When an artist has a reasonably large stable of dealers there’s the capability of picking up the scuttlebutt of what’s moving. Some creative people, serious artists and casual painters alike, stay actively tuned to these trends, hoping to cash in. Others march onward in their self-anointed solitudes. They have “principles.”
In good economic times, such as now, buyers tend to take more risks. They buy things on a whim, on first impression rather than considered judgement, almost with careless abandon, with the feeling, like we artists have, that it’s okay to be childlike. Often, borderline taste, shock and even crudity can be a plus. Big, colorful, often juicy, not necessarily compositionally sound pieces are currently being snapped up in many countries. Decorators have led the way, and some credit can be given to bold splashes in dot-com and movie-star homes on TV and in slick magazines.
What’s the artist going to make of all of this? That depends on the artist. When integrity overrides cash flow and the artist can afford to work to his or her personal standards, a long-term pride and a feeling of growth becomes worth more than the passing click of the Visa.
One of the conditions I’ve noticed is the cyclical nature of buying. It’s almost as if each generation doesn’t want the same things on their walls. Dad and Mom’s art, when inherited, is assigned to the rumpus room. This is not true for all cultures, but it’s a factor in the self-made individualism and upward mobility of North America. Keep in mind that today’s fashion might be tomorrow’s kitsch.
PS: “Fashion is made to become unfashionable.” (Coco Chanel)
Esoterica: What’s hot and what’s not. Little pastel landscapes are out. Big figurative gooeyducks are in. Lurking wolves, hanging flesh, drooling dogs have had their day. Close-ups of flower parts and bruised fruit are okay. The moose is passe. Hold your breath for a moment and this too will change.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
I am my own trend
by Raymond Yip
I pay no attention to trends. I am my own trend. Some years are better than others. Several years ago I had a bonanza year (income wise) and it was because what I am doing became trendy.
by Jackson Williams, Tampa, FL, USA
It depends on whether you want to be seen as an artist with integrity or not. I stick to integrity but I see there is a vacuum right now for what I call “wall fillers.” These are needed for the big modern houses now being built. Price is a factor in wall fillers — they need to be reasonably priced if they are not by a recognized name.
by Elle Fagan, Vernon/Rockville, CT, USA
I’m in the middle of writing a book. My denmother lifestyle turned into one of those midlife odysseys. “You know you are having an adventure when you are terrified when it is happening, but it is fun to talk about later.” (Dolly Levi, “The Matchmaker”)
Can’t retire from your soul
by Harry Booker, London, Ontario, Canada
When I moved to Canada, some fifteen years ago, I quickly learned to work in watercolor (excuse me, “watercolour”) because there was virtually no market for oils in the London area. Watercolor and representational land and seascapes were in and that’s what I did. Was I right to change? Fortunately, in this case, I found a love for the new medium (at least “new” to me) and haven’t looked back. A major swing like this for an artist, if he can handle the change in medium or style, can be liberating as well as adventurous. But chasing the whims of the buying public can be a disaster. Right now it appears landscapes and “pretty,” representational art is out. It’s not selling like it did even a year ago. So I faced the decision of “should I change my style or medium?” What is selling here, now, is, as you pointed out, the large, splashy and brightly colored oils. “Couch paintings” for the well heeled. “The colors simply must match my drapes!” But I don’t paint abstractly or even semi-abstractly. I paint what I paint. My gallery owner says, “Don’t change. What you paint has been selling very well for several years and it will come around again. It always does. Next year I may not be able to give away what’s selling today.” She’s right. I’ve always taught my students that one should find what works for them with brush and paper. Don’t try and force something from your brush that isn’t there. You may be able to produce an image, a composition, a full-sheet painting, which might even sell to someone because it matches their drapes. But, if a piece of your heart and soul isn’t in that painting then it’s not truly work of yours and might as well just be another print. You’re wallet and bank manager might be a little happier, but is your soul, your inner artist, glowing a bit brighter? My birthday is today, I’m now 64, one year away from retirement. Hah! You can retire from your work, your art, but you can’t retire from your soul, your inner self. Art shouldn’t be a job, it should be a compulsion, a drive for creativity, and the only valid judge of that creativity is yourself. All the rest is simply P.R. and marketing.
by J. W. Peterson
I’m in my twenties — just finished art school and I need cash flow. I don’t know whether my stuff is trendy, but I can see development in the way I am going during the next year or so. I need a dealer or two and I need luck with the God of Trends.
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
I know no serious artists who are influenced, when choosing subject matter, by what might be trendy in the marketplace. The market is a fickle mistress and in order for the work to endure over the long haul or in the best cases, advance the artistic language, there must be integrity that comes from deep connection with a compelling subject. In better work, the subject has chosen the artist, and did so long ago. Holly Soloman says, “It’s real art if you have no choice but to do it.” I hope she’s right, because I have no choice and that applies to subject as well.
Let it go
by Linda Armstrong, Grand Junction, Colorado, USA
This has always been true in every field of art. Even Tennyson outlived his acceptance. My spiritual teacher, Mata G said, “You can work, but let it go.” Actually I’m glad to hear about bright colors because that’s what I do! Too many capable pieces of art could have been done by any capable painter because they follow the rules and are judged by those rules. They are, um, all pretty much alike.
Finding the lost city
As an artist I feel that I am always travelling through a strange country, and to pay attention to the fashions of the day would be like filling the car with chattering passengers. Help or hinder? Maybe I would get directions, but I might not find the lost city.
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