The Demo


Dear Artist,

I don’t know exactly how I got started doing demos. A long time ago someone asked me to do one and, though I didn’t know what one was, I did it anyway. Some excellent artists make it a point to never do demos, and any amount of love or money won’t tempt them. Others seem to make their living in demoland. I find I can handle about five a year.

The church halls and the hills are alive with painting clubs with social, economic and educational reasons to foster demos. Many members are late to the post and appreciate the artists who take the time. Some demo-doers are wizards. Horizons are widened, techniques are picked up, insider information is oozed by osmosis, and it’s satisfying and perhaps empowering to see a long putt well sunk.

I’ve never failed to learn something by attending somebody else’s demo. We are all specialists. At the same time the giving of demos is a learning process. They take a different kind of thinking and bring out the performance aspect of the creative act. As the lady asked, “How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?”

However, there’s a tendency for many demo-givers to perform something that can be readily set up and completed more or less in one sitting. They are often facile at a few exercises with predictable outcomes, and some, it seems, never paint unless they have an audience. This smoke and mirrors somewhat neglects the element of contemplation so necessary in the creative act. Also, there’s the need to entertain and carry a conversation. I’ve never been able to do what I call a “ten” at one — it’s like a centipede trying to explain which foot to move forward next. As for the audience, it’s a spectator sport which gives sparse joy to the hand or ego.

I’m not sure, but I don’t think anybody ever got to be a great boxer by attending prizefights.

Best regards,


PS: “The People adore authority.” (Charles Baudelaire)


How the masters do
by Paul Winfield

Through the medium of the demonstration the possibility is held out that we may stand on one another’s shoulders. It is the one method where we may see and understand how masters do what they do. We take from these exhibitions of technique and methodology and add our own flavor and style. The result is progress in the arts.


Temporary hope
by Darcy Green, UK

Since time began there have always been the 95 percent of the population who are on the outside looking in. These people often do not have much of an idea what’s going on. They love entertainments and are not self-starting or self-motivated. People who attend demonstrations are like congregations at the feet of fundamentalist preachers. They want simple answers to complex questions. Furthermore, they want to feel good. This is what demos do. They give a temporary feeling that there is hope.


Demos valuable
by Christy Fulton, Philadelphia, PA, USA

I have learned more from demos than any other form of instruction. Thank goodness for those professionals who take their time to show how they do their work. It is a window into the soul of an artist in which we learn not only the techniques but the spirit and concerns. To artists who do demos, I say: “DON’T STOP!!!”

“Show me; I learn. Tell me, I forget.”


Monthly visit
by Betty T. Biggs, California, USA

There are many of us who will never be professional artists. Art gives us something to do and a new and kinder, gentler way of life. I have several friends who have taken up painting and share with me in really enjoying the monthly visit of some local artist who demos for us. There are always some tips or something we didn’t know about.


Rothko tonight
by SWC


“Subway” ca.1937
oil on canvas by Mark Rothko

Can you imagine anyone like Mark Rothko giving or attending demos? Of course not. He mastered what he wanted to say privately and it became timeless and part of our cultural iconography.





Moved on
by David Hill, UK

John Singer Sargent (one of your favorites, Robert) attended demos for eight years while he was studying under Carolus Duran. When he started to surpass his master, he moved on.


Don’t touch ’em
by RR

Demos destroy individuality and invite the culture of cloning. If artist wannabees attend these events they gradually poison and kill the desire and capability for individual expression. A bit here, a bit there. Artists must not be shown the way. They must not be helped and guided. They must work it out on their own.


Spot the demonstrator
by V. S. Newsome

Over the years that I’ve been giving demonstrations I’ve noticed a tendency for powerful and particularly successful demonstrators to influence entire geographic areas with trendy techniques. One example is “flottage” — the use of textured material such as lace and doilies to create patterns. The whole watercolor phenomenon owes its extraordinary growth to the demo culture. Watercolor lends itself to demo technique, unlike slow drying oil or tricky acrylic. I’ve walked into group shows and I can tell immediately which demonstrators the painters have been attending.


Another way
by Helder, PPOAP, Lisbon

Here in Portugal we do not use the demo as you call it. There are professional academies which instruct in the classical methods of working: paint, stone, charcoal, etc. We must all learn the same way. Our individual mastery is quintessential. Then we walk out of the school hopefully with an endorsement and find our way in the world.


Postumous demonstrators
by Jonathan Beard, New York

How much would you pay to attend a demo by Frans Hals or Velazquez, or by Mozart or Beethoven or William Shakespeare for that matter?



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