and gesso started peeling off all the way down to the canvas, my husband walked in and I was very grateful for him not shouting LOSER at that. After reading this letter I think I’ll be more compassionate to the perils of the non-artists lottery — I can now relate to it.
Free, loose and carefree manner
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA
Having stumbled through some large oil on canvases before finding success, I realized that learning to paint this large could get expensive. It took three 36″ x 48″ paintings to prepare for the winner on the fourth one. Yes, I can cut down the failed paintings and re-stretch, re-gesso, etc. using the original stretcher bars, but still, I wanted to approach painting large in a freer, looser, more carefree manner. So I unearthed some large large 4′ x 6′ paper, got out all my massive jars of acrylics which were miraculously still fresh and useable and mixed up a batch. I’m so glad that I hoarded art supplies and kept them in relatively good condition (only a few dried up or rotted!).
Attaching the big paper on a magnet board, I turned up the music and laid in large swathes of paint: JOY! Well, not so much joy in learning how to paint with acrylics on paper all over again, but the feeling of freedom was worth it alone. I have about 25 sheets of this large paper and hope to find success halfway through the stack. It’s only by repeatedly painting on this scale can I learn. Sooner or later, I’ll get a winner if I can just keep going and not get demoralized by my mistakes along the way. And it beats spending money on stretched canvas and oil paint in these times of fewer sales. Acrylic on paper opens the door to experimentation and the divine pleasure of intense, saturated color, full size. Plus you can paint over it and under it, gesso it and get out the spray cans and florescent tempura with gel medium, collage, mixed media… the beat goes on. Who knows what I will do with all these paintings, but it doesn’t matter, I’m in love with Slow Dry Gel Medium. The whole set-up is redolent of kindergarten poster paint on paper and I’m loving it!
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original painting 16 x 20 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Laura Tovar Dietrick of Germany, who wrote, “Each piece may not be a masterpiece, but once in a while, something good is produced and for that, I’m grateful.”
And also Kristina Zallinger who wrote, “As an artist, I feel that I win the lotto every day!”
And also Randi Lockhart of Orangeville, ON, Canada, who wrote, “I totally agree with today’s letter. Every time I go out to paint with George Perdue, I say ‘this time I will get a painting right,’ and every time when we are going back home I say ‘I blew it again.’ You would think I would stop buying those lotto tickets, but I don’t.”
And also Betty Billups of Sandpoint, ID, USA, who wrote: “I have found that if you are willing to risk losing all, if you just jump off and pray like heck, you just may come up with something totally different than you had ever dreamed of!”
Enjoy the past comments below for The art lotto…