The problems of an online Claus

Dear Artist, Thanks so much for all your Christmas wishes. I’m deeply honoured to be connected to so many fellow travellers. This time of year my emails show an increase in “Dear Santa”-type letters. Though I treasure every one and take them seriously, I’m not always able to come down as many chimneys as might be wished. They often go like this: “I’ve been an artist all my life. I quit a dull job to go full time. I graduated from a great art school where I wasn’t taught many technical skills. I’ve taken some workshops, I work hard at my many different styles but my income still isn’t good. I think I need to get into established galleries and also get a new website. Could you give me your honest opinion about my work and what direction I should take? I’d be happy to pay for a critique or coaching session.” First off, like any decent Claus, I don’t charge folks who want to sit on my virtual knee. When images arrive, I study them. I try to determine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Sometimes I can tell by the work. The naughty ones tend not to do too much heavy lifting. Further, they often haven’t taken the trouble to learn composition, colour, technique and other basics. They can have so many bad habits that expecting glad tidings would boggle the mind of the most benevolent Claus. The nice ones, on the other hand, know in their souls that they themselves run their own sleigh and any nudge from another elf would be just a temporary blip in the delivery system. In other words, the nice ones are pretty focused, already know most of the answers and are just dropping in for fun. Often compulsive workers, they have an inner drive to get good. Funnily, they may have little of what we call natural talent, but they do have character. They may know it’s a rough world out there, but their dreams often do come true. Parents of our acquaintance had put forward so many threats of impending doom that when they finally got their only kid on Santa’s knee, he pulled the old guy’s beard and said, “I don’t need you, Santa.” Now there’s a kid who’s going places. Best regards and Merry Christmas, Robert PS: “It takes nearly as much ability to know how to profit from good advice as to know how to act for one’s self.” (Francois de La Rochefoucauld) Esoterica: It’s a problem. “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell them,” said Louis Armstrong. No matter how jolly one tends to be, this is depressing, especially when you’ve made sure your advice is well thought out, tailored, and lovingly rendered. “Many receive advice,” said Publilius Syrus (46 BC) “but few profit by it.” I quite often use the words of Thomas S. Buechner: “Figure out what you do well and make it better.” “Descendamus nostra caminis,” said Kjerkius Gennius (36 BC). “By and large we come down our own chimneys.”   We’ll never know by Michael Fuerst, Urbana, IL, USA  

graphite drawing
by Michael Fuerst

The ones to worry about are the naughty who believe they have been nice — those who somehow graduated from an appropriate art school, but failed to absorb any of the elements of composition and color, although believing they had done so. A year or two ago you posted the images of such an individual, certainly with the person’s permission. Everyone who commented did so diplomatically, but hidden between the lines of the comments was the message that the artist lacked understanding of fundamental concepts. We of course do not know if the artist received the message.     The word from Mozart by Alan Mynall, Oxford, UK  

oil painting
by Alan Mynall

I have been told that a young would-be composer wrote to Mozart asking advice about how to compose a symphony. Mozart responded that a symphony was a complex and demanding form and it would be better to start with something simpler. The young man protested, ‘But, Herr Mozart, you wrote symphonies when you were younger than I am now.’ Mozart replied, ‘I never asked how.'” (Isaac Asimov, 1920-1992)   There are 3 comments for The word from Mozart by Alan Mynall
From: Jackie Knott — Dec 27, 2012

That is one great quotation I won’t soon forget. Thanks.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Dec 28, 2012

Dear Alan, Thank you for making a thing of beauty out of Didcot power station! I used to live near Chieveley so know the area well. ;-)

From: george gordon — Dec 28, 2012

now that is a great painting

  The nuts and bolts by Bob Ragland, Denver, CO, USA  

oil painting
by Bob Ragland

The problem is that many would-be artists do not take the time to game plan. Art careers are a business: basic things like doing outreach by real mail, showing art in different venues other than galleries, keeping a list of people who have the art, making business cards to be carried all the time, postcards of one’s work should be in the car and pocket, looking for opportunity to show the works, branding by doing PR, getting on the radio and TV — Reading good books on business, e.g. How To Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girard. The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a good book — the chapter on 10,000 hours is paramount to read. Having some revenue is a good tool to have all the time. These are some of the things I coach artists on. Nuts and bolts stuff matters. (RG note) Thanks, Bob. I know of artists who do all of that, have all of that, yet their work is substandard. In my view, all the cards and venues and branding and PR is not worth a pinch of otter puckey if you don’t paint well. Think of a dentist who had the office and everything but still didn’t know how to drill and fill. Some people in the arts think we are in an age of failing connoisseurship. If we are, then perhaps proficiency is indeed not as important as getting on TV. There are 2 comments for The nuts and bolts by Bob Ragland
From: Mike Barr — Dec 28, 2012

There seems to be a glut of self-help for prospective professional artists on the web and in print. I’m not convinced that it really helps though. Even though galleries are closing down everywhere, they and high-quality community art shows seem to hold the key to success. Good work should come before good PR.

From: Selia — Dec 28, 2012

Indeed, I know a woman who hasn’t got a speck of talent, ability or imagination. She has a big studio, all the trimmings; She even has a gallery (charges artists wall rent plus 20% commission). Her paintings are ghastly as are most In her gallery. She has all the fancy packaging and nothing in the box. All the money she has to spend comes down to nothing.

  Building professionalism by Phoebe Ackley, Berkeley, CA, USA  

“Elders in our midst”
acrylic painting
by Phoebe Ackley

Among many other kinds of art that I do, every few years I create a series of portraits. The most recent one was Elders in Our Midst, 20 bay area elders. I was pleased to exhibit the show twice, once at an art center in Oakland and again at a downtown windows gallery in Berkeley. These shows are mainly self-produced affairs. I decide to paint a particular group of people and then decide finally that I’d better wrap it all up with a show. I love the painting – live sittings are just the best way to spend time with individuals who may be too busy to sit still for any other reason! And creating the opening party is always fun! The piece which I have failed at is the documentation and publicity. I have figured out that I can paint well and I truly work at doing it better, as Thomas S. Buechner recommends. How to not let the other important parts slip through the cracks at the last rush before a show??? Only with experience I’m sure, realizing that this piece, too, is important in building professionalism.   Away from gallery input by Carole Pigott, Santa Fe, NM, USA  

“Cypress Break”
oil painting
by Carole Pigott

The concept that one has to be with a gallery to be considered successful is troubling — although there are many good and honest galleries, there are more that are not. Most artists I know who have a long career as an artist take responsibility for their own sales and use gallery shows to pad their resumes and wallets, but do not consider them the end all. Personally, when I quit gallery shows and got away from gallery input on what is popular and sells, I went inside myself and painted from my heart. That is when my work really started selling – not because of galleries, but because of the soul in the work. (RG note) Thanks, Carole. All of my galleries are terrific. On the other hand, musicians, composers and performers are currently shedding their labels like dandruff. In the music business some of these free spirits make ten times as much by selling ten percent of what they previously sold when they had a label. A worthwhile book on the subject is How Music Works by David Byrne. It’s a great read and a lot of the material may be a harbinger for what’s coming in art. As you pointed out, many painters are moving in the “do-it-yourself” direction.   Not for me by De Gillett, Australia  

“Over the bay”
original painting
by De Gillett

Having just finished art school myself, I have empathy with the general feelings of those asking for your critique. I went to art school after 15 years experience as a practicing professional artist, in order to better understand this world of art, and to continue on the journey of becoming the best artist I can be. Glad to say after 3 years of working harder than I ever have before, I am content to understand a few things about myself. Following is the statement I wrote right after my last exam. On finishing my degree… Attaining my Bachelor of Visual Art has taught me so much — it is the hardest and the most worthwhile achievement of my life thus far. My suspicions have been confirmed that very often, artistic critical success is not about the work itself, but a political outcome more about the artist as celebrity and the critics who write about the art. I choose to locate my practice in a more honest world where the work stands alone, truthfully proclaiming its values to the viewer. After three years of immersion, I understand what to resist and what to embrace in order to pursue my best, most authentic self. The world I previously inhabited no longer fulfills me, a world where beauty was enough, and salability was everything. Not for me, the world of contemporary art where an unmade bed or a turd on a stool are exalted. Not for me, a place where technical skill is sneeringly dismissed in favour of laziness or ineptitude. Not for me, cool, detached, purely cerebral work that no-one outside the educated elite wants to live with. I have learned about, and am weary of, art that finds its entire expression in ironic placement. I am exhausted by art as a supremely cerebral in-joke calculated to guarantee the educated viewer their exalted position at the top of the ivory tower of post-post-modernism. My work is for the world — a visual journal of gratitude and celebration. It is art for life’s sake, and life for art’s sake. Art that ordinary people can love having in their homes, art which delights them, and me. I will make the art that I can make best, art that brings me to my knees and makes me shiver. I seek a visceral reaction resisting the “mind/body split”; sucker-punching me with such intensity that intellectual divisions between body and mind dissolve into the tissue of lies they have always been. So thank you, Queensland College of Art, for the intellectual rigour and the immersion in your world; for the theory, the philosophy and the growth. I am content with what I am, and with what I am not. I now understand the conundrum which is contemporary visual art, and am a better artist because of that understanding. I came to QCA in order to be the best artist I can be, and you have helped me immensely along that journey. The purpose of the nude, it is said, is to strip the artist naked. Over the last three years I have drawn hundreds of nudes as part of this process, and it has undoubtedly stripped me bare. My education now clothes me with the certainty that for much of the time the Emperor of the contemporary art world Ivory Tower and the Citadel of Spin does indeed have no clothes. Fortified, armed and dangerous, my journey continues. So excited I can hardly breathe! There are 7 comments for Not for me by De Gillett
From: Anna H. — Dec 27, 2012

Love your painting, love your words…

From: Andrew — Dec 28, 2012

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. You have tapped into a wellspring of pure knowledge (self and otherwise) that is astonishing. Inspired.

From: Anonymous — Dec 28, 2012

Well said Ann: lovely painting, lovely words. Maybe even more, yes more so.

From: Carol Noel — Dec 28, 2012

Beautifully written and on the mark. Thank you.

From: Kelly McCurdy — Dec 28, 2012

Took my breath away

From: Jan Ross — Dec 29, 2012

Thank you for speaking from your heart AND soul about the that which dedicated artists truly feel and enjoy about our passion…creating something out of materials with some skill, dedication and perpetual practice.

From: De Gillett — Dec 30, 2012

Thank you all! It is a fine thing indeed to be at this end of my studies, and to know that the journey continues with the support and insight from other artists informing my direction :)

  Santa, Baby by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA  

“Amaryllis triptych”
watercolor painting
by Brenda Behr

Hey, Santa Claus, I have no problem with your delivering your gifts online. Makes it difficult for me to leave cookies, but if you’ll send me the name of your favorite [cookie]and a shipping address, I’ll make sure you receive them. This is a promise. Thank you for another year of extraordinary biweekly gifts. No doubt, the artists to watch are the ones with fire in their bellies. They keep on an on, improving as they go. They are Energizer Bunnies who run not on batteries, but on passion. They can’t be stopped. I don’t think all the workshops, or classes, or what is called “God-given” talent can compete with the fuel we know as passion. Without passion, art is a song that can’t be sung. P.S. If this is one of Santa’s elves reading this, please tell him I’m serious about sending cookies. Enough for all of you. And Happy New Year! (Head Elf note) Thanks, Brenda, and others who wrote with similar requests. This year there was fudge, taffy, oatmeal cookies, Rice Crispy squares, cake, and an unidentifiable treacley substance that looked like the Alberta Oil Sands. Thank you so much. A few years ago I saw a beat up VW van in Alaska with the bumper sticker: “Will be President for Food.”   Online crits — are they available? by Adele Galgut, Cape Town, South Africa  

“Mother’s day”
original drawing
by Adele Galgut

May I really e-mail you a selection of my works for you to crit? Is that a real possibility or would that be too much? Hoping I’m “nice” and would be just dropping in for fun. (RG note) Thanks, Adele, and everyone who wrote with a similar question. By all means send along a few jpegs. I don’t guarantee I’ll get at them right away, but I will try to return with a short, meaningful crit.   There is 1 comment for Online crits — are they available? by Adele Galgut
From: Brigitte Nowak — Dec 28, 2012

By all means, get an online crit from Robert. He is a master painter, a professional, with extensive experience in jurying. But in my eyes, your work is definitely beyond “nice”: the attached image is gorgeous!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The problems of an online Claus

From: padmaja — Dec 24, 2012

Wow, what an eye opener! Thankfully, looking at the description, I am falling in to the second category, but honestly I had wanted to ask those questions long back, but realized that the focus should be on the journey and not the destination.Thanks for this post. Wishing you a Merry Christmas, look forward to more of your wonderful posts in the coming year!

From: ReneW — Dec 25, 2012

We all go down the same river of life; only in different boats. Thank you, Robert for this blog, past and we all hope future ones for years to come. Merry Christmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year.

From: Giuseppi Lalo — Dec 25, 2012

The problem is how to accept wise advice and still be your own man (person). Artists, being sensitive, fight this conumdrum. I think a small sprinkling of insensitivity and a philosophical outlook is of real value. Happy Christmas Robert and all the elves.

From: Christina — Dec 25, 2012

I am naughty.

From: Allan Figueras — Dec 25, 2012
From: Theresa Bayer — Dec 25, 2012

Merry Christmas! You are very kind and generous to play Santa to all of those naughty and nice artists. I’ve learned a lot from your letters and appreciate them greatly. Maybe I’ll “drop in just for fun” sometime too, although you’re dead on right about running one’s own sleigh. Must go groom the reindeer & clean the stables, now. Have a wonderful 2013 ~ may the Muse be with you! Austin TX USA

From: Marvin Humphrey — Dec 25, 2012

Indeed. There’s only one way to get to Carnegie Hall.

From: Catherine — Dec 26, 2012

Seasonal, amusing, succinct and true. Merci.

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 26, 2012

The online sage/Claus is always most helpful with his letters but the collective input from his many elves makes for a rich source of advice, perspective, and general information. My thanks and wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year to all ….

From: Anonymous — Dec 26, 2012

What about those with natural talent, what are they like?

From: Marilyn Johnson, CMP — Dec 26, 2012

I want to compliment you and thank you for your very thoughtful and substantive emails — with emphasis on both adjectives. Because I have grown to like and respect you through your missives, I am sending images by separate email of a few of my paintings, in case you want to tell me whether I am “naughty,” “nice, ” or something else! Best wishes for a wonderful and blessed New Year!

From: Eugene Kovacs — Dec 26, 2012

You are a talented person with a great value. As artists we are not appreciated in the 21st century. The old tradition is gone, as well as the family structure. On the other hand, we should be happy, we are still alive. Let’s forget the past and live in the present. Have a drink and carpe diem! I wish you happy holidays and a peaceful continuity in your art work.

From: Nick Small — Dec 26, 2012

Character is way ahead of natural talent and talent is only the propensity for hard work

From: Z. D. Fess — Dec 26, 2012

Still, it would be terribly useful to beginning artists to make contact with some of the more willing and available professionals on this site to get a quick crit or evaluation of current work. Please give some thought to setting something like this up.

From: Joann Keller — Dec 26, 2012

I just wanted to let you know how very much I enjoy the humor and wisdom in your letters! Your insight is so helpful and always shared with much grace and goodwill.

From: Edward — Dec 26, 2012

Week after week this remarkable letter comes into my inbox. It is always different, always stimulating, and I learn something every time. Thank you and Happy New Year to you and all the others who add true value by contributing your own thoughts. I sit amazed.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 27, 2012

The Painters Key has become, for many, the place for wisdom, knowledge and understanding, notwithstanding, the occasional controversial weapons topic. So it is understandable that – you – as it’s leader should be placed to a higher standard than the rest of us. As with all “hero’s”, many have been found to possess clay feet- present company excluded of course. Be that as it may, I have always felt giving advice benefited the giver more than the receiver. Add to which, all the advice I have given was rarely ever followed. So to everyone writing in, make your mistakes, blunder, have your heart broken and you will not only be stronger for it, you will be well on the way to being better artists. A merry Christmas to all and a happy and prosperous New Year.

From: Judy D — Dec 28, 2012

Thanks Robert! This letter (and all of your letters, for that matter) was inspiring. I quit asking for critiques of my art work summer 1993. I knew then I wasn’t a “real artist” by the critique I received. I promised to continue making art that I liked to make – regardless of the grade(s) I received. I decided to just keep doing art that pleases me (and never got a “B” for a graduate course again. For those who haven’t taken graduate work, a “B” is really more like a “C” – just so -so. At least that is what I was told by those who always got A’s). To be honest, my work was too “narrative” – and lacked composition skills. Well – shame on me for not learning all of my elements and principles of design to suit that teacher! However, I did learn one lesson very well… If my students found meaning in what they did and they liked what they made. “E’s and P’s” didn’t really matter. I wanted students to appreciate art. The world has so many “real artists” with art to sell. I have never asked Robert to critique my art. Robert found my art on his own. In recent years I haven’t had time to read Robert’s letters. Now I will not miss reading one. I have time now that I didn’t have for many years. Now I am just focusing on what is really important. Robert – I hope you don’t give up “teaching” artists to be great artists. Judy D. Lima Ohio

From: Bobbie Kilpatrick — Dec 28, 2012

Thank you for the twice weekly letters and your inspiring words of wisdom. Hope you have a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. The older I get I realize that good health is the best blessing we can receive. Looking forward to the letters of 2013. Happy New Year.

From: Julie Mayser — Dec 28, 2012

My sincere thanks, Robert, for your twice-weekly letters which at times amuse, enlighten, sympathize, and flood light into new (and old) situations in the lives of artists everywhere. Never boring… always thought-provoking! Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! J.Mayser

From: Mary Johnson — Dec 28, 2012

Heartfelt thank you for your wonderful letters. They are an inspiration for me and I appreciate so much your generosity. I have learned so much from you. All the best to you and your family in 2013 and beyond.

From: Nancy Latham — Dec 28, 2012

I will add my thanks to you, Robert, for your thoughtful and thought provoking letters I have enjoyed for the past year or so. May 2013 be another wonderful year for you and yours.

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watercolour painting, 30 x 22 inches by Patti Adams, New Orleans, LA, USA

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“house nisse”
original painting
by Aud Grete Mullaard

That includes Aud Grete Mullaard of Norway, who wrote, “I wish you and your family A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year with my paintings of my little Norwegian ‘house nisse.’ Thank you for all your twice-weekly letters.” (RG note) Thanks Aud Grete, and others who sent cards, e-cards and letters.            

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