While wandering around in Romania, a question came into the inbox: “I guess I know the answer to this, but do successful artists pretty well sell everything they paint?”
I can’t attest for all artists, but in my case it’s a low percentage that sell quickly. My work is too erratic and varying. Also, as a lot of what I do is based on experiencing life and experimentation, all works aren’t “ships of the line,” and collector whiz-bangs.
On the other hand, I’ve known a few artists whose every work seems to be always spoken for or eagerly anticipated. One was Hugh Monaghan. He was essentially a painter of ducks coming in for a landing. He told me several times that he didn’t like painting very much, but I have to say he was darned good at it. Hugh was passionate about hunting, fishing and hanging out with his buddies. When Hugh passed away his estate consisted of one half-finished painting. He lived from easel to dealer to mouth.
It all has to do with perspective. A lot of us didn’t get into art to make money, but we grew fond of the position. By keeping at it we built a reasonable following. The advent of cash flow further propelled the creative hand and gave permission to the exploratory nose. Many artists see selling as part of the art, and I guess I’m one of them. “Art,” said Frank Zappa, “is making something out of nothing and selling it.” If a decent percentage of work eventually finds a home, you can live on it.
Art might be a tangible “thing,” but it’s also a process. It’s been my experience that you need to get the process more or less right and the other stuff sort of takes care of itself. My approach might be called the “shot gun effect.” Because I enjoy the process, I make a lot of art. When works are finished I try to make a small commercial decision as to where I might send it. I’ve taken a lifetime to build a stable of trusted dealers. Sometimes they groan when they see my stuff come in, even though I thought it was a good idea at the time. If the work doesn’t find a home in one gallery, we’ll eventually get it back and send it to another. Sometimes it ends up in my personal archives, and that’s not bad either.
PS: “The best things in life aren’t things.” (Art Buchwald)
Esoterica: I’m writing this from beside a country pond near Constanta, Romania. Ducks are coming in for a landing. A few yards away there’s a young girl wearing a black and red skirt and a button vest. She’s tending a goat. I’m wondering why she isn’t in school. From her perspective I’m a sorry sight — tapping from time to time on a laptop while dabbing at a little canvas that includes a wide Romanian sky and a distant Orthodox Church. I can tell by the look on her face that she thinks I’m a loser. Maybe she’s right. Unlike the goat cheese around here, I’ll probably never sell this thing.
This letter was originally published as “What success?” on October 28, 2008.
“Action is the foundational key to success.” (Pablo Picasso)
This workshop/retreat will be ideal for artists who are serious about improving their painting skills, but who also enjoy great food, terrific accommodations and a bit of adventure. The instructor has many years of experience in both teaching and painting and is dedicated to passing along her knowledge to those who are eager to learn. Small class size will insure individual attention. We will be working from life and previous experience mixing color will be necessary.
Casa Buena Art Retreat, between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, is a calm and beautiful place to relax and explore your creative energy. Please check out their website for photos and detailed information about this exciting opportunity http://www.casabuenaartretreat.com/Retreat_LauraRobb.htm Non-painting travel companions are welcome too.
For more information on the instructor or to contact her, please visit http://LauraRobb.com