Dear Artist,

In this remote cabin the cellphone never vibrates and my only companion is a solitary cabin-mouse on a regular route, checking and rechecking points of interest, sometimes deviating off the track to inquire of something new. While painting, I’m reflecting on the crazy parallel universe of art dealing and art speculation. What has my daily plodding got to do with what happens to the stuff I make?


“The Billionaire’s Vinegar”
by Benjamin Wallace

These thoughts have been stimulated by a book I brought with me. The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace seems to be a metaphor for art’s secondary market — art aficionados, collectors, speculators, dealers and the fine-art auction business in particular. The book is about the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold — a 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux, supposedly once the property of Thomas Jefferson when he was a young ambassador in Paris. Found bricked-up in a Paris cellar by a shady German wine merchant and collector, it was sold at Christie’s in London in 1985 for $156,000.00.

Like a lot of high-priced art, the bottle is essentially undrinkable.

A few bottles are actually worth opening. Well-heeled, big buck guys get together for annual “tastings.” Some tastings are called “horizontals” — all the wines available from different Chateaux from a certain year. Others are “verticals” — all the wine from a single vineyard for a series of years — say 1804 to 1927. Yep, sets of these old wines can be assembled by attending auctions and hanging out in the right cellars. In the expensive process of assembling, and the snobbish business of claiming the better palate, a kind of divine madness overtakes these guys, setting the ground for all sorts of tomfoolery and fakery. Bottles are topped up with younger wines and whole new antique vintages are concocted in found empties.

All this has nothing much to do with the wineries. Like artists, the vintners tend to their grapes, protect them from pestilence, oversee timely harvests, take care with pressing and bottling and send them out into the world hoping to make an honest buck. Then, depending on rarity, provenance and perceived quality, the speculation boys take over. Sometimes it takes a hundred years for all the stars to line up. But they do. Plonk or not, it takes these passionate characters to make things happen.

Best regards,


PS: “You can almost taste the wine that turns so many rational people into madmen.” (Buzz Bussinger)

Esoterica: In the wine game, most of the tasters spit. Otherwise they’d be drunk as skunks. In the art game, obsolescence isn’t as instantaneous. It takes time for art to win palates, and time to devalue as well. While it’s okay to think ahead to tomorrow’s tastes, and prepare as best you can if you must, the artist’s job is to live in the now and to simply strive for maximum quality as he or she sees fit. Somehow the best lesson right now is the dedication and persistence of that mouse. I’m thinking he has a rather nice life in spite of all the traps that lie ahead.


Having a vinegar day
by TJ Miles, Spain


“Hip raised nude”
charcoal on paper, 8 x 16 inches
by TJ Miles

As you say, the normal average everyday artist just gets on with the business in hand (or foot, or mouth) and creates what we hope will, at the very least sell, and at the very most be regarded someday as worthy of the dealer’s and, ultimately, the public’s palates. It continues to be a struggle to tend the vines of creativity, it continues to be a struggle to weed out all the parasitical doubts that attack our work and our confidence constantly, it continues to be a struggle to bottle and label ourselves in such a way that we can become a marketable commodity, it continues to be a struggle. Or maybe I’m just having a vinegar day?


Choosing a reference point
by Bill Skuce, Sooke, BC, Canada


original painting
by Bill Skuce

If I imagine I am lost in the desert and I find something, like a big stone, I now know that wherever I go, whichever direction I take, I have a reference point. I know where I am in relation to the thing I have found. Without a reference point I remain lost. For this reason it is important for me, as an artist, to choose a reference point. Should I choose what is in fashion? Or what is bad? Or what is less than the best? Or don’t the classics remain the obvious choice? Whether in music, architecture, literature, dance, sculpture or painting, choosing the classics as a reference point enables me to know where I stand in relation to the best. And so I choose.




Painful pondering
by Toni Ciserella, Marysvale, UT, USA

Living in the here and now is good advice for us artists, as we really have no control over outcomes. No matter how well planned, how earnest our intentions are, how directed our thoughts to be, there is no guarantee of success. Speculating is the latest buzzword in today’s financial market; it’s the trend that is making millionaires daily but it is still no more than a guess, a calculated one, no doubt, but for me the variables are too wide and many.

I reflect and ponder throughout the entire painting experience and at times do wonder about the secondary market, but I cannot let that influence my work. It hurts my heart to think that man has still not figured out that art’s purpose is not meant to make one rich monetarily. In its purity, I believe art is the manifestation of the soul. I know that is idealistic and unfortunately (for me) smacks of sour grapes.


Creator’s Passion
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA


“Roth’s Pond”
oil painting 9 x 12 inches
by Coulter Watt

Like all fine things man made, the key is, “…it takes these passionate characters to make things happen.” That applies to every profession if excellence is to be achieved. Recognition of those achievements may take decades, so for the passionate creator belief in one’s self is paramount if their work isn’t an immediate commercial success, such as Van Gogh.




Reactions of travelers to local art
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA


original painting
by Diane Overmyer

As an art dealer, I see all kinds of people come into my gallery. It is fun to hear people deep in conversation about some aspect of a certain artist’s work. While perceived value is definitely a factor in some sales, in many others it is the emotional connection that different people have with different artists. It never ceases to amaze me at the difference between traveler’s reactions to the art and those who follow the art world, here in my part of the country. Travelers, who don’t know the names of our regional artists, will often pick out several favorite artists, appreciating the talents of emerging or lesser known artists equally as well as those artists who are really relatively famous. People from the area who know the art world here, however, seldom make the same kind of comparison.


Clientele druthers
by Dianne Mize, Clarkesville, GA, USA


“Sautee Creek, Late Fall”
watercolor painting
12 x 18 inches
by Dianne Mize

I have spent entirely too many hours of my life’s history worrying about my artist friends whose work is guided by the druthers of their clientele. I watched one dear buddy sell away his copyright to the best work he’d ever done in his life simply because it didn’t fit into his self-created style and theme, the one that caught the market’s attention, the one he couldn’t let go of because it had made him a local legend.

Your mouse is not a bad metaphor, not at all. I wonder what the art world would be like today if all artists would have taken the attitude, “The artist’s job is to live in the now and to simply strive for maximum quality as he or she sees fit.”




Making a difference
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


“Navy Pride”
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Brad Greek

I often wonder if all artist think as I do, “Is what I’m doing today going to make a difference in tomorrow’s art scene?” Some people that I talk to only care about making the buck today and don’t care about tomorrow. I try to reflect my life experiences into some of my works. By thinking that, that is the only unique aspect of my art that can be different from others. But will that be enough? I believe that the artist has to do more than just create to make a stand in today’s art world.




Seasonal ecstasy
by Ginny Stiles, Leesburg, FL, USA


watercolor painting, 23 x 10 inches
by Ginny Stiles

I am smiling over the wine-tasting thoughts at the remote cabin. I am also in a remote cabin — painting among the pines and loon calls of northern Wisconsin. Here, just after the solstice. Wild summer daisies have opened up in the bits of sunshine that filter through the pines and birches. The artist in me responds to illumination, seasonal ecstasy, and the allure of living in the “now.” And like the daisies whose brief life happens because of being in the right place at the right time — I paint with abandon.


Another resume unrevealing
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA


“Gathering II”
acrylic painting, 20 x 20 inches
by Helen Zapata

I’ve spent the past 36 hours plunged into a deep depression. Two days ago, I was informed by my gallery owner that I needed a new resume for my upcoming show. While on the phone I assured him that it would be no problem but then I gathered up my old resumes and looked them over. Then I realized that there were huge banks of time, years even, in which there didn’t seem to be much happening. I was a little surprised, but in thinking back, I remember that those were years in which I was painting hard, and selling harder. I was doing it on my own during those years, without benefit of dealers, galleries, or shows. I sold everything I painted. I was doing well. But on paper, it looks terrible! To those art aficionados, it looks like I was sitting around watching daytime soap operas. I don’t want to write another resume. Instead of spending money on getting yet another resume printed so they have “something to hand out” to the people who express interest in my work during the show, I’d rather spend the money on paint and canvas. I have to decide if I’m going to make my “wine tasters” happy or if I’m just going to go “tend my vines.” I do like digging in the dirt.


Zen thoughts
by Ani Rose Whaleswan, Colorado Springs, CO, USA


“Four cocoons and flowers”
acrylic painting, 12 x 14 inches
by Ani Rose Whaleswan

Our job as artists is to do it fully, as present as we can be to the process at the time, to know when we are done with our work and to let it go. Recently I was sitting on my own back porch and in high Zen fashion forming one after another of small tea bowls out of Raku clay. Every single little pinch of clay, rolled into a ball, formed into a cup and smoother was essentially the same — at first. But then, each one required its own perfection. I just had to keep working on one at a time until, “I was happy.” They all lined up and all was right with the world. But now, they all looked different from the other. Each one its own. And my next job was to let them be, let them go; watch what the Fire would do to them, uniquely. I know when I am finished and I have put all into it that I can. After that, it has a life of its own. People will see different things, for very different reasons. Maybe it will fall off the wall behind a piano and be forgotten. I accept this. I let it go freely. I have done my part, as fully as I could at the time. I think those who analyze and decide have their own worlds to worry about, and it has little or nothing to do with my experience as the artist. Let them drink wine!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Reflection



From: Ralph — Jun 24, 2008

Just a wealth of needed information and advice.

Thank you for sharing.

From: Sandra Chantry — Jun 26, 2008

The ‘Emperors New Clothes’ was the first thing that sprung to mind as I read this piece… what is it about our human nature that allows us to get trapped over and over again?

From: Andrew — Jun 27, 2008
From: Bunny — Jun 27, 2008

I prefer to enjoy my wine and others as well….

I think about a mental image I have of a commissioned work I did for a gentlemen of his favorite television program, from a newspaper clipping (the show is called “Lost” — I’ve never seen it). The image I keep as I glanced back at him as I left, is of him sitting on his sofa, the new painting placed on his mantle, and his look of enjoyment.

From: Erin — Jun 27, 2008

Robert, that was a particularly excellent and lyrical essay. Thank you very much.

From: Steven — Jul 01, 2008

This Clickback seems an artist’s lament of the burden of marketing and its conflict with the ethical integrity of creativity. Something happened toward the end of the Abstract Expressionist movement that seemed to be a deathblow to the integrity of the creative process that moved it from the notion of HIGH Art toward something more like self promotion. Maybe Warhol was the catalyst and the Internet the vehicle. Simply put, modern art marketing has sucked the creative life out of art. When it is said that painting has reached a dead end, it could be better said that it has crashed up against an obstacle – marketing.

If you were to take the life of Van Gogh and write it up in the form of a factual resume, there would be nothing of great importance as an artist – no sales, no one man shows, no important exhibitions, no major gallery representations, nothing but a painter living a dismal life. It’s only when you stand before his work that you understand the glorious accomplishment of the artist. In his day he was a marketer’s nightmare. But, look at the legacy!

Look at where we are today with art marketing: Artists clamoring to produce the ultimate piece that catches the eye of a public accustomed to instant gratification; Knock offs by near-slave labor from China that have to steal creativity in order to provide the customer with the illusion of fine art; designating artwork as a “commodity”. Marketing doesn’t care anything about the personal motivation of the artist – only the monetary return (s)he achieves. What measure of creative integrity is THAT?

There’s no way around it – only to wait for the 2012 black-hole, Earth-crust- shifting, pole-realignment thing. Start all over again with cave art.

From: Henry Miner — Jul 01, 2008

It’s all got to do with perceived values. For a time now, the “sophisticated” world has talked itself into enthusing over all kinds of junk. One only needs to look at the lives of the less fortunate in second world countries to see just how ridiculously effete and beside the point it all is. The big buck boys would do everyone a favor by giving to a decent charity rather than indulging themselves with lightweight collectables — wine or art.

From: Mary F — Jul 01, 2008

People have got the right to indulge themselves in anything their pocketbooks can afford. What does it matter if they are ill informed and look stupid?

From: Toni C. — Jul 02, 2008

What does it matter if the filthy rich are ignorant and stupid? It is that kind of thinking that is creating the widening chasm between the have’s and the have not’s. What does it matter what they spend their money on to feed their gluttonous appetite? What does it matter if they indulge themselves in their every want and desire? Wake up. When people ignorantly believe that what is happening outside their little world in no way affects them- they cut themselves off from humanity and in turn from themselves.

I agree with Stephen’s comment above- “Marketing doesn’t care anything about the personal motivation of the artist – only the monetary return (s)he achieves. What measure of creative integrity is THAT?”

I’m looking forward to 2012 and if you aren’t aware of your surroundings, you just might fall into that black hole.

From: John Ferrie — Jul 11, 2008

I take great exception to the world of art being on the same parallel as the Snooty Van Snoot world of Wine. Fine or swill, simply put wine is a drug.

While it is often made, promoted and reviewed like it is something to achieve the taste buds of people who claim to know better.

The fact that wine becomes undrinkable once it reaches the $100,000 and is often vinegar is really off putting.

Paintings are exquisite and hang in museums and evoke emotion, passion and feelings that often people cannot describe.

While paintings are subject to critiques and reviews like wine is, they do not turn sour, are not better with age and they rarely grow mold.

Having been a waiter for decades, and most artists have to do something like that, I have worked with a few Sommeliers.

Most will tell you that no wine over $500.00 is worth ordering. And very few could even tell the difference if a wine was priced over $1000.00!

I guess the thing that bothers me the most is that you can legally drive home from a gallery or museum no matter how many paintings you have looked at.

I doubt you would get off from a DUI by telling them the wine you have drunk too much of was really really expensive.

From: Kathleen — Jul 14, 2008

Chuckles.. and laughter.. Oh this was so very delightful – taking me from the mouse .. to reflecting on art and fine wines. What a delightful story. It provided tonic for this artists evening~~~ Thanks for doing what you do!






Beach Sunrise

23kt gold leaf, 8 x 10 inches
oil and encaustic painting
by Michelle Philip, CO, USA


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 Bill F of Elgin, IL, USA who wrote, “Just live life diligently in the moment and things will fall into place, or not.”

And also Sabina Evarts of Shelburne, VT, USA who wrote, “I think he’s got cabin fever…”

And also Suzanne Joubert of Montreal, QC, Canada who wrote, “I love this letter Robert, it consoles the mouse in me!”




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