Discriminating connoisseur


Dear Artist,

Last night, I was visiting an old friend who is a bit of an art collector. He has a dozen or so of mine. Above our scotch, on a high, dramatic wall, I noticed a huge new painting by one of the popular New York artists. “What do you think?” he asked. I was unable to immediately say, but I was thinking the same as Olive Oyl on her planned marriage night when she was looking for some positive attributes about Bluto. “Large,” I said.

“Can you guess what I paid for it?” he asked. This question is always to me the least interesting part–like on the Antiques Road Show when they announce that the pre-Columbian figurine that she found in a Sally Ann for a dollar is actually worth thousands. I avoided my friend’s question, but he asked it again. Finally, frustrated with my inability to carry the ball, he volunteered: “Two hundred thousand,” he said. “U.S.,” he added. For a while the two of us just sat on this fact. Eventually he said: “I got a deal on it–it would have been a lot more if it had gone to a museum.”

There’s interesting stuff going on here. It has to do with the reason why art is not priced the same as other commodities. My friend was actually daring me to confront his foolishness. He was telling me that he had sufficient wealth that he could indulge himself with something that many others were sure to think was “bad.” For him, the gaucheness of the piece was part of its appeal. While he is what all, including his lovely wife, would call a fairly up-tight and conservative businessman, in his heart he longs for play, abandon, wildness, even frivolity. Beyond his need for conspicuous consumption this was another example where art had made a connection. There’s a kind of reverse snobbery here–my friend would be the first to admit it. When he had entered that New York gallery, he was allowing himself to be discriminating, to take advice, invest, and later share his fun with his less well-endowed friends. “I was very particular in choosing this one,” he said. For some reason he suddenly reminded me of the lone, aristocratic diner, looking over his menu in a London restaurant, inquiring of his waiter: “What part of Norfolk are your eels from?”

Best regards,


PS: “Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, probably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.” (Donald Trump) “What strip mining is to nature the art market has become to culture.” (Robert Hughes)

Esoterica: Recently I was advising an artist friend on changes he might make in his price list. I told him to keep the small geese that lay the golden eggs at a reasonable price, but to push up the big ones. There are some customers out there who want to pay high prices.

The following are responses to the above letter and others. Thanks for writing.


Can of worms
by Anonymous, New York

Har har har. Your friend is a snob — and as we know they are the easiest to fool. He got himself a can of worms (eels?) and his only hope in his “deal” is to get it highly evaluated by some equally snobbish factotum in a public institution — and give it to them for a tax dodge.


And scotch too
by Sonja Picard

It’s almost encouraging that fools will pay $200,000 for art in this economy. It’s really all in the bullshit that a gallery owner can feed an unsuspecting buyer… and maybe some good scotch….


Our educated friends
by Jim Gola


painting by Jim Gola

Nice “friend” — the kind of folks we should spend “zero” time with. All of us have them. Money and only money is what they are all about. Who needs them? I would rather spend some time with an uneducated person off the street who knows nothing about art. These folks have more interesting life experiences to discuss than our so-called “educated friends.”



A complex inferiority?
by Doran William Cannon, California, USA

How can we know without seeing it and knowing the name of the artist as to whether your wealthy friend’s New York gallery purchase was truly gauche or instead some sort of sour graper? And since he also has ten Genn gems, are we now to question his taste? What is this provincial prejudice against New York art and New York art critics really all about? Is it simply to justify value for provincial art? Or is it even more simply, a complex inferiority? Egad, might it actually be some sense of superiority? Is not Sister Wendy good enough for the provinces?


Above it all
by Sherry Preston, Cristina Lake, BC, Canada

I’m finding in my artistic career that there are people that enjoy looking down their noses. They feel they are above it all. Whether it would be for money or fame. It is a frustrating place for an artist to learn. To find real people is not always an easy task. Does it matter what a person really thinks what they paid for a work? I think it matters what is behind the work, who the artist is, and how the work moves the purchaser.


Technology destroying art?
by Yvette Muise, Montreal, Canada

Is technology destroying art? Masterpieces can be cheaply and poorly reproduced and the majority of the population is happy enough with that. People can now buy their “art” at Wallmart. A friend of mine told me that just the fact that we are bombarded with ads everywhere we look, satiates our need for art. That if advertising alone was prohibited, that the art market would soon thrive. What do you think?

(RG note) Rumors that advertising will soon be banned are overblown. Besides, it wouldn’t do any good. Advertising is the primer of an economy—now as necessary to life as motherhood and apple pie. Technology is doing its part to introduce people to art. Out of it a few will become serious collectors of original works. Taste and discrimination arise from the proliferation of variety.


by Laurel McBrine

As a fairly recent subscriber, I have just finished systematically going through ALL the letters and responses from 2000 onward. Can you offer a technophobe the simplest possible instructions, leaving no detail out, of “submitting online” or direct me to a book or online resource that would guide me step-by-step through the process, including what I would need to buy to do so and the things to look for in choosing those items? I find the whole computer thing very intimidating and a moving target.

(Andrew Niculescu note) Use Google or other search engines to answer questions and solve problems. It’s effective, free and educational.


Digital problems
by Betty Newcomer

I am just learning how to work my Digital camera, and sending attachments of my paintings online, but I can’t seem to get the KYBTS right. Sometimes 200 is good, but sometimes it’s 100? Can you give me some information on the sizes sent to you, to put in your letter responses? Sometimes you make them enlargeable, other times you do not. I have lots of books (and Photoshop) but do not have much information on photographing, and sending paintings.

(Andrew Niculescu note) The size of the image file depends on the width and height of the image and how optimized it is. An easy way to optimize an image is using the Adobe Photoshop built in tool(File -> Save For Web…). The settings most recommended are: Jpeg image, 30 colours or less, progressive and optimized. It is recommended that your image is about 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels tall, which would result in an app. 80 kilobyte file. If the image file is 100 kilobytes or less, it is almost certain that the recipient won’t have a problem receiving it or opening it.

Attachments to be posted on painterskeys.com are best sent in a raw format. This means that all you need to do is download it from the digital camera, save the file (as is) and email it. In this particular case a larger file size (better quality) is preferred — the image does not need to be optimized prior to being sent. The same applies for scans. The higher the quality of the submitted image, the easier it is to create a high quality web-ready version of it.


The digital age
by Marie Tesch, Rapid City, South Dakota, USA

I’m a fledgling artist and all your letters plus the letters you receive and print keep me going. I definitely am seized by the muse when I produce good work. I find it is best to “be ready”. If the muse has not visited, I spend some time getting brushes and supplies organized. Just laying out the art toys seems to get the juices flowing and before I know it, I’m painting again. I tend to be a tidy mouse and put things away so neatly that I just hate to make the mess again. I’m learning to live with a certain amount of clutter in order to keep the muse visiting on a regular basis.

One thing I am baffled by is the archaic methods for entering contests… SLIDES!!! In this age of digital cameras and Internet it is so simple to capture the image and send it — literally within seconds. I am just entering my first competition and I had to 1) go to the store and buy slide film 2) dig out the old 35 mm camera, 3) spend a day getting the pictures taken 4) drive across town (in road construction all the way) to the ONE place that still processes slide film 5) go back to get the processed slides 6) mail that in with the entry forms. If my painting is chosen then I will go through the task of mailing it. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we set up a standard for digital CDs to enter works? Artists could send in their entries either by mailing the whole CD or sending it over the Internet. The judges wouldn’t even have to get together… the entries could be sent directly to their computers. The art world has got to catch up to the digital age!


Not sure about “Mall Art”
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Palo Alto, CA, USA

I am considering an invitation from GrantSterling.com to participate in an initial offering to artists to have Grant Sterling prepare what appears to be giclee prints for a mall-type setting (for mass/highly produced Mall Type art). I am not sure that I want my art to be hung in Holiday Inns across the US and would like some feedback. A couple of concerns follow.

They of course have a non-exclusive license which didn’t bother me too much until I came to the part that said “We are entitled to claim a copyright and attribution to Us in any Reproduction used in the… Program, free of any copyright claims by you.” Have you any idea what this means?

If I choose to send them a CD with some/a few selected images, how much will I cheapen my art in general? Could I be the next Laurel Birch or will people sneer when they see my name? Have you had any experience with this? (Not that I need to do this for the income but wider exposure would be nice. My concern is that I am unfamiliar with the consequences of such a decision.) Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

(RG note) They want to own the copyright if your images are successful. They may offer you a royalty or a lump sum in order to gain exclusivity. Your work may lend itself to the mass distribution approach. Personally, I would not like to see my stuff sold that way — but that is me, and it’s you we are talking about. Consider offering them a trial period of one year without copyright — with an option to renegotiate at the end of the period. An artist can live with anything if it’s for a reasonable time period. Favour them for the first year to see how it goes. Before you sign anything I suggest you talk to Jennifer Garant (correspondent in a recent letter). Others with similar experience are invited to reply.


Adjusting your recipe
by Carolyn Smith, Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada

“The road to success is always under construction.” Construction can be trivial but it is often working toward a major clarity. Since we were babies our minds were constantly ‘photocopying’ images. A mountain in British Columbia for me is pictured with a blue hue and snow on top and very high on the paper. A mountain somewhere else could be a soft green rolling hill in England. It would have more sky. So in reality you are adjusting your recipe for a mountain versus a hill. ‘KISS’ — “keep it simple stupid” is part of the process. We artists are an elite group of thinkers and deciders. We have the freedom of putting the right colour in the right place on paper in many different ways. Only through practice we can make it ‘look’ easy. Hopefully, I can cut down on the amount of the ones that wince when they go into their frames.


Copying of imagery
by Anonymous

I am having my first solo show during the month of May, and I sent an invitation to the opening via email to a number of my friends. One of them has printed up a very classy copy which she now wants to frame. I have sold copies of my works printed with my computer to others. Now my friend has taken something for which I would normally charge and is using it without paying me and without my permission (to be true to my friend she was the one who brought the dilemma to my attention). Another friend has used the image as her screen saver, again, without asking me. I painted this picture in my art class, and today another student came in with a very similar painting, using the same theme, colours, and composition (although I do not think she is aware of it). All of this has creeped me out. It occurs to me that people could also take pictures from clickback and print them out too. I wonder if you would address this issue in one of your newsletters.

(RG note) If you make the decision to share — teaching, going on-line, sending out invitations, you are going to have to come to terms with the idea that people will want to honor you with printouts, screen-savers, and yes, framed reproductions and stuff to study and copy that they make themselves. I don’t think it’s worth fussing about. The higher prices that you may eventually get for your originals will be partly because a number of people have seen and liked your work. Be grateful that they do. Friendships and human relationships are golden in our game. With regard to the illustrations on the Painter’s Keys site, we have never had a complaint about putting someone’s work on line. We have occasional requests to change to images that the artist likes better or is more representative, which we honor.







Artan Shabani,
Turin, Italy


by Artan Shabani







The Rape of Cyprus

bronze sculpture on stone base
by Phylactis C. Ierides, Cyprus, Greece


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, 2003.


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