Archive for the ‘selling art’ Category

Thoughts on the artist/dealer relationship

July 30, 2011

This discussion began as a thread of comments on fellow-blogger (and photographer) Mark Whitney’s web site.

For the whole thread see:

Mark Whitney’s great website with his current photos of graveyards and mortuary monuments generated a discussion of what was appropriate to sell in a gallery; and whether or not one could sell paintings with headstones and mortuary architecture as principal subject matter. Here’s what I replied to Mark, which becames a more generic discussion of artists and dealers. My last comment on his blog is about artists bringing work on-the-edge for show and  the dilemma that may arise when it doesn’t fit a dealer’s requirements to be able to sell the work

I’m not sure that the younger generation is in the position to buy much art; and if they do, it might just be the lower priced stuff. But it’s a completely different market than the boardroom/home consumption market.

I know the “artistic freedom” arguments of the artist very well. In the last years, I’ve come to appreciate what good dealers can do for artists that artists cannot do for themselves. They often assume an enormous rent, month by month, that has to be paid through sales. In order to do that they have to find rich clients – it’s not by hundred dollar sales that they make it, but by ones in the thousands.

To do that, they need to spend a lot of time and energy on advertising which, normally, is prohibitive for the artist. They keep a staff on, in order to keep the gallery open, and they often pay writers and/or curators to write blurbs for each show.  They foot the bill for the schmoozing opening. And in the end, they have to pay for their own living – and it’s not necessarily a high one. The 2 dealers that I’ve known a little bit more than grazing-shoulders-in-passing acquaintance have looked professional and well-to-do in their gallery surroundings, but their own lives are oft fraught with the worries about the next set of bills, and often,how to pay everyone at the end of the month – because everyone comes before they do – staff, artists, writers, advertisments, promotions, telephone, IT and electricity bills.
So when they are upstaged by an artist with images which they have a clientele for, they have to scramble, and he may not have a single sale. What does he do then? He has either to have deep pockets or an understanding banker.

Artist’s side of the coin?
I thought about this artist’s new work in context of some of my own (and mine hs been slightly edgy, but nowhere near as accessible as the skull-in-the-imagery guy). It’s my works that are ten years old that sell. It takes people time to get used to them, it seems. It’s curious. I think that may be so for many artists (not counting the purely commercial who are pumping out works to fill the living room decor needs of the nation). And of course, the artist has the same problems of paying bills at the end of the month. It’s a double edged sword.

In all that, it’s a miracle that new work emerges. It’s the artist who moves forward his vision from ordinary to extraordinary, who leaps the bounds of convention, who changes the direction of the norm and finds new ways of “speaking” to their viewers. Without their dedication to express themselves in exploratory ways, we would still be back in the chocolate-box works of the the 19th Century. Instead, we’ve been able to absorb some pretty challenging work – Impressionists, Abstract Impressionists, Pop artists,  installation artists, post-modernists.Each of those movements was unacceptable when it emerged.

Our all-time example of this is van Gogh. Couldn’t sell a painting in his life-time, but is worth multi-millions now that he’s dead. Strange isn’t it?


Robert Mitchner – Measuring our self-worth as an artist

February 27, 2011

I visited my artist friend Susan for tea yesterday. After a long hiatus, she is trying to get back into drawing and from there, back into painting.

I always feel privileged to see Susan’s work, especially since she feels quite hesitant about it. And I always feel privileged to spend time with her, too, because she went the art school route of education – something I always desired to do, greatly – and she met the fledgling art potentates of our corner of the world, now biggies, and talks about them as if they were just ordinary people, not the stars-of-the-art-world that I’ve come to consider them.

And so it was yesterday when we got talking about Ann Nelson whom I’ve not met, and Robert Mitchner, both of whom my friend visited within the last week or so.  Susan led me to their  web sites so that I could see their work and we sat together, delecting upon the imagery and talking about it’s merits.

Today she sent me this link regarding an article in Galleries West magazine concerning an upcoming exhibition, but when I went looking for the date of it, it was copyrighted in 1999, so I’m more than 10 years too late!

No matter, it’s a very perceptive interview article and I thought I would share it with you.

The Mitchner article by Fiona Morrow is at and is illustrated with a few of his major styles.

It’s odd, I think, that so many good artists are self-deprecating and modest about their work. We believe in our work enough to keep on doing it. We may even be privileged to get our work into the best galleries in town. And yet, the last paragraph tells it all. Mitchner feels his notice has been minimal; and his impact on the art world has been little.

I would counter that selling is not a measure of an artists worth; and we may never know the impact of our shows on other people. My perfect example  in this case is Mitchner himself.

Susan said to me, “Have you ever seen Robert Mitchner’s work?”  I replied that I had and could describe precisely the style he worked in. I could visualize the farm series as we spoke. That exhibition was thirty years ago. I never met the man; but his work impressed me  and stayed with me.  It is beautifully crafted, precise, clean, technically beautiful. The paintings were large and the compositions complicated; yet the work was serene and there was nothing that jarred. I remember them as perfect paintings.

Again I say, I never met the man. Nor did I have the opportunity to tell him how I felt about his paintings. I didn’t have money to purchase at the time, and even today, I could not afford his work, but I loved it. But he never knew it, and so thinks he has not made an impact on the art world.  I disagree. How many others, like me, saw the work and loved it but had no way of communicating that to the artist?

It is a constant problem with artists – how to measure one’s worth as a painter (or sculptor, or musician or actor, etc.).  It must not be tied to how much notice we get in the newspapers and art journals.  It must not be tied to how much money we make from sale of our art work. I’ve seen some wonderful work not sell for many different reasons – hard economic times, the people who love it are not wealthy, or viewers love it but have small living quarters and no place to put the work that they desire passionately to own. Pragmatic circumstances get in the way.

Conversely, I’ve seen dreadful work sold at great prices and acclaimed because it sells, but it’s not good work; and I’ve seen dreadful work sell time after time for even modest prices while stunningly beautiful work sitting beside it  does not find a buyer. Money is not an adequate measure of art work.

It’s a concept that I struggle with still. I’ve had very little notice of my work either, but I’ve had more than some and I’m grateful for it. I produce far more than I sell and as a result have a basement full of paintings and drawings, some framed, some not.

I decided a long time ago that I would feel successful if my peers liked and valued my art works. That means those artists whose work I admire for their imagination and skill return the compliment and admire mine. It also means those organizations who have honored me with an offer to  exhibit my work in a public place; or a gallery that I respect who agrees to take my work on, to display, to rent, to sell.  If my work was appreciated by the art colleagues that I worked with while teaching art; or by a competition that had some cachet, then it helped bolster my self-worth as an artist and I was happy for the feedback.

I feel confident about my work now, most of the time. There are still days of questioning; but mostly I know what I am doing is right for me. But of course, it took me forty years to get here; and it wasn’t always so.

Back to the point. If you would like to see some lovely work, Google and check out Robert Mitchner’s web site and also the link, above, for that excellent article. See what you think. I think it is beautiful imagery and of high quality and I hope you enjoy it too.

My favorites are the Gorgeous Gorges.

An interesting site

May 4, 2010

Dear Guss,
Normally I don’t ever allow a comment that refers back to advertising. But when I looked at the beautiful designs on your site, I thought my readers might like to visit and look. It must be a translation because the English is unusual – a bit quirky. So I”m sending my readers to your site for a good look.

That’s what I answered to

It’s a modern design site and therefore commercial, but the designs are really very creative. What convinced me for certain, though, was the translation. I am guessing that the site originates in Spain and that the translation has been done automatically, which gives for a very humorous read.


Art and the fashion of Art

February 6, 2009


Last night Bristol Life Drawing left me a reply to a comment I made some time ago, which restarted a discussion that continued on. I really recommend the Bristol Life Drawing blog, especially as I really like figure drawing. I like the bloggist’s commentary. So have a look if you like.

Specifically, this post was the trigger for discussion and I’m repeating my reply here, because I find the subject interesting, and you might too – and you might otherwise not find it if your are unfamiliar with Bristol Drawing. If you want to get the discussion from the very beginning, look up this post and the ensuing comments.

Modernist still-life? I’ve rescued a few of them from the Salvation Army and other thrift stores lately, along with some other out of fashion originals.

I visit an elderly gentleman, friend of my mothers, in his late nineties who collected art in the period of 1930 to 1970 and collected some good brand names, so as to speak, of the modernist genre – nationally, if not internationally, icons that are largely unrecognized now by other than a few cognoscenti, those in the know.
Some of these paintings really no longer appeal to the current taste. They look childlike and brutally inept. Those modernists, though, opened the door for following generations to allow exploration and creativity, to encourage insolite and eccentric vision. It was a good thing. It engendered a whole lot of positive creativity.

Do you remember all those “chocolate box” and “Pompier” works of art that we were taught to abhor in Art School?

For those who may be following along who are not familiar with these Schools of Art, they were most popular in the 19th Century. The first, in general, had sweet subjects of little girls in pinafores, garden scenes with cottages, mothers with their babies or little children, little boys catching toads or newts. You get the picture – sweet, redolent of happy homes, wild English gardens, play at the seashore – nothing controversial and nothing deeply philosophical nor symbolic.

The second, from the same period of art fashion, was a hugely bombastic, emotively dramatic, often glorifying soldiers and war, and was steeped in allegorical imagery. It was favoured by the French Academy of Art. It was sneeringly called  “L’art Pompier” or translated, “Fireman’s Art”. Wikipedia has a good explanation of L’Art pompier, if you want to know more.

I was interested to see, relatively recently, that some renewed interest in these Schools of Art had once again become a lucrative trade on the auction market.  I mention these two schools of art because, without a strong grounding in anatomy, neither one of them would have been remotely interesting.

As a curious aside, I wonder how a comic book artist or caricaturist would handle a take-off on Bougereau’s “The remorse of Orestes” (which is the illustration for the Wikipedia reference I made up above). I can’t imagine it working at all! And yet, just look at that painting! If I had one tenth of the ability to draw those luscious nudes with so much movement, tension and emotion, I could die and go to heaven.

After all these years of painting and drawing, I still only get the best that I can do, but it’s rarely what I see or what I want to do.

So why did I mention all this?

What’s fashionable in art comes and goes. There’s always an “Academy” of thought that imposes its self-made criteria on the peons without influence telling them how they should think, do and produce. Art is influenced by our times and progress, whether that’s the right word for it or not, is characterized by rebellion against what has become normalized through time.

Even the Impressionists have fallen into a slump, if you are an upcoming student of the arts. Yes, they may be making millions at auction, but if you produce them in your art school these days, you are mocked to Perdition.

Installation art is in. I mention it because I remember going through some European countries – mostly France, Germany and England – in my first sabbatical year, going through museum after museum and steeping myself in Northern European Art History. I was awed, quite simply.

I based myself in Rheims where I attended Art School. It was still operating on the classical method of teaching drawing and painting, with Classical plaster statuary, figure drawing and perspective classes that have since been tossed out the window in Art Education, even in Rheims.

I struggled to get a good figure drawing. Despite my degree that allowed me to teach children what art was, I couldn’t draw. It was a year before I could do a decent figure and then, only sporadically.

When I saw Dominque Ingres’ beautiful nudes, they were to die for! – his ability to draw a hand as if it were alive! his beautiful transitions, his ability to express the roundness of his models, the softness of the skin, the absolute draughtsman-like ability to get proportion right. Well, that’s why we consider him a master of his art, n’est pas?

Quite rightly, for me, I fell in love with figure drawings (and paintings) and have wanted to succeed with them ever since; and because I never have, to the best of intentions, I have to keep on going back to it to get the next one right. As a result, I’ve got a basement full of three-quarters-good pastel drawings that will never be seen! I am spared the thought that my mother (unlike Whistler’s) will burn them all when I die, because she has predeceased me; but I shall nevertheless regret some fool executor trashing the bunch of them because they are out of fashion or because they are deemed by that person to be untoward, unChristian or somehow lewd.

I’m out of step with my times. I should be out there creating spare pile-of-rock installations in warehouse sized rooms; or decorating the landscape with a trail of a thousand white umbrellas.

One thing I am mightily thankful though, is that in my era, creativity has become accessible to the masses; and the revolt against the Academic strictures (both then and now) of What is Art have been successful in giving each of us permission to take the avenue that we desire to pursue in expressing ourselves, whether it be through traditional landscape, still life or portrait, or through more experimental modes of expressionism, impressionism, conceptualism, minimalism or any of the other ism you can think of.

The door is wide open. Hooray!

And if the figure is a hard-sell these days, I perceive that all art is a hard-sell. The dollars or Euros or pounds are not the purpose of it. Creativity is. So sell or no sell, I’m very happy to be painting and creating as best I can, because it enriches me and sometimes enriches others when they see it, and because it’s such a positive and satisfying activity to be involved in.

Art Auctions

March 8, 2008

OK. I’m hot under the collar on this issue and this letter that I just received for a cause that I thought was legit just made me boil.

I had promised to send some work to an art auction that promised to give exposure to the artists and provide them with some compensation to take care of their framing costs and a small amount for the art work. The event was juried and subsequently, the organizers wrote to advise that two works had been accepted for the auction event. They requested by return mail that the minimum amount for the artist’s costs should be kept very low since the goal was to raise funds for the arts. The minimum amount would be the starting bid and would be given to the artist if the piece sold successfully. Anything more than that received on the final bit would go into the event coffers.

This seemed like a plausible arrangement until…..

The letter that requested details of each work and a maximum of three line biographical note to promote the artist and introduce the auction item.

At the bottom of the letter and form was this final comment.

With room for only 100 guests at the (venue) who will be bidding on auction items it is with great regret that we cannot extend an invitation to participating artists. Hopefully next year the (Event) will grow to be a bigger event and we will be able to involve you in the celebration.”

I was offended. The artists are the affair. It could not go on without them.
I had planned to attend the affair and frankly was prepared to pay the ticket price which included a few hors d’oeuvres. I felt the benefit to me as an artist was to meet the other artists and to network with both artists and purchasers.

I understood that the fund raising was meant to promote the arts, not to perpetuate the festival. But when I looked on the web site for this event, not one artist was mentioned; only the fund raisers were noted.

Artists should rebel against this type of fund raising. We don’t need to perpetuate the auction mentality that asks the artist, the lowest paid group workers in the Canadian economy, to donate their work for the least possible amount of money or for free so that purchasers can buy art at a discounted rate. The net result is that these auctions depress the value of all artists’ work.

In reply to the organizers, I said:

Please count me out. I regret that the donating artists have been sidelined in this affair. I note that on the web site, there is not one mention of the people who have been asked to provide the art work. I no longer am willing to contribute to a glamorous scheme that glorifies the restaurant and the festival organizers by taking from artists who make the affair viable and then tells them to stay away. I note that on the web site, there is not one mention of the people who have been asked to provide the art work. It leads me to believe this is more about self promotion, not promotion of the arts.

Here’s how art auctions do disservice to artists:

There are so many events where artists are asked to give up a piece of what they do for their livelihood in exchange for recognition or advertising of their work.

If an artist wants people to acknowledge their work, then they should send their best work. If an artist choses a less successful work than his or her best, then the advertising benefit is that the buyers get to know the artist as a mediocre one.

1. An artist needs to ask him/herself, how much publicity is really being provided? If there is a web site for the event and your name is not on it, you are not getting publicity. If the only publicity you are getting is the night of a noshing event, your work is vying with maybe twenty to one hundred other works. Ask yourself, how much attention is your work really getting? If you can believe gallery statistics, the average time anyone looks at a work of art in a gallery is three seconds. If you are in the company of some better known artists, all the major attention and publicity will be placed on those individuals. Second question to ask yourself: Who is getting the publicity?
Third question: How much of the proceeds are going to running the auction, that is, the administration costs? How much is actually being given to charity? While I had been led to believe in the beginning that this auction was being held to promote education in the arts, a later e-mail says “Please remember this is an auction to raise funds for our festival.” The charity proposal seems to have disappeared! This auction is about raising funds to do another festival, not to give to charity nor to art education!

2. Art auctions depress the value of artists’ work. It’s a question of supply and demand. There seem to be endless opportunities to contribute to art auctions. People who “win” the bids most often get the artwork at bargain prices. The bid winner now goes home with a piece of art, hangs it on the wall and no longer needs to go out and buy a piece of art at regular price! The artist has just reduced the possible art market by one. Add up all the artists in all the art auctions around you and that makes for a large quantity of art merchandise. The walls are filling up in the buyers’ homes.

The buyer has learned that one can purchase art at bargain prices at auction. Now they expect to wait for another art auction to do their art buying at a discount price.

The only person who loses out continually on this scheme of things is the artist.

It’s no wonder that the stats for the average Canadian Artists’ income is $18,000. This average includes those few that make a living at it, so just ask yourself: What is my real income from my art work? For the vast majority, it will be well under $18,000. That is why most artists have to have day jobs, a patron of the arts, or a private income before they can go full time.

3. It’s not a level playing field. At a recent Art Conference, a very well known Canadian artist said that when a print run is made of a new art reproduction of his work that he is provided with a certain percentage of free works that he is expected to use for auctions and other fund raisers. It’s part of the publishing company’s advertising campaign – but in this case it’s not the artist who is donating but the publishing company.

In all, it creates a dilemma for the artist. To donate or not to donate? That is the question.

If you are going to donate, at least you should be aware of the issues involved and check out whether or not there is a cause that you are willing to support. You need to know if you are going to get a tax receipt for your donation since you are giving up the opportunity to sell the piece yourself. You need to know if you will get sufficient “press” or advertising that will satisfy your goal of promoting your own art work.

What do you think?

I think I’ll just wait for the next art auction and buy myself some bargain priced art!


November 15, 2007

That matter of Consistency niggles at me. It comes back often to my thoughts as I do that most dangerous of all artistic endeavours – compare my work to others.

It’s dreadfully dangerous as it leads oneself to doubt. Who am I, anyway, to show my work and tout it as valuing whatever price I might put on it? It’s definitely not worth a Degas or Picasso. I wouldn’t even want it to be. Somehow I think wealth and fame corrupts .

It’s not worth a Robert Bateman (and there is a an artist with consistency – so much so that his agents have turned prints of his work into gold-worthy wallpaper for homes and Institutions). Nor is it worth a Tony Sherman (more consistency), whose work I find sloppy and depressingly dark. All of that worth I am speaking of is in terms of monetary value.

But excepting the Degas, I’d rather have my work on my walls than theirs, despite the inconsistency. I’ve retained my privilege to explore any kind of art that I so desire, as the spirit moves me. And yet, I admire that single minded purpose that leads artists to develop work that flows from their hands to their media as if it were one with their spirit and their spirit is one.

Take a look at Gabriella Morrison’s portraits

or Abe Murely’s

and you can see what I mean. Within a single glance you can see for each of these artists that the same person has created their body of work. No doubt about it. And that the next piece of work that they create will still carry the stamp of their personality, unique technical hand and their artistic vision. And yet each piece is a soul-searching exploration of the artist’s subject and the each piece is unique in composition and design. While there is consistency there does not seem to be repetitiveness. Ouch! that one is hard to explain!

I’m struggling with this because I’m preparing for the very first show and sale of my work in this community to which I have recently moved. If first appearances are crucial, which of my varied output do I bring to the table.

charity-cut.jpgThe funky cyber-drawing caricatures?

twisted-pine-hornby-island-small.jpgThe traditional English-style watercolours?

pf-baby-2.jpgThe experimental encasings in archival plastic?

crane.jpgThe Kimono like oils?

Money raises its ugly serpentine head and proffers the Edenic apple.

This community will not buy experimental work, or so I’m told. More advice follows. They won’t pay my prices for good framed traditional watercolours. They won’t understand the price of the framing. My neighbour and fellow artist says the denizens of this community would rather pay less and have less quality with a cheap frame. In other words, this is a small working community. It is not a major city with major philanthropic money ready to support experimental artists. Even if it were, I think, there is no guarantee one could find a gallery willing to promote one’s own experimental work nor a guarantee that their customers would like one’s own style of work. Even if they did, would they risk their money and take it home with them?

And so, I fall back on the mantras I have developed for myself over the years in times of doubt and discouragement.

The money is a red herring, a smoke screen, a false trail. ‘Tis better to be self supporting and be one’s own patron of the arts than to create things in the hopes of making money. Money corrupts. It changes what we do into something cheaper in soul. It tends to force us into repetitive works with less meaning. The result is commercial wall paper.

Or is it all wall paper, even if it has more soul?

And then the question arises: Is it important to fit in with the community of artists, or to take a stand as someone with a unique vision? Perhaps I should be grateful that I have done work that is outside the common trend. Work that is inventive and experimental. Work that identifies me, even though it so different from the others.

I have blathered on long enough. Thank you for listening. I may come back and add to this as I waver over my choices in the next two days.

How do we keep confidence in our own work, our own vision? Again, I call on an old mantra of mine, my overriding goal: To create to my own vision.

And how will I know if I get there? By the approval of those I consider my peers in art? Or by my own satisfaction with work I have done?

Art in the museum… or in the basement

September 1, 2007


Desert flower. Chalk Pastel

I’ve been carrying on a blog conversation with Chris Miller at in which he made an interesting comment that ”
if a work of art has no place in the history of art, it ends up in the basement.”
I almost completed my move to my new house in the burbs, personally carrying almost every piece of my vast collection of basement art (my own production for some thirty plus years) in an effort to avoid having to place a thousand pieces in mirror boxes.

When I was a starving artist, which I tried on as a work profession for some ten years with dismal failure, I made my food and rent money at minimum wage activities that hardly allowed for art materials or studio space. Later, I taught temporarily at the local Art Institute which paid me handsomely for the time I worked, but it would never become permanent and I was getting long enough in the tooth to begin wondering if I could survive my cadmium yellow years without some kind of pension or at least some substantial savings.

One of those minimum wage type jobs was as receptionist in a government agency. I looked around me and decided if I put my mind to it, I could do some of those higher paid jobs. After all, I had a teaching degree and many transferable skills. To keep this short, I decided to stay in the government agency, get a pension, get the best hourly wage I could muster and do my own art work in my spare time with the luxury of being able to buy materials.

In the process, I ended up with a pretty substantial job (and stressful) that allowed me not only the art materials and pension that I was after, but some disposable income to buy other people’s work. I became addicted to acquiring art. I have very eclectic tastes and I’ve made many a local artist happy with a sale. So, I’ve purchased from friends, artists and flea markets (yes, wonderful original art sometimes gets chucked to the Sally Ann, thrift store or garage sales) and even at exorbitant price (for me), from galleries.

When I was carrying all of this vast collection (maybe a thousand pieces of art or more, about half of them framed with glass), I had half a mind to set a match to the whole works. It’s the doing that’s really important. If it were all gone, I could start fresh filling up that new basement of mine.

But Chris’ comment got me thinking.

Our era that has been war free for the vast majority of us on the North American continent, and richly prosperous and abundant in a way that few other nations or generations have experienced, has spawned an incredible number of people who consider themselves artists, unlike any other period in time.

After great consideration of this phenomenon, I’ve come to terms that they are all artists upon a continuum journey of exploring art and every person’s search for expression is valid. Some have a wonderful talent of expressing themselves better than the rest of us, and some are taking baby steps at it – the resulting work may be awful, even – but the effort and the search is laudable.

I’ve known many a person who started the quest in their later years – their fifties or sixties – to explore on their own, to take workshops or to plunge into a formal training forum of University or Art Institute. The result has been phenomenal. It’s never too late to start getting serious about this business of expressing oneself visually.

I got side tracked in that rant…

First of all, I wanted to say that there as many purposes for doing art as there are people doing it. Many, especially beginners, want simply to record what they are seeing, to preserve something they think is interesting or awesome. Some simply want to master techniques so that they can do this in better and better means of expression.

Some artists are painting to sell and they learn formulas to do so. Funny enough, these formulas work wonderfully, but the art, in my books seldom reaches the quality that museums look for.

Other artists aim for the “serious art” trade, seeking to be shown in museums and Municipal Art collections. Equally, they may be striving to be the chosen one for a Biennale with world recognition in the iconic museums like the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Guggenheim. To most ordinary citizens without some formal training in the elements of design, these are mysterious and often offensive works. They are esoteric and hugely expensive. “For what? I don’t get it!” you will hear someone say, when a major museum pays an outrageous number of millions for a piece of work by a dead abstractionist.

For the majority of artists seeking to express themselves, if they are prolific, the basement is the only place for storage. An occasional piece donated to the local hospital to decorate their walls, or the few pieces that one has sent out as gifts to willing or unwilling sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles (not to forget ever-accepting mothers who may actually be providing the basement) doesn’t make a dent in the artist’s own collection of his own work.

So Chris’ comment raised this question for me. If we artists are bypassed in our own generation, does this mean that we have been bypassed by history? What about van Gogh? He only sold one picture in his lifetime, so legend has it. It’s amazing that his large body of work survived, since it was so mistakenly mistrusted in the era that he did it. Most artists struggle to survive on sales of their own work. There are some lucky ones that make money, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee one a position in the history continuum. Some who are famous in their own era, like the Pompiers, sold well and were loved by collectors of the time, but have been denigrated since. And then re-evaluated and almost, sort of, reinstated as rather alright after all, maybe.

There is a push and pull between various schools of art. Often in one era, there will be two opposing views that will throw mud at each other. Witness the Art Deco style that was lean and mean, angular and geometric. They shuddered at the Art Nouveau style that was of the same era – flowery, flowing, feeling and romantic. The argument exists to this day, yet both schools of art have survived with strong proponents for either side still criticizing the other. The Bauhaus movement that sprang up afterwards went to the far extremes of austerity, while the Expressionists took up the extremes of the emotional side of art.

Who is to say, in the future, which of those basement loads of work will be assigned to the auction houses for sale (“good riddance!” say the beneficiaries of the estate) only to find that some astute art dealer has purchased the lot at a bargain basement price. Is that where the term came from? He then spends the time advertising, cultivating his collector-clientele to appreciate the exceptional qualities that he lauds in this forgotten work. One collector buys, another sees it in collector number one’s home; collector two buys. They’ve paid a handsome price for it. They talk it up to others. They leave it to a museum when they die. It becomes part of a museum collection. The auctioneer sells the next pieces at a higher price. The prices rise like bubbles to the top. All of a sudden, van Gogh looks pretty good (after all) .

I could blather on, but I rest my case. We may not sell prolifically in our own time, but who knows how we will fare against the commercial junk that is out there, in the long run. Who will be remembered? Who will be forgotten? Who will burn an artist’s production because they don’t understand it (correct me if I’m wrong – wasn’t it Whistler’s mother who burnt all of his figure drawings after he died because they were immoral?). Will we survive? Will we be fortunate enough to have a dealer discover and promote us? Or will we like most artists, still make the rounds of commercial galleries seeking to find someone to represent us? Or submit a thousand proposals to Civic and National galleries for a show that gives us prestige, but no sales?

It’s a tough life if an artist counts on the money that comes back from his or her art work. But it’s a magnificent life, if the art work has given the artist the pleasure and satisfaction of expressing a thought or a feeling; or has the esteem of one’s peers; and has the privilege of viewing the world through eyes that see life and one’s surroundings through the very special eyes of an artist.


August 20, 2007


Rosie, the chalk pastel you see above, dimension 50 x 65 cm, on Canson Mi-teint paper is one I did while working at Basic Inquiry, a life drawing society based in Vancouver.

I’ve been talking with Chris Miller and his website which is


He inspired me to post this drawing to share with anyone interested in life drawing figures. I realized as I selected this one from my digital art files, that I have not photographed many of the figures because galleries are seldom interested in selling figure drawings. So other work I’ve done has taken priority in the photographic records department. I’ll have to correct that.

For most artists, figure drawing and painting is a building block of art practice. It’s one of the things you must do in the process of formal training. It’s almost like doing figure eights and other compulsory figures in skating

In the process, many of us become addicted to the challenge that it presents. Figure Drawing is not easy. There are always arms and legs, hands and feet in the way and they can be devilishly difficult to do convincingly.

The figure is so subtle. It’s rounded and catches light in minute increments of tone.

Putting that on paper, catching the form and personality of the sitter – all of this becomes like a wonderful meditation. An artist can become absorbed in this task for hours, trying to put two dimensionally what the eye sees as three.

How the model stands it for three hours is a miracle. Try sitting for five minutes without moving and you will see what I mean.

Here’s praise for the long suffering, patient models. What would we do without them?

‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’

July 3, 2007

I sometimes think it would be lovely if the idea one has for a piece of art simply made it self, manifested in solid form,  once one thought of it. I get what I think are brilliant ideas, get out my paints or drawing materials and then about ten minutes into the execution of said idea am grumbling to myself, “what on earth did I start this for”.

I find myself labouring over some pointless or pointillist detail that is going to take hours to do and there I am making dots. Or texturing a large space on a painting that has gone wrong and “needs something”. I decide on a way to cover over or integrate an unsightly blurp in the paint surface, to merge it with the rest – really it’s a technical challenge, often work intensive – to save the painting.

In the end, it’s the process that has made the painting as well as my idea and the limitations of my abilities.

Sometimes there are happy accidents that occur, you leave them and the resulting work is brilliant. Everyone loves it. But can you do it again? Or is it a one-off? Is it valid for your work? And if so, can you reproduce it, play with it, learn from it, take off in a new direction? Add it to your repertoire?

Sometimes the idea just paints itself, in a sense. It goes well. It looks great and I’ve only spent an hour on it. I don’t have to go back into it except to give it a good coat of picture varnish once it’s thoroughly dry. There’s no struggle to it.

I remember doing a wonderful portrait of a little girl from memory, after the style of Eugene Carriere while studying in France. It was sweet but not saccharine. It felt as if the painting had been given to me and executed through me by an external power. I was awed at myself. I was only a student and my skills were not so great or sure then and to have succeeded so easily, so well, was a surprise, a delight and a breakthrough for me.

But I got to thinking that the painting didn’t represent my work, was outside of the theme I was currently working on and it would be false to present it the world as if it were mine. I stewed over the ethics of presenting it as part of my work. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the style. Maybe it was, after all, a bit too sweet. Certainly it was sellable, but was that the point in doing art? Or was the meaning for me, conveying a message about something more profound than making portraits of people that were somehow like rubber stamps.

For example, I could do a “template” face over and over again. It was easy. Put a coloured  ground on a canvas, paint in a beginning sketch of where the eyes, nose and mouth should be, sketch out the volume of the hair or hat or whatever went on top, then come back in with sufficient tone to firm up the semblance of a face, any face, that would pleasingly occupy the middle of the picture plane. But how vapid that was! There was no substance. The interesting thing about portraits and figure drawings was the particularity of a certain person, the lift of their eyebrow when they were animated, the curl of their mouth that differed on one side from the other side, the way the person held their head, or the way the shadow fell across their brow, like when a straw hat leaves little points of light where the sun gets through. If only I could maintain that particularity and maintain the effortlessness of that oil paint sketch that  somehow, gratuitously, was painted through my hand.

I decided that substance was important to me in paintings. There has to be something deeper, more meaningful for me.

So in a pique of moral indignation at this lovely painting that had come to me gratuitously, and in a pique of poverty, where I didn’t have enough money to go out to buy supplies, I covered over this little ochre face of a dreamy girl that was more handed to me as a gift than done by my own volition. It’s somewhere under another “masterpiece” of student art.

Wait till the conservationists one hundred years from now get hold of my work and scan it, finding this lovely little head of a girl. That’s the only way anyone is going to see it now or hereafter. I can’t even tell you which of my subsequent oils it’s under!  “Dream on, my lovely painteress,” I say to myself.  The subsequent work wasn’t worth keeping, much, though I have a hard time throwing things out.  And from time to time I remember that lovely little oil paint drawing that succeeded.

I’m hoping with this new blog of mine, to share my experience in painting and to generate discussion, so if you wish to comment, I’m hoping for something a little more substantial than “good post” or “nice”. Please share your stories with me. Give me your opinions. Add substance to the discussion.  And I promise to provoke, question and share my  ideas

That’s all for today folks.