Yesterday, my friend Joe Blodgett brought a big yellow print into the studio. It was sort of modern, with a large, undecipherable signature across the lower end. “What do you think of this?” he asked. “Interesting,” I said, which is what I say when I don’t know what to say. “Why don’t you run it through those ‘evaluation points’ that you use when you jury?” he suggested. I protested that my points were subject to modification — sometimes there’s something major that upsets them. “Like, ‘I like it,’ ” I said.
My evaluation points are compositional integrity, sound craftsmanship, colour sensitivity, creative interest, design control, gestural momentum, artistic flair, expressive intensity, professional touch, surface quality, intellectual depth, visual distinction, technical challenge and artistic audacity. If you were to assign a maximum value of 10 to each of these fourteen points, an almost impossible top mark would be 140. Loosely speaking, a total of around 50 is often enough for an “in.” My system doesn’t favour realism over non-objective work, but in my jury duty hard-won realism often wins out with these points.
Cruising the print and looking at it in different lights and over the afternoon, I was hard pressed to find points to hand out. It ended up with 30. While it had a sort of confident flair and a look of audacity, it was mostly what I call “basic.” As a piece of print art — embellished or not — I saw it as unchallenging and average. Though bright in colour, it was dull in spirit. It suggested some sort of bare ambition — which has its appeal, but is often not enough in the big scheme of things. As a juried show-piece the print wouldn’t make it. Mind you, some other juror — even using the same set of points — might have evaluated it differently. Joe phoned later and told me the print was the work of Dale Chihuly. “Chihuly’s the internationally-known glass artist. That one is worth a couple of thousand — edition’s almost sold out.” I told him I hadn’t been aware that Chihuly made prints. “That’s how ignorant you are,” said Joe.
Once again I had been victimized by my ignorance. Or was it innocence? I’ll stick to my guns. Ambition and audacity are quite frequently mistaken for talent and value.
PS: “Knowing is false understanding. Not knowing is blind ignorance.” (Nan Ch’uan)
Esoterica: Do we all crave a level playing field? It’s been my observation that innocent-eyed jurors — often from another village–are best able to separate the better from the poorer — the grain from the chaff. All art carries a provenance that ranges from humble to exalted, from non-existent to stellar. What we’re looking for here is the truth. In art, is the truth possible? “Real knowledge,” said Confucius, “is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Dale Chihuly Artwork
Flair for the dramatic
by Terry Clarkson-Farrell, NYC, NY, USA
Dale Chihuly is an amazing glass artist. He has a very big personality with a flair for the dramatic. None of this makes him a print maker or a painter. While his “drawings” work for him, they are not able to stand on their own. Paying big bucks for these Chihuly works is paying for a famous or stylish name.
(RG note) Thanks Terry. Hundreds of your emails echoed this opinion. We have included, in brief, a few variations below to give an idea where people are coming from. Many artists also drew our attention to Dale Chihuly Screwed Me. It looks to me that there may also be a conflict between Chihuly’s “legitimate” dealers, those other dealers to whom he appears to discount his art, and Chihuly’s remarkable world-wide marketing team. At the end of this clickback we have also included some entertaining media quotes on Chihuly that were passed along to us.
Chihuly incredibly innovative
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA
I agree with your scoring of the Chihuly — although I doubt if I’d have given it that high a mark. I’ve seen Dale “paint” — he uses ketchup bottles full of bright temperas (I almost wrote tempuras!) and squeezes out the flowing colors like mustard on a dog. He plans out his glass pieces this way. I think he ought to stay 3-D! He lost an eye in an accident at a time when he was beginning to be hailed as an internationally-recognized glass genius. Now he has a full-scale glass-house where he employs people to carry out his incredibly innovative and technologically miraculous ideas. His glass design — and color — is beyond brilliant. I think some of my faves are the series of bulbous tear-droppy-shaped things he did and then dropped to float in the canals around Venice.
Satisfying a personal urge
by Dhyaneswar Dausoa, Mauritius
Since you have juried many shows I guess that your appreciation would always be quite different than that of an ordinary viewer. Also, evaluating a print is not the same as evaluating other works. The term ignorance is very natural in the life of an artist because he is always lost in his creative search. He therefore does not care to see everything with a critical point of view — he would rather satisfy his personal urge than bother about the views of others. It happens to me very often that I forget what I am producing will not remain for me alone but in a space for others.
Greed, marketing and salesmanship
by Skip Dyrda, Sarasota, FL, USA
Selling art is too often all about marketing and salesmanship and not enough about the product, or more importantly, the artist. I earn a nice living doing what most might call ‘decorative art.’ Many years ago I was called into a project to re-paint the walls of a client’s grandkid’s room. The artist that tried it first is an accomplished steel and glass artist and saw dollar signs in the mural and faux finishing trade, trying to grab all of this designer’s art-related projects for herself. She failed because of, in my opinion, greed. She has since downsized and has returned to her glass and steel work and does very well. Maybe my little story isn’t about greed but rather about knowing one’s limitations.
Celebrity art opportunism
by Chris Calohan, Lynn Haven, FL, USA
I am reminded of notable rock and screen stars, as well as notable columnists who have delved into areas outside their “known” arenas, and while some of them do exhibit a wonderful artistic sense, I wonder how many people collect because of “who it is,” rather than the artistic merit of the piece. To me, the artistic quality of the work will always rule over the name in the bottom right corner. “A work of art is like a person: it has more than one soul in its breast.” (Alfred Brendel)
American art consumers
by Don Getz, Salem, OH, USA
Without Chihuly’s signature in a contrasting color, the print would really be ‘dullsville,’ and any time the artist’s sig is an important part of the design, I really feel the design and creative effort is a failure — no matter what those muddled souls out there will pay for it. Thomas Kinkade is another grand example of poor or lack of ‘taste,’ so that says a lot about the average American art consumer — unfortunately.
‘Name’ trumps quality
by Victoria Witte, Bloomington, IN, USA
Sometimes you just can’t see the painting for the name. I’d be willing to bet that Michelangelo, Renoir, and da Vinci all had days when they just couldn’t get into the groove. Early on, without a name to carry it off, those less than masterful pieces were probably tossed into the “let’s paint over it and make another pass at it” pile never to be seen again. Once you do have a reputation it’s much too easy to slip in the less than good ones to sell to the less discriminating buyer or the people just looking for a “name” for their wall.
The irony of ignorance
by Brett Busang, Washington, DC, USA
You were, in fact, put in the best possible situation to evaluate something according to your own lights. I assume there was an intentional irony in your title. The “ignorance” was not yours. The person who leveled the criticism should look more to himself. Merely because a reputable artist decides to strike out in a surprising direction does not mean that respect should be automatically accorded him. He should be willing to be judged by the same criteria as his more experienced brethren.
Withhold artists’ names please
by Chelsa Mossing, Red Deer, AB, Canada
What I find rather appalling is the fact that your friend charged you with ignorance because you based your judgment of value on your system, rather than on a name. I am not one to believe that a piece of artwork is excused for being lifeless or ineffective simply because the artist is famous. There is a difference between having a name for yourself and becoming an artistic brand name. In fact, in jury proceedings, perhaps the names of the artists should be withheld so that it may be considered the last element of consideration.
‘Emperor’s new clothes’ syndrome
by Ron Ogle, Asheville, NC, USA
Folks with more money than discernment cannot see, and they buy art because of the signature on it. They remember, or are told, that the artist is famous and they judge the work based on that fame. That expensive Chihuly print is just another example of The Emperor’s New Clothes. “Whoever in debate quotes authority uses not intellect, but memory.” (Leonardo da Vinci)
Clarity on ‘fourteen points’
by Leah Dunaway, Wimberly, TX, USA
Could you elaborate on each of the 14 points you use for evaluating a painting?
(RG note) Thanks, Leah. So many asked this question that I have to make myself clearer. Please keep in mind the limitations I mentioned in my letter. Please also keep in mind that these “fourteen points” are only my current ignorant prejudices and are subject to change without notice. Thankfully also, jurying outcomes can be further upset or overturned by other jurors who may have more valuable discernments or even powers of veto:
Compositional integrity: A composition that knows its edges, balances internally and “works” in the “big picture.” The superior creative eye often simplifies and is not distracted by minor elements or extraneous detail.
Sound craftsmanship: No sloppy craftsmanship detected. Artist appears to be grounded in accepted means of application, order, and seems to have knowledge of media chemistry. Work looks like it is not liable to fall apart shortly.
Colour sensitivity: Appears to have understanding of colour choices — complementary, analogous, etc. Often shows colour paucity and attention to sophisticated grays. I hate to use the word “taste,” but I will.
Creative interest: Subject is creatively different so that it attracts, leads and holds my attention to the artistic and creative elements within the work. I often become aware of a greater creative mind at work.
Design control: Artist appears to have an understanding of how the eye is managed and led by the design, flow and activation of a work — effectively ‘seducing’ me. I often have the feeling of a masterful eye managing mine.
Gestural momentum: Brushwork or line-work is often expressive and has bravura, bravado, courage and élan. It often shows variety of stroke and is generous in the “hand made” conveyance of visual energy.
Artistic flair: Artist does something beyond blind representation and/or just moving the materials around in some form of lazy play. Work has style and panache and captivates in its artistry. “Wow, that’s artistic!”
Expressive intensity: All stops are pulled to enhance the central idea or general motif. It can be a “look,” a mannerism or an illusion, but the intensity convinces me of the presence of a non-jaded, passionate, particular author.
Professional touch: Artist avoids amateur methodology and gives a direct, confident, seasoned look to the work. Some people seem to know what they’re doing, others do not. Professionals often, but not always, tend to leave their strokes alone.
Surface quality: Up close and personal the surface is intriguing and a joy to cruise. This may be because of the texture, handling of pigment, or the complexity of surface abstraction, gradation, or other quality — anything that makes the surface fascinating.
Intellectual depth: Artist gives me something to think about. There is an enduring resource here — not just a pretty picture but a thoughtful metaphor or other device that has staying power without retreating to sentiment or kitsch.
Visual distinction: The art has a look of uniqueness, either with style, subject matter or handling. It looks different from what I’ve seen before, or if similar, arrests the eye with a unique feeling or look that denotes “character.”
Technical challenge: Artist has chosen something that requires above average skills or technical ability. Not just something that anybody could do. I love to see artists challenge themselves, take the technical risk, and win.
Artistic audacity: Artist is “in your face” with some element that dazzles — skill, idea, technique, or some other in spades of the above mentioned points that makes me sit up and take notice.
Copy of ‘points’ for photo group
by Mel Lammers, Dayton, OH, USA
I would like to capture your evaluation points and make them into a checklist that will go on the back of a photographer’s pocket card. I would provide a Photoshop copy to members of the Cincinnati, Ohio on-line photo group I belong to. I am asking permission to use them. I will laminate a version for myself and will send you a copy.
Thanks, Mel. Let ‘er rip.
by Pan Wilson, Orange, MA, USA
While reading through the comments on the Fred Fowler letter I found myself continually bringing to mind the monks in Asia who preach retreat from the world and speak out against materialism but go out and seek alms amongst the worldly. I once lived in solitary retreat but it was ever obvious that there was a link and dependence upon the greater community, be it in the cloth I wore or the pot I cooked in or the food I scavenged from exotic species that had escaped from domestic agriculture.
Downside of PayPal
by Jon Mumford, Boulder, CO, USA
I read your report on the art scams as I was caught in a way by using PayPal. The basic trick is someone signs up with PayPal using a VCC (virtual credit card) which is not checked for authenticity. These cards are usually issued off-shore but not always. The ‘buyer’ then wins your painting on eBay, pays for it using PayPal and a few days later reverses the payment. PayPal is on the side of the buyer, not the seller, and in my case they claim I was using their payment system fraudulently as the so-called buyer claims he knew nothing about the article he received and it should have gone to some other address. This ‘buyer’ then disappears from PayPal and cannot be traced. It took me nearly six months and I had to pay PayPal the full amount ($514) for the reversed payment — and I lost the paintings. It is basically a security risk with PayPal not checking up on these VCC’s. Hundreds of people ripped off the same way. My case was reported to the IFCC but they did nothing — and I no longer use PayPal.
(Andrew Niculescu note) Thanks, Jon, and all those who wrote to share their PayPal experiences — good or bad. PayPal is the most widely used system of its kind, operating in 57 countries and managing over 78 million accounts. Like many of the big online companies, it has its supporters and those who have not been so lucky. A quick web-search will bring up a list of web sites where people voice their frustration and warn against using the service: No Paypal!, PayPal Warning and several more.
We use PayPal to sell Robert’s book, The Painter’s Keys and subscriptions to Premium Art Listings in our Art Directory. So far we’ve been lucky. If you’re considering accepting online payments through your web site and do not wish to deal with PayPal, Workz.com lists a few alternative services.
More online scams
by Lilian Valladares, Belgium, Switzerland
I was contacted by someone through the Artprice site where I post some of my work for sale. The deal amount was US $25,000.00 for a large oil on canvas. There was no argument about the price, but it was clear to me that there was something funny going on. Buying artwork is a very simple thing. Give me the money and you’ll get the painting. There is no story to tell. I asked the buyer to pay the Western Union’s fees for the money transfer but he then just disappeared into the worldwide web as fast as he blinked my name.
(RG note) Thanks, Lillian. And thanks to all who continue to send evidence of this and other scams. We are archiving them all.
Connection to the art world
by Alec Hall, Allegan, MI, USA
I took early retirement from my “day job” as a research veterinarian to become a fulltime artist 2 years ago. A fellow artist introduced me to your website and letters in February of 2004 and I signed on to your mailing list shortly after that. There were about 8 local artists who used to get together for coffee every Saturday morning before we headed off to our respective studios for the day. During our coffee chats we would freely share experiences, new techniques, marketing strategies, etc., with each other. However, after about 7 months, jealousy drove a deep rift into the group and we dissolved. Since I was a relative newcomer to professional art, I really enjoyed these weekly discussions; they made me feel like I was being accepted as an artist. When the gatherings stopped, I felt a deep sense of loss. However, your letters soon took over as my contact with other artists. I now look forward to your letters with as much zeal and anticipation as I used to look forward to having coffee with my local art colleagues. These letters are not only a source of inspiration and information, but they once again make me feel “connected” to the art world.
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, 2005.
That includes who wrote, “Ambition and aesthetic are often courted by a jester named ‘Group Acceptance.’ ”
And also Faith Puleston of Wetter, Germany who wrote, “My friend settled for a Jackson Pollock in the kitchen. You can’t see gravy on Pollocks.”
And also Luke Charchuk of Surrey, BC, Canada who wrote, “There Is A Fine Line Between the Artist and Criminal Mind — And the confusion that ensues.”
And also Cassandra James who wrote, “I applaud Chihuly’s efforts to expand his artistic vocabulary by working in another medium, but in this case, the work doesn’t necessarily need to enter the marketplace. Better to wait until he can make a more mature statement in printmaking. What price integrity?”
And also Tina Mammoser of Canada who wrote, “Chihuly’s passion obviously goes into the glass, and we can be thankful for that!”
Enjoy the past comments below for Ignorance…