Saturday, July 17, 2010
Ask Stape, about repeating paintings
Here is a question I received via e-mail.I have several more in the hopper that I will answer in coming posts.
thanks for all the great blogs you have done. I follow you and learn a lot. Question: when does a painting stop being an original? I have a collector unhappy with me cause he bought a painting of Deathwhistle Lake 3 years ago and has seen others similar (but not exactly) to that in the local gallery. Also, I have posted on my web a duplication of a painting but in a larger size. So if I do a painting in a different size, is that bad also? I have heard that I can go back to the same location and change subject slightly and still be okay. Maybe it is a gray area or am I relying too heavily on my past success?
Regards, Tetanus B. Mandiblesnapper
All paintings in this post are by Gilbert Stuart of George Washington
That's a delicate question. There are artists who make the same painting over and over. When their name comes up in the conversations of their artist brethren, that counts as a strike against them. Respect of your peers is one of the conditions of success. So there exists a point at which an artist is perceived as having become a mass producer working merely for money. There are a lot of gradations short of that though.
If you have a client who is concerned you probably have a problem and I would take it as a warning. I see no problem with making a larger version of a small painting. You can call the small one "A study for Deathwhistle Lake" and the larger, simply "Deathwhistle Lake". I have had customers ask if I would paint them another version of a painting that they wanted but I have sold. I tell them I can, but I have to make it a little different out of respect for the owner of the first version. They usually have no problem with that, and I make it noticeably different. I also get half up front, please.
I don't think there is a problem with doing a series of paintings of the same subject, but they should all be variations on the theme and different enough that the average Joe can tell them apart at a glance.
I don't think however that it is good to make the same painting more than once. I know that some artists feel that a certain subject is a good "seller" and they want to always have that picture in inventory. But I think in the long run you lose more than you gain with that. You might sell a few extra paintings, although there is no way of knowing if what you might have made instead would have sold as well.
An artist sells integrity, that is your most important product. In the long run people are trusting you to be an original and inventive artist, at least when the money gets meaningful. Production painters doing stacks of small inexpensive paintings probably don't have as much expected of them, and they can crank out widgets and still sell them. But at the level I like to operate I am selling to collectors and they expect to get an original one of a kind, lovingly crafted painting original in concept and execution. They buy my art expecting to receive that, and I want to give it to them. That is important when selling collector quality art. If there is more than one of a painting they feel that what they have bought is reduced in value. Artists are expected to be creative, always making something new and different is more creative than wearing the same path over and over.
There is another reason I think repeating yourself can be a problem. I don't think you will get as much artistic growth making the same image repeatedly. Making new images stretches you as an artist. You have to try harder. When the painting is sold the money will be quickly spent and what you will have to show for it's creation is an increased ability to make paintings. I am much more interested in the increased ability to make paintings than in any one painting, I have made thousands.
I would get bored with the tedium of making the same picture twice, it would seem too much like punching a clock for Mr. Charlie, drudgery. As an ADD role model and human whippet with the attention span of an insect, I need to vary my tasks all the time. That is one of the things that makes painting such a great business for me. I am always working on something different and making projects that have a beginning and an end. I hope I haven't been too harsh, let me know if I have and I will post a picture of a baby animal as penance.
If you are in California and would be interested in a potential workshop there in the early fall, please e-mail me and let me know.