I do a lot of shtick and joking around on this blog, that's me in the pearls, but I want to be philosophical tonight, and serious. What I want to write about is artistic integrity. Clear the decks for some ranting and raving!
I have joked with my painter buddies many times about "selling out". I tell them " There was something I was never going to do in art school that was selling out, If I could just remember what it was, I would do it today, just for a little while, until I paid off my mortgage and got my kids through school. The problem is, I can't remember what it was!"
I don't really mean that of course. I want to impress on you the importance of artistic integrity. It is the hard road. But it is the way to a successful career in art, at least that has been my experience. By integrity I mean making art that is sincere, well crafted, and speaks to the best in the viewer, even if you leave some customers behind.
What we are selling out there as artists is integrity. I want my clients to think of me as the real thing. An Artist. You may fool a few people in the short run, but in the long run, who you are will show. People will want your art because it is real and individual. Faking it has a corrosive effect on your soul and on your art. Let me get some more bullets in my clip and I will lay out some things that I think are signs of flagging integrity.
- Cheap or tawdry subject matter, if you are putting the girl with the parasol into more than one picture a year, perhaps you ought to examine your motives. I know it sells the occasional picture, but in the long run it will put you into the race with the schlock artists from Korea.
- If you are imitating another artist, you are cheating your clients who expect you to be original and singular. They think they are buying that. Studying other artists is essential, but deliberate cold blooded aping them is dishonest. I page through the art magazines and I see all this work that is in imitation of established painters. There's a wannabe Richard Schmid, there's a wannabe Scott Christiansen and then I turn the page. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. You are selling yourself when you go into the art market, if you aren't being yourself, your product won't perform as expected. Your paintings need to be individual and unique to yourself. A good painting should look as if it could only been made by the hand of a single individual. That's what I mean by integrity. This will of course take more time and be harder, but it is a surer path. Be suspicious of short cuts or quick success.
- Making vast quantities of predictable low priced art is a problem. You should be asking yourself" is this really the best I can do?" Don 't work for money, work for excellence, and the money will follow, someday. The world is full of paintings, it doesn't need more average ones, make great art or go raise tropical fish.
- Don't paint genre art such as sailboats or wild life, unless that is what you really care about deeply. That's a dead end too. I grew up in Minnesota, a few guys made fortunes painting pictures of ducks and about a zillion wannabes painted ducks too, hoping to make it as wildlife artists rather than finding their own path.. The weight of all those imitators crashed the market. Even those who were really on top of this market must now spend their lives grinding out the same sort of paintings. If they really love wildfowl that's OK, but if they don't, its slavery. Again be yourself, do what you love and success will follow. I know this because I tried painting those ducks too, I thought I was going to quack under the pressure.
- If everyone is making edgy figurative things and you are planning to jump on the band wagon, stop. Unless you are edgy or tortured yourself, it will be a dead end. Insincerity shows. Maybe not in a single picture, but it will in a room full of paintings at a show and in a career it will outshine whatever good you CAN do. If you are aware of a trend it is because others have set it. The laurels are to those who set trends, not those who follow them. There is always a new hero, this years new kid on the block. But that is unsustainable. Next year some one else will be the new overnight success and you will have had your time in the sun and will be reexamined on the actual strength of your painting.
- I have known artists who were waiting to "break through". That may happen, but I haven't seen it. Build your career slowly. Build it on a solid foundation of ability and experience.That way your career as an artist won't get out ahead of your abilities. If that happens you will be terrified. You will live in fear of people finding out you are a fake, and they always know in the long run.
- Trying to make the one great picture with the most over the top amount of work, or detail or outrageous subject matter is like showing up as an amateur at a major league ball game and trying to hit one out of the park. Don't think of creaming the world with a single painting, make lots of good paintings. It is the ability to make good art that you should value, and not being the guy who made the damnedest thing imaginable. I have seen lots of those over the top damnedest thing paintings by artists who I had never heard of before and never heard of again. You need to be consistent. It isn't like rock and roll where you can be a one hit wonder, sustainability is the goal. Acquire the ability to make fine paintings at will, that way you will always be able to pull off another. Think marathon not sprint.