When I was a student at Art Center School in Los Angeles, California, I used to lift the odd glass at a certain suburban bar. One evening I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman who looked vaguely familiar. When he said something to the bartender I knew immediately it was Stan Laurel. Stan, if you remember, was part of the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. We struck up a conversation. Stan told me that Oliver Hardy, the round one, had died some years before. He also told me that he was now living in reduced circumstances, having, he said, “sold my rights to the films for a low price.”
I told Stan Laurel that I thought his films were classics. He informed me that they were all dated anyway: “In black and white, you know, people want color now. Some of them don’t even have sound. I doubt they’ll go anywhere.” He also told me, “We put a lot of care into those old movies, and if we didn’t get it right, Hal Roach would let us shoot the scene again in the morning.” Poverty stricken though I was, I bought Stan Laurel a gin and tonic.
At the easel it’s a good idea to pay attention to the possibilities. Everything made with love and craft has the potential to become classic. In a way we fine artists have it the best of all because we have control. We are writer, director, cameraman, actor and editor. Things can get messed up if we get lazy, sloppy, thoughtless, impatient, or, like Ollie in his movies, stupid. That’s why it’s all so very important that we bring to each work our personal best. That’s just one of the reasons to sit back every so often and take a look at where this thing is leading. Trust your own value. Look into the future. This stuff has legs. You will hear yourself saying, “It’s worth the effort.” Sometimes you might even have to shoot it again in the morning.
Esoterica: Stan Laurel died soon after I met him. His films live again through a medium he could not have foreseen in the ’20s and ’30s. They have been restored, revived and put into cans for an eternity of laughs. “Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short.” (Seneca)
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Taking the familiar for granted
by Linda Saccoccio NY, NY, USA
I tend to take the familiar for granted including my own work. I can lose faith or a sense of value when this happens. So thanks for the reminder not to judge or underestimate the value of my work. It so often is a matter of one’s point of view or limited vision when we don’t realize the power in our originality. Poor Stan was blind and let trends block his vision.
Being an artist is a schizophrenic exercise. The art maker says be a perfectionist, the business person says it is good enough — it will sell. Shall I throw away the materials and time paying homage to the perfectionist — knowing that nothing is ever perfect and also knowing that redoing yesterday is not always proceeding to tomorrow’s discovery. What an eternal debate!
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA
I liked your Stan Laurel Story… my Godfather, Bill Smith, played poker on a troop ship headed back to U.S., with late actor Jimmy Stewart, and when his health began to fail a few years back, our family gang declared: “He can’t die yet… he owes Uncle Bill ten bucks!” We think it worked for a last ditch extension on life for Mr. Stewart, and did Uncle Bill no harm, either! I thought it was so sad about Mr. Laurel’s financial exploitation, a common story in film in his day. Some of today’s stars made a project with the Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy Awards Org. people, to pass laws to protect artists against such exploitation. So far, I have no complaints, but “keep my foot on the brake,” ready to stop an art sale if the “chitchat” fails to remain correct. The human equation, a life-giver to creativity, means that one can be hustled, deliberately or otherwise, so remaining graciously alert, and maintaining good self-esteem, without becoming the maniac artist, is essential. When I first began personal fine arts sales, I was frightened that “doing it for the money” might damage my “lights” … my feeling for the truth in my work, but I was wrong. My dealings with my clients often are the richest part of the experience as the interaction brings so much meaning to my work! I felt reassured that my personality was not hopelessly dingy over it all, and felt good about getting it going “pro.”
Art is a hammer
by Linda Downey
We are like a red violin, fine tuned instruments. When we are played sharply, the wires can sometimes break. Due to our own sensitivity the music we create awakens the fairies and angels to sing. The art we create touches deep into the root of the soul, and melts those with hearts of gold but for the others the seeds are firmly planted. We transform passion anger and rage through our vortex paint palette of multi colored hues that dance on the wind. We talk with the masters gone by and are shunned for our truth. We dance with the stars. Perhaps we are from Orion as Golden Warriors of truth. We might look different from you, sometimes you turn away, but could it be we are just reflecting back to you. Your own denied rage, repressed, pulling on your soul and you are unwilling to listen so you label us handicapped. But in truth you may have a broken walking stick yourself, but hide it a lot better and lean harder. So we paint, write, and heal with the masters hand Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Sylvia Plath our mentors. And you stand in awe of the beauty of our multidimensional creations, while we continue to play for you. Sometimes in silence, and sometimes alone, but the angels and fairies dance and sing for they hear our song of the spheres. “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” (Bertolt Brecht — 1896-1956)
Fun with Stan and Ollie
by Richard Brown, Arbutus Ridge, B.C., Canada
I was a member of the “Suns Of The Desert” the cult started by Chuck McCabe in the sixties to honour Laurel and Hardy. The story goes that Chuck confronted Laurel with the idea to which he endorsed wholeheartedly, he also told McCabe that it should be based on their film Sons Of The Desert the flick that they make fun of the “Shriners” and all their shenanigans. Each city with a group of followers would be then called a “tent” and named after one of their films. Toronto’s title was, “The Tit For Tat Toronto Tent” of the “Suns Of The Desert.” Laurel also stated that each meeting must be run in a “half-assed” manner. Robert, have you got a minute? Our first meeting took place at The Bombay Club in Toronto, the room designated had wall outlets that were controlled by a switch that operated both wall outlets and the lights. So… in order to operate the projector we needed to climb a ladder and unscrew all of the bulbs in the central chandelier. “Tit For Tat” unbeknownst to us opened with Stan and Ollie opening an electrical store. The opening sequence involves Ollie climbing a ladder to screw in the light bulbs for their electric sign, with Stanley handing him the bulbs. Needless to say all hell breaks loose. We on the other hand were on the floor killing ourselves with laughter. We deemed that incident to be “half-assed” enough. Laurel would have been pleased. Look what you started — my wife is complaining that this darned computer is taking me away from the drawing board.
More on Ron Sanders
(RG note) Ron Sanders of Fort Wayne, Indiana was candid in his self-assessment. His honesty and openness brought forth a great many reactions and advice. You can see his first letter to me at the bottom of http://painterskeys.com/dontwait/ and the first wave of responses as well as my letter about him at http://painterskeys.com/whats-wrong/ Many of your letters that followed were beautifully written. Some of them contained similar thoughts as had already been expressed. All of your correspondence has been passed on to Ron. Thank you to everyone who wrote. Your letters are in our permanent archive and may be used at another time when they might shed further light. The following are a few that took a slightly different tack.
Ron’s work is not selling because it’s mediocre. But he’s in good company because most of the work out there is mediocre. Only a few of us truly have what it takes. And it goes without saying that there are some artists who put less effort into their mediocrity and the result is that they sell more. The important thing is linking up with people who will put in the commercial effort no matter what your quality. All fields of human endeavor are prey to this riddle. Even sacred fields such as medicine, that most noble of professions, are reduced to the disenchantment that comes with commercialism. Doctors can be mediocre at doctoring, but they still have to devise ways to get customers into their waiting rooms.
The Law of Attraction
by Laurie Kristensen
I am a student of the Law of Attraction, which is a universal law unrelated to any particular spiritual path… it just IS, in our world, as the Law of Gravity just IS! Since I’ve begun studying that and other universal laws, I’ve begun attracting more of the things I’ve always dreamed of… maybe nothing spectacular yet, but I’ve only really begun to understand it well in the last half year, and I’ve attracted what may be a soul-mate relationship, and am working on my prosperity issues, and getting a business going. I hope to combine hypnosis/energy and meridian therapies with art and photography! I’m just a baby beginner with the art and photography. Anyway, the reason I’m writing is that it occurred to me that Ron may be in a negative spiral in terms of Law of Attraction because he is trying so hard to figure out why his paintings are not selling and pushing against this and pondering it more of the time compared with daydreaming and visualizing a reality in which his paintings sell out like those other artists he mentioned. You may harbor resentment that it is working so well for them while your paintings are just as good.
by Nyla Witmore
Some of us are genuinely gifted in more than one medium, style or subject matter. (What would have happened if Da Vinci had followed the advice to specialize and focus?) Here’s a solution to simplify a presentation without feeling one is giving up one’s authentic self. In thinking about Ron’s dilemma (and mine as well) I ended up solving my own problem because I do contemporary representational subjects of windows and doorways/intimate landscapes as well as abstract paintings. Why not use a different website for different styles so you won’t confuse or overwhelm future buyers or galleries who may be interested in your work. One idea is to use a different variation of the name: For example: Ron Sanders on one, R. Sanders on the other. (Or paint under a different name. After all, many well-known best selling authors use pen names.) Then, in addition to keeping separate subject/medium business cards, list the web links on each card that fits that style/subject. For example, there are a number of “group” websites that show images and offer an optional e-commerce opportunity. Some are regional such as www.ArtistsRegister.com for the Colorado area. Some are by organization such as The American Academy of Women Artists www.aawafineart.com and you might have to join more than one. Has anyone done this?
by Jerrilyn Emison, Westminster, Colorado, USA
The most encouraging thing about Ron’s problem is that he would ask the question and put up his work for others to consider. First you have to decide what is most important to you, selling art and making money, getting accepted by judges and galleries, becoming a great artist, experiencing the joy of painting what is in your soul, etc. You seem to be going for all of these things at once. They are not mutually exclusive but you are focused on production and waiting for the world to recognize you. Slow down. It would seem that you want first of all to make money. Living artists do that by finding a niche of style and subject that evokes a response in the public and then they just keep painting more of the same (Gorman, Pena, Bannister, Moss, Doolittle etc.). What is the area, which has brought you the most success? You are very good at copying photos and you like to do people so you should continue to advertise for portrait commissions and don’t complain about the boredom. Just try to get better at it. Try to eliminate some of the peripheral details. Historical scenes might be a good series or you could focus on different professions and/or hobbies. Your landscapes are the weakest and would require the most effort to compete with other artists who are very good in that area. No price is too high or too low for art. If the public perceives it as a fair price or a bargain price, they will buy it. If you sold a lot two years ago and nothing last year, did you raise your prices? If so, maybe you raised them too much. I usually raise prices only 10%. You can’t lower them again and if you overshot on the raise and sales fall off, you simply have to improve the quality to compete in the new range. It may mean you have to destroy some of your collection. If you are comparing your prices to those of other artists then you have to be able to make a dispassionate judgement about how well you paint compared to them. It’s very hard. The ego is involved. Personally, I don’t think square inch pricing is a good idea. This is not beadwork. I have a price range for a certain size. Some paintings have a lot more detail, are framed more expensively, or are simply better paintings. You could say, “8 x 10 paintings from so many dollars.” Your website is beautifully done, even over done. In trying to show how good you are at everything you forgot your target audience. Your philosophy reads like a term paper. It says almost nothing about you, only about what you have read. Buyers are not impressed with intellectual doublespeak, only professors like that sort of thing. Are you trying to sell art or be a teacher? You have too many images. Some are not your best and too many are sold. I would downplay the murals because the chances for sales are few; simply mention that you are available to do them. As a whole you present yourself more as a very versatile illustrator than as a fine artist on his way to the top. You need to narrow your focus, present images up front that are directed toward your future and perhaps relegate your past accomplishments to a special gallery room for those who would be interested.
Ron’s in the real world
by Nancy H. Pierce
I was introduced to the Painter’s Keys site last year as a requirement for a course I was taking called, “Art and Technology” at the University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point. The course is considered a Humanities requirement and looks at multiple forms of Art and technology and how they coincide. It’s led by two wonderful women, one a painter and the other a composer. After the class was over, I’ve continued to read your letters. They often are the highlight of thoughts for the week. I do not paint, nor do I compose music. I was a dancer till an injury closed that door. Now I’ve gone back to school to complete another degree. My area is Communication with a focus on Organizational Development and Creative Problem Solving. One of my classes is Marketing 350. I am currently doing an analysis of “marketing information.” When I read Ron’s letter and your responses it just hit home. Here is a tie between the world of “non-artists” and creative artists! The business of living is always with us and Ron is struggling to tie his love with practical matters — the same as Sears, McDonald’s or any other major concern must do in reaching their customers. I’m delighted to say my professor has approved my rather unusual choice, but I’m loving every moment of showing how what you, Ron and now all the others in the follow-up write is the exact stuff we study in textbooks. Real life matches the academic plan. My hope is that other opportunities will follow and continue to create a bridge for some so that both sides have common concerns and needs!
by William Band, Ontario, Canada
About 18 years ago I took a painting class and then started teaching. The first class was terrifying. Now it is a breeze and I manage to put in about 9 hours a week. Community College, locally etc. I am slowly getting back into trade type shows with my prints. My buddy down the street is Jack Reid. He has books published through North Light Books. He is 74. I feel strongly that things will get better. My show got a lot of attention and I am getting out in the public, with an in-your-face attitude. An artist that won’t go away. I am not happy with my web site but hopefully it will improve. So hang in there. Think teaching. The word gets out about your quality of work, and sales will follow with word and mouth.
by Nick Weston
Ron Sanders, and many others among us, need to learn that the same rules apply to selling insurance, cars, figs or fine art. Understate and over-prove.
by Neil Owen
Your site is well designed and easy to navigate. You provide both samples of your craft, and also some insight into the artist of today. You do what it takes to sell yourself. That is what makes the difference between a hobbyist with skill and a professional in demand. Robert’s advice was to pull back and make yourself rare, that’s fine if you want to be recognised posthumously, but if you want to sell today you must market yourself not just your work. A very nice site — kudos to your site designer.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 99 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
“When nations grow old, the arts grow cold and commerce settles on every tree.” (William Blake)
“I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life. Finally the idea of inventing something insincere crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway.” (Marcel Broodthaers)
(from the Resource of Art Quotations)