Thoughts on ‘Growth’


Dear Artist,

Last night I attended the opening of the Sidney Fine Art Show. It was a crowded event in a large, state-of-the-art community hall in a small, spirited town. Out of a thousand entries, 300 works by 250 artists had been accepted. The overall quality was boggling. “Holy cow!” I heard someone gasp.

Having been to quite a few of these sorts of shows in many countries, I’ve the distinct feeling that quality is growing. There are several reasons for this. There is currently a worldwide respect for art that tries harder. Another is the availability of better workshops and a general return to basics. Crafted, academic work is being taught once more in many schools. “How to” and historical art books and periodicals are more spectacular than ever. Further, there are a lot more people doing it — perhaps 4% of the Western population is currently trying their hand at some form of visual art. Competition is up.

During the “Champaign Patron’s Preview” some artists told me that they didn’t like the idea of a competition. “It means nothing,” said a tall guy in torn jeans. “Besides, I don’t like to talk about what I do. I can’t explain myself. I’m outa here.” A young woman with very little on but body paint strolled and bumped between artists and their friends. “Life’s art, eh,” said another guy, jiggling his glass. “There’s a lot of growth here,” said one of the patrons, sipping thoughtfully. The chairperson told me that the event, now in its third year, wasn’t the idea of the artists at all — it was the brainchild of the local business association.


oil on canvas
by Clement Kwan

“Best in show” (and a cash prize) went to Clement Kwan for Trombones, an oil on canvas depicting several kids and their horns. All three of his entries had been accepted into the show — two were sold right away. “After high school,” he told me, “I luckily had the opportunity to attend the government fundamental art-training programs at the Art and Culture Center in Kia-ping, Guangdong, China. I also worked at the Center helping to paint large murals and stage scenery for the city. My mentor, Mian Situ, shared his knowledge with a group of us wanting to develop skills. In Canada, I borrowed art books from the local library, visited art shows and took workshops. In order to absorb further knowledge I have now joined art clubs and use the Internet and DVDs to learn more techniques.”

Best regards,


PS: “I think that one’s art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows.” (Emily Carr) “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.” (George Eliot)


“Sombrio Beach”
acrylic painting
by Gail Cann

Esoterica: I studied Gail Cann’s acrylic entry. Sombrio Beach is a tidal estuary with meticulously rendered rocks, puddles and creek-side trees. The colours are sophisticated with lots of nuanced purples and reflected light. It wasn’t one of the prize-winners but lots of people were curious and had their noses up pretty close. “I worked from a squared-off printout of my own photo,” Gail told me. The price was a hefty $6200. “I think it’s worth that because it took 600 hours — at ten dollars an hour that’s only fair.” She told me that the other two hundred dollars was for the canvas and frame. “I’ve never sold a painting,” she said. I’ve asked Andrew to put up the work of Clement, Gail, and others. See below.


Sidney Fine Art Show — sample artwork


acrylic painting
by Corre Alice


“Continuum Mandala”
Mixed media
by Kristi Bridgeman


“Fan Tan Alley Sally”
acrylic painting
by Dominic Fetherston









“Easter Egg Hunt”
acrylic painting
by Margaret Foreman


“Winters’ Conversation”
ink painting
by Adelle Andrew


“Gorge Gold”
acrylic painting
by Jeffrey Boron







Accolades go to crafty people
by Rob Owen

Here we are again with most of the accolades going to crafty people and what appears to be little credit being given to artists that create art through originality. Of course quality is important but is it not the quality of an individual’s originality that is most important? As usual, you appear to be biased toward the side of craft and offer little advice on the value or need for originality. Perhaps you need to broaden your own horizons and be a little less focused on craft. Personally I see little growth in art and little effort by influential individuals to encourage original art.


Burning desire missing
by Katherine Coons, Anchorage, AK, USA


“Noble Point”
oil on canvas
by Katherine Coons

While I enjoy your comments, I feel that you leave out many contemporary issues or contemporary expressions that are going on in the 21st century of art making. You are right about the quality of work that is being done in the world; there are many talented people that have risen up and can grapple the painting arena. But, I question their voice of making work. Is it a therapeutic necessity or a burning need to say something? We certainly have fostered a generation of artists or want-to-be artists. Curious and worthy of notice is the burning desire to quench something that is perhaps missing in our society. Also, when I teach, I introduce techniques to my students, but I discover that most students want to discover their own ways of making art work for themselves.


Increasing academia in art
by oliver, Austin, Tx, USA


giclee print
by oliver

I applaud and yet fear the move toward increasing academia in art. Having strong fundamentals is indeed a good thing. Color theory, composition, forms, symbols and other tools of the artistic medium should be understood by all artists. Eventually, the art will out, but it seems like we do not learn from history.



Digging and growing
by Patricia Kelly, Sacramento, CA, USA


“British Columbia Landscape”
original painting
by Emily Carr

Regarding your quotes from Emily Carr and George Eliot in the current letter, I, too, feel art is a growth and process is inside one. While it may be difficult to explain this growth, I do think it is important to reflect on our process, where our ideas come from and why we think we’re creating what we’re creating. These reflections may change and I think it is important to be open. I often have students that I work with write “reflections.” I feel it is important to seriously think about their work and what is going on, so they can move forward or backward. I have experienced silent and subtle artistic ‘ah-ha’ moments and often have implemented these while working on my art. We are constantly digging — so that we will grow.



Natural selection
by Monique Verdier, Hudson, QC, Canada

I live in a small community and belong to our local Artists Association. Our Association is 55 years old this year and stronger than ever. We are also having a show with 33 member artists this weekend. The work presented shows insight, talent, technique, and creates wonderment with displaying greater mastery (in most). We have had a dilemma in our Executive with jurying work. Our association was founded to give local artists a venue. I think there is a natural selection that occurs which would encourage or discourage someone to continue in visual arts or not. I agree with Gail Cann that $10/hour is “almost” fair payment for doing what you love. Some of us have used your method to determine the price of our paintings — and we will keep to it. I am in my element. I have fun. Many of us are attending courses and workshops that are teaching fundamentals. The challenge is to keep showing while not being too pressured. My artistic goal is to give as much pleasure to the “looker” as I have had while producing the painting.


Art instruction videos
by Michael Mayer, Hong Kong, China

I was interested in the existence of instructional videos in DVD format mentioned in your last letter. Is it possible to get a selected list of art instructional videos available in DVD? I live in Hong Kong, and cannot find good stuff in English. I have searched in vain on, etc., and have found only one (Alwyn Crawshaw), but am interested in seeing more. I am interested in watercolour instruction, primarily. Can you help?

(RG note) Thanks, Michael. A top-notch collection of available watercolour videos is at Special Interest Videos. These include demos by Tony Couch, Stephen Quiller, Gerald Brommer and other painters. Clement Kwan reports these instructional DVDs for oil: Johnnie Liliedahl Instructional Videos. David A. Leffel is a good instructor and Morgan Weistling‘s DVD is good for fundamental study. Also check with Richard Schmid for his DVDs and Scott L. Christensen for his landscape painting DVD.


Darker side of realism
by John D. Vedilago, Goteborg, Sweden

The 1937 German “Exhibition of Degenerate Art” was arguably one of the most successful showings of art in western history. It was an exhibition in which all forms modernism in art were degraded in favor of a more traditionalist viewpoint. Mind you, this was at a point in history when painting was actually altering the perceived perceptions of reality and the social, psychological, political and physical constructs on which they are founded. It was a point in art history when growth was measured in powerful shifts of vision. If we take as a starting point impressionism, and move through post-impressionism, surrealism, cubism, fauvism, abstraction, abstract expressionism, minimalism, we see powerful movements and growth in new forms of human perception and expression. In comparison to the exhibitions of the “Salon des Independents” or the “1917 Armory Show” for example, I have to seriously question the observation of a patron, sipping thoughtfully at a local art competition, when he says, “There’s a lot of growth here.”

“Anybody who paints and sees a sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized.” (Adolf Hitler)

“A young art that contains its passion in simple realism represents the new political thinking of our epoch.” (Walter Horn)

(RG note) Thanks John. For more on the subject of realism, visit our quotes page.


by Wolfgang Muller, Berlin, Germany


“Starry Night over the Rhone”
original painting
by Vincent Van Gogh

I can’t agree to the quality of Sidney show. This is 19th century painting skillfully straining after effect, copying without fantasy or imagination, and in pale colors, only a sort of pure decoration. Why waste many hours or days for a little difference? You could do the same thing in some minutes using a photocamera and perhaps the computer to change some colors etc. There is too much illustration in our daily life we get from posters, newspapers, television. Why add still some more meaningless landscapes or sceneries, if a painter has nothing to say beyond this? These artists even retreat to 150 years before Van Gogh and Gauguin liberated the individual to express freely and self-confidently. Let’s stop yawning.


Highly successful show
by Diane Thorp, Sidney, BC, Canada

The coalition between the Arts Council and the Business Association is the strength of the Sidney Fine Art Show — the business community couldn’t do the Show without the artists and the artists couldn’t do the Show without the support of the business community. Countless volunteer hours go into the Show but also a lot of support in kind from businesses as well as direct monetary support. It is a huge endeavour which showcases the artists in a professional way and also brings people into the town of Sidney. The other galleries in town had special exhibitions and shows and they did very well over the weekend as well. We had thousands of people through — lots of work sold — we are still crunching the numbers but it was all highly successful.


A needed shot in the arm
by Georgeana Ireland, California, USA


Artist with her juried painting

I learned about Painters Key’s letter and website from Bob Ragland who I met at the “Artist of America Show” in Denver, Colorado. I just got back into the juried shows again and last week took home “best of show” in the Midwest Abstract 2005 in Indiana. The cash prize of $1000 (and the painting sold) has given me the shot in the arm that I needed as my once realistic style has evolved into romantic abstract expressionism over more than 20 years of painting. When all three of my paintings made it into the museum show I was nearly in tears and I decided to hop a plane and show up. I was at the point before this wondering if my art was any good and had considered taking a more commercial approach.


Off the “popular” road
by Karen Martin Sampson, Black Creek, BC, Canada


“Elissa and Tyler”
oil painting
by Karen Martin Sampson

You mentioned how art schools are now once again teaching and stressing the importance of excellent craftsmanship as well as creativity. I attended art school (The Cleveland Institute of Art) from 1963 to 1968 when abstract expressionism was touted as being the superior goal of an artist. Fortunately there were instructors from the “old school” who mentored me in my desire to be a strong, representational artist. Those few of us who went this route were somewhat scorned by the other students but I never let that bother me. If I was going to be struggling to live as an artist I should at least be doing the kind of work that interested me, not what the powers-that-be said I should be doing. I worked mainly as a commercial illustrator, painting for myself and exhibiting when I could, for many years and went back to school in 1983 to get an MFA from Syracuse University so that I could teach. My discipline as an illustrator combined with my background in classical fine art has served me well and I now give workshops. It has not been an easy road but very rewarding. I have never regretted not following the “popular” road in my work.


Ten bucks an hour?
by Ivan Kelly, Toledo, Oregon, USA


“On a Northern Lake”
original painting
by Ivan Kelly

In reference to the non-selling artist Gail Cann who priced the painting at ten dollars per hour of labour: “Art is only worth what people will pay for it. Artists do not get paid by the hour.” That quote is from one of Jack White’s fine books on marketing art. I have found that to be true — at least in my experience.



Painting a photo
by Jean Burman, Australia


“Serendipity 3”
watercolour painting
by Jean Burman

In my humble opinion, the painting Sombrio Beach by Gail Cann begs the question, “Why paint this at all?” The painting took a staggering 600 hours to complete… but what for? It looks exactly like the photograph! Where is “the artist” in it? David Ladmore’s entry on the other hand, speaks volumes for its creator!


original painting
by David Ladmore








We’re all different
by Heather Assaf, Ottawa, ON, Canada

I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to spend 600 hours rendering rocks in a super-realistic style — what are cameras for? Much better, for me anyway, would be to paint your interpretation or feeling of the scene rather than copy it exactly — but hey, that’s what makes us all different and interesting.


Span of artistic disciplines
by Gerrit Verstraete


“L’image II”
by Gerrit Verstraete

I embrace creativity in every aspect of daily life. Whether as husband, father, mentor, friend, teacher, artist, poet, writer, pastor, visionary or administrator, my creativity looks for ways to express the multiplicity of an integrated life and faith with artistic styles and forms that span the breadth of artistic disciplines. From works on paper and canvas to the spoken word, from images in word and deed to the prophetic message, and from living what I believe, my aim remains a heart-felt desire to touch the hearts of others and somehow impart the truth that set me free when all else failed.


That first art experience
by Gordon Wright, Kennebec Lake, ON, Canada

It starts with a rainy or a wintry day and we are having art class. I can still smell the flour paste and the brushes from a local art store standing upright in the clear paste-encrusted jars. The same with the watercolour paint we used with their vibrant primary colours. The smell of the erasers and the large primary school pencils (which I still use with delight to this day) in red or blue paint on the outside. And on those large pulp papersheets we used to paint and draw on we would also go to the crayon containers, now broken pieces left over from many past works of art, and you could smell the smells and feel that you were creating something of beauty. Fresh, pure, clean and simplistic. And We Were. What a beautiful memory created for us, in my mind anyway.


Pure California
by Norman Ridenour, Volny, Czechoslovakia


wood sculpture
by Norman Ridenour

This Fine Art Show BS is pure California and only implies that the ‘artist’ is a technician and nothing more. If there is no idea in it — why bother — and if there is an idea then there is something to discuss. The basic problem with Western Life is that it is without ideas and often brainless — so why should art be any different?











oil painting
by Mark Lovett, Rockville, MD, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.

That includes Janet Toney who asked, “Might the winners or losers in any competition be different each time new judges are chosen? Does growth mean better skills, more popular subjects, subjects more meaningful to the artist — or what? Is growth what happens when we understand our need to create? Or is it just showmanship, ‘Look at this beautiful thing I made.’ ”




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