The end of factory art


Dear Artist,

In art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent dirge for the art world, he welcomes the return of art made at the kitchen table. “For now, there aren’t big studios, dozens of artist assistants working on one artist’s work, whole staffs keeping track of it all,” writes Jerry. Instead, he says, art is retreating to domestic spaces — in the fray with cooking and children and laundry and gardening, and being made by hand by one person at a time. “This is how our species made most things over the last 50,000 years. Creativity was with us in the caves; it’s in every bone in our bodies.”

Professor and activist Dr. Kristin Lawler poses for 'Words At The Window: Self Isolation And The Coronavirus', a portrait series by Shutterstock Staff Photographer, Stephen Lovekin, shot around the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Professor and activist Dr. Kristin Lawler poses for ‘Words At The Window: Self Isolation And The Coronavirus’, a portrait series by Shutterstock Staff Photographer, Stephen Lovekin in Brooklyn, New York.

For those of us who’ve already been working without a painting staff, fabricators and an admin team, making art in the new world looks a lot like it did in the old world. I’m stirring a pot between coats and writing to you from my kitchen bench. Work winks in the corner of my eye, asking, at all hours, to be made better, while life unfurls in one long, seamless and integrated ribbon. It is, perhaps, small potatoes in comparison to a mega-studio, but a potato is a handy thing during a pandemic.

Having grown up with a parent who made art in a studio five paces from the house, it never occurred to me to leave “home” in search of a place to work. In not doing so, the dysphoria of traffic and a cold hearth have been omitted by proxy. Artist Cheryl Donegan describes it as, “cherish the privilege.” Early on, while living with an actor, she realized that as a visual artist, she wasn’t dependent on an external company or collective to do her work. All Cheryl needed was her room. “I can work when no one cares and no one is looking…and I have and do. And of course, that is what it takes.”



Artist Shirley Fuerst poses for 'Words At The Window: Self Isolation And The Coronavirus', a portrait series by Shutterstock Staff Photographer, Stephen Lovekin, shot around the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Artist Shirley Fuerst poses for ‘Words At The Window: Self Isolation And The Coronavirus’ by Stephen Lovekin.

PS: “Viruses don’t kill art. But even successful artists will be pushed to the limits, let alone the 99% of artists who always live close to the edge.” (Jerry Saltz)

Esoterica: I’m willing to bet my last roll of toilet paper that the 99% of artists the world is currently digging professional graves for will not all perish in the age of isolation. We have low overheads. And our worldly needs are modest. We know how to work for love. Many of us are poor consumers. We also thrive in the quiet spaces, which means our ideas are being given the opportunity to improve. We are all at home, now. If part of art’s function is to explore our universal human experience, home is our current, unifying theme. “Many artists in the past have said that they lived as if “a retiree” (Duchamp) or on “vacation” (Dubuffet or Miro, I think),” writes Cheryl. “…sort of the opposite of the ‘art worker,’ and certainly the contrary of ‘business art’… but I guess no one is going to stop us now, as if they ever could.”

I wish each and every one of you well during this global health crisis and encourage you to flatten the curve by staying at home with your creative materials. I hope our Painter’s Keys community can be a source of friendship and creative inspiration during this time and always.
In friendship, Sara 

Lisa Draho and Josh Zuckerman, with children Ruby and Ava, pose for 'Words At The Window: Self Isolation And The Coronavirus', a portrait series by Shutterstock Staff Photographer, Stephen Lovekin, shot around the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Lisa Draho and Josh Zuckerman, with children Ruby and Ava, pose for ‘Words At The Window: Self Isolation And The Coronavirus’ by Stephen Lovekin.

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  1. Thank you!
    I’ve forwarded your message to five of my art groups, who I know will appreciate your message.
    Together, we will flatten the curve, and create wonderful expressive art while doing so.
    Take care and be safe,

  2. Thanks for this wonderful letter, Sara. In this isolated time, much feels the same as it always had for me with being a ‘home studio’ painter. I work between kids’ needs, laundry, cooking etc, but with my husband home now (he was laid off), I can manage a few more hours at the studio. It’s also worth noting that I’ve felt a push to paint other subjects…smaller format, a bit more ‘painterly’ than my current work, and themes that reflect home, family, gardening, my local landscape, the simplest life-affirming everyday ‘miracles’ I have so often skimmed over in search of the ‘big idea’…that elusive something that would be my big creative breakthrough. I’m realizing it’s the everyday, simple beauty that surrounds me (and always has) that might be my true muse. Perhaps, when the extraneous is stripped away we are left with the essential.

  3. So many words and observations speak to me in this letter Sara. I have almost always painted in my home studio and now though I can use my small gallery space for a winter studio, I didn’t. I brought the paints and canvases home I needed and will take finished work back to the closed gallery to paint edges and then hang as a way to keep enough room to work in the home studio – or art studio home as my partner likes to say when we are eating supper in his office because I have take up all available space elsewhere. I hate to whisper it but my work and well-being just may possibly thrive under the likely periods of social distancing we are going to experience over the next couple of years. It is like a deep shift of the world’s population into our everyday lives as I experience them – as long as we can remain healthy. That is the imperative. That is the underlying horror of this natural preference for living and working and painting from home. If we or friend or family become seriously ill with this virus or worse, then benefits of kitchen table and living room home studios will have to comfort in a new way as we or our families if it us who dies wade through grief and loss. Either way, I know I am in the right place, doing meaningful work at this time. And this is not only all I can do. It i the best I can do…. and introduce one of three new artists I am representing in my new gallery room that will likely be renovated and open virtually weeks and months before the public will be able to come in and browse the space. Still, it is something to look forward to!

  4. I have just had to present my degree show on a digital platform instead of a real-life experience which the actual installation in my home-studio, cancelled due to lock down in France., should have been. When the work is created on the dining room table, it doesn’t feel odd to be showing it at home too and when it can’t be seen by a real audience, we show our adaptability and give thanks for digital alternatives.

  5. Well I always thought that personal art is self produced. I carry (or now say carried) a small sketch book (5×7) with me and sketched people, and places. Sometimes I even carry my watercolors or pastels and tint or paint without sketching first. If I find a particularity interesting result I will enlarge it many times and print it and frame it as a gift. Is that still art?

    • Of course it is still art. It had never occurred to me that artists had staff and administrators. Perhaps I am rural and naive, but the artists that I know all do their own work with their own hands. I can find no love in my heart for art produced otherwise or by a machine! Shouldn’t we all do our own?

    • Setting the dinner table with attention to color and possibly adding a flower in a vase…still art…we are visual appreciators. Our “art” production changes with every impression. Different times produce different results. This isn’t a time for berating ourselves or expecting more than is humanly possible. Each effort is a stepping stone of regeneration. Hope is the only vehicle worth nurturing.

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. I’m so glad you have carried on the work of your father here, and that you do it so well. Would you mind if I repost your thoughts in esoterica? I would of course include a credit and link.

  7. I love this particular offering. It validates the thoughts my husband, a writer, and I have been saying. He is an introvert and to him, this is paradise. As I read this missile, I was thinking there are so many painting titles here.
    Thank you for coming into our places of isolation, this way. I’m ready to get to my easel and start the day

  8. Thank you Sara. I had to share this with my husband as I read it. Laughed so hard I could hardly speak! You brighten my day. I will share this everywhere. Thank you again.

  9. Nice Letter! As an introvert, my life has changed very little since the lockdown. My engagement with my painting has deepened and clarified since the few social events I usually have have been cancelled. I chose to live out in the country with my own studio because I knew it would make me happy, and this lockdown has verified that many times over. The silver lining of the cloud of the virus is that so many of us will rediscover the need to return to the self, and what gives us meaning and happiness.

  10. Inktober is 6 months away, so we can borrow the spirit of that great idea: Try to produce one work a day for the duration of the pandemic – or at least up to April 30. Whatever media, whatever size. Make it once a week if you work in oils on canvas and only want to work huge. Whatever. Post it online. #pandemicartchallenge

  11. Sally Jackson on

    It started with a head of garlic and the lockdown. A painter posted her watercolour sketch of the garlic and challenged us to follow her through the fridge then into the rest of the kitchen. Not great art but we’re seeing and painting those things we take for granted. Challenges us to see the beauty of small things.

  12. Thanks for the data you post. Artists , many, work in isolation. CV 19 event is something to live through.
    Art is Long- Life is short. After CV 19 runs it’s course, I think there will be many exhibitions based on the event.
    In the meanwhile, I am making my business plans on paper to sell, as much art as I can. I sell mainly in person.
    My art life history matters. so when I am able, in person sales is good for my labor, effort and 10,000 Hours of practice.

  13. Right now I’m struggling because my spouse and adult kid are home for the quarantine.

    Normally I work from home anyway, as a self-employed face painter/body artist – in general I’ve gone out “on call” to events for painting. I decided in February to close the business, because I could see the writing on the wall about Covid-19’s eventual spread worldwide. So I’m trying to figure out what to do instead, and mourning an art form I really love – there’s nothing quite like turning a 4-year-old into a tiger, superhero or princess and having them BELIEVE it. I have to figure out once again how to paint on flat things that don’t giggle. How do you paint when the canvas holds still? :-D

    Much as I am extremely grateful for the relative good fortune we have (9 rolls of toilet paper, a stocked fridge, and reasonably good health plus a very entertaining cat)… I am missing my solitude. Our house is small and cluttered because we’re all artists, and I feel like I don’t even have the space to think. It’s disconcerting. There’s only so long I can wear my ear cans before a headache starts up.

    Oh, well… EXCELSIOR!

    Stay well and strong, folks.


  14. Reita Walker Miller on

    Alana, I hope you’ll paint images of those you’ve so happily body painted. The joy and creative invention would be so welcomed.
    Thank you, Sara, for providing Unity in spite of Isolation.

  15. Yvonne Grassie on

    Yes! As a friend observed, “shelter-at-home” = “artist-in-residence”. Be in the moment, cherish the forced inward focus and create. Thank you, Sara, for this and for giving us a twice-weekly creative ‘nudge’.

  16. Janet Cutler on

    Hi .
    My Daughter and I decided to paint together on Skype ,had our first session last week was great fun ,she lives in Tasmania and I live in Queensland Australia ,so it is a great way of connecting ,as we won’t be seeing each other in person for the for some time ,we plan to do on a weekly basis .
    We are lucky in times like this that we live in a technical world .
    Cheers to all JANET .

  17. Suzanne Ross on

    Thanks Sara- your words are like “comfort soup”! Very warming. Thank you all who replied- thanks for being in my tribe. Sounds like we will all be keeping our brushes wet.

  18. Charles Eisener on

    While I love Sara’s response, I cannot but wonder at the company kept by Mr Saltz. If this indeed is his opine, it speaks volumes about the limited exposure he has with mainstream artists as opposed to the few who might be considered the “elite” Perhaps he should get out of his office in the big city for a while and revisit art in America.

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My art represents an artistic journey that has been on-going for more than thirty-five years with help and guidance from many wonderful artists. Now, with years of plein-air painting experience, study and solo exhibitions, I believe that my current work has reached its highest level, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me.  I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop I taught. Still is.


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