Inner Authority

Dear Artist, This morning, a reader (who asked to remain anonymous) posed several tough questions: “Why,” he asked, “do so many artists think they’re hot stuff when they’re not? How does this self-delusion occur? As an art instructor I’m daily confronted with it. Where do these folks get the authority to think they’re competent when they’re on page 4 of a 300 page book? What moxie do you have for pushing these folks to raise their standards?” I confided to the strongly-worded Anonymous that my own moxie was annoyingly intermittent. But we agreed that it would be valuable to ask our readers what they thought. It could be all about “Misguided Inner Authority.” These days, The Tools authors and Hollywood’s favourite shrinks, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, are promoting “Inner Authority.” One of their tools for overcoming inferiority and generating superior accomplishment is to stand tall with your “Shadow” (everything that’s bad about yourself) in front of a tough, imaginary audience. It’s like “facing your fear with a friend.” This preconditioning is all very well if you’re asking a boss for a raise or taking a casting call. The concept begins to crumble when standards are hard. Like, for example, running a mile in under four minutes. All the tall-standing gumptioning while leaning on your shadow in front of imaginary people won’t get you in shape for the run. Performance in running is measurable. Some observers claim that over the last hundred years fine art standards have diminished. This condition, if true, gives heart to beginning artists to whom it all looks so easy. Add to this the epidemic of entitlement and “me-too-ism” running like flu through Western populations and what have we got? When the need for personal joy comes ahead of the obligation for skillful craft, mediocrity nods her head and smiles in satisfaction. For those many among us who would aim toward quality, there are standards. Performance in fine art is also measurable. For what it’s worth, here’s some moxie: Be a perennial student. Know what “brilliant” looks like. Be a discriminating connoisseur. Be both passionate and particular. Destroy your substandard work. Determine your own laws. Give up sleep. Best regards, Robert PS: “Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws within.” (Hermann Hesse) Esoterica: Much of the “self-delusion” Anonymous is talking about can be linked to exposure. Because so many these days are trying their hand at art, poor quality actually overwhelms quality. Developing the inner authority to see and understand standards is key to developing and managing our own. Artists who would thrive and excel need to watch what they look at, analyze and understand the effective work of others, choose their teachers well, become attentive students and dedicate themselves to the mastery of their chosen processes.   Humility is truth by Ines Epperson, Vancouver, WA, USA  

oil painting
by Ines Epperson

Having received most of my Art education in Europe, where strict discipline and intensive classical study was a must, I found this letter particularly fascinating. My simple answer is that it takes humility to see one’s art in its true light. Saint Teresa of Avila once said “Humility is truth.” In this society, although low self-esteem is rampant, humility is not. Just watch “reality shows” like Survivor, or the try-outs for “American Idol.” The more mediocre a person’s abilities (or character), the louder he/she boasts. I often wonder if people can be that delusional… I believe this is due to the sort of education children receive in America, which is more geared towards “building up self-esteem” than towards education, self-control and moral direction. Meanwhile, at home, children are either neglected or coddled. Any wonder they live in self-defense mode or total delusion? There are 3 comments for Humility is truth by Ines Epperson
From: Sarah — Oct 12, 2012

Love your painting! And your remarks are right on.

From: Anonymous — Oct 12, 2012

Wow, Europe must be a perfect place…maybe I will immigrate

From: Anonymous — Oct 17, 2012

Ines I loved your letter, well stated and so true.

  What constitutes good art? by Paul Fayard, Clinton, MS, USA  

“Fondren Morning”
original painting
by Paul Fayard

As an art educator, I sympathize with Anonymous. The problem with teaching the Arts as opposed to science and math is that they are difficult if not impossible to measure. Man has been struggling to determine what is good, what is quality, what is excellence, what is talent, what is art, way before Plato put his two cents in. Because something is marketed and sold successfully does not mean that it has value. Money and value can be mutually exclusive. This applies to all things, not just art of course. Edgar Degas said that he created his art for himself and a few close friends. Voltaire said that we must all tend our own garden. Good advice. What constitutes good art? Like the definition for something else we all know, we may not be able to define it, but we all think we know it when we see it. There are 2 comments for What constitutes good art? by Paul Fayard
From: Sherry Purvis — Oct 12, 2012

Your painting is excitingly excellent. Wow, I do like color and you have such a command of it. I used to live in Clinton, about 16 years ago, and was wondering if you teach at Mississippi College? Regardless, nice painting.

From: Paul Fayard — Oct 15, 2012

Thanks for the kind words Sherry! I’ll take “excitingly excellent” any day! I did in fact, teach drawing and painting at Mississippi College for sometime but am not there currently. I’m an anaplastologist, which is a ten dollar word for prosthesis artist. I sculpt then paint clear silicone skins, from the inside out, to custom match each client’s skin tones – an excellent vocation for color commanding!

  Mediocrity rampant by Gilda Pontbriand, Ottawa, ON, Canada  

original painting
by Gilda Pontbriand

Years ago I had a neighbour who used to tell the entire world that she was an architect, but nobody understood why she could never get a job. A couple of months ago I saw her at an art show and without hesitation she said, “I am a painter, too. Here is my card. Visit my website and tell me what you think. I visited her website thinking that because she was an architect she would have an idea of drawing, perspective, composition, etc. but I was in shock. I had never seen anything like it. I felt like crying for her, for me and for art in general. I agree with some observers that fine art standards have diminished, but when standards go that low, it is scary. However, she is convinced that her 11 x 14” pieces are worth $450 dollars and more. The architect, now painter, is on page 2 of a 500 page book and now I am afraid to see her again.   Full-circle restoration by Bobbi Dunlop, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Model Break”
oil painting
by Bobbi Dunlop

Apropos of significant things being marginalized in our society — the standing ovation for example has come from offering true heart-felt accolades for magnificent performance and delivery to a meaningless leg-stretch at the end of every mediocre performance. And to avoid all the derriere views, everyone else is compelled to stand and join the crowd. Significant in the art world, the ocean wave of self-important, inner-authoritative, yet inexperienced artists has built to a tidal wave in numbers that overwhelm the tiny boats of the artists who have exemplified/personified true mastery of their creations with multi-levels of education and application/sweat equity over many hard years. As the expression goes, “Things come full-circle” — hopefully and thankfully we can look forward to the restoration of important values.   A writer’s perspective by Ann Hite, Smyrna, GA, USA   As an author I see “so many these days are trying their hand at art, poor quality actually overwhelms quality” firsthand. With self-publishing and tiny presses popping up everywhere, is it any wonder we lose readers? I’m fortunate to be with a larger publisher, who still has high expectations for their authors. But I have set high standards for my art. I’m sorry I can’t lean into my shadow. I have to write everyday and study other forms of art, whether it is the written word or visual, to set my bar. Being a ‘real’ artist takes a lifetime of work and dedication. I’m always learning and thank goodness I will never stop. There are 5 comments for A writer’s perspective by Ann Hite

From: Anonymous — Oct 13, 2012

I agree with your sentiments, but may I point out that “everyday” is an adjective? This is an error I see every day! And the publisher (singular entity) is “which”, “of” and “its”. I can’t help wondering if your publisher’s standards are high enough.

From: kathy kvach — Oct 13, 2012

Publishers have editors who catch the small technical errors such as the ones that you so mean-spiritedly pointed out to Ms. Hite It is the content–the meaning–of the writing that ultimately is judged against those high standards to which you refer. “Rude” is also an adjective, Ms./Mr. Anonymous.

From: Anonymous — Oct 14, 2012

“Small technical errors”? These are mistakes of basic grammar that should be learned in primary school. Many contributors to this site make far worse errors; as a proofreader they affect me the way a false note makes a musician shudder. But I grit my teeth and say nothing, because I recognise that writing is not their “thing”. But Ms Hite claims to be a professional writer, with a publisher with high standards. I rest my case.

From: Dottie Dracos — Oct 14, 2012

I agree with Kathy. I think you should have gritted your teeth a bit longer. Your comments, though technically valid, were unwarranted in this case. And why hide behind the “Anonymous” name? It’s sad that the anonymity of the internet allows mean-spirited people to spout their vituperative comments so freely.

From: Stu Pit — Oct 15, 2012

I ain’t the weigh it is wrote/ it sthe meanin b-hind what’s said.

  Growth needs change by Bill Hogue, Dallas, TX, USA  

“The Statement”
mixed media
by Bill Hogue

I’ve always thought that art is more about passion than instruction and I can’t imagine an artist questioning what he does if he has that passion. I have a very tongue-in-cheek website, but it’s obvious that’s what it is. But I have never done a painting that I didn’t enjoy doing. If they didn’t turn out satisfactorily, well, that’s why God gave us gesso. My wife and I travel quite a bit and we always go the art museums and outdoor fairs when we do and I can tell you there is no shortage of living fine artists. I believe in change and have been changing how and what I paint from the time I started painting. I use the word “change” and not “evolve” because evolving indicates improvement, and improvement is not the point. I have a friend who paints in the nostalgic tradition and has done quite well and has a following and even gets commissions for painting court houses and such. That is not the type of painting I enjoy but there’s nothing wrong with it. My friend has neither evolved nor changed since selling his first painting. As an artist, I have to ask the question, how can you grow if you continually do the same thing? Maybe growth is not the point. There is 1 comment for Growth needs change by Bill Hogue

From: Tatjana — Oct 12, 2012

It seems that you see art as exploration, not a direction. I like that. Breath of fresh air!

  Entitlement by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Girl in white”
original painting
by Rick Rotante

Anonymous has a point. It goes hand in hand with being politically correct. Nowadays teachers can’t tell a new student “not to quit their day job.” You can’t tell anyone they are mediocre anymore without incurring the wrath of those who think everyone is entitled to be whatever they set their mind to even if they have no aptitude for art. It’s a dilemma that won’t go away soon. Given the state of much of the contemporary art being made today, you can understand why everyone thinks with a week’s study they, too, can be an artist. There are good painters out there doing great work, but they will never be seen because their work is representational and painted in a style that requires years of study. No one wants to put in the time it takes to learn to paint. And it takes a lifetime. Being self-delusional to an extent is necessary for a successful career. But you also have to back it up with quality work and inventory. You also have to dedicate yourself to a life of strife and turmoil and understand that even when you produce a “work of art,” you may still go unnoticed. When do you throw in the towel and surrender? Today we are told to follow our dreams, keep at it and we will get there. Not so! It helps if you have talent, but talent alone will not keep your boat afloat. Too many waste their lives thinking they can do anything they put their mind to; again, it will probably not happen. Self help books help only one person – the author. Will we ever stop believing we are the greatest? Probably not! There are 11 comments for Entitlement by Rick Rotante
From: Don — Oct 12, 2012
From: Richard Mazzarino — Oct 12, 2012

Well said Rick – No one is entitled to be a winner; in the same way no one is entitled to be a painter. Artist is not a profession-its a calling.

From: Sandra Rukkers — Oct 12, 2012

Many start to paint in later life and wish in their heart to be a painter. Many might succeed at most a mediocre level, which is okay, but they should not crowd the market with their work.

From: C.S. — Oct 12, 2012

Your painting is wonderful. So much feeling and warmth. Having been a teacher I have always tried to encourage my pupils even when I knew they would never succeed at being artists. I feel they can still enjoy making art and benefit from what it offers. Thanks.

From: Patsy — Oct 13, 2012

Sandra Rukkers, I take exception to your statement. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that “older” painters, who spent their lives earning a living in order to support themselves and their families, and could only start painting after retirement, should not be allowed to sell their work unless some arbitrary judge deems it good enough? And at what age does this mediocrity set in, pray?

From: Sandra — Oct 13, 2012

Patsy- What I am saying is unless you are a sevant, Dictionary: a person of learning; especially one with detailed knowledge in some specialized field,- the most you can hope for is mediocrity when you start any profession after fifty of sixty. Dictionary defines mediocre as a : the quality or state of being mediocre, b: moderate ability or value. There is nothing wrong with this. It stands to reason with any profession. One can become proficient but rarely rise to excellance. Don’t get caught up in the smantics and realize it take a every long time to be proficient at anything. As for sell- the money will be mediocre also. Again, no insult intented.

From: Kathleen — Oct 13, 2012

Sorry, I meant my comment to be directed at Sandra. The word is savant, and although you’re certainly welcome to your point of view, please don’t tell people whether or not they can “crowd the market.”

From: Anonymous — Oct 15, 2012

Sandra, you seem to be extremly ignorant.

From: Sandra — Oct 15, 2012

Dear “Anonymous”,Patsy,Katheen et al -Maybe you should go back to the top and re-read the email that started this thread. If you seriously think that after bying a paint kit, taking several lessons and painting for a period of five years that you are at the top of your game- YOU are suffering from “Misguided Inner Authority.” I am not about being politically correct to gain votes here. This is a prime example that “anonymous” above was talking about. And that’s all I have to say.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 15, 2012

Everyone needs to calm down and maybe take this somewhere else. Thanks.

From: MONICA — Oct 19, 2012

Coming to mind the diagnosis: “delusions of adequacy.”

  Positive criticism by Jon Rader Jarvis, Vashon Island, WA, USA  

“Blue chair”
acrylic painting by
Jon Rader Jarvis

As a beginning painting student I encountered several teachers who thought it was their job to reduce the seemingly endless tide of art students. They were hyper-critical and cynical about any student’s sign of ego or self-satisfaction. As a result, the more faint-of-heart changed majors or migrated to less competitive disciplines, like architecture, music, ceramics, political science, or even the law. I had a friend who decided to go into medicine because it had to be easier just working hard but out of the blinding glare of art criticism. For me I had changed majors several times finally choosing painting (we didn’t call ourselves artists), because it fit all my interests and I realized that I could keep doing it after everyone else had retired from their jobs or professions. I chose it because it was what was left when all else fell away. I became a lifelong art student, accumulating 2 BFA degrees at the beginning and an MFA later, when I realized teaching art classes in college was better than the alternatives I had used to support my painting habit. I had acquired a thoughtful supportive painting instructor who told us that he preferred to tell what was right with the work because we could see what was wrong on our own. Knowing what was right could positively affect future work, so he would not provide negative criticism. I adopted that philosophy in my own teaching, always looking for the good in the student work, and recommending positive criticism in all their comments about fellow students. Occasionally, too much good news would cause a student to ask what I really thought of the student work. I told the story of one instructor who travelled to New York every year so he could see some ‘good’ art, after a year of total immersion in student work. But for my part I tell students, “I consider the work a success, if I can look directly at it and my eyes didn’t water.” They usually chuckle at the obvious avoidance. If pressed I will state that students may determine what I like by looking at my work. I paint what I like. There is 1 comment for Positive criticism by Jon Rader Jarvis
From: Kathleen — Oct 13, 2012

Love your painting, and love even more your approach to teaching. Thanks!

  Painting in metaphors by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

“The beard”
by Peter Brown

Somehow, your last two letters, “So, what?” and, “Inner Authority” seem to suggest a similar problem or theme. In “So, what?” the situation seems to be that a certain something is missing in the work. Anonymous alludes to same issue and, presumably, if all of these self-deluded artists created paintings with that certain something, they wouldn’t be quite so self-deluded. I have come to believe that this certain something is metaphorically powerful content. Great paintings always have such content. Mundane paintings, regardless of the technical skills demonstrated, seldom do. This holds true for works of art in any medium. A skillful painter remains a technician until he or she breaks the metaphor barrier. Two disparate examples illustrate my point: Jackson Pollock, with splatters of dripped paint, created an amazing, but subtle metaphor of the Cold War — 1950’s — mindset. Without depicting a mushroom-shaped cloud, his work suggests that unthinkable explosion, the atomic bomb. His paintings place the viewer inside the blast itself at ground zero. It doesn’t matter if he did this intentionally, the metaphor is still there. Rembrandt with his consummate brushwork and seemingly super-human skills never lets us down as a master painter. But if he had merely painted commissioned portraits of Netherlandish patricians, I do not think we would still be talking about him. His true supremacy emerged most obviously when he was working for himself. There are many examples. My favorites, packed with emotional power, are the self-portraits, and the portraits of Titus and Saskia. These paintings are magical, and I think the magic is in the universality of the metaphors he created. That old guy wearing a turban suggests volumes about the human experience. You can read lots of books about aging and learn little more than the Master gave us in that one single image. There are 2 comments for Painting in metaphors by Peter Brown
From: darrell baschak — Oct 12, 2012

This piece is sublime.

From: peter brown — Oct 12, 2012

Thanks for the compliment, Darrell, and I presume you are referring to the collage. If not, thanks anyway.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Inner Authority

From: Dave C. — Oct 08, 2012

I think too many of these artists are suffering from the American Idol syndrome. Some precious little thing goes on American Idol and gets cuts the very first week, if they even made it past the try outs. And their thought is, “well, my mom says I’m a good singer.” And they can’t figure out why the judges didn’t think so. As one artist put it a couple of weeks ago on AHA radio, “too many artists are trying to be the artist today that they won’t be for another five years.” Amen.

From: Andrew Baker — Oct 08, 2012

I feel that the piece above is only half right. We should have the confidence to step the first steps along the path and then use the developing skills to refine and to select. Being pepared to make mistakes is part of this surely. Some alternate from an intuitive embrace of the moment and then move in a more considered way. Although there is a plausability in his argument outlined above it should not be a basis for the virtues of the over considered and skill for its own sake which has deadened so much in the new realist school of painting.

From: Jacqueline — Oct 08, 2012

I think that since the internet has come along, everyone and anyone wants to become an artist. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what an artist is. That being said…are there not various levels of artistry? Art is very subjective…that does not help either. I think it is important, like you said, to make sure we are studying ‘good’ works in the galleries, museums and online, to learn what is ‘good’ and even great works of art. And it is very important to study with the best teachers you can afford. As the saying goes; perfect practice is necessary…or something to that effect. I must admit I look at a lot of ‘junk’ online sometimes…but at least I can recognize it as junk… (I have studied art history and design etc)…but I am sure there are many artists out there…many new artists, that just think something looks kinda ‘cool’, even if its not good art, and want to paint or draw like that…that is what may be contributing to all the misguided artists out there.

From: John Ferrie — Oct 08, 2012

The thing about having some notoriety as an artist is it’s really very subtle. If anything, it is a quiet fame. We have very few awards, very few red carpet events and even fewer accolades. While there is a graduation ceremony for going from grade 5 to 6 these days, there just isn’t a lot of ooh’s and aww’s for an artist. We rarely have or can afford a publicist and often learn everything the hard way…twice. Before my career is finished, I swear to write “How to be an Artist for DUMMIES”. Even then, we all have a different journey and we all take a different path. So, while we are plugging away in our cold lonely studio’s sometimes a client comes along. We sell some works and suddenly bills are paid as the lights and phone are turned back on. We can actually go out to dinner, as opposed to eating our 500th box of Kraft dinner. Interviews come along and we find it surprisingly easy to talk about the paintings we have created. An article here in the paper, social media responds and suddenly we have 2000 followers on twitter. Once, while eating in a restaurant, I overheard my name at the next table. While the comments were all very favourable and the people claimed to know me, I honestly had never laid eyes on any of them. It was flattering if not a bit creepy. All I am saying is, as there is some notoriety to our works, we gain a quiet confidence to who our voice is as an artist. Remember, we have to resolve ourselves to the fact that 90% of the population wont like our work. So, if growing a thicker skin makes us seem a bit arrogant, that’s just too bad. We have to believe in ourselves, because if we don’t, how will anyone else believe in us!

From: Russ Hogger — Oct 08, 2012
From: Malcolm — Oct 08, 2012

The question I can throw back at “anonymous” is “Says Who?” It would take some moxie for the writer to stand up and point at a Warhol and declare it cookie-cutter art or any other art he may find sub-par. Nobody needs permission. That is refreshing and liberating. When folks start labeling art I get nervous – do not point out the twig in another’s eye before removing the log in your own. Sure there are objective standards, but if we were slave to them there would not be Picasso or Monet. Who makes the rules? No thanks – I choose art and you can make your own choice too.

From: Suzette Fram — Oct 08, 2012

Oh no, not another one of those people who complain that everyone wants to be an artist, and shouldn’t someone tell them that their work is no good. But hey, who is ever good right from the start? Not many of us. We all have to start somewhere, we all have to learn and progress over time. If we could see, in the beginning, how awful our work is, we would surely give up. What would be the point of that? Some of us will become accomplished artists, some of us will forever stay mediocre. But the thing is, we all have different tastes so who says what is good and what is not? I see a lot of award-winning paintings on websites and in magazines, and frankly, there are a lot that I don’t like, either for the subject matter, or certain qualities in a painting. So many seem to lack good contrast and a focal point, good strong ‘darks’ to complement the ‘lights’, quiet areas in the painting that allow your eyes to move around and rest. For myself, I like paintings that are different, unusual, original, which is why I tend to prefer abstracts. It’s all subjective, really. I wish people who think themselves better than others, would stop complaining about those other ‘bad’ artists and wishing they would go away. We all have the right to express ourselves, good, bad or indifferent.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Oct 08, 2012

Forget the “experts”, award-givers, and dealers. Your personal “high standards” are only known to you, and are necessary.

From: lalitha — Oct 08, 2012

Art is an expression, we express and is it good or bad is just a perspective of the viewer. So basically, there is no harm in everyone trying to be an artist.”The bad quality” is not affecting anyone, is it? I think, we see a lot of art after the daily painting revolution started on the internet, in one way is good considering that it pushes you to be a creative person, but bad in the sense that it is putting pressure to keep up with peers, resulting in “mediocre” work. But so what? They are happy to create and happiness to the creator matters more than anything else like acknowledgement or acceptance as good art.But technically, it is up to us to evaluate ourselves if we are really learning and evolving as an artist, to be branded as good later during the journey.

From: Patsy — Oct 09, 2012

Some of you seem to have missed the point Anonymous is making. As an instructor, he has students who, after only a few lessons, seem to think they know it all, have become self-satisfied, and therefore won’t learn any more. I don’t think he’s talking about the delight a beginner feels when he has created something better than he thought he could. Nothing wrong with that. But the student needs to recognise he has a long way to go. Anonymous, maybe some quotes from famous artists who said they continued to learn thought their entire careers could make your point without being too discouraging to the smug. ;-)

From: DM — Oct 09, 2012
From: Sheila Minifie — Oct 09, 2012

Our western society encourages us to ‘be confident’ but this is a surface confidence, in the mind but not in the depths. I believe it is necessary to not only have complete wide openness before that which we are studying and working at, but also to gently find our own authentic authority – the two are not incompatible. Only the mind believes so. I do not believe excellence can be measured at all – some traditional pictorial or sculptural qualities can be with an experienced eye – critiqued, but overall artwork cannot be measured, only recognised (and sometimes not, through the changing of the eras) because what is acknowledged as truly excellent over time is an indefinable wholeness, a mystery, just as being human is.

From: Don — Oct 09, 2012

As an art teacher, I have to agree with anonymous. I’ve seen the same type of moxie with those who are just beginning. I see this teaching adults who’ve dabbled some with painting, taken some workshops and now think they know it all. What some of these students really don’t understand that once a skill is learned, that’s just the beginning of becoming an artist. What made most great artists, is taking the art from a skill only level, to applying that skill into an individual creative expression of ones own (this is the really, really hard part). The artists ability to create his/her unique and authentic style can take years. Really, with enough classes, most anyone can paint a landscape, still life, or something that looks like abstraction, but that’s not great art. Great art goes way, way beyond those basic skills.

From: ReneW — Oct 09, 2012

Less than 2% make it to the pinnacle of any profession. This is especially true in sports, yet thousands try with the expectation of making it to the big dance. As a youngster growing up I thought I was a really good baseball pitcher. As I progressed up to semi-pro baseball I found that there were players far superior to me. Recognizing that fact was instrumental in going in a different direction. Everyone follows a dream. For some it works, for most they fail. Whether it’s in sports, art or any professional endeavor you will realize, at some point in time, that you won’t reach the top in your chosen profession or work. Being good or adequate may be all that is needed. Pursuing art as a profession not only depends on your perceived talent but also on how others view your ability. This is where subjectivity comes in. You now have to depend on other people and how they value your work. You may be deluded into thinking your as good as Van Vogh but you may not know that in this lifetime.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Oct 09, 2012

I totally agree with Don (just above). And, I agree with Lalitha too. Anyone can call themselves an artist. The “moxie” comes when too many observers make comments without real substance such as “nice painting,” etc. The artist then believes others rather than their own eyes. And, the fun was in the doing, not necessarily the end product. So they believe they have arrived. There is nothing wrong with believing you have come a long way … but to continue learning is what a “real” artist does. When a teacher has a student with too much moxie, what do you do? Give them homework to gather photos of paintings they think are the best they have seen. Analyze it with them, give them pointers on how to grow, etc. Moxie is not a bad thing, it just should not get in the way of continuing to learn and make better paintings. Yes, I agree we are bombarded with “low quality” paintings all the time. But, I see it as a problem not for the artist if they are learning, but for the viewer being more discerning about their comments, and possibly their purchase. Don’t be afraid to give an honest critique … with the point being to help, not tear down. I love that more people are trying something that is so hard to do. That does not mean they will be a professional artist. What it means to me is my favorite saying … “It’s not the destination, but the journey.”

From: Robert Sesco — Oct 09, 2012

Oh boy, another article pertaining to art, what it means, and who is doing it. I’m scratching my head with your sentence, “Performance in fine art is also measurable.” Really? Measurement implies use of numbers for scale, so I must assume you are referring to sales in dollars or units. This is the only measurement that my pointy little head can assume you mean, in spite of the fact that we have already established by group (your readership) convention that (a) art can be sold solely by artist’s reputation in spite of inferior quality (as determined by whom I wonder?) (b) pricing depends on demand, not quality (see Black Velvet paintings from Mexico, Dogs Playing Poker, etc.) Art is never priced, or sold, according to a standard, it is always what the market will bear, therefore if there is a measurement, it is of demand, not quality. Then we have the sticky wicket of determining the quality within genres, ie a quality abstract vs an inferior abstract, a quality classical realism painting vs an inferior one, etc. You couldn’t measure the quality of a classical realism painting with an abstract for example, unless, of course, one has a sold tag on it and the other doesn’t. If we are not dealing with sales in dollars or units, then we are dealing with the evaluations of juries, societies, organizations of peers, history, and these are quite subjective and relative to the prevailing culture and historical time frame. Perhaps I am missing something regarding the measurement of quality in fine art, but even though I may winnow out what I perceive to be an inferior product, invariably I am surprised to find that my perception is at odds with someone who is resonating at just the right frequency as my inferior product. I believe it is as simple as allowing either (a) the artist to determine the quality of their art, (b) allow others, ie. societies, peers, organizations, your grandmother, to determine the quality of your art, or (c) allow the market demand to determine the quality of your art. Perhaps it is as complex as allowing ALL of these to determine quality.

From: Edna Park Waller — Oct 09, 2012

Perhaps Anonomous’s students need a better teacher!

From: Dalia Bar-Dror — Oct 09, 2012

My view is that on the one hand: far too many people in the arts (music, dancing, visual arts), are dilluded and are ’empty bubble wanna be’s. On the other hand, sadly, the market and the world are full with ’empty bubble’ followers and consumers. There are also far too many greedy and tasteless agents to promote and build up the hype around those ’empty bubbles’. Far too many ‘experts’ and ‘distinguished critiques’ that build up such over rated ’empty bubbles’ – whether they promote the Justin Bibers, the Demian Hersts or what’s her face:.. the Tracey Emins of the art world. You also see an explosion of ‘reality TV shows and talent scouting shows judged by people who kick out a real talent in favour of some idiot with ‘image’, ‘the whole package’, the ‘likeability factor’ or a good sob story – but absolutely zero talent. Sadly, you would also see on those shows celebrities (rather than really talented, experienced artists) – that are in the market for 5 minutes – and are already ‘qualified’ to judge, spot and even ‘mentor’ the new talents, and to make such decisions that will make or break real people’s lives, and break down the confidence and ruin the self belief of real talented people. So, I don’t hold in too much regard the views and opinions of any ‘experts’ (in any field of life): I form my own opinion, and make my own decisions and valuations about anything that means anything to me. And when measuring my art against others’, I (as objectively as one can be), imagine my art hang on an exhibition’s wall, right next to, say, a Japanese artist of similar style, and check: would I be embarrassed to admit that this piece is mine, next to this highly technical, super original and disciplined artist? Would my piece be as impressive, inspiring and interesting? If the answers to all of these questions (per each piece I make) – are ‘Yes’, and ‘No’ to the: ‘would I be embarrassed to admit…’ – then I KNOW I made a good piece of art – no need for any ‘expert’. And if the answers would be the opposite – then I’d either correct and improve the said piece until it reaches these high standards to qualify for the ‘right’ answers, according to this ‘yard stick’ – or distroy it, if it doesn’t. If only more people would create and choose such high standard as a yard stick to measure themselves against – then our world (of sound and vision) would be freed and cleaned up of a lot of pretentious rubbish, and it would be a better, prettier world to live in.

From: Floyd Calverley — Oct 09, 2012

I have sat through many classes and courses over the years. What I have come know is that very few teachers will come to grips with the fundamentals of art. In-class study runs to technique and materials, and that with insufficient discipline to develop an awareness in the student of the need for exacting control. Judged in its’ own context, this kind of teaching is a failure as it almost begs the student to feel accomplished as soon as the basics are covered. Teaching around the fundamental principles; balance, contrast, emphasis, pattern, movement, rhythm and unity, sets visual goals before the student and presents him/her the opportunity to use the technique and material for its’ purpose – making art. Yet, from my own experience as a student, I know this is never done in a direct and purposeful manner. After years of watching, I just have to ask: Is this something that most teachers aren’t aware of themselves?

From: Holly Rowe — Oct 09, 2012

I was at a bed and breakfast in Ashville, NC a couple years ago when the owner of the house who was serving breakfast made the comment that she had always encouraged her kids by telling them how great they were in just about everything they did. She said now, her kids think they are great when in reality they are just average, and sometimes not even average. She said she regrets what she told them, because now they dont work very hard to become better because they think they are already great. Dont blame the teachers, it is deeper than that. It is interesting that I have been having this same conversation with my husband lately about why people dont seem to know they are not talented yet believe they are. I guess it could be a combination of different factors… Thank you for an interesting topic. I’ll be pondering this for some time.

From: Marilyn Harding — Oct 09, 2012

There is a vast difference between arrogance and confidence. Arrogance is projected greatness with little foundation. Even if the world stokes the marketing machinery, the soul knows it’s smoke and mirrors and remains unfulfilled and the buyer buys the hype and then discovers it is smoke and mirrors and lives with the emptiness. Confidence, on the other hand, is built on discovering one’s art – the soul’s unique expression – and then developing that potential with skill, competence, experience and practice knowing that excellence is an ever distant horizon. Integrity is discernible if not measurable and many discerning agents/collectors/gallerists will see an emerging talent long before the full artistic potential is realized. In my mind this communication between artist and market is on an intuitive level. We too often confuse a discerning collector with one who knows their stuff about art history, who’s hot in the market, or about the skills and techniques used in various genres. I think the most constructive relationship for an artist is to find a mentor, agent or collector who sees their own choice in art as an expression of their personal integrity. This collector seeks sincerity in their art and will accept nothing less. This leaves the artist the very clear path to hone the skills that allows their unique and sincere expression to shine through with clarity. No need for arrogance – just stand aside and let the art speak for itself.

From: Joseph — Oct 09, 2012

Supply and demand anything – one can just glance at. Something to do – lookee luooooos, with no standards, but the lack of bordom on a weekend to find something to do – that’s what these types address their artistic moxie too. I suppose that, and the way our economy is currently. (professional photographer)

From: Mike Young — Oct 09, 2012

Here we go again. I contend you cannot be wrong when producing an artifact that you may wish to call “Art”. There are no absolute standards – no absolute formulae: no good or bad. There are preferences by individuals set against their own standards. Some pieces we like and others not – and our likes are different from our neighbours’. Excellent teachers do not force their judgemental values on their students. They simply open up the student to technique, bring out the best in their students and celebrate their successes. Bemoaning the student’s efforts says more about the teacher than the production of the students.

From: Freda Gudopp — Oct 09, 2012
From: Anonymous Student — Oct 09, 2012

I have something to say to your Anonymous teacher. I had teachers who tried to downplay my progress and talent, and you sound just like one of them. I am a modest person but I trust my talent, followed by hard work. I have always excelled in classes and students would congregate around my piece and comment on it being better than the teacher’s. These situations made me feel very awkward as I knew how much more there is to learn, and how much more superior work my teachers were capable of doing. Good teachers handled this kind of situation well and simply continued to teach me in a direction where I needed improvement. Other teachers gave me cold shoulder, stopped communicating with me and basically shunned me. Your comments gave me an idea what they thought of me, but that’s ok since I have thick skin. Wouldn’t it be great if students could trust their teacher’s sincerity and desire to help them grow. One of those shunning teachers asked me years later how come I never took his class again, and said that he needed more students as he was in a bad financial situation, he sounded very bitter.

From: Frederick Winston — Oct 09, 2012

When I first began to paint, I got flooded with gushing words of praise and appreciation from non artistic friends and family members. I guess for those who live by the mantra, that they “cannot draw a straight line”, my stuff looked like nothing short of sheer magic. And, I can imagine that if I wasn’t solidly grounded, that I could have easily bought into it all. The reality is, I knew what good art looked like and while my stuff looked good for me, at that level, I recognized it for what it was – beginners art. Now here’s the rub. I decided that if I was to grow, I had to be honest with myself. I became my own worst critic and even moreso, I became skeptical of what I perceived as “false praise”. The way I see it is if I fall in love with everything I produce, I will remain at the same level in my development for I won’t be able to see my weaknesses and I won’t have an open mind necessary for growth.

From: Tamara — Oct 09, 2012

I tend to agree with this notion — there are a lot of people claiming expertise or at least expecting laud and admiration for any dang thing they do. I think, though, there is another condition that might be just as bad: “Imposter Syndrome” — I have it in spades, I know, but I can also acknowledge that I am most definitely *not* an artist (yet, I hope to become one) and that what I am doing is copying other’s work or deriving from other’s work with the intent to learn.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Oct 10, 2012

You are an Artist when faced with a choice of having to eating Kraft Dinner and keep your art or giving up your art and eat Steak, you choose KD and your Art every time. A true artist is obsessed with creating their art talent has little to do with it. A true Artist is never satisfied with their work and knows they have to struggle a little longer and a little harder. Given time all the “Impostor Artists” will find a new thrill like knitting or sky diving, in the mean time pat them on the back and take their money for the lessons while you can.

From: Frank — Oct 10, 2012

Wow, the money grabbing “sincere teachers” are coming out of the woodworks! Well done Genn!

From: Bonnie — Oct 10, 2012

It is a very fine line between “right brain” love of art & study of art (which never ends!) I am 76 & still learning. The problem is EGO! If we learn to paint what we love and what we know, that should come from our heart, be it love of nature, or your grandmothers tea pot, & on & on. One should not paint for money or ribbons or praise. ” Soul” will show itself.

From: Norman Ridenour — Oct 10, 2012

My view of this is that: 1. People no longer have a sense of doing. When I was young mother made our clothes, (I sewed on buttons), we hooked rugs with ripped up scrap fabric, we made our ice cream, we had a garden and canned the produce, my dad and I hunted and I recall the Sunday evening with 40 rabbits to skin, gut and clean. Later I became a decent auto mechanic because I couldn’t afford to pay one. Very few people these days have any experience doing anything with their hands. 2. There was/is a wave of ‘feel good’ in society, no student should be made to feel inferior, so a lot of false and unearned praise. So no knowledge of what was good. One reason sports are popular is that they are statistical; Joe’s RBI was higher than Pete’s. If it is quality based upon trained & experienced judgement, ‘Who is to say, it is only opinion.’ Unfortunately critics, gallery owners and PR agents all play into this. I miss Robert Hughes.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Oct 10, 2012

Just thinking about this last letter about art teachers and students. I wonder if the root of this problem is that the nature of art classes has been rapidly changing in the last few years. This teacher is expecting a focused student of the past, and the students are expecting a social event of today. In general the art classes provided by organizations and artists have shifted from hard core art education to social events with a light seasoning of inspiration. That’s just the fashion of our time and there is nothing wrong with people wanting to have a good time and burn some money. You never know when the next war or plague will strike, God forbid! All the signs are that education is out and entertainment is in. The only serious private art school for adults in the city has gone out of business almost a decade ago. This must mean that serious students once again need to be self-sufficient, search for information and experiment by themselves, as you often say. Free impromptu plain air painting groups are sprouting everywhere, so some artists are ganging up when convenient. It’s a good thing, but I also miss my old art school where we had our noses to the grind and ate scraps from home – no chef-catered helicopter flying spectacles then, but so much learned! Perhaps this worried teacher should pick his students just like the students can pick their instructors?

From: Judith Jones, Ogden UT, USA — Oct 10, 2012

The best way to avoid mediocrity is practice, practice, work hard and then work and practice some more, interspaced with studying the masters. Practice and long hour in a museum.

From: Paula Christen — Oct 10, 2012

As far as I know there is no final authority figure who bestows the title of “Hot Stuff” on any of us. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will? The people who love your work and those who vote with their checkbooks are the ones who count in our worlds. The rest just haven’t recognized our genius yet.

From: Robin Timms — Oct 10, 2012

As a new student at Emily Carr [in a rather older body]I am daily striving to learn from my instructors and from anyone in the ” Art World” willing to impart their wisdom. I would suggest that art people [especially instructors]with much more knowledge than I in the technical side of things really need to also “step up” and be open and willing to “strongly suggest” what is missing and what needs to be learned along the individual artist’s path . I am quite often “nagging” for these words of wisdom to be imparted. [It doesn’t always mean I will agree but I need to know from voices of wisdom and experience so I can digest the message and work on these things]. Never mind the “sensitive artist”, just tell it like it is ….or show us … And, I now understand that to really learn and develop as an artist I must ” go to my room every day ” and work.

From: Robert Erskine — Oct 10, 2012

A simple answer to these ‘X Factor’ types is to remind them that the great sculptor Giacometti often said of himself ‘I lack credible talent’. That’s assuming these overtly confident art students know who he is.

From: Sue Shuker, Ottawa, Canada — Oct 10, 2012

Just thinking about self-disillusionment and belief in ones own competence…. We have all seen, and heard, American/Canadian/British Idol. Why do all those really bad singers think they can sing? Because they have friends and family, who can’t tell the difference, telling them that they can. As an artist I think we should be constantly learning, from those who know more than we do. Learning technique, design, line, colour and everything else that makes an artwork unique. You need to know the rules before you break them and you need to know that batting 300 is a goal, not a given.

From: Claudio Ghirardo — Oct 10, 2012

I think one of the things we tend to forget is that art is also about being authentic, being truthful, and you need as an artist to always look at your own work with a critical eye and be honest about the level you work at. I know personally that has been really hard for me but I found only by being so honest can my work evolve or realize the level I can work at. Most people don’t do this, they believe in the old saying “If I say it long enough, I will then believe it.” Unless you are willing to be brutally honest, which I believe is a necessity to be an authentic artist, then you will never be able to be an “artist”

From: Kevin Janice Harwood — Oct 10, 2012

This is so true. There is this idea that just saying, “I am an artist,” or claiming that some THING [no matter how poorly done]is ART, makes it so. And, I don’t believe it does. That just isn’t enough. There is no shortcut although probably quite a few people “make it happen” without any real substance.

From: Andrew Baker — Oct 10, 2012

I feel that the piece above is only half right. We should have the confidence to step the first steps along the path and then use the developing skills to refine and to select. Being prepared to make mistakes is part of this surely. Some alternate from an intuitive embrace of the moment and then move in a more considered way. Although there is a plausibility in his argument outlined above it should not be a basis for the virtues of the over considered and skill for its own sake which has deadened so much in the new realist school of painting.

From: Lisa Montagne — Oct 10, 2012

I teach academic writing to college students, which I’ve been doing for 15 years. The way I deal with the egos of those few of my students who think they are too smart for college is set up very specific standards in my grading rubrics. I teach them those standards, and when they don’t measure up, it is the grading rubric that shows them measurable reasons that their writing is not the quality that they think it is. At the same time, I encourage them. This works a lot of the time, but it is not always successful. There are a few who flame out, but I always offer to mentor them. It’s the proverbial leading a horse to water scenario. If I taught art, I would do the same thing.

From: Virginia Brubaker — Oct 10, 2012

I’m trying to remember where I read a study that demonstrated that higher confidence was linked to lower competence. I know that when I used to teach neurolinguistic programming, it was often the least competent students that went out and set up seminars to teach others, apparently fully believing in their own competence. Sigh…. So I don’t think this is only an art-related phenomena.

From: Margaret Ferraro — Oct 10, 2012

Your latest newsletter got me to thinking about delusion. We are all under the spell of delusion. As an art teacher over several years, I’ve seen it go two ways. 1) Students are quite delighted with their work when it isn’t worthy of such thinking, or, and much more common. 2) Students are mortified, humiliated, frustrated, that their work is not good, regardless of whether it is or not. I’m trying to prove the point that whether work is bad, mediocre or great, it’s the artist sacred job, to develop objectivity, something we don’t see often. Mostly, we are so quick to put labels, and judge work, (because that’s what we do, living in a society built on judging and assessing every little thing), that we do label, and that label is often based on deluded thought, and not objective clear thinking. Why do we do this? I think it all come down to expectations. When we place impossible expectations for a painting, for example, when we haven’t trained to draw and compose well, this only leads to disappointment. I see this scenario much more often than someone who thinks their work is great. But I understand that too. When someone is deluded into thinking their work is good, it may be because one tiny passage turned out to have a cool effect that pleased them, or some corner turned out better than they expected. The ensuing euphoria, of creating something that pleased them, spreads out over the perception of the whole piece, and can blow that one element out of proportion. If they are not objective, and haven’t trained in drawing and composition, you are only going to go so far. Make sense? When I have a deluded soul in a workshop (and this happens much more with someone who thinks their work is inferior), my students have come to know my term: “This student needs an attitude adjustment”. It means a new perspective. One method to help with this, is I get the student to put a post-it note on either side of their work, where they have to list an equal amount of good things happening in the painting, and a to do list of changes that would most improve the work. It’s our job to develop both sides of this coin, in order to have a balanced perspective. We need to be confident about what’s good, and confident to SEE what’s wrong, and change/fix things.

From: Flora Baumann — Oct 10, 2012

Okay, I started out just as you said: I loved painting and it was exciting to see that I could actually make a recognizable picture. I thought my work was good. But then I got better: I thought that was good and looked back at what I had done earlier and thought it was NOT so good. It’s a process. As it is said, “Taste” always moves upward. So now, I look at my work and consider it. Some paintings are better than others. On the whole, I think that I have become a better artist as I have learned more as I spent more time painting. Every 4-5 months I cull the losers in my racks of paintings. It feels good. I know that my earlier efforts and misguided experiments will not be found in a thrift store. I have a selection of ‘better’ works out in the world. This will continue and result in a world selection of my better works at any stage of my development as an artist.

From: Mary Kramer — Oct 10, 2012

Who sets the standards? Some of the great artists of the 20th Century wouldn’t be accepted into some of our juried shows. Jurors are often prejudiced by their own tastes. Fashions change, trends change, fads become “classics”. Maybe mediocrity is enough for those who don’t have the opportunity or desire to become “master” of their craft. Maybe they paint for their own enjoyment, to have fun!

From: C. Leslie Anderson — Oct 10, 2012

AMEN. I have had students with one session of watercolours and another of acrylics who participate in weekend art shows. Work was clearly substandard, but one of them sold a large (3’ x 4’), colourful acrylic abstract. Now that I think about it, that is when I started to get depressed!

From: Marjorie Tressler — Oct 10, 2012

It is true, I see it all the time, folks who think because they studied with one person for a short time, think they have all of the knowledge to complete a master piece, when it is only a master piece in their own mind. Then they ask for a critique and they get all defensive when you point out the obvious mistakes. These mistakes are usually more than one of these: bad composition, lack of value range, no color concept, no vocal point, if it does have a focal point, it is badly placed, and perspective way off. The most common problem is they never took the time to learn how to draw, they just started slapping paint. These “masters” just start plugging away without anything in mind to just see what develops and it never does. They are constantly correcting because of bad drawing and planning and when what may have been a pretty good painting, never makes the mark. The painting is over worked, never fresh and just plain falls short. Now I know we all can do that, over working can ruin a painting, I done it myself, we all make mistakes but these are glaring. I have come to the conclusion that it is best just to humor them and pat them on the back and say, way to go, great job! This is better than debating it with them.

From: Sandra Fisher — Oct 10, 2012

I so agree with anonymous that any time I think to put pencil to paper, I am paralyzed. I’ve gone to local “art” shows and want to cry at the “work” people are putting out there as art. I used to think my father was too harsh as a critic now I see through his eyes.

From: Mark Larson — Oct 10, 2012

Perfect confidence is granted to the mediocre as a consolation prize. Here’s to being neither perfect, nor always confident.

From: Linda Anderson Stewart — Oct 10, 2012

It’s a lonely and meagerly paid place, this striving to get better, yet how can one live with oneself if mediocrity is all we manage? I believe we have come to a place in history where mediocre rules….the producers of it don’t know any better because there is little out there to compare to and strive for. And then there are the purchasers… many who are only looking to match their couches. It is hard to keep going, faced with this kind of pervasive attitude….but perhaps it’s a higher calling we are asking for? Beans start to look good after a truly productive days work.

From: Connie Cronenwett — Oct 10, 2012

Responding to the frustrated art instructor… It’s my guess that most of these “I’m great!” students simply haven’t yet learned to see. In a recent painting class with a world-class teacher (Elaine S. Wilson), she projected images of paintings and proceeded to talk, in depth, about what the artist had accomplished. She used a variety of genres to illustrate concepts such as open and closed edges, atmosphere, mark making, dynamic composition, and much more. “What makes this a great painting?” Her enthusiasm and depth of knowledge enlightened even those of us who had been painting for years. Many newly aspiring artists have little art history background; it behooves this beleaguered instructor to have eye opening/mind expanding sessions where he enthuses, specifically, about truly great paintings from truly great painters. We just don’t learn to see unless we’re shown.

From: Sonja Picard — Oct 10, 2012

Who are we to judge? There are countless great talented artists who do not have an ounce of self confidence. Unsung songs, unread poetry, unseen art…. at the end of the day it is the viewer/ purchaser who makes a decision. It is the artists/persons evolution on their ‘moxie’ and where they are at in their life and its simply none of our business.

From: Donna Stewart — Oct 10, 2012

About 40 watercolor artists gather twice yearly for a 5 day “Paint Out” near where I live. It was during one of these gatherings that I learned that some of the artists enlarge photos at Kinkos, trace them over a light box, transfer the drawing to watercolor paper, and then paint. One person was telling newcomers “don’t draw when you can just trace”.As an artist that works very diligently at my drawing and painting skills, continues to take classes, never traces or uses Kinkos, I have a problem with the “trace and paint” approach. (Remember the Paint By Number kits) In addition, what a dis-service to pass on this approach to artists new to the medium. I strongly believe that the basis of a good painting is a good drawing, that drawing is “seeing” and “getting to know” the subject and its a lot of FUN ! If you have to trace, the product should be labeled “Tracing” …. At least it would be honest and accurate ….and differenciate the drawers/artists from the tracers.

From: Susie Cipolla, Whistler, BC, Canada — Oct 10, 2012

I destroy my substandard works on a regular basis. Some of them hang around for too long but eventually they get the exact o-knife treatment. Unfortunately some have gotten away to friends and family and are hard to get back especially if the owners know you are going to destroy them. One needs to employ trickery or trading of a better piece to make that work. Thanks for the good advice.

From: Mike Barr — Oct 10, 2012

The scarey thing about that thing called Inner-Authority is that it tends to beguile most of us – even those who seek for better quality. I die a thousand deaths on seeing works I did several years ago, but at the time I thought they were quite good and so did others. In other words I was completely self-deluded and probably still am despite continually reaching for better skills and quality of work. When we see this self-delusion in others it is ugly to say the least and hilarious if we stand back from it. Your advice to become a discriminating connoisseur and perennial student is sound. We need to expose ourselves to the truly brilliant and we need to search for it. The web is the ideal tool for that. Comparing ourselves with mediocrity may help our ego, but not our art.

From: Natalie Fleming — Oct 10, 2012

I don’t know about other artists, but I find that my judgement of which piece of work is good, just ok or really bad does not always coincide with others’ opinions and not will or will not sell. Examples: I was going to chuck a painting as “bad” and my husband said “No, someone will like it. Frame it and take it to your coop gallery.” It was the first thing that sold the day I brought it in! I find that whatever happens to be the “in” thing is what sells. There are a few collectors that in my judgement that know good art from bad, or phony, who buy what appeals to them and not what is “in”. There are some buyers who will buy only from the prestigious or highly advertised ,or recommended by the gallery sales person as a very good artist- usually an oil painter from the 19th century who is not so well known to fetch an exorbitant price. Then there is the myriad of home owners who think of art simply as decoration. When they change the slip covers, or redecorate, they chuck the reproductions and buy new art from Walmart.

From: Elizabeth Concannon — Oct 10, 2012

The immediate response which occurred to me was – we are all so indoctrinated with advertising claims and the bragging that goes with it that it only seems normal to most people to begin advertising themselves even before they know whether their work is good. My Mother taught me and my siblings that “bragging” was in very poor taste; and that would (for me) apply to the outlandish amount of advertising and twittering, etc that seems to be part of our society – not just art, but inclusive of art. Every painting? Every song? Every dance? Probably not. I would hope the art teachers can convey standards in an inclusive way and teach good judgement of one’s own efforts based on the variety of all art.

From: C. Rossner — Oct 10, 2012

Funny I was involved in a similar discussion the other day. It seems that the making of art, sales of supplies and courses has become so much more marketable and profitable than instilling integrity, art study, tradition, mastery and a focus on the time, practice, knowledge and talent required to create good art. The real art commerce these days seems to be gleaned by art supply stores from a broad segment of our society by selling them any number of supplies, kits, tools, with consumers changing medium and focus as quickly as a new product comes out – as opposed to a commitment to deep personal study and mastery of one medium. Wonder if this is one of the reasons for the drop in art sales many of my colleagues are experiencing? Receiving a monthly flyer from the local art supply store is a real education. The hottest tools marketed these days seem to be projectors at a cost of $150 to over $900 to be used to project photographic or graphic images for copying over which people make marks or paste stuff then sell as “original” fine art. Likewise, the use of imagery as a basis for computer generated art is a growing field, at the fingertips of anyone with an ipad often with no supply costs at all! On a similar vein there seems to be no concern anymore about plagiarism. Apparently anything written by anyone can be copied and pasted into a document and be called original thought. Wasn’t too long ago that people would be ostracized and ashamed to even copy someone’s work without giving credit to the originator never mind project it and use it as a basis for one’s own without batting an eye. This shift is happening so quickly that jurors in art shows often aren’t up to date enough to see the difference between work generated from copy-ism or photography and the work of perfectionists who might have spent a hundred hours painting a single perfect rose in oil, for example. This could be particularly problematic when photographic adjudication is at play. There’s also an art integrity hit when “fine art shows” accept cast work (like cold cast bronze) or giclees without requiring the artist indicate a limited number of editions. It’s quite possible a purchaser might think they’ve purchased an original piece with appreciable value. However without limited editions noted, they may as well have been pumped out in China by the caseload. It makes one wonder if any of this type of art is being discussed at the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze or what the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno would have made of these practices. In the end, though, other than the masters rolling over in their graves, other than art collectors paying for something with questionable investment value, other than some bruised egos, maybe all us purists should just get over it. If I could get over it I’d stop spending hundreds of hours toiling over my marble and stone sculptures and just get one of those large laser stone-cutting lathes to turn and knock out my pieces from now on. Maybe Michelangelo would have done so given the chance! Really, so long as people are happily and stresslessly engaged in the creative zone expressing themselves it’s probably a healthy thing for everyone and their time and process should be given credit – it’s just DIFFERENT art and perhaps difficult for your anonymous instructor if he’s had a traditional course of study. Some of us will still recognize, get the emotional hit, be inspired by and be wonderstruck by good art. In the meantime encouraging less schooled people to create without severe judgement is a nurturing thing.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 11, 2012

To C. Rossner- I agree with everything you said until the last four or five sentences. Much has been said about teaching methods and the one thing not said is about student commitment. Teachers can only teach those who are willing to learn and the work with students to go beyond making pretty pictures. If you push them too hard, they leave, leaving your teaching ‘business’ in a tenuous state. So, teachers, in order to keep teaching, give in to the mediocrity level of students to a large degree. Understand not everyone learning to paint will rise to a level of expertise that will set the world on fire. Any teacher who has put in the time and study knows the knowledge it takes for anyone starting to paint today is daunting. In reality anyone starting to paint should be four or five years old; and even then may still run out of time. I don’t advocate discouraging anyone who wishes to learn to paint, you can teach only to how willing and susceptible the student is to the knowledge needed. This is not being a bad teacher; it’s using your resources wisely. You see this in academic schools also. You teach those willing and able to learn. As for encouraging mediocrity or inability by being politically correct is doing a disservice to the student as well as to your integrity. Assuming one has managed to hold onto one’s teaching integrity. The point I make is I’ve always been artistic and it took until my thirties to realize I wanted to paint and I’ve been trying to learn and be better ever since. I am fully aware time left will not be enough. I practice this profession with every fiber of my being and struggle to be better with every work I produce; more than half of which I destroy. This is not false modesty. We need to have dialogues like this and always fight against mediocrity and those who wish to dissuade us from re-raising the bar higher. As long as there are those willing to show a higher standard and keep quality as a priority the cream will rise to the top.

From: anonymous — Oct 11, 2012

We often mention how it takes years of learning and practicing to acquire decent artistic ability. I think that we should consider that we can now find information and step by step instructions for any imaginable technique in a matter of seconds on the internet. Materials are readily available and relatively affordable in any city. Traveling is a breeze comparing with just a few decades ago. So the timeline must have considerably shrunk for a new beginner. Perhaps we shouldn’t insist on those many years of learning any more? Are we just jealous of the people who have it easier than we did? Artists whine all the time how the economy is bad and sales are down. Is that really true, or is the new, less traditionally skilled art more appealing to new collectors? How come all those inferior artists manage to sell stuff? I refuse to believe that collectors are ignorant only when they are not buying our stuff. There is something else happening and we should probably think about it seriously, rather than holding on to the shattered Titanic’s remains. Maybe we should look for a rescue vessel that looks very different from the ship we came from?

From: Alternate Resource — Oct 11, 2012

In the end, all that really matters is that piece hanging on the wall. How it got there, and the biography of the originator (artist?) ought to be considered irrelevant, if considered at all. If it “speaks” to someone, it’s art — whether it “speaks” to the initiated, or the educated, or the pretentious of any stripe or flavor. Maybe, everyone should just get over themselves. And let everyone derive whatever personal pleasure available, from whatever source — or “programmed” quality.

From: Ron Sackman — Oct 11, 2012

Robert, The article is very timely for me. It’s good to know we are not in the rowboat by ourselves.

From: Cheryl Renee Long — Oct 11, 2012

I teach watercolor to adults, mostly female. At any given time I have 24 active students. Some of my students are beginners and some of them are approaching a breakthrough to being professional. On the whole my students are fearful and under confident and they rarely start to see their own place in the art world until they begin to win awards. So I wonder, what is the difference between the teaching experiences of anonymous and me. I wonder if there is a gender difference and or age difference in our student base? I live near a large city but my students are not university trained. The feeling tone in the class room is set and maintained by the instructor. I help students to create an atmosphere of mutual support. I model what I hope is a balanced yet realistic view of my own work and I am always surprised how accurately this reflects in the students and their work. Seattle, WA

From: Moncy Barbour — Oct 11, 2012
From: Christa Rossner — Oct 11, 2012

. It seems that the making of art, sales of supplies and courses has become so much more marketable and profitable than instilling integrity, art study, tradition, mastery and a focus on the time, practice, knowledge and talent required to create good art. The real art commerce these days seems to be gleaned by art supply stores from a broad segment of our society by selling them any number of supplies, kits, tools, with consumers changing medium and focus as quickly as a new product comes out – as opposed to a commitment to deep personal study and mastery of one medium. Wonder if this is one of the reasons for the drop in art sales many of my colleagues are experiencing?

From: Priya Drews — Oct 11, 2012

What I have observed about those who seem to think well of their own art work and have a great deal of confidence about it is that they are the ones who seem to enjoy success and sales. People like to see bold confident marks, including myself, and although I cringe when I see some of the self-advertised paintings in national art magazines, what can you say? Those who make the loudest noise often get the most attention. Because I am so critical I find I have to draw back from dissing those I consider amateur and celebrate their joy in their own creativity. Sometimes I get weary of seeing the same dozen painters in art magazines and winning all the award. The shock of the “new” is often a welcome change. Flagstaff, AZ

From: Verna Marie Campbell — Oct 11, 2012

I am starting to notice something. When a painting is viewed by a fellow artist and they are asked to critique it, they give helpful comments. But the same painting viewed by a buyer doesn’t seem to notice the same “flaws”. Could it be that the artist doesn’t care for that much dark in a painting or something done not to rules and the buyer has no such hang up?

From: Ron Wilson — Oct 12, 2012

Hi Bob (forgive the familarity, we have met twice) I’m writing to simply express my admiration of your various writings and musings. This morning’s piece on SIGNATURES was particularly telling. Often I’m tempted to leave out my signature when entering shows ‘cos I feel like making the jurors judge on the work alone. So far though I’ve forged ahead and signed everything. Publish and be acclaimed… Ron in Victoria

From: Tatjana — Oct 12, 2012

I had an excellent teacher who used to say – a confident mistake is more powerful than a timid perfection.

From: Kelly Leichert — Oct 15, 2012

To me, there are several types of art: naive, hobby, commercial, academic, and fine art. What most people think is art is fine art. Each group seems to have it out for the other. Each requires different abilities and training (or no training for naive). We may be one type and think we are another or we get caught between groups causing confusion. People succeed to have others enjoy their art in each of these groups. Ernst Gombrich wrote a book (Preference for the Primitive) about how art swings from primitive to realistic in cycles. In modernity, with books and the internet we see every type of art with no cultural standard. But some pieces of each type seem to jump out. Perhaps, it is best to find the place you fit and do the best you can within that grouping. There is skill and there is originality. Some people have both – that is a master – now days all that has changed is we see a lot of art not made by masters. In the past, it generally did not survive.

From: gag — Oct 18, 2012

i took my best paintings of the past 5 years to a very well known and respected artist-he told me they were terrible and burn them all asap. I am in shock. I dont think the are that bad,but then again maybe ive been delusional-maybe he is right.

From: Bobby G. — Oct 21, 2012

Gag- you said it yourself – ..”you don’t think they are that bad” That about sums it up. Burn them!

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e Artiste

acrylic painting by Carenie Little, ON, Canada

  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, 2013. That includes Suzy Morgan of Southern Pines, NC, USA, who wrote, “A student isn’t a doctor just because he has enrolled in Med School. In the world of art the roads to the title, “Artist” are varied — just as strenuous, faster for some, slower for others, none the less the work has to be done and is way harder than it looks. There seems to me to be a gross misuse of the language. I think this also stems from today’s culture being obsessed with labels, whether it be Polo, Barbie, Coke, BMW, Apple & iPhone or Artist.” And also Ann Hardy of Colleyville, TX, USA, who wrote, “If we want to keep growing and become “our best,” then we develop the ability to look at our work objectively and be good self-connoisseurs and be the eternal student with some sleep deprivation. I’m going to use this subject in my art classes where I am the student. Thanks, Roberto. I laugh and cry with you as a distant friend.”    

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