An Interview With Paul Volker
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
My earliest memories of drawing was with pencil on the metalic sides of the large gas furnace in our basement. I think I was about three years old, and it was a picture of a man with a cigar in his mouth. My parents used to bring home reams of scrap office paper that was still blank on one side, and I would sit on the floor and draw. In junior high school, drawing naughty cartoons for bullies so that they wouldn't beat me up. That's when I learned about art as a tool for survival.
I studied art and film making for three years at The Ohio State University, then I left. I was already busy during that time doing signs, designing posters & other stuff for publication and ads for local businesses.
I drew cartoons for many years. I did lots and lots of free cartoony things, ads & posters for many community organizations and through all of that free work I became very well known, and that "fame" later served as the foundation for developing recognition locally as a painter. My focus is fine art, but over the years, commercial art and design helped put food in the fridge, when I had a fridge.
In college I had no money for art supplies, so I would scavange the lockers in the arts buildings when the term had ended, the students had gone home, and had abandoned their art supplies. There were lots of kids who needed an easy class credit -so they took painting 101 or something- and their parents would buy them all this great stuff and they would just leave it there. I would haul giant garbage bags home full of paints, sketch pads, metal rulers and an assortment of junk like wire, sponges, sandpaper, and other things that the janitor would have just thrown into the dumpster.
In my first painting class I just went wild painting. The other students were so rigid, and worried about whether or not they would get an "A". I rememeber telling one girl, "If you want an "A", why don't you just paint a big "A"? I think a big mistake is not really understanding what art classes give you. First of all, what you you get out of it depends on what you bring to it from a totally creative part of your brain. This may be different from other disciplines. You have to be thinking creatively already, before you even go in.
The problem is, if art school doesn't teach you art business, you won't get a full education. All that will happen is you will be pooped out of the school's rear end and suddenly find yourself standing there with a thousand other art school graduates that got pooped out of other art schools (and a thousand from the year before that, and another thousand from the year before that) and mostly what they have acquired is some technical skill, or some kid of academic validation, that and that's all. But originalitry is rare, and I am not sure how a school goes about teaching that.
WHEN DID YOU MOVE
FROM CARTOONING TO PAINTING?
Well, my paintings are very cartoonish. As a kid I drew a lot, but in elementary school I hated painting. I really hated it because there didn’t seem to be any control over the brush or the paint, and it was messy and it took time to dry. So, the transition really took place as I began to have more control over the medium. In my late teens I was doing a lot of drawing, filling up sketchbooks with weird little cartoons. In college I took a painting class, using acryllics. I did this one large picture, with really loose brushwork. It was very good. Lively. The teaching assistant who collected everybody’s work to grade lost all of my work , and I got a rather low grade as a result, but I didn't care. The important thing at that moment was that I had paint! A few years later I did a large mural for the store, Trade Winds. That was done in exterior acryllic house paints. I started mixing the left over house paints with my "art supply store" acryllics and now I just use house paints.
I think that what has kept me working more as a painter rather than as a cartoonist or illustrator (although I still do that sometimes) is that I am more influenced by the works of painters more than that of cartoonists. Of course, there are a lot of pen & ink artists whose work I love, and Robert Crumb influenced me in that rgard, and I still draw a lot, but I find I can really do a lot more with paint. Still, in my painting I use what I have developed through drawing.
Another aspect of this transition has to do with the business of art. People won’t pay much for a drawing as they will for a painting. Generally, you have to sell cartoons and illustrations to magazines for publication. That means your customer is a magazine editor. But, since most people are not magazine editors, that is in fact avery limited market for one's work. So, sometimes you have to consider what it is that people will want to buy. The price for a cheap painting is the same as the price for an expensive drawing. And a framed drawing must be done on acid-free paper in ink that will never fade, and so on.
Now, suppose it takes me 30 minutes to draw a cartoon, and a magazine pays me $100 for it. That’s not bad, and a lot of people will see it when it is published. But I can only draw and sell that cartoon one time. A cartoonist can’t sell the same exact cartoon to different magazines. A syndicated cartoonist can sell the same cartoon to a lot of newspapers, and it might get reprinted some day in a book. But essentially, it's a one-shot deal.
On the other hand, I can conceivably paint and sell the same basic picture over and over again, to different buyers if it's a popular image, and if the paintings are small, and not too complicated, I can produce a large number of them in about the same time it would take to draw that many pictures, and maybe even in less time. There are more opportunities to sell paintings because there are more painting buyers than there are cartoon publishers. People can buy a lot of them, collect them, and display more of them in their homes because of the simple fact that people live in a three-dimensional world, and not on paper, and thus do not have the same sapce limitations as a magazine page does.
It is also comforting to know that my work is not hidden somehwhere in a stack of cartoon submissions on an office desk competing with hundreds of other cartoons and illustrations, waiting to be either accepted or rejected. I have a few paintings piled up in my studio, but I know that some day they will all be sold.
DO YOU EVER WORK FROM PHOTOS
OR REFERENCE OTHER WORKS?
I rarely use reference material . If I do, I might actually enlarge the image to the size I want, or distort it, and trace it onto the painting surface using carbon paper or graphite paper. This gives me all the accurate placements, then I elaborate freely from there.
I use objects, buildings, etc. in my paintings but they are iconographic. So they are imagined representations of things that actually exist in the world, If I paint the image of a coffee cup, or a brick building, it is a representation of all coffee cups, all brick buildings. It this way, the images in my work function as a kind of visual language of recognizable things. You read what is going on in my paintings.
If I paint a human form, and I want to be exact, I can do this from memory and end up with proportions, shading, etc. which is extremely accurate. I do not need visual reference. I think it is because I walk around in a human body, so I feel where the muscles and other parts need to go. I feel myself, imagine myself as the subject in the painting.
I do have a book that is nothing but photos of famous Italian movie stars from the 1960's drinking coffee. I have been studying these pictures, because I paint a lot of paintings where the subject is drinking a cup of coffee. But I Don't keep the book next to the easel.
CAN SOMEONE LOOK AT A PAINTING
AND SEE INTO THE ARTIST'S MIND?
If the question is whether an artist, through the artwork, can get the viewer to feel a certain type of emotion, something the artist was feeling, I think it is very possible, but depends on three things:
First, the artist must be able to convey or somehow represent an emotion in visual terms familiar to the viewer (For example, the work of Edward Hopper is said to express loneliness. But if one had never seen the urban environments that Hopper uses, these visual clues might be as meaningless as words spoken in a language that one does not understand).
Second, the viewer must be able to take the time and make the effort to look at and consider the artwork. A lot of emotion can be expressed in abstract art, but unless the viewer takes the time to understand how the artist is conveying the emotion, the message may not get across.
Third, the emotion being conveyed by the artist must be part of the viewer's previous experience. I cannot convey an emotion that you are unfamiliar with. A painting that might convey a subtle or sophisticated or very mature type of feeling to an adult might mean nothing to a child.
So, in a sense what the artist really presents to the viewer is a degree of familiarity.
Furthermore, unless an artist can maintain a single continuous emotional state during the entire process of producing a work, then the work cannot be said to
represent or express a single feeling. And since emotional states of mind tend to change quite rapidly for most people, a work would have to be done very quickly, or the emotional state would have to be enduring. When I paint something that I think is funny, I have alot of fun painting it. I might sit there and laugh about the thought of it while i am actually painting it.
This is not to say that an artist cannot conjure up an emotional response (happy, melancholy, sexual, etc.) in the mind of the viewer, or that an artist cannot create a work in which the emotional message of the artist is
revealed (consider Picasso's blue period) But to convey an actual emotional moment from artist to viewer via an artwork in the way that a signal is carried over a phone line, I think this is highly unlikely, even though people say, "I can feel what the artist was feeling" and so on.
WHAT IS ART?
You can go on listing everything anybody ever made and ask "is this thing art?" and the answer will always be the same: If you are regarding it in terms of art, then yes it is. If you are not regarding it in terms of art, then no it isn't.
There is nothing that resides within any object or is a quality of any object that makes it "art". But art can be defined as any object whose primary function is to be considered on its aesthetic merits, or whose purpose is to convey something graphically, musically, poetically, and so forth. A person can say "song bird", or I can create an image, or play notes on a flute. The image or sounds convey some kind of interpretation of the song bird. It's that interpretation of our experience that the artist shares. So, a quilt becomes a work of art when considered for the way it looks visually, but it is merely a thick blanket when you turn off the light and go to sleepnder it. Just as easily, you could consider how effectively the Mona Lisa might prop open a door. Even though the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, in this case you would not be discussing a work of art, but the qualities of a door-stop. Likewise, an artist is really only an artist during those moments when he or she is involved in the process (thinking or doing) of making art. When we expand the ways we see, we change the very definitions of what we see.
The problem with asking "is such and such a thing art" isn't in the fact that people have different opinions. The problem is that "art" is an abstract concept to begin with. It's like "god" or "racist". It's a word that doesnt have a fixed meaning. So, we are trying to determine whether or not some quality of 'artness' is inherent in an object. We might say that if an object has been created mainly as something to be looked at, then we can say it was produced as a work of art. But there are flaws in this statement too.
Ultimately, objects do not inherently possess any 'artness". That is an idea we inflict on things in the world. But some things serve multiple functions. We could be talking about tarot cards or a stained glass window or a quilt or a sculpture by Brancusi, and it really doesn't matter because all these things are just things. They are only "art" when we are experiencing them in aesthetic terms, such as for their visual impact, their composition or use of color. Of course, that's rather limited definition of aesthetics. There are all sorts of examples of art these days that do not rely on any notion of beauty or composition or any of that. What makes these things art, still, is that they have a meaning beyond just whatever their material composition is. That's their aesthetics. A room with three hundred glaring flourescent lights on the floor or whatever, that can exist as a work of art because it is intended to convey a particular experience to the viewer, something beyond just an inventory of lighting fixtures.
Furthermore, our opinions regarding whether something is art or not only reflect the conditions under which we have developed some imaginary labeling of "art". If we say that the Mona Lisa is art, it is only because we have grown up believing that the Mona Lisa is art. It posesses a number of qualities that we have learned to regard as 'art' qualities. For example, it is a painting. It is in a frame. It hangs in a musuem. It is pictured in art books. But this is merely a conceptual house of cards. The Mona Lisa isn't art. But The Mona Lisa is a thing that we recognize as art.
If you put The Mona Lisa or any painting in a room in which all light is sealed off, then there is no image. The paints retain no color, no lines, no shapes, no subject, no content. Only when reflecting a source of light does an image exist. So an image on a surface (a photo, a painting, a drawing) is totally dependent on light for its existence. This simple fact alone demonstrates that it is not, on its own, art. It may posess the chemical pigments that apear as color when a source of light is introduced. It posesses the potential to become a work of art as soon as someone flicks on the lights. But until that happens it is a completelely void surface. No picture exists. By contrast, if you put a duck in the same room as that painting, it continues to be a duck with or without light. So this again demonstrates the difference between something that posesses some relative degree of instrinsic quality, such a duck, and something which does not, such as a painting. Art is merely a category of things, a means of classifying objects. We label something as art or not art. But the thing itself, on its own, is neither.
You can define something AS art but you cannot define art itself, because art IS the definition of an object. So, "What is art?" is not really even a valid question to begin with, because its premise is to first assume that some universal condition or characteristic quality exists which is intrinsically "art" and then secondarily to find some example which proves that assumption. By "intrinsically" I mean a self-existing , elemental quality. So, people say, "The Mona Lisa is art" and while it can be argued that the Mona Lisa can be defined as art, art cannot be defined as the Mona Lisa. It works one way, but it doesn't work the other way. When you try to work it the other way, you have a witch-hunt.
In terms of whether something is a work of art or not, there is absolutely no difference whatsoever between a beautifully created object and a poorly executed object. The popular view is that a work of art's sole purpose is merely to reveal the technical skill of the person who created it. This demands that technical skill be limited to a narrow definition, excluding any possibility that the desired effect the artist wishes to achieve might result from thick layers of paint, crude, rough edges, or any particular use of color, line or shape which has not previously been developed by another artist.
As an example, my own painting relies on roughly defined edges and an almost total lack of concern for color, but also rejects the use of canvas, and a frame. And nearly every painting is titled as a direct mockery of the idea of 'still life'.
Marcel Duchamp is one of my early influences. He presented art that he called Readymades, which were ordinary objects that he displayed to be viewed not for their manufactured function, but as objects to consider purely for how they looked as shapes, as you would if you had no idea about their original purpose. The fact that he used manufactured things as ready-made "art" is important, because it is a misleading coincidence that
a urinal and a "sculpture" are both 3 - dimensional objects. He wasn't merely substituting something from the hardware store and saying "look, it's a work of art" although he went through all the motions as if it were a work of art, even creating a name (R. Mutt) which he signed to it. He was intentionally messing with people, but that's a different subject. He couldn't disguise that it was, after all, a urinal. And he made no attempt to hide that fact.
We may not know exactly what all of his thoughts were regarding this, but we can understand what he was doing because of his writings and because we can read what the Dadas wrote and were trying to do, which was to destroy all the assumed ideas about culture. He wanted people to question why one thing is art, and another thing is not. Both are made, both have form, and the idea he was confronting that one thing is eleveated to the level of "art" and that something else is not, simply because we call it art, and because an artist signs a name to it. In my opinion, Duchamp's urinal, which was titled Fountain, is as far as art can go. He revealed the final chapter of the story of Western Art back in 1912, and everything since then is merely approaching that.
But it is important to make a distinction between what Duchamp and the other Dadas were doing, and what we regard as as found art, conceptual art, or situational work. Although these too break away from the narrow definition of art as rigid sculpture and easel paintings, Duchamp's example suggests, in keeping with the general thrust of the Dadas, that the whole idea of a realm of "real art "is nonsense (and they responded with nonsense). Their assertion was that, just as absurd as it is to establish a toilet in this imaginary artistic realm, so it is as absurd to maintain that any "work of art" exists as part of some separate aesthetic reality. We "artists" may not entirely agree with that, but that was the point of Dada. To make this point, Duchamp, in declaring that the ready-made object too is art, tried to destroy the "mythos" of art.\
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT
TO MASTER TECHNICAL SKILL?
I often use the analogy of a composer and a performer. If the purpose of the work is to show off some technical skill developed by the artist, then the artist is somewhat like a concert violinist, the virtuoso, who has perfected his or her skill. Then, what is produced exists for the purpose of presenting that skill, and for revealing something beautiful that results from the mastering of that skill.
If this is the goal of the artist, then subject matter isn't really all that important. a painting could just as easily be
either a horse, a hearse, or a house, and it doesn't make any difference, because the important thing in that case is how effectively the artist has developed some skill in the used of shading, line, lighting and so forth. The work shows the viewer how accurately the artist sees, interprets what is seen, and is rendered. This is especially true in realism.
But if the purpose of the work is to present something in a new way, in a way that has never been done, or in a way which gives the viewer an entirely new way of seeing, then the artist is somewhat similar to a composer, rather than the virtuoso. In this case, the purpose of the work is not to display the technical ability of the artist, but rather to reveal what the artist visualizes and imagines. An accurate portrait of someone may not be 'realistic' at all.
The best example of this is early European religious art. There are countless paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows portraying images of Christ. If you ask most people if they've ever seen a picture of Jesus, they would say yes. Yet, nobody has the faintest idea what he looked like. I find that rather ironic. You can pick Jesus out in a police line up even though you have never seen him before.
But early representations of Christ weren't realism. That came about later on, with Michaelangelo and Leonardo. The early images of Christ and his disciples were basically cartoons. Just as the two striped cartoon cats Heathcliffe and Garfield can be told from one another according to how they are drawn, the personages in early manuscripts and illuminated bibles and paintings were constructed iconographically, with different sized halos or objects and symbols and so forth, so that you could tell which bearded guy was Jesus, which was Luke and John and so on. The skilled artist was the one who knew how to render those details.
Both examples, the artist as virtuoso and/or composer, are methods of creative expression, and both are equally valid. The evolution of Western art over the last century or so has tended to emphasize the role of the "composer" over the "performer". And, I think this is a direct reflection of technology. Technology changes how we create and this in turn changes what we create, and why we create it. The invention of the camera changed the way realist painters painted, and it also changed the function of realist painting, which prompted a departure from strict realism, most notably cubism. which opened the door wide open for the emergence of modern art.
What I would call some of the 'basics' of art (figure drawing, light-source shading, perspective, etc.) should be taught and learned (even if not proficirntly mastered by the student) if for no other reason than to be abandoned. it is important to some degree that everyone start with the same basic understanding about how what we call "art" has come about. You have to have some sense of context.
However, over time that pool of 'basics' grows ever wider until there is simply no time in one's life to absorb all of it. Consider that less that 60 years ago, the study of Latin and Greek were considered basic parts of standard western education. So were handwriting and calligraphy. Likewise, most of us today do not know how to make paints by grinding pigments and mixing binders. Yet this too was once considered basic required knowledge. These days, these things are all areas of specialization.
I think that what happens in culture is a sort of "continuous inversion". As new things become widespread, what was previously considered general basic required knowledge becomes the practice of experts and specialists. Some day, a person may have to travel far and wide to find someone who can teach the secrets of basic composition.
The development and evolution of art is similar to that of spoken language in that as it changes from one generation to the next, traditionalists lament its demise. But that is because art is a language. Things seem static from our point of view but they aren't. Everything is in constant transformation.
An interesting thing has occurred, and I think it is a mistake. And by that, I mean I think it has contributed greatly to the rise of mediocrity in the fine arts in the 21st century. Art can be anything. But that doesn't mean that anything is art. At the beginning of the 20th century, something very imprtant happened, a breakthrough that emerged from the impressionism of the late 19th century, when all of the previous rules were starting to be broken, when paintings were really starting to loosen up a little bit. What happened was that Bracque and Picasso started to stick things such as newspaper and string and wire mesh onto their pictures.
To appreciate the importance of this, suppose you are painting a landscape picture, and you need to put some clouds in the sky. Now, consider the difference between, say, painting the likeness of clouds in the sky on a picture, with paint, or gluing little cotton balls onto the surface, to suggest clouds. The difference is that in the first example, you don't think about the paint as paint. You think about it as clouds.
But in the second example, even though the cotton balls suggest clouds, there is no way of getting around the fact that they are cotton balls. And so, the qualities that the cotton balls have, as cotton balls, is significant. Of course, Bracque and Picasso did not use cotton balls as clouds. But by introducing the elements of collage into the artwork, they opened up the whole area of using materials based on the aesthetic qualities that they already possess, initiating a sequence of evets bringing us right up to the art of today. It elevated the medium to a new level of importance. This led to a redefining of "content" even when an artwork consisted only of paint, because in doing so it also redefined subject matter, and the way subject matter could be arranged. Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, even Conceptual Art all gradually emerged because "art" itself became more easily redefinable. Art could be anything.
However, you might say that the pendulum has swung too far, and people think that since art can be anything, that anything can be art, great art, and this has led to a rise in mediocrity. While it is essential to continually push the boundaries, as the gap between what is art and what is not art becomes narrower, it must likewise become proportionately sharper, otherwise what you end up with is a very dull blade.
The human mind is constantly fascinated by new things. And what has developed is a confused notion that because we are fascinated, therefore what we are fascinated with must be art. But this has nothing to do with anything about the work being produced. It is merely a reflection of a civilization's shorter and shorter collective attention span. What is basically going on is that the cotton ball itself has become art simply because we are interested in its white color and fluffiness. The art is no longer an aspect of the object being considered, but rather, it has become an aspect of the mind of the person considering it.
The distinction is extemely subtle. It is the difference between a spilled bucket of paint and a work by Jackson Pollock. Thus, all manner of stuff is passing as fine art simply because it has an interesting visual effect. Burn marks, coffee stains, rust, driftwood, broken glass. I am not saying that art shouldn't be composed of these things, or that in doing so, as the DADAists did, the distinction between art and what is not art can't be intentionally blurred a little, or that new mediums shouldn't be explored.
The point is that, ultimately, when art defies all definitions, art itself ceases to be a vialble definition. The cotton ball is no longer elevated to the status of art because there is no such status, because why would such a distinction be necessary? I may sound a little close-minded or old fashioned here. I'm, not. If the paper clip on my desk is art simply because it exists, I am fine with that. But it is hypocritical to assert that anything is art, while simultaneously putting oneself specifically as an artist, and I think that is precisely what is happening in the 21st century.
WHY DO YOU USE HOUSE PAINT?
JACKSON POLLOCK USED HOUSE PAINTS
AND THESE DAYS A LOT OF HIS WORKS ARE DETERIORATING
The thing is, you have to understand your medium and your materials. Over ten years ago I did a series of paintings using house paint on wonder bread and they are still in perfect condition. The only problem I had with preservation was keeping mice from eating them while they were drying. Jackson poured entire streams of
paint onto his canvas, and house paints usually need to be applied in thin coats otherwise they don't dry evenly, and they crack. Also, I paint on wood. Using house paint on cloth is, in my opinion, just asking for trouble. On the other hand, if you've ever tried to wash paint out of a pair of blue jeans you know it is definitely permanent. But keep in mind, Pollock wasn't trying to create pretty little pictures. His works document real time. Naturally, as time passes, the work he created will change.
Paint isn't a "thing". Paint is stuff mixed together...oil, water, ground stones, rubber, plastic, dyes, glue, eggs, urine, there all all types of things that go into what is basically "spreadable color", what the world calls different types of paint. Do you know that a polymer ... like on the jar or tube that says 'acrylic polymer' ... is just one big molecule? But paint today is a lot different than it was fifty or sixty years ago. people still refer to "latex paint" but it isn't latex anymore. Latex is rubber and paint used to shrink and crumble and turn into powder like an old rubber band. But acryllic paint is plastic, and these days the pigments are designed to withstand years of diect sunlight. So, I use a lot of layers, and most people hang my work inside. Of course, many paints, ceiling paints for example, have clay in them. I don't use those.
A housepaint artist has to understand the science and chemistry of different types of paints--interior, exterior, satin, glossy, etc. I find that mixing matte & glossy is the perfect combination. Some paints mix well with rubbing alcohol to create an amazing buttery and fast drying substance. Other paints turn into an unspreadable blob when mixed with alcohol. And then there is the issue of thickness. Do you want it runny enough to spatter, drippy like a warm milkshake so you can write with it using a toothpick, or thick enough to apply with a knife?
All paintings in museums and galleries everywhere are slowly disintegrating, some faster than others. While it is true that some materials are better than others, equally important is how works are handled, stored and displayed. There are two main things to consider: color retention and material integrity. Colors may fade and materials may decompose. Even archival paints, papers and canvas will suffer if constantly exposed to direct sunlight or humidity. I have had some wall paints fade within weeks. An artist has to understand the properties of materials used. I now paint over all of my finished surfaces with clear acrylic deck sealant, the stuff people paint on their wood decks. Not only does it seal in all the paint and give it a unified reflectiveness, but many of the deck sealants have sun-block in them, so that's going to help keep light from fading the pigments over time.
When I say an artist has to know his or her paint, what I mean is, I can close my eyes and dip the tip of a paintbrush into the paint and can tell by the feel when the tips of the bristles are, say, 1/3 deep. I only mention this to emphasize that an artist has to really know his or her materials, not just as products from the art supply store, but as extensions of his or her own awareness. It's all about understanding the properties of one's chosen materials. My paintings have hanging mounts on the back and are not designed to hang in a frame. Therefore the edges of the wood panels have also been sealed and painted, so, even though I use plywood, thin layers of wood glued together, my works will probably be hanging indoors, so the layers are not going to come apart the way they would if left out in the rain. Any unsealed plywood will peel apart if left outside in the elements. But how well would any type of painting survive under the same conditions? A friend of mine, Alana the chef, had a painting of mine hanging in her restaurant kitchen for 10 years. Needless to say, it had acquired quite a flavorful patina. She asked me if I could clean it. The task was relatively easy. Because I had used exterior house paint, the grease and smoke and dust came right off.
Another friend brought me a painting he had acquired from me many years ago. It had been left in a damp cellar---a cellar with a dirt floor. It was really a mess. But the plywood had not separated. I have another friend whose background is in fine art painting restoration, and she said that nearly all paintings need help over time, but that because of the materials I had chosen, any work by some future restorer would be relatively easy. "Black house paint? they're gonna love you" is what she told me.
I don't think that one medium, acryllic, or oils or whatever, is superior to another, but an artist must know how to use his or her materials, and what special qualities they possess, and an artwork must be handled carefully. In fact, I think that what an artist is able to do with what he or she has to work with is very important. I once reviewed independent films submitted in a competition. Most were done on a very low budget. There was one, however, that looked like a big hollywood production. I mean, big time stuff. So how do you compare the two with each other? You have to look at what each artist had to work with, and how much that artist was able to accomplish within that context. So, a film on a shoestring budget that is really well done will win out over a big dollar extravaganza that is crap. Painting is exactly like that. An artists has to know the medium he or she works with.
One of the aesthetic qualities of my work is that the edges of the plywood are unevenly cut and although sanded, are usually rough and full of little dents where the wood splintered and chipped off during sawing. This is all framed in layers of black paint, but the image itself has a fairly straight edge. This is because my works are not just representations of other things, but are complete things themselves. The whole thing is the artwork--not just the subject image.
HAS THE ROLE OF HUMOR
IN THE HISTORY OF ART
One thing I would like to comment on is Leonardo Da Vinci's sense of humor, because I think, it is not discussed very often. He was a creative genius. He looked at things in ways that were unique. That involves dropping all assumptions about limitation, about the way things are supposed to be. He understood the dynamics, the action that occurs when you juxtapose the way that things are different with the way that they are similar, and this is the very basis of humor. Everything is lined up neatly, but there is one thing that is out of whack, and it is that contrast that we experience as something being funny.
I would like to offer a theory, that da Vinci had a very highly sophisticated, and wry sense of humor. I offer as evidence, da Vinci's ridiculously huge crossbow design. It was a crossbow, but the arrow was as large as a telephone pole (or would have been, had da Vinci invented the telephone). In recent times some engineers actually built one based on Leonardo's designs, justy to see if such a device would actually work.
Da Vinci was quite well known in his day for the design of war machinery. At the same time, he despised war. I cannot help but think that for a person of his genius and in the context of the time period, that the giant crossbow was his idea of a huge joke or maybe even a bit of political sarcasm. If this is the case, then this design is pure DADA, pointing out the absurdity of grandiose warfare by designing an absurdly grandiose weapon. Perhaps he even meant to offer it to his employers out of contempt in the hopes that they actually might be foolish enough to build and try to use it.
I think that a lot of humor has been missed throughout history, simply because historians tend to be serious people who are not trained to spot humor. They take everything as equally serious unless it is obviously meant to be funny. But Da Vinci's humor would not be so blatant, would it? He was a genius and his humor would have been an expression of this, reflecting the same subtleties that he used in his artwork.
His modus operandi, even in his paintings, was always subtlety. He thoroughly enjoyed the subtleties of nature, of the human form and this is what he revealed in his works. So much of what he painted has a puzzle or mystery hidden in it. I think he loved to mess with people's minds whenever he could, simply because he could.
DO YOU THINK ART AND POLITICS CAN GO TOGETHER?
Yes, and no. The problem with politics is that it is populated with politicians and other political people, people who essentially define reality in political terms. By contrast, artists tend to define things in aesthetic terms. So, if you show a tree to politicians, what concerns them is, "whose tree is it?" but if you show that same tree to artists, they are concerned with its shape and colors. Graphic design and creativity can certainly serve causes that we tend to label "political", but just because we can put a thing into a box labeled "politics" does not mean that the thing we have put into that box is therefore, by itself, only a political thing. We impute these labels and categories onto situations. If a person is hungry, that's a physical situation. The stomach is not a member of any political party. Hunger becomes political only when we decide that political solutions are the way to deal with hunger. A chef might not think of it that way. Likewise, a painter or sculptor who creates a work that inspires people to work to end hunger doesn't need to do that because someone else thinks about hunger as a political issue. The artist does so because people need to eat, regardless of whether there are politicians around or not. So, artwork can be about anything, and if that thing also happens to be something that political activists are concerned with, fine. But the trick is to not let the work be defined as a subset of politics. The artwork doesn't have to be put into the box marked "politics".
Politics is a type of subject matter, and in that way, no different than a bowl of fruit. An artist can make a political statement, but the work has to stand up as art as well. You can look at Picasso's Guernica and feel what he is expressing, even if you know nothing about its history.
But an artist can also comment on the whole notion of politics in general, on say, the divisiveness of politics, the lies, the absurdity of defining things in terms of political labels or whatever. Political art isn't always about propaganda.
HOW DO YOU DETERMINE
THE PRICES OF YOUR WORK?
There are many ways to do this. For a while, I even charge by the square inch! When working on the Wild Beasts, I figured out approximately how long it took to complete a single brush stroke and how many brush strokes it took to fill up the surface. Of course, there is a lot of fluctuation. Some times a brush is wider or narrower. Sometimes a brush stroke is fast, other times slow. But when you see how many square inches are on, say, a 24" x 32" surface, the time estimate comes pretty close. So, "area divided by time". I also figure in how much extra time I put into the finishing details. For example, if I smoothe out and fill in the rough edges of the plywood, or if I decide to paint the backs of the paintings, this will take additional time and so I usually reserve these sorts of things for larger works which will sell for more money anyway. During the earlier periods, when I was producing hundreds of small paintings in the low price range, I did some sanding, but not much more. This doesn''t affect the image, but in terms of the overall construction of a work, it is a factor.
Of course, this doesn't take into account any "creative" or "artistic" input. But that is something that naturally develops over time. At one point I realized that I was making, per square inch, more money in less time selling my smaller works than my larger works. So, even though I work in many sizes, and I prefer working large-scale, I concentrated first on getting smaller works out into more places. This method of promoting my work, which also affects the price, is based on the observation of weeds which scatter as many small seeds as possible. Now there are a lot of people, hundreds of people who have collections of my paintings. This makes the larger works worth more, and as the works begin to sell for higher prices, this in turn increases the value of the earlier work.
You can establish the price of art base on the market, the demand for a particular artist's works, and to some degree, as I have, on size. But you can’t really price a work soley based on the amount of time an artist has spent on it, because that all depends on the skill and planning of the artist. A proficient artist might produce a great work in much less time and with much less effort than an artist who is not as skilled. So an older artist with years of practice might be able to produce more, better, faster than a younger artist. Should he or she be paid more or less? When somebody asks me "how long did it take you to create this work?" I say, "about 50 years" because one's whole life is always culminating in the present moment.
As far as pricing goes, I like to price higher on my website and sell cheaper in galleries, stores, shows and in person. I have always had a lot of success selling my art because I try to make the deal "too good to pass up". I once had a show at a coffee bar / bookshop. I priced the works at twice what I really want to sell them for, and then posted, "50% off the price of a painting with the purchase of a cup of coffee" ....which is so absurd that it really cought people's attention, which made them really look at the artwork, and I got a lot of sales, because people were able to save maybe $50 just by getting a cup of coffee.
WHEN AN ARTIST PRODUCES A BODY OF WORK, DOES THE VALUE OF EACH WORK INCREASE AS THE OVERALL NUMBER OF WORKS INCREASE? ?
Yes, and this is something that a lot of artists never think about. Because a single artwork is both an individual piece AND also part of the artist's greater body of works, it is like a single flower which is also part of a garden. Producing a greater body of works also increases the value of the individual piece for the following reasons:
1. Being able to compare one work with another by the same artist allows one to "do" more with the painting. And by "DOing" I mean scrutinize, assess, appreciate, talk about its relative place among many other works. Since artwork is meant to be appreciated, basically this provides a broader range of appreciation. Of couse, it is conceivable that a person might simply produce one thing only, and that this one thing is really great. But unlike with pop music, there are really no "one hit wonders" in the art world.
2. The aesthetic and collectible potential value of a single work is enhanced when considered as part of a greater body of work because the art buyer is purchasing a small piece of something much bigger, a slice of the legacy, so to speak, with the expectation that the artist will be producing even more work in the future.
When people begin 'collecting' work, it has a snowball effect, and when you have lots of groupings of works, then at some point (probably long after you are dead) collectors will want to collect paintings that you've done that belong to other collectors. I started grouping my works a few years back. Many of my works are part of a particular "collectible series". I promote the idea that a person who acquires even one of my works is a member of a "collectors circle". I refer to everyone who owns some of my artwork in one form or another as a collector.
"When we expand the ways we see,
we change the very definitions
of what we see".
HOW DO YOU AUTHENTICATE YOUR WORK?
Authentication is proof that you created the thing. Technically, whatever works will work. Well known works often have a very nice folder full of paperwork with them including a picture of the work, the description (title, size, date painted, etc), a history (provinance) of the painting, who has owned it, where and when it has been bought and sold, and so on. They might include some description of a unique "fingerprint" (a patch on the canvas, a brush hair accidentally caught somewhere on the painting) or even a real fingerprint (invisible, but pressed into the wet paint) that the artist has made on the work, maybe next to the signature. This is something that cannot be easily duplicated. These official papers may be prepared and officially certified by the estates of the artist.
Even with a certificate, even recently with Warhol and Pollock, people contest the authenticity of works. Disputes over authenticity can span the centuries and these days there is a whole field of forensic science that anaylizes microscopic paint samples, or compares the weave of canvases in question with those of known works to see if the fabric has the same DNA or whatever, as another work by the same artist. I had a friend who owned a couple of signed Dali Etchings....or were they? They had paperwork out the wazoo but what does it mean? The real test is in comparing ink, paper, paint, wood and canvas samples with verifiable known works. Even then, somebody will cry "fake!"
I used to issue a piece of paper with my art that had a cartoon of a seal on it, that said 'seal of authenticity'. Then I used a stamped, mail-back postcard attached to the backside. I still have all of the ones that buyers mailed back to me. So, this will make it much easier to trace a painting and verify it. I've used mailaing labels stuck on the backs of work, and now I have a full color sticker I stick on the paintings, and a while ago I started signing & dating the backs.I also have slides for about a thousand or so paintings.
What I tell fellow artists is to think of it like a bank that issues credit cards, and each painting is a credit card. You come up with a system that traces the card back to you. So something on the painting matches something you keep at home. A person who is really concerned about this can get very creative. You might use a small bit of paper glued to the back that has your signature and info about the work (title & date) and then you also have an identical copy of that info, so it can be traced back to you or to your heirs. You could even print it twice on one sheet then rip the sheet so the two matching halves share a common tear. Maybe have a chinese chop made, and stamp the back of your work. Having photos or slides (remember slides?) is also a good way to authenticate works.
Having this sort of documentation may also add cash value to your work. Provinence will also help you when your work is resold, because I believe that by law you are entitled to a royalty, a percentage of the money made through the resale. This might not matter for the $200 paintings now but some day when your work is being auctioned off at Christies, maybe having a percentage of that 20 million will be worth the hassle!
But here is some advice. Pick one method and then use it forever, for all your works. consistency is the key. I haven't, and I wish I had. It is also very important to copyright your images.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR WORK
DIFFERS FROM THE WORK OF OTHER ARTISTS?
Most art is concerned primarily with the expert use of traditional techniques in order to end up with a decorative product. If a work happens to suggest some mood, offers a moment of whimsy or hints at something ponderous, then it shows some cleverness or whatever. But for most, a painting is a collection of colors and shapes and lines working in some sort of expected or unexpected harmony. This goes for representational painting as well as abstract painting. It serves the same function as a song that children chant while skipping rope. If the words rhyme and the meter fits, then it works. It doesn't really matter what the rhyme is about, as long as you can skip rope to it. If you are skipping rope to a rhyme about Lizzy Borden, then that makes it all the more interesting, right?
Likewise, in terms of subject matter, a painting of a lawn chair in the sun might as well be a picture of a cute kitten sleeping on a child’s pillow, or a robin perched on a snow-covered fence, or a vase of flowers. There is nothing inherently wrong with painting such delighteful subject matter, and it takes practice, skill and time to learn the techniques with which one develops proficiency. But in the end, the work is usually judged by how well the artist has mastered some painterly techniques. Many of these clever painting techniques can be found in any ‘how to paint’ book and can be learned by anyone who really wants to master them. It does not take a tremendous amount of imagination or creativity.
Even with non-representational and abstract work, there is usually an emphasis on the elements of the composition, what they do on the canvas, and so forth. And that's how it should be. That's how it's supposed to be, and I have no problem with that, but it's not my starting point. Line and composition are important to me. Color, not so much. One color is just as good as any other, when you get right down to it. But for me, imagination and creativity are far more important than technique. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, and the fusion of technique and imagination is even better, and when a unique style emerges through that fusion, or a new technique is developed, you end up with works that reveal not just the talent of the artist, but the genius of the artist as well. I don't mean "genius" in the Einstein way. When I speak of 'genius' in this context, I mean the unleashing of new ways of seeing and thinking and doing. Perhaps "cleverness" is a better term, but I like the sound of "genius".
Technical skill has to serve creativity and the imagination. Otherwise, if one is merely concerned with perfecting the use of the pencil or brush, if that's the criteria, then drawing and painting become sports, like throwing the javelin. Imagine a contest to see who can draw the strightest straight line. So, I don't rely on the traditional methods of handling lines and shapes and colors. But in my work, a brushstroke has to be interesting just for what it is, whether it is smooth or rough or thin or wide. If I am showing hair on someone's head, it is more important that the brushwork be interesting and lively than it is having to "look like" hair. If the background is somewhat abstract, the colors and shapes and various areas have to be such, that if you isolate any square inch of it, that alone is interesting visually.
I have intentionally rejected canvas and frames. I use discarded house paints. The decision was really more economic than political. But I do belive that somehow, art always reflects the technology available to produce it, and I think, if my images were on framed canvases, they just wouldn't do what they do. They wouldn't be as funny. Psychologically, Canvas obligates people, and framed canvas even more so. People get too serious. They rest their chins between their thumbs and curled forefingers, tilt their heads to one side, lift an eyebrow and say "Hmmmmmm".
My work should be taken seriously, but the people who look at it shouldn't get serious. For the last hundred years or more, there has been this struggle in the west to sort of "liberate" art from all of its confining preconditions and expectations. So, art went through all of the 'isms' from impressionism, cubism, all the way through post abstract popism or whatever you want to call it. But people didn't consider that as long as the work was in a framed canvas, it remained preconceived. It hadto. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't make art stop being this big art thing. Even the Dadas, whom I love, couldn't stop with the art. And conceptual art didn't break free either, even though it also abandoned tradition. But there is a simple reason for that.
As long as you maintain a duality, a distinction between art and not-art, you can't escape art. You can't make "non-art" art. That means that you can't liberate it from its stigma. I don't make any pretentions about my work. They are definitely painted pictures that hang on a wall. But that's okay. I don't think it is important to abandon subject matter. You just have to mess with it. Actually, you can't abandon it, because "non-representational" only exists in realtion to "representational". Subject matter is still there, but its like dark matter. It's there because you are intentionally ignoring it.
The musical world has both composers and performing musicians, and many who are both. There are some who tend to compose, to invent entirely new things, and there are others, great musicians, whose aim is to perfect their technical skill, whohave never composed an original score.
There is a parallel to this in the visual arts. Just as a violinist who perfects his or her skill can, for example, play Vivaldi exquisitely, many artists can exquisitely render with shading or with color, and theyir goal as artists is to perfect these skills. But they have no interest in redefining art, pushing any boundaries or in creating an entirely new way of experiencing what is seen. In the art world, just as in the music world, there is room for very original creators as well as those who are highly skilled in the execution of a work.
But, regardless of what one does, mastery over one's chosen medium is important, especially if one using materials in a new way. It doesn't matter if one is using oil paints or ball point pens as long as they master their medium.
"The only difference between
creative people and
is that creative people live
in their own little
and non-creative people
live in little worlds
that other make up for them."
WHAT IS THE ESSENCE
OF CREATIVITY IN ART?
It is so often assumed that art must "do" something. it's as though it were a locomotive engine pulling a train. But visual art, poetry, dance, music and so forth are merely the products of a creative imagination, which is really the engine that moves these various arts forward.
Consider for a moment that a created work ( visual, tangible, musical, etc.) is really not any different than a hammer or a spear or a space ship, except for one important and defining factor: its primary function is aesthetic. So, I might simply tell you what happened to me at work today, -OR- I could tell you as a series of rhymes, represent the events allegorically, set the whole thing to music and choreograph some bodily movement to go along with it, or draw pictures to show you, or even put on a puppet show . Either way is a means of delivering information. But the primary function of the latter would be aesthetic.
Art delivers our experience of things aesthetically. In doing so, it lends itself to a variety of purposes, uplifting, persuasive, provocative, humorous and so on. So the answer to "What is the purpose of art?" could be, simply, any purpose you need, from selling detergent to filling empty wall space to propagating religion, as long as the method is dependent on the effect of color, line, composition and so forth. But on a deeper level, there is something else happening.
Humans desire some tangible proof of existence. We don't mark territory as a dog does. But we need identifiers, little things that prove to us that we are here. A prehistoric person might have fashioned something from clay or sticks on one day, and the next morning could look at that object and say, "me make that" (we know from movies that prehistoric people only spoke in the present tense. This is no doubt due to the fact that being prehistoric, there simply wasn't much in the way of past-tense to affect language).
An object validates the sense that one exists. Even today, people purchase and consume those objects that seem to validate who they are or give some proof of who they imagine themselves to be, or aspire to be.
Nearly everything we buy, we choose because it somehow reflects who we think we are. This is true about the magazines we read, the kinds of clothes we wear, but it may be especially true about art, and culture in general. Artists consume, but also create objects as well, that express, or reflect who they are. When a larger number of people share that reflection, the object, the work of art can become a kind of cultural glue, bringing people together the same way that popular music does.
People may not literally see themselves reflected in a painting by either Pollock or Rembrandt. But for those who want to look at art, or care to have preferences in art, they can say, "I consider myself to be an art person ...an art lover" and they establish that identity for thremselves, and then the artworkbecomes a kind of tangible proof of that statement, and validates that person's self-view, simply because the person wants to be looking at it.
SHOULD A WORK OF ART BE APPROACHED INTELLECTUALLY, OR BE JUDGED BY THE
FEELINGS IT GIVES TO THE VIEWER?
Everyone expects a work of art to do something. "I want art to look real" , "I want art to have meticulous detail" , "I want art to make a shocking statement" , "I want art to go with my wall paper" and so on. I mean, I think that's basically it. Everybody likes the kind of art that does something that they want it to, and when a work doesn't meet our expectations, we reject it.
One problem with this is that it makes value of the art depend on the whims of the viewer, rather than on the intentions of the artist. It's as if one is watching Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and says, "Well, I don't care for crows a whole lot. I'm rather a cat person, and I much prefer movies with cats in them". It misses the whole point of the work that has been created. It ignores the context in which the work is taking place, simply because it doesn't do something that the viewer would prefer.
But what happens if we look at a work with no expectations whatsoever? Then we have to evaluate it based on its merits rather than on whether it hits us in the guts or not. I have seen a lot of work that I don't really care for, but that I recognize as being very well done. I picked up a book from the library, "Becoming A Successful Artist" (featuring mainly Arizona realists) which I would recommend to any new and aspiring artist, even though there is nothing in it that I particularly care for. It's all good stuff. Very good stuff that I really hate. But see, that's my problem. That's about me, not about the paintings. Suppose you are offered a delicious pizza from the best pizza shop in town, but you are not hungry for pizza. Does that make the Pizza bad? Similarly, Willem de Kooning is one of my all-time favorite painters, even though I don't really care for his work. How can this be? How can an artist whose work I don't like be one of my favorites? It's because I love the way he painted. His brush strokes, his use of color and composition. The final works themselves, maybe not so much.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE AN ARTIST?
I first knew I was an artist when I owned a sketchbook and on it was printed: "ARTIST'S SKETCHBOOK".
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON ABSTRACT ART?
As with any subject, I think it is important to look at abstract art in its own context, which also means knowing a little bit about its purpose and history. Of course, a person can look at any painting (abstract or not) and have a first impression without knowing anything about the work or the artist, and that certainly is valid but not as informed. For that matter, a being from outer space could come to Earth, look at a painting and have an opinion of it based on any criteria (Does it fly? Does it taste good?) and while those opinions would be valid to that individual, they would not be informed opinions about the art or about what the art is about.
There are a few terms or concepts that can be used in discussing abstract art, and it is useful to understand them. Initially, 'abstract' painting refered to representational works in which a recognizable object would be reduced to its basic and barest components, or to angular elements (cubism).
An abstract painting can be either representational or non-representational. Most of Picasso's abstracts would be considered representational. That is, his pictures represent, although abstractly, the visual appearance of things. When he paints a woman, it may not look like any woman who ever existed, but there are still the features of the face and body. On the other hand, the works of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko do not attempt to portray or represent anything beyond what they are. They are abstract, but not representational.
It may be easier to understand if we look at paralells in music. There are certainly many examples of music which are representational, which are specifically written to portray or "represent" or remind us of something other than the music itself . For example, consider the 1812 Overature, (which even includes the firing of a cannon) or any work which is supposed to invoke sadness or cheerfulness. You could call this type of music representational. There is a Chinese melody which uses an instrument called a Souna (similar to an oboe or clarinet) and a flute to literally mimic the sounds of birds (see link below). On the other hand, you have violin Concertos by J.S. Bach which are great works, but non-representational (link below) and free-form jazz also fits that category. What makes an artist famous? Actually, it is a lot like asking what makes a basketball player famous. If you look at the world of baketball, you will understand the art world.
YOU HAVE WORKED PROFESSIONALLY AS BOTH A COMMERCIAL ILLUSTRATOR AND AS A FNE ARTIST, AND A LOT OF YOUR BACKGROUND AS A CARTOONIST SHOWS UP IN YOUR PAINTINGS.
HOW DO YOU DISTINGUISH FINE ART FROM COMMERCIAL ART?
There is a very obvious thing to remember, but it is important. By itself, art has no purpose. All values and qualities in art are what we give a work. We give something it's purpose, its meaning, and we determine these qualities by determining it's context. So, take something very simple, a red dot for example. It can fucnction as a work of art. If we are just looking at it that way, on a canvas. But if you put it on a flag, it becomes the symbol of Japan, and if you put it in the center of a circle it becomes the symbol of Target Stores, and if you put it on the back of a sneaker it becomes the logo of a sneaker company, which there was, when I was a kid,called "Red Ball Jets".
A picture might be created to sell a product, to convey a political or religious message, or even to fill wallpaper. But it's still a work of art. If we say that the intended function of one picture is superior to the intended function of another picture, then we really aren't talking about the picture any more. We are talking about the function. From that viewpoint, is there any difference between Tony The Tiger and, say, a painting of Adam by Michaelangelo? Religion or breakfast cereal, if we are talking about art serving some up some kind of motivational message, then in that regard, they are the same.
There is a lot of commercial art that could pass as fine art. If there is any distinction that really exists, within the work itself, rather than intent, then it has to do with its production and rests on whether, in the end, it is the original work that is meant to be seen, or a reproduction of it. What this means is, the original thing that is made by the hands of the artist, what does it look like?
As an illustrator I would create images that might be smeared with white-out, non-reproducing blue pencil, shading film and be stuck together with rubber cement, or even wax! The final viewer does not see this raw work, but merely a clever reproduction of it, in which all of these other elements of production are hidden. But this can also be said of a work of fine art. A lot goes into a painting that is never seen in the finished product.
A work of art seldom reveals itself completely. But if a piece of white tape is holding something onto the surface of a picture, in a work of fine art the tape is part of the visual composition. It has to be there for a compositional reason. In commercial art, in something that is created for reproduction, the white tape may be expected to disappear. Its function is utilitarian, rather than aesthetic. However, I do not think that 'reproduction as a primary consideration' is a defining factor in determining whether something is or is not a work of art. I think that Warhol, Rauschenberg and others broke that barrier by making reproduction itself the method, means and final object.
One could even get a bit more philosophical about it. Every work of art is meant to be reproduced - - in the mind of the viewer. So, the point then becomes whether a printmaker's camera has any more validity as a method of reproduction than a brain. At this point, you have to argue that something is not art, commercial or fine art, until somebody has looked at it!
SO, ARE YOU A FINE ARTIST OR A COMMERCIAL ARTIST?
There is a very special type of skill--actually there are many--involved in illustration, including being able to read the mind of both your audience and the person hiring you. And illustration work can be anything from a fancy children's book to a "how to" instruction manual. There is this wholr thing among artists about fine art vs. commercial art and I was thinking about art today and about something I read in an anthology on DADA (The DADA Painters And Poets Edited by Robert Motherwell, p.78):
"The new artist protests: he no longer paints (symbolic and illusionist reproduction) but creates-..."
There is more to this sentence; it is from a Dada Manifesto by Tristan Tzara, written nearly 100 years ago. And when I read this it got me thinking about the difference between rendering the likeness of something ...as opposed to creating something the likeness of which has never been seen. Just thinking, not taking sides, just thinking.
Illustration is a type of art, even if the illustrator is not inventing anything new. And an aesthetic invention (think of Calder's mobiles) is also art, even if it is not expressing something literally. There is nothing inherent in any object which makes it a work of art, or a utilitarian item, a commercial work. None of these things know what they are. These are labels we impute on things. The basic distinction between commercial and fine art lies in its primary function. If you create an image of soap bubbles and the primary purpose of the image is to be considered for its aesthetics then you are talking about fine art. If the primary purpose of the image is to sell soap, then it is a work of commercial art.
However, these distinctions have virtually no meaning in the 21st century. The idea that "fine arts " is superior to commercial arts, or to illustration reflects a specific view of art that was especially prominent in Europe in the 19th century and has to do with the rise of the aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries, of the consolidation of power (Italy wasn't even unified as a single country until the mid 1800's), the establishment of the individual artist as a kind of celebrity, and other factors that I won't go into here.
Suffice to say that Fine arts were considered "pure" and unsullied by any secondary concerns, especially the need for money. From this came the view that peddling one's talents for money, as a sign-painter for example, constituted "prostituting" one's art. Of course, this view lies in total denial of the fact that all artists hope to get paid for their work, or would like to live off of it, and that all the great masters were paid. But they were paid by rich families, or royal families, or by the church, all of whom constituted a social class that did not depend on labor, nor had any day to day worries regarding the need for money. Naturally, a class of artist which shared this lofty social position (at least officially) was cultivated, whose art reflected the tastes and subject matter preferred by its wealthy patronage. The classical styles of these periods were promoted exclusively in the academies, to the point of creative stagnation. It was against this stifling control that what we call modern art (beginning more or less with the impressionists) developed.
By the time of the Bauhaus (1920's), utilitarian art had surpassed exclusively 'fine art' (except for cubism) in terms of presenting any new ideas and developments in aesthetics, form, and so forth. These revolutions in the concerns usually associated with "pure art" were happening more rapidly in the design of household objects than they were on the canvas.
What I find intriguing is that what today is called "High Art" and I mean that which is the main focus of arts media such as Artforum, Art News, Art In America and so forth, this art constitutes an extremely small percentage of truly new and exciting work being created in the world today. But it is the percentage that attracts the most money, and that is the main reason why it is considered important.
Sorry Jeff Koons, but somebody had to say it.
I don't think that one can judge whether an artist is too commercial, or is not a "true artist" (whatever that means) merely because one is prolific, or even because one 'cranks out' paintings. I am a painting cranker-outer, but my interest is actually about how to streamline the physical process in order to maximize both creative input and painting output. Most artists never bother to separate all the steps required to conceptualize, render and produce a finished work. They just lump it all together: "I make a painting". But in fact, there are different aspects to the whole process including the best use of time (because let's face it, very few of us have enough time to create everything we would ever want to create). Some of the steps involved in creating artworks can be done 'assembly line' style, thus creating more time to devote to the use of creativity and skill.
Let's take one example. It is possible for an artist to estimate to some degree how many paintings he or she will paint this year. For every artist it will be different. If it usually takes you two weeks to create a work from start to finish, you know that you will probably not paint more than 25 in a year (because there are 50 good work weeks in a year), but maybe more and maybe less depending on how many paintings you have going at once. If most of those 25 paintings are the same size, then you know that you can prepare 25 blank painting surfaces all at one time (stretching canvass, gessoing) which means that you only have to wash your gesso/primer brush once. If it takes 5 minutes to wash out a wide brush, then you have saved two hours of brush washing time that you can now devote to painting. It also means that you have all of your blank surfaces waiting for you, so that when you suddenly wake up at 3:00 am with a great painting idea in your mind, you can get to it immediately.
I have spent years timing brush strokes as well as every step involved in the production of a painting. That is actually my art. The paintings are merely the remains of the planning. As a result, I am able to produce and sell original works for less than it would cost to produce prints, I am able to let my imagination run wild, and to meet the needs of these economic hard times, have just started producing works that sell for only $20 each. I have lots of fun doing it and am building an ever widening base of collectors. I am not spilling all of this to brag, but to offer as an example to aspiring artists that analyzing what you do and planning can result in greater output.
There are two things almost all famous artists share in common : They produced a LOT of stuff, and in doing so developed consistency (developed a style) in their work. Give it a try. Paint in one square inch on a canvass (or watercolor or whatever you use) and see how long it takes. Multiply that by the number of square inches on the surface and you will actually come up with a fairly close approximation of how long (actual painting time) it takes to produce a painting on that surface.
IS FINDING TIME TO DEVELOP NEW WORK EVER A PROBLEM?
When my son was a baby he never slept more than an hour at a time. I was the stay at home dad, since I worked at home anyway. As a result, I never got more than an hour of sleep at a time. I was so sleep deprived that I saw black moths fluttering in my peripheral vision, like tiny flickering bats. My world existed in short bursts, as if I was a movie that had been edited by Hitchcock. My wife would come home from her job, find cartons of milk in the cupboard and weird stuff like that. Needless to say, I had very little time or energy to devote to my artwork.
I think it was the best thing that ever happened.
Eventually I began to work in 10 and 15 minute intervals, working in up to an hour a day at first. What I learned how to do was work quickly. Knowing that every moment was precious, I streamlined the way I thought and worked, so that every brush stroke counted. Of course, my style is pretty loose to begin with. But sleep deprivation really makes you have some interesting ideas for paintings.
During that time I developed two streams of work. One was a series of small works I call "Wild Beasts" (after the fauves). I painted and sold about 1,500 of those. I called it "hamburger art" because it's like flipping burgers: cranked out and sold cheap.
At the same time, I had a number of larger works going on, that I could relax with, take my time, and really devote careful attention to. It is hard to fit in time to work on art, even if that is your main job, because life is full of other responsibilities and other people who need you to deal with their stuff. Remembering that all situations are temporary, and working whatever situation exists into the process of one's creativity can be a good discipline and can sometimes take you to new levels, higher than you might have reached
I also have a lot more projects going on than I used to, and it seems impossible to get them all done. I am always thinking up new projects, even before older ones are finished. The challenge is patience and discipline. If I get an idea for a new work, i just want to jump right up and go do that. But the problem arises that before i have finished one thing, I have started three more other things. So, now I have to actually schedule when to begin work on a new project, otherwise I end up with a studio full of half-finished art. People email me and ask if I will paint them a picture of this or that, or would I like to illustrate a kid's book, and it might be a great thing, but I have to look at my calendar, and then I have to say, "maybe in a year or two".
HOW MUCH PLANNING DO YOU DO
BEFORE STARTING A NEW WORK?
I rarely ever think about what I am going to paint before I start. I usually make a lot of changes and often repaint over the whole thing entirely and start something new. Of course, there are some that I do plan out in advance. But I try not to plan too much. It interrupts the spontaneity. I find that it also helps to be working on more than one work at a time. Right now I think I have about 23 paintings going, some planned, some spontaneous. It is good to do both.
WHAT OTHER KINDS OF EXPERIMENTAL
WORK HAVE YOU BEEN DOING?
A few years ago I had these little battery-operated dogs, the kind that yap yap yap and walk around or flip. The first year I had two of them, and dipped their feet into paint and people watched them 'create' art on large sheets of paper. The year after that, I stripped all the fur off one dog, and duct-taped markers to its feet, and had it suspending above a large pad of paper. Again, as it shook and convulsed it produced some amazing images. The works the mechanical dogs produced may not have been art, but the mechanical dog piece itself was art that produced the images.
WHAT MAKES A WORK OF ART "GOOD"?
The very idea of good and bad is relative, subjective, no matter what you are applying it to. This does not mean, however, that subjectivity has no value. Good and bad can function legitimately within a given context. What may be bad for me to eat may be very good for the vegetables in my garden, which I will later eat. Frank Lloyd's house 'Falling Water' is good visually, but it has a lot of problems structurally. So, is it a good building or not? It all depends on the criteria you are using.
So, there are agreements as to what makes a work of art good or bad, and those agreements have a lot of meaning for those people who share those agreements. The authority is granted to them by virtue of a commonly shared set of limits and degrees. But outside of that, most opinions aren't worth the brain cells it takes to have them.
Suppose I have a signed, numbered, limited edition etching, a portrait of George Washington in my wallet. It is valued at one dollar. In other words, money doesn't really have value either, nor does gold, except that we all agree that it does. So the value of my painting, its goodness or badness, might only be considered in the context of how many presidential portraits I can trade it for.
But within a given context, for instance, at a critique session, one can state why they THINK a work is good or bad. This has nothing to do with whether a person LIKES the work. (I had an art teacher who would say that he liked grade-B westerns, but that didn't make them good movies).
So you can say, "this work is good because the composition is well balanced" or make some other observation based on a shared agreement on what the limits are. In this example, 'well-balanced composition' counts for something. Paintings by Jackson Pollock are considered by many people to be great. But in terms of how realistically they portray any familiar object, well, they are not very good at doing that! So, for many people who expect to walk into a gallery and see a dog or a bowl of fruit or something, they are not operating in the context of Pollock's work. They do not think it is good work. And some of his works are better than others. But who can tell?
Anybody who states that a work is good or bad has to be able to explain why. What makes something "art" is that it is being considered (looked at) primarily with regard to its aesthetic qualities. An onject may have other qualities, but what concerns the viewer and thus makes it an artistic situation is that for the moment it is regarded for how it looks.
So for example, a teapot --the object-- can be considered on Monday for how hot it keeps liquid, which is purely functional and what it looks like doesn't matter. And on Tuesday it can be regarded for its color, shape and in this case you are discussing art. But it's the same teapot.
So it isn't up to the object to be art or not be art. It becomes art when the artist produces it, because what it looks like is the artist's concern, and again when the viewer considers it for what it looks like, for its aesthetic qualities.
Someone might buy a painting based on how well it covers a crack in the wall, or because they need something to fill up an empty wall, and have no concern whatsoever about what is painted. Until it is looked at for its aesthetic qualities, it has none. If you put it into a dark closet, it has no colors or lines at all. Without a source of light, the image does not even exist.
So my point is that we go astray when we leave all of the responsibility for being art up to the object in question. Do you think that the Mona Lisa knows it is a great painting?
Something may indeed be the result of a great waste of time and materials, but if the end product is being regarded for how it looks, then you are talking about art, because by this definition, art is anything you are regarding on the basis of how it looks (or in the case of culinary arts, for how it tastes. Or in the case of musical arts, for how it sounds, etc.) . And there are many criteria. Muy work, for example, is primarily considered on its intellectual, rather than decorative function. But this again has to do with the person looking at it, What i mean by this is that a lot of people select a work of art based on how well it fills up an empty space on a wall, or how well it goes with their decorating scheme. That is their criteria. My artwork generally does not fit that criteria. My work is about the subject matter, and it is good work, i tthink, because of the line and composition. The colore are fairly arbitrary. A cow can be brown or green or blue and it doesn't matter.
But my true feeling is that there are not really any good paintings or bad paintings. A painting is either great, or not so great.
HOW DO YOU WORK OUT
PERCENTAGES AND GALLERY COMMISSIONS?
I think there may be a lot of confusion about commissions, agents, percentages, and so forth. So, I would like to share a couple of stories.
A few years ago a woman called me to discuss licensing some of my images. We had a meeting at my house. She thought my images would be very popular, especially on paper picnic plates. So she wanted to display some of my work at a trade show, where companies hunt for designs. She would set up a booth and wanted to blow up some of my pictures to be used in the display, bla bla blah. All fine and dandy, until she also said that she wanted to put my images up on her website as part of the deal, as one of the artists that she was representing. So I would be emailing her images of the work. THEN she told me how much it was going to cost, including some insane price just for uploading the images to her website....$50 each! Throughout our whole conversation, she spoke as though I would be working for her, providing images that she would license. In fact, she was asking me for a job, and she wanted to be paid up front. When it dawned on me that this was the scenarion, I j politely kicked her out of the house. Then I released the hounds.
In another situation, I was selling a lot of work from a small shop in an artsy-touristy area, a shop that was owned by a friend of mine. It was great. Then one day, I got a letter from her and inside was an employee tax form! She thought that since her shop had been selling my work and sending me a check every month, that she was paying me. I informed her that she had it backwards. True, her shop was issuing me a check, but it was actually the money left over after she had taken her cut. If anything, I was paying her. The money was merely going through her hands first.
The point is, you have to understand who is working for whom. Yes, there are reliable and worthwhile agents, representatives, gallery owners. And if somebody can bring me more money selling my work for more than I can get selling it by myself, then they deserve a commission..
Some galleries charge 50% commission and this is low or high depending on many factors. Do they sell a lot? Do they have a dedicated upper-income clientele? Do they send out a mailing? Do they at least send out an emailing? Do they send out announces to all the media or do you? Will they provide an opening reception and pay for the food and wine?
You are the person creating, and providing, the object of value.
WHAT ABOUT PAYING ENTRY FEES TO JURIED SHOWS?
When you have to actually pay somebody to lkook at your work, what does that say about your work? But I want to make a distinction. If you are paying someone to take the time to look at your work and discuss it with you, discuss ways of improving it, market it or whatever, then that is different. you are paying for a service. Or, if you are putting work in a show and the fee helps to pay the costs of that show or that gallery, but paying gets you in, then again, that's legitimate. But paying a fee merely on a chance of getting into a show is essentially a gamble. But in fact, it's a crooked gamble because the winner isn't even chosen at random.
Mmany years ago, in the "days of radio", food companies used to to hold contests for short stories or poetry. People entering the contests would have to pay an entree fee.
Now, I know there may be some folks who will disagree with me, and I am not referring to booth fees for setting up at art fairs and the like. However, any gallery owner who makes a regular practice of charging unsuspecting artists a flat fee for the "priviledge" of getting to use their wall space should keep in mind that as artists we are quite capable of throwing our own parties. I have held a few "openings" on the top floor of a parking garage at the local university. What an event! What a beautiful space! What Wonderful light! And plenty of parking right there!
In another situation, a local farmers market did very well on saturdays but needed to boost the number of customers on Sundays, so they advertized that they wanted artists to set up and sell things, so it was a "sunday arts market" along with friuts and vegetables. They intended to charge the artists a set-up fee. I strongly protested. They wanted us there as a draw. "You should pay us!" I said. When a shopping mall has a dancing dog show or some other magnet scheme, do they charge the performers? No, they pay the performers. The market changed their policy. There would be no set-up fee, but they still required a very teensy percentage, just so the farmers wouldn't feel slighted. (I have pointed out to many farmers and artists in Central Ohio, where I live, that in the city of Columbus, anyone who is selling something they have grown, manufactured or produced themselves is exempt from all laws pertaining to steet vendors. We can set up anywhere for free. But few ever do.)
I hope these true stories will encourage people to think not only about the role of artists, but about the power of artists. It is really great when one can work well with a gallery owner or arts fair organizer. Each plays a unique and valuable role, and should work together on an equal basis or not at all.I find that how long a painting takes depends largely on how much time i can devote to it and how much coffee I have. But here are a couple of suggestions for getting more work out in less time. First, have a number of canvasses, or boards, or whatever you paint on primed and ready to go. This is also useful if you are like me, and get a sudden combination of mood & idea and you want to work on it while it is still fresh. Then you can just grab a blank one and get going on it. You don't have to stop and measure and stretch canvas and wait for gesso to dry.
The second suggestion is to have more than one work going on at a time. This is because in fact you can think about and work on many pieces at once. You may even be able to take the same paint from picture to picture, if you are using the same colors. This will save on clean-up time.
I was at a party once and a woman told me "there are two kinds of painters....slashers and noodlers". The slashers lay down bold brush strokes rapidly, and the noodlers like to work on teensy weensy details. I don't know if it is true or not, but I like the idea.
I definitely get out of sorts when I haven't been able to paint (or do something else creative) for a few days. I have talked to many artists who have expressed this, that it is a compelling need. One friend said he was "addicted to creativity" and that not being able to create caused him to have withdrawal.
Here is something to think about when you are feeling isolated "All those feelings of isolation and loneliness are going on in your brain, which is forever locked away inside of a dark, cramped little skull (Poor thing!)"
Whenever I feel a little depressed, I think about that, and about how I am so much much better off than my brain is, and how glad I am that it's not me locked inside of that skull. I think about this, and then just about any place I happen to be seems a lot better.
Also, when I can't get to the studio to paint, making home-made bread is a good activity.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR CHOICE OF MATERIALS.
I used to paint on luan wood but then I noticed that the big stack of it at the lumber place all said MADE IN BRAZIL and I am just not going to buy wood from Brazil because it probably comes from the rain forests.
So now I use Louisiana yellow pine. I have never been particularly fond of Lousiana.I paint the edges, but i have never painted the back. I use latex acrylics. In many years I have never had a problem with the wood separating or changing in any way. Of course, these paintings hang inside peoples homes, not outside.
Also, I paint (thus) essentially sealing the "sandwichy" edge of the plywood. Only the back of the painting is unpainted. They do sometimes warp, but I have managed to incorporate this into the work.
I use to do a lot of fancy and decorative hand lettering for posters, before computers took over our planet.
First, I am using latex house paint. So I don't know how well what I do will translate to oils or acrylics. I am using white house paint as a base, which has a high amount of titanium oxide I think, so it is very opaque in one coat, even when thinned. I add colored paint to that. You don't want to go over lettering twice if you can avoid it, so one-coat opacity is best.
For lettering, the consistency of the paint is like ice cream that is melting quickly on a very hot day. Runny, but not watery.
Instead of a brush, I write with thin bamboo meat skewers, the very small kind. Starting with about a tablespoon of paint, I dip the skewer and use it like a stylus. Each letter probably takes 2 or 3 dips into the paint. But after a while it goes very quickly.
The thing is to maintain a good consistency. If the paint is too runny it will drip off the tip in one big blob. If it is too thick, it simply won't flow well. So you want the paint to sort of roll smoothly off the tip of the bamboo skewer as you write with it, like a fountain pen.
Also, you may want to blunt the tip of the skewer first with a little sand paper. If it is too 'pointy' it won't harmonize with the thickness of the paint. In other words, the paint has its own degree of viscosity and won't know what to do when it gets down to a very tiny point. Wipe the skewer off every so often.
We are really talking about teensy weensy things here. using a bamboo skewer stylus you can also make extremely tiny dots, eyelashes, etc.
By the way, try experimenting and see what happens when you dilute paint with ordinary rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Great if you want things to dry quicky, but reacts differently with different paints.
YOU’VE CREATED LOGOS FOR PEOPLE.
IS THAT HARD? WHAT DO YOU CHARGE?
I think the fee charged for a logo can run all over the place, from free to thousands.
But here is a tip I learned a long time ago. Many clients for logos or other design work own their own business. They naturally want to run things their way. When bringing your client the design you have created, bring 3 different, or slightly different versions...the one you want to do, that you really want them to pick; one you'd be okay with; and one you know you'll both hate. This will minimize any 'creative' changes that your client may wish to inflict, because this absorbs the client's instinctive need for control into a mechanism that you are really in charge of.
So, instead of showing only one work that your client will either like, dislike, or want to change (thus making you have to redo things) they get to choose which design they like best from what you have already created. They will also appreciate how much "extra work" you've done for them. Some business people are really nuts and will want to make changes just for the sake of exerting their power and being able to control something. They may assume that making a hundred changes is included all part of the price. If you think your client may be a control freak, this little trick can save you a lot of headaches.
YOU ALSO CREATE WEBSITES.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HAPPENING WITH THE INTERNET THESE DAYS?
There is a very interesting thing that can happen with people who do not actually know each other. I first encountered it sitting in the 'lounge' car for 6 hours of a train journey. People began to open up to each other...to complete strangers...confiding in them all sorts of personal stories and strange confessions. By the end of the trip, people were saying goodbye to each other with tears and hugs as if they were old friends (except for one young man and woman who had disappeared together much earlier).
Anyway, I have seen similar behavior patterns on line in chat rooms and in online groups and forums. People who do not know each other create mental images and build imaginary personality profiles of each other based on a few posts, and sometimes open up with very confidential comments. (at least here you can see someone's artwork).
Okay, okay. My point is that the 'reality' of the online world (which is, after all, virtual) can very easily become magnified. As a result, it is easy to give a lot of weight and value to comments (including art critiques) that in fact may mean nothing, from people one does not know (or in one sense may not even exist in the 'real' world) who for example, were they to simply show up at an art opening making rude comments would be easily dismissed.
But online we have a tendency assume that what everyone says is valid until proven otherwise, simultaneously giving them an imaginary personality which in turn reinforces the validity of their comments. But it is all an illusion. Until you actually know who somebody is, you should be aware of how much of that person is someone you have created in your own imagination.
DO YOU CONCERN YOURSELF
WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS?
I would suggest that as artists, since what we do already is create realities on canvas or in sculptures, to be aware of what and who we are creating and basically not get too hung up about what anybody says about one's artwork. Comments and critiques can be very helpful, but remember to keep things in perspective. Very little of this actually matters.With some exceptions, I think all famous and successful artists share two things in common: They produced tons of stuff, and their work showed some consistency, even if it changed a lot, it was consistent in terms of quality and what I would call the 'strength' of a work. I think that too many art students get pooped out of the back end of an art school, make 20 or thirty pieces, set the price at $10,000 each and then end up working at McDonalds wondering why they didn't sell all their works and become instantly famous.
Most of my work sells in the low range...under $500, and quite often less than $100. But I sell a lot of it, and I believe that the average person, not just the person with an extra $10,000 lying around should be able to afford art. It's a philosomological thing. Why should the average person only be allowed to choose from junk from the department store manufactured on a painting assembly line in China? I think people should be able to get real art from real artists. At least I would like my friends to be able to afford my work.
It is also my hope that one day all the people who bought my work when it was cheap will own something of great value. As I expand my selection of higher priced works, I find an interesting thing taking place. Since hundreds of people have many of my works already, people often tell me, "Oh my friend has some of your work" ...and this sets into motion the whole "famous" thing, which in turns helps to fuel a market for higher priced works.
I am quite eager to trade my paintings for other art, but I am very specific. I am primarily interested in acquiring engravings (prints) depicting portraits of U.S. Presidents Jackson, Grant, Washington & Lincoln, but I am also very interested in collecting images of Ben Franklin. Signed, numbered, Wallet-size portraits only.
Sixty "Wild Beast" paintings in simultaneous production.
Volker separated the process into two parts, the first part consisting of elements common to all the pictures (gradient color background, black border, wall hanging device) and the second part, the complete individualization of each painting. This method reduced production time considerably, making it possible to create original works of art that anyone coulod afford to collect. He produced over 1,500 totally unique paintings this way. Shown here, a 4" x 4" block of wood weighs down a stack onto which rear-mounted hanging blocks have just been glued.
I UNDERSTAND THAT THE CHINESE WORD FOR ‘CRISIS’
IS ALSO THE WORD FOR ‘OPPORTUNITY’.
HOW DO YOUR PAINTINGS SELL IN A BAD ECONOMY?
Actually, the saying goes that the Chinese word for "crisis" has the same meaning as "opportunity" but this isn't exactly true. The term for "ooprtunity" is "ji hui" and the term for crisis is "we ji" and while they both use the same character "ji" , "ji" sort of implies a basic situation, and one could imply from that a somewhat immediate or temporary situation.
But strictly speaking, 'crisis', 'change' and 'opportunity' are all different words and do not share the same meaning. It would be like saying that to brush your teeth means the same thing as painting your teeth simply because of the use of the word "brush".
Chinese language however is rich will similar words and plays on word meanings, such as "fu" which sounds the same for 'blessing' as for 'bat' and you will often see bats used as a motif in Chinese artwork, especially in embroidery and textiles. And shared meanings are also quite frequently employed in impolite conversation. "xiao didi" literally means "little brother" and is slang for a part of the male anatomy. Likewise, one should be careful not to tell the waitress in a Taiwan restaurant that you 'like to eat tofu' unless you want to get into some trouble.There is nothing as scary as having your plate of asparagus staring back at you.
YOU’VE PAINTED SOME RELIGIOUS FIGURES, BUDDHA, CHRIST. WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RELIGION AND ART?
You know, religions have depended almost totally on artists (painters, architects, musicians, illuminators, clothing designers and scribes) for their survival!
I spoke to a high school class a couple of years ago. I asked them, "Who here has ever seen a picture of Jesus?" and naturally, everybody raised their hand. Then I asked, "Who can tell me what he looked like?" and suddenly the hands went down and everybody looked puzzled. I mentioned that the popular image, largely based on Leonardo's 'Last Supper' might actually be a picture of DaVinci's boyfriend.
They looked quite shocked.
Here is an interesting argument concerning art and religion. Please note, it is not concerned with any theological discussion concerning any actual existence or non-existence of divine beings, merely what divine beings are imagined to be. It is for entertainment porpoises only:
A. People worship what they can define as a god. B. No definition can exist outside of the human imagination. C. Thus, people worship what is produced in the imagination. D. Producing with the imagination is the work of the artist E. Therefore, gods are created by artists.
Another interesting story:
Do you know why Virgin Mary was traditionally painted wearing a blue wrap (or whatever you call it...a shawl?) It is because blue pigment was made from grinding Lapiz Lazuli. it had to be imported from Afghanistan and was therefore extremely costly. Naturally, only the most expensive color would be used for Mary. However, sometimes artists would take the money they were supposed to spend on lapiz, buy cheaper blue, (sodalite perhaps) and pocket the difference. Has anyone ever experimented with boiling their paint before using it? I am trying to get warmer colors and I was wondering if this would help.
ANY TIPS ON PAINTING THE HUMAN FIGURE?
It helps me to keep in mind the components of what I am drawing. For example, you will never draw a face. You will only draw the muscles of the face, the skeleton of the face, the wrinkles of the face. Then it becomes a face. Same with the rest of the body. Draw the skeleton, draw the muscles. Draw everything transparent, as though you had x-ray eyes. See if this helps.
For some strange reason, the adult body is all proportioned to itself in one way or the other. For example, for many people, their foot is the same length as their forearm (try it!) And a person's arm span (stretched out side to side, middle finger tip to middle finger tip) is the same as their height. If you ever want to measure the waist of a pair of pants that you can't try on (like at a thrift store) zip them up & button or snap them, hold the waist at the hips (side belt loops ) and see if the waist of the pants fits around your neck. If it does, the pants should fit. I only offer these amazing facts because human body parts are all proportioned to each other.
Finally, when drawing a face, look at where everything is in relationship to everything else (duhhh!) No, what I mean is, notice that the pupils of the eye are often directly above the corners of the mouth. Don't put ears too high on the head (think about if the person were wearing glasses, and the horizontal line that runs from the eyes to the ears. Imagine the lines of the eyebrows continuing forever. Do they make a triangle over the nose? To the muscles of the eyes make a "figure 8" ?
I had a teacher who used to say that the hardest part is that you have to stop drawing what you think you see and actually draw what you see.
OUTSIDER ART IS POPULAR. ARE YOU AN OUTSIDER ARTIST?
Outsider art does have a big following these days, so there is a demand factor that drives the price way, way up, and to meet the demand for outsider art, the definition of "outsider" keeps getting more encompassing. But when the term was first used this was not the case. So now, much of what is called 'outsider art' is now inside. The outsider artists are not specifically trying to make art, per se. This how it differs from, say, the late 19th century and early 20th century art movements. The fauves, impressionists, and so forth were already trained artists who wanted to break away from traditional boundaries of art. They were trying to create a new type of art, but still emerged from inside the art world. The outsiders, on the other hand, did not come from inside the mainstream art world, which has merely absorbed them.
I am not an outsider artist. My intention is to create art. So, I am more like the artists at the beginning of the 20th century. I am trying to make new kinds of art, new ways of looking at art, new ways of doing the traditional art form of painting that have never existed before.
ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR EMERGING ARTISTS HOPING TO SHOW IN GALLERIES?
The only place to find what to say is in your head. There is no standard 'sales pitch'. You aren't selling vacuum cleaners. That's one of the extra benefits of being an artist...you can make it all up as you go along and the more unique you are, the better!
The bottom line is that you want people to see your work. Period. Everything else in secondary, but might include: -I want people to appreciate what I do - I want people to buy my art
and both of these can go into even further branches of thought.
Either a gallery will want to show your work or they won't. Usually a gallery exhibits a certain type or style of work, just as a restaurant specializes in a certain type of cuisine.
It helps if you have a biz card, and some very, very good pictures of your work. The images are the most important part because it not only shows them what you do, but it also shows how serious you are about what you do. If possible, bring an actual sample or two of your work and keep it in your car, and tell them that if they want, you'll be happy to bring it in and show them. Have pictures of your work (it used to be slides, but these days computer disc is standard) or even goo color copies, that you can leave with them so they can review them later. Have your name & phone number on EVERYTHING.
You don't need to give them a resume. This isn't a job interview. But ask them to give you some 'proposal' guidelines for what they need, and ask how far ahead they are planning shows and when is the next opportunity to show your work. It might be in a group show. Ask them what teir percentage (of sales) is, and what do they provide (do they send out postcards, press releases, etc).
There are other details that are important to ask about, including insurance, and the time period before and after a show when that gallery is still entitled to a percentage of any of your work they will show or have shown.
Finally, if they don't want you, ask them if they can suggest a different gallery.
Don't be intimidated or discouraged by galleries. If they don't need you, then your attitude is that you definitely don't need them. Many successful --famous - artists were initially turned down by gallery owners who didn't understand or appreciate the artist's work.I generally do cut off parts of what is going on in my work, in order to give the viewer feeling that he or she is only witnessing a fragment of an event. However I must admit in this case it was bad cropping of the photo (although the effect is the same as you mentioned, and frabkly, you didn't miss much!)
TELL ME ABOUT ‘HARD TIMES WITH SPARKLY UNICORN’
There is also an implied contrast in subject matter by incorporating two somewhat different styles in one painting (something that can be hard to do well, I think) and the sort of unnerving zig-zag background is supposed to help the viewer experience a sense of conflict. In general, my paintings derive humor at the expense of the subjects they portray (here an unemployed worker) while at the same time the viewer still maintains sympathy for the subject while I ridicule the popular habit of looking for magical solutions (or magical presidential candidates maybe?)
YOU ARE ALSO FOND OF PUBLIC SPEAKING. HOW MUCH DO YOU CHARGE?
I usually charge by the word. Longer words cost more than shorter words. I don't charge for pause words such as "'um" , "uh" or for dangling participles.
Here's how to figure it out. Read a paragraph of about 300 words into a voice recorder and see how long it takes. If it takes say, 2 minutes then you can figure 150 words per minute. That's 9000 words an hour (non-stop). So then divide that by 2, because you have to take a breath now and then, which gives you 4500 words per hour. Then set your per-hour price (something only you can estimate). If you want them to pay you about $100 per hour then that comes to 2.2 cents per word. I'd round it up to 3 cents per word especially if you plan on using a lot of really descriptive adjectives.
Finally, videotape your speech, add up the words and charge them accordingly.
It's that simple!
IS IT IMPORTANT FOR AN ARTIST TO BECOME FAMOUS?
First of all, "famous" is relative. An artist can be quite popular in in the city where they live but elswhere completely unknown. In terms of what you see in art magazines and in art history books, most artists you read about, living or dead, are in places where art really, really matters to people, especially people with money, which constitutes a "thriving arts community". There are a lot of people who can shoot hoops like crazy but if they aren't playing on the right court, who will see them?
In any case, there are two things that almost all famous artists share in common and if you do these two things then I think it is almost certain that you can be successful as an artist.. The two things are volume and consistency. Most famous artists produced lots of work, sometimes many hundreds of pieces. And they developed some consistency. This doesn't mean that they only painted one type of thing, or only had one kind of style or never went through phases. It doesn't even mean that all of their work was good all the time. But through doing a lot of work, one develops a sort of consistent quality.
If you look at a Picasso you know it's a Picasso. Every piece is strong. Again, look at basketball. Take any basketball star as an example. In the entire span of his career, making millions of shots, he has probably missed more shots that he has sunk. And basically a ball goes through a hoop and there are really not too many ways around that.This is where consistency comes in. You know that if you go see Shaquille O'Neil play that you can go with some expectations. You know you will see a level of consistency in the way he plays, even if he misses a shot. It's the same with artists who have become famous.
Also, many famous artists were at the forefront of new traditions, and they had friends who wrote and published articles about them. The Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock was promoted by Clement Greenburg, as an "Abstract Expressionist". So, here you have a symbiotic relationship. Clement Greenburg became famous for discovering Abstract Expressionism, he promoted Pollock as the leading Abstract Expressionist, Pollock became famous because Greenburg said that it was a new art movement. One hand feeds the other. This was also partly true in the case of Picasso, who was written up in publications by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and in that case the new art movement was Cubism.
If you want to start being well known, go to gallery openings, meet the gallery owners, meet the people who write the arts columns in the paper. Meet other artists. Go to where art people go. Have a show of your work and send out news releases with photos, and notices to the calendar section of the paper. Especially the smaller, trendy papers. If you can't get a show in a gallery, do something weird like have a show every month at a different laundomat. Everybody who wants art is waiting to see something different. Yet so many people who make art intentionally avoid trying to be different. That never made sense to me.
If you want to be super famous try doing all of this in New York (You and ten thousand other artists). I have a friend who worked at an "art gallery" in a shopping mall, selling a lot of mediocre stuff, stuff produced for the shopping mall and "frame shop" trade, all the time for ridiculous sums of money. I do not understand it, but then again, I do.
There are these big white glossy trade journals, all the same except that they are aimed at various types of retail businesses. One is for framing stores and commercial "art galleries" the type you find in malls, that basically sell purely decorative work. And what I mean here is that a person buys it primarilybecause they have too much empty wall space. The content of the work is secondary. It could be a seascape or a bowl of fruit...whatever, as long as it is tasteful and looks nice with the sofa. So you can just select from these magazines any variety of pleasantly themed paintings, prints or sculptures and people pay a lot of money for them. How many of these seascapes does she actually sell? For $500 you could order a boatload of them from China, sign your name and probably retire (to Alaska) in a year.
Hmmm. Why didn't I think of that?
Who is the most successful American Artist of all time? You have probably never heard of him. His name is Arthur Sealy, the engraver whose 1867 portrait of George Washington (and sunsequent variations of it) appear on the One-Dollar bill. The American dollar is the most well recognized, most sought after and the most widely collected engraving in the world, isnt it? Every artist should realize that in terms of surviving in today’s market, he or she must be able to trade original works of art for multiple prints of this engraving. Redefining the American dollar this way in the face of a 21st century global economy brings up many questions, none of which are being asked.
I once had to turn in a biographical report about an artist for a college course I was attending (I wasn't enrolled, or getting graded, but thge teacher liked me and let me participate). I did my report on "Ben Trovato and the Italian Media Noche Movement" of the 1930's. It was a rather long oral report, with lots of references and details. It was also completely fictitious. The teacher suggested that I go further with the hoax, create a documentary film or something. I didn't do that, but I have had a few shows under the name "Ben Trovato", which is an Italian term meaning, 'artfully done, but lacking substance".
I am happy to say that my paintings have finally reached the highest plateau, the supreme level to which no work of art can surpass: They are starting to show up in thrift shops!
I was at the barber shop yesterday. The barber, a friend of mine, is a collector of local artists and specializes in 'outsider art". He showed me a small painting that another customer had just given him. I painted it in 1999 and the customer picked it up at the Volunteers of America, and gave it to the barber as a gift.
ANY ADVICE ON PROMOTING ONE'S WORK?
Even if someone produces stuff which is really not very good, that person will attract a lot more attention and benefit to their art career simply because they are doing a good job of promoting themselves. Sad but true. And at some point if someone does come out and denounce their work, by then it won't matter. In fact, it might even help them.
What is required in creating art, and what is required in creating artists statements and self-promotion, are two different things. There is a different focus, and they have to be played differently. Too many artists go on and on about their grand vision of beauty or their insufferable angst or whatever, and while that is all fine and dandy, who cares? It's like politicians. A politician never really talks about himself, he talks about the people he is trying to reach, and then only afterward throws himself into that group. In fact, a politicians seeks out complainers, and then convinces the loudest (and wealthiest) complainers that he can solve their problems. Not having art is a problem too.Its just that most people, especially artists, don't realize it.
When you write your artists statement, talk about the people you are trying to reach, and to whom your artwork will appeal. Talk about their values, their needs, their grand vision of beauty or their insufferable angst, and about how lucky everybody is now that you're here and you've got all the right artwork at just the right time.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING ARTISTS?
Really, a painter should regard his or her first thousand paintings as a warm-up to what will be created later. By removing all of these limits, there is nothing left except for the painting to express whatever dregs of creative 'genius' the artist may possess. And when that is possible, then that’s the real test. Finally, a work of art is never really finished until somebody buys it. Until then the artist might still go back now and then and 'touch it up".
The best way to promote your artwork is by having your work on exhibit as much as possible and by getting your artwork owned by as many people as possible. I think a big problem that many aspiring artists face is that they have a few intersting works, and when they display them, they wonder why everybody isn't snatching them up at $10,000 a piece. After a while they find employment in some line of work that has nothing to do with art. What a shame.
It is important to make a five year and ten year plan. Even a very vague plan, and you can then ignore this plan, but at least give it a shot. My plan was to produce a large number of inexpensive pieces, a number of works to donate to charity auctions, and so forth. These were essentially 'calling cards' whose main function was to get my name known.
I have a saying, "your first thousand paintings are crap! --after that they start getting good." What does that mean? Well, if your desire is to be a famous and successful artist, you have to look at the three things that most of the artists you've ever heard about have in common:
--they produced a ton of work
--they developed some consistency in what they produced.
--they developed something unique in what they did, so that when you see a work, you recognize who did it.
So, expect that in your lifetime you will produce at least a thousand and one works of art. The first thousand are warm-ups, practice pieces for that big masterpiece, artwork #1001. Of course, your stuff should start getting good way before that. But the point is, every time you paint, you get better, you refine your skill and your style, and you develop that special uniqueness in your work, which I think is the most important thing of all. A person has to be able to look at your work and know immediately, "that's a painting by ... " The more artwork you produce, the closer you get to that.
See if a neighborhood restaurant or hair salon will let you hang works there. I have sold a lot of work to women who sat in beauty salon chairs for an hour. In this situation my pieces all ran under $100 and I gave a percentage to the hair stylist. See? I gave a cut to the barber! Make sure you start keeping a record of every purchaser of your work, even your inexpensive works. You will want to contact them later on when you have new works. If you sell inexpensive things today to 500 people, the chances are very good that in five or ten years some of those people will want to -- and will be able to -- purchase your more expensive works.
Whenever you have a show, even if it's at a pizza shop, send a press release to all the local papers. Email is good but snail mail with a picture in it is better. Everybody shows in a gallery. How boring! What people want out of art is something new and experimental. Showing your work someplace unconventional can really work to your advantage, especially if your artwork is unconventional. I have always thought about having a show for one day only, in a bowling alley. Some are open 24 hours, and they almost all serve alcohol, and that always helps sell art.
The local arts newspaper, The Short North Gazette, runs ads for me when I supply them with artwork for the front cover. There are many ways you can trade your art for promotion. Get and keep the names and contact information of everybody who buys your work, along with the title of the work they buy. Don't just let stuff disappear! Don't just think about the immediate sale. Make every sale a building block for the future. This may be important some day after you are dead and they are teaching about you in the art history classes. But more immediately, it will give you a database of people you will be able to send mailings or email notices to in the future.
I painted and sold about 1,500 small works over the past 10 years and have a mailing list of over 500 people on it, which I am much too lazy (or too busy, I'm not sure which) to do anything with or even update.. If you are not there to collect their names when the work is purchased, put something on the back of your artwork ionviting the purchaser to contact you. This may not seem very important now, but it can really pay off in the future, especially if you create and sell a lot of inexpensive pieces now and plan to do more expensive works later. As I mentioned, this way you will have a list of people who already know and like your work, who may be in a position in the future to acquire something from you in a higher price range. I used to send out a mailing every couple of months with pictures of new paintings that were available directly from me. Don't Just make art...make art work for you!