Esteemed by the company of one’s peers

 With all my heart

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I had an interesting discussion with Mrs. Stepford, another artist who now resides next door to me. It’s me that’s moved in next to her, not vice versa.

Early in my dance with the paintbrush, I questioned why I was painting at all. Everything had already been done, hadn’t it? But art is an addiction; it’s so infinitely interesting, there are so many potential solutions to any one idea, that fascination sets in early and holds us dearly enslaved to the activity that is called Art.

I learned early on that selling paintings was not a criteria for judging whether a painting was good or not. There are some very amateurish paintings selling for equivalent prices of fine artists. In fact, a hungry good artist may undersell his or her work just to be able to eat or buy a replacement tube of cadmium red for her or his next picture.

I highly esteemed the caliber of a Canadian artist from Vancouver, who went by the name of Jewel, I thought. Maybe it was Julia. I’m sorry I’ve lost track of her name. She would turn up to the figure drawing sessions of Basic Inquiry several times a week. She had a facility with drawing and paint that was simply awesome. Everything she painted or drew . I thought was excellent.
This young lady had fallen upon hard times and announce, one Saturday when I went, that she had to pay the rent by the end of the month and she invited any who so wished, to come view her art work. She was selling them each for a hundred dollars.

I took her up on it and bought two pieces, both figures, highly original in both style of painting and point of view, and beautiful ones that were draftsman-like and liberated at the same time. My point is, these were underpriced both for the quality of the work and also the time she had taken to produce them. And yet, I’ve seen work at amateur guilds sell for higher price and not have any of the assurance nor the basic qualities one looks for in a work of art – and selling like hot cakes.

Every serious artist has to have some idea of who they are painting for and why, and they need to find a way to benchmark their success in reaching their goals. If you view your role as a recorder of beauty and believe painting the perfect flower picture is what you want to accomplish, then you need to search out others who have the same apparent goal and determine what you think are the best painters in this endeavour. Then as you work towards bettering your work, you have some others to compare your abilities with

Other artists aspire to producing work that will be published as, for example, through book illustration or cartoning. Or an artist might wish his/her work to be represented in a museum or a civic art gallery. Some wish to make social or political commentary, and this may take a satirical twist, like the work of Daumier; or an anguished aspect, such as the work of Kathy Kolliwitz who painted the starving German people prior to the Nazi regime.

There are many reasons for painting; knowing what yours is helps you keep focus on what you are doing. Knowing how successful you are at is important to give you feedback so that you know whether or not your message is getting across or not.

My mother was wonderful support to me during the latter part of her life. She loved the flower paintings I did from time to time and the representational work with figures in it. She didn’t like my abstract and non representational work because she didn’t understand it. Maybe she wouldn’t have liked it anyway.

So I could count on her praise for my latest version of a day lily, but I was far more reassured about my progress when a former art teacher met my mother and it was reported back to me that she had said “That girl can really draw! So few people can really draw anymore.” I valued that opinion because it was an educated opinion. She had been trained to sensitively understand the concepts of composition, of texture and surface qualities,  form, tone, chiaroscura,  sensitive line, the economy of means, the subtle use of colour, spacial relationships and other concerns. All of these need to work together in a delicate balance to be successful in a painting or drawing.

And then, when I managed to land a show in a Municipal gallery (I’ve done it twice now, I”m pleased to say) for exhibition of my more experimental and thoughtful work, work with a message, work with more difficult means and methods of creation, I felt vindicated in the long road I’ve chosen, to produce imaginative and experimental work. It had meaning for me that the people judging the value of my work were well-versed in the esoteric contemporary principles of art practice. In this case, these were my peers – people who had degrees in the study of Art History or curatorial work; people who recognized and understood underpinnings of the artwork – the abstract principals of design and composition, of art technique and art practice.

Simply being a practicing painter does not necessarily make one a peer. The painters that have learned their craft at one of these Churn Factory schools where a method is taught to allow a painter to paint by formula – these are not peers. They’ve learned the surface requirements to make commercially viable paintings but they lack soul and meaning for me. The forms so often lack understanding, especially in paintings of figures, and the compositions are often static. They may be making money, but they aren’t making art, even though they are producing paintings as I understand it, and so are not my peers.

I have learned to recognize quality in paintings whether abstract or representational. I don’t have to like a painting in order to know it’s good or not.

Two more things I’d like to say on the subject that don’t quite fit into the above:
One – Every time I have tried to paint thing to sell – that being the prime motivation, I have failed to sell them. Somehow, my lack of sincerity must show through.

Two –  The “art” market is a market of commodity, not primarily of art. Sometimes it so happens that good art is produced as a result, but more often, you see handsomely compensated churn painters belonging to a “stable of artists” in a gallery where they are obliged by that business to produce the same style of painting over and over again.
I’ve met a few of these artists. They yearn to try landscapes instead of figures, but the gallery doesn’t want them. So day after day, they are painting figures, changing the pattern of the dress, but the composition is the same; or having the figure look left instead of right.

Final word, and credo.

I commit to seeing my world and recording it as I see it from the bottom of my heart, whether it is a traditional landscape or and experimental version of the same. I commit to forever reaching for better quality. I commit to inspiring others, bringing them along the path to a freer, more personal expression of how they translate the world into imagery.

I commit to fostering true art, whenever I recognize it, to whomever is doing it, at whatever stage of their development.

Amen.

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2 Responses to “Esteemed by the company of one’s peers”

  1. mongoose1 Says:

    Hello,
    I found this entry in your blog very interesting. I especially loved your last two paragraphs. They read like an astist’s statement in a resume.

    I find it very interesting that you paint florals but seem to love your abstracts. I am probably like your Mother, I usually don’t understand abstracts although I have seen some in galleries, that touch me in surprising ways.
    C.

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks Mongoose. From what you post as art work that you enjoy, I know you have a inherent good eye for excellent art. Along the way in ‘artiseternal’ I will try to explain some of the qualities that are the foundation of visual gripping art. Keep posted; I’m just starting.
    k

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