While wandering around in Romania I inadvertently hit on some Wi-Fi and noticed what Ron Wilson had asked in the live comments: “I guess I know the answer to this, but do successful artists pretty well sell everything they paint?”
Thanks, Ron. 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.
by Regina Briskey
I am generally known for my animal art and have been doing Florida cattle ranching subjects for many years. I have found that if I take any other type of animal art to a show concerning cattle ranching, no one is interested in it. One would think paintings of animals that live in the same area on ranchland would be relevant to a show like this, but not so. This then, is tough on sales. Thank you for your positive comments on goat’s cheese, I’ve been raising dairy goats for about 30 years, and up until recently, it has gone unappreciated in the U.S.
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Keep on keeping on
by Reda Kay, Asheville, NC, USA
I am an artist (for only the past 15 years) and a member of a small, 28-person, art co-op Gallery in Asheville, NC. We have an opportunity every other year to be the “Artist of the Month” when we display our art work on the BIG wall and in the window as well as our regular 8′ x 8′ wall. The past two times I was AOM in 2004 and 2006, I sold at least six paintings from my show. This was very exciting and encouraging to me! However, this year (this month) I have not sold one painting! I keep telling myself it is the economy… but then I’m questioning my work as well. My art is primarily mixed media with some collage pieces mixed in. I’m hoping it’s the economy, but a little voice keeps saying otherwise. Your e-letter helped me to understand I should keep on painting regardless of selling. There’s always next month!
Keeping stuff around
by Jerry Conrad, WA, USA
I had, at one time, a lot of very sincere pottery students who just couldn’t bear to part with their works of art. I tried to explain to them two realities. One, you have to get rid of the stuff you do to make room for MORE STUFF you are going to do. Two, more seriously, you have to believe in yourself to the extent that you realize there is unlimited potential in you for growth and improvement and keeping a bunch of old stuff around can really drag you down unless it is truly seminal. Now, learning to make that judgment is a problem of another dimension — ah yes.
Just grateful for life
by Larry Moore, Orlando, FL, USA
That last letter begs the question, what is a successful artist? I sell a medium percentage of what I create and that combined with a few illustration jobs and workshops, is enough to get by… so far. And, may I just say, it’s a weird way to make a living, sometimes not seeing a check for months. I tell people that I work half of the year as a volunteer. When I’m in the field and someone says, “Is that your profession or is it a hobby?” I always tell them that it’s the profession that pays like a hobby (with the inflexion on pays!!!).
And then a gallery will send a check or two and it’s all good. Every time I’m in the field painting or traveling to a new spot to paint, participating in a painting event with people I admire, I am so grateful for my life. It’s been my dream since I was a kid and I have the privilege of living it. That’s success to me. Though a 2000 sq ft studio with vaulted ceilings would be nice… maybe a house in Hawaii.
Gallery owner discovers process
by Sharon Cory, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been working like an idiot for months now, not just on painting but on building a “successful” gallery that represents some terrific artists. I’ve never sold so many paintings and some of the artists are starting to get repeat buyers. So we’re all “successful,” or going to be. But I’m so tired and worn out. I drag my butt out of bed every day, put the coffee on and wonder what new bill will come to deplete my chequing account. I clean up the “surprise” my dog has left me in the basement, a routine she got into when I decided I had to be at work every day. I get myself to the gallery and deal with the latest closet artist who wants to give up his/her job and do what I do. Or the aging Boomer who has just retired and is sure that the world has been waiting for him/her to find the creative spirit. But your column came today and I laughed. In almost every way you epitomize the “successful” artist of this generation and yet you are still humble enough to poke holes in the balloon. You reminded me that I’m in it for the “process” and success lies in the next finished painting, no matter where it ends up.
Stick to internal vision
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA
In the art world, success is a difficult concept to measure, especially if you equate success with income and reputation as in most walks of life. Yes, there are the people who can make a living at it, or even the rare few who make a fortune at it! This does not always directly correspond to talent or genius. The artist has to resign him or herself to perhaps only rarely receiving outside approval in the form of money and honors, and continue true to their internal vision. Or else chuck it all in and go to Law School!
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No interest in success or money
by Roland Ford, Baltimore MD, USA
A true artist, a priest who continues with the life of creation and love of creation, will not let even poverty stand in his way. I have the unique situation where I don’t have to sell my work to live as an artist. I get a modest pension that keeps me from year to year and that’s all I require. As for the life of an artist I get by very well. However, I don’t know how successful I am because that degree doesn’t matter to one who isn’t interested in success or money. When I sell a painting or am commissioned to do a work I only ask that the patron write the check out to my Orthodox Church. The gift of art was given to me for a reason which is known only between myself and God. He has given me everything I need to continue with this gift and this is my way in thanking Him for that gift.
The kind of art my fellow Baltimorian Frank Zappa is talking about is not for the immortals, it is for the fly by night artists who, though talented, cheapens their art with the measure of monetary gain. The result? When they die, eventually their art will die out as well.
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Can one be self-taught?
by Mark Anthony, Nathalie, VA, USA
My father always used to say, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Unfortunately, that isn’t always true. When I decided 3 years ago to become a full time artist, I found that I started doing portrait commissions, murals, hell even painted furniture in order to pay the bills. The limitations were I was always painting someone else’s vision, so I never took the time to nurture my own style. Now, I have been getting offers to do one-man shows (well one-woman shows — my name is Mark but I’m a girl) and I find I don’t have enough of my own work to display, because most have been commissions. I also have been facing my own inner demons of finding my path in art, instead of relying on reference that someone gives me. In contrast I am sure through diligence I will get there, but your latest post got me to thinking what success might be to me.
I could paint something I enjoy (that came from my head) and be able to fill a gallery and sell enough to pay my light bill and buy a little supplies in order to do another, I would be fulfilled. My question to you, Robert: Is it feasible to believe that I can achieve this by being self-taught? Will I ever be accepted in the gallery world without the extensive education to back me up?
(RG note) Thanks, Mark. No one ever walked into an art gallery and said, “Do you have any work by someone with an extensive education?” Education in our business means self-education. It takes sweat, character and no little bit of sacrifice. I know lots of fine artists who have done it on their own.
Who’s having any fun?
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
There is something about our inner voice, tapping into our creative and quietly going about expressing ourselves. Once an artist starts to sell their work is when it can really go haywire. Galleries step in, and let’s face it, they can be two steps below the used car salesman. They claim to have orders for previous works that an artist is no longer doing. Often they will dictate what an artist will paint based on what they know they can sell. I wonder about artists I admire where there is apparently up to a two year waiting list to get one of their pieces. Who is having any fun at that point?
Romanian art scene
by Laurentiu Bontea, Transylvania, Romania
You have to look hard to find good Romanian art. And this is normal, partly because it’s something that falls automatically under the law of probabilities. The chances are that a small country will yield a smaller number of exceptional people than a larger one.
The traditional art in Romania had its peak about a hundred years ago when Grigorescu, Andreescu, Brancusi, Luchian, Baba and others were very well known in Europe. Then, the communism obstructed almost any form of free expression, interfering with the natural evolution of the Romanian art scene. It stripped off its identity and replaced it with soviet characteristics. There are almost 20 years since the revolution and artists are still recovering slowly by patching their holes with borrowed styles, mostly from the Western trendsetters.
This is why I can hardly feel any Romanian specific art reminiscent in the artists that I see around. It’s all international. The Internet mixes everything. My “traditional” education at the University of Art in Cluj-Napoca consisted mostly in staying late on the Web at school studying the Western artists I liked.
With graduation breathing on the back of my neck, the idea of making a living out of my scribbles started to worry me because I knew that art was selling very cheap, if at all. Seeing the Romanian art marketplace crawling I decided to choose a different path. Being broke, the idea of not having to pay for the materials sounded very good, so I decided to paint digitally. At that moment I contacted a small company that was selling paintings made by art students on eBay for a huge fee. It was unacceptable. I had to make three paintings so I can afford a $30 cheap tablet. But I was so happy that all I was breathing was enthusiasm.
Soon, after a bit of practice I saw myself freelancing overseas, working with small companies from the gaming industry; and now, I’m preparing my portfolio for a job as a concept artist — creating fantastic characters and environments is part of my childhood dreams. Obviously it was the hand of the Western culture that managed to infiltrate my small hometown here in Transylvania.
In a world which demands for narrowly specialized jobs and at the same time offers unlimited choices and possibilities, I dream of fulfilling and enjoying every curiosity I have. I enjoy almost every form of artistic expression: creating music, oil painting, sculpting, taking photographs etc., but all of these look to me like a rainbow-colored bubble that cannot burst within survivalism. Creativity and quality work are directly linked to the level of mind relaxation and it’s hard to achieve that while starving.
Romania is an absolutely fantastic country, but even if I was born here, I feel like going home anywhere I find people that share common sense and use logic, creativity and joy to find their way in life.
How to sign a diptych?
by Edward Vincent, Sydney, Australia
Can you advise the way a diptych is signed by the artist, if it’s intended that the pieces may be sold individually? Sign one only, sign both (looks silly if they’re bought as a pair.)…..?? Your advice would indeed be appreciated, thank you.
(RG note) Thanks, Ed. I believe in signing every unit. To avoid the goofy repetition look, understate the signatures or hide them in some obscure place, foliage, etc. Nothing worse than an orphan tych of a diptych or a triptych that wanders the world unknown.
‘Double award’ jurying
by Verena Heroux, Newport, NC, USA
My friends and myself entered a big art show and it’s an annual event and usually receives between 450 to 650 entries. Out of the four of us only one received an Honorable Mention. When I went to pick up our declines I looked at the chosen show and noticed at least three paintings were awarded two awards. I haven’t heard of this before and people I’ve talked to have said this must be a mistake. For example, the person who received Best in Show also received a First Place and another artist received a really nice Memorial Award and an Honorable Mention for the same piece (there were fifty pieces picked for the show). I don’t understand the thinking in this. It doesn’t make sense to me. Best in Show says it all — you can’t get any better. To be awarded also a first, a lesser award, doesn’t make sense. My question is, is this common practice?
(RG note) Thanks, Verena. I have a slight recollection something like that may have happened in a show I helped jury where we were desperate, but it’s certainly not common practice in my neck of the woods. I’m a believer in “one work — one reward,” and a surfeit of available rewards should be withheld when the jury thinks the slate doesn’t deserve them.
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Rights to collectors’ names
by Linda Hobley, Calgary, AB, Canada
I have been painting professionally since the early ’90s, and have been represented over the years by several galleries. I recently ended a 10 year relationship with a well known gallery. This gallery sold over 50 of my paintings since 1998. Since I am no longer represented by this gallery, are they under any obligation to provide me with the names of the owners of my work? I know this is a sensitive topic, as client lists are not generally shared with the artists, but as the artist, do I not have a right to know who has collected my work? What if the gallery were to go out of business, which has happened with two of the galleries I have been with, should this information then be made available to the artists if they requested it? Do I even have a right to ask the gallery for this information?
(RG note) Thanks, Linda. Galleries don’t really have a legal obligation to tell you who their customers are. If you left the gallery on good terms and they continue to wish you well in your career, and they are nice about it, they may pass this valuable information on to you. It won’t hurt to ask. Try to think of a way it might be beneficial to them. We don’t always get what we think we deserve, but we often get what we negotiate.
Enjoy the past comments below for What success?…
African Family Love
mixed media 22 x 22 inches
Jaxine Cummins, Arizona, 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 Andrea Sinclair of Melbourne, Australia, who wrote, “I long to get to Romania one day. My family emigrated to Canada from Constanta and Alba in 1902, at the time to the vast Canadian prairie of Saskatchewan. I don’t think Romania has changed much since then and I really hope I get to see it in person before modern life creeps in.”
And also Susie O’Brien who wrote, “I’ve been so lucky for 20 years… hardly any inventory… but art is changing and the economy is killing art… so I shall have to move on and think of new ways to sell my wares.”
And also Fulvia Luciano who wrote, “As for the girl, the goat, the cheese, the laptop and you — it is all a matter of priorities, nothing more, nothing less.”