Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interview with an experienced gallery owner

Dear Stape

I have no problem with competition, when it is with talented individuals. While it is interesting to see the praise being heaped on people like ???????? and the ???????? . I have no issue with it, other than I feel there are much better painters out there that should be getting similar praise. But that is not my issue.

Mine is with the teaming mass of absolute amateurs that have flooded galleries and museums. It is as if the barbarians have broken through the gates and have taken over. There is so much work out there that just kills my spirit. It is not just work being shown at simple art fairs, but work getting major gallery and even museum shows. I feel like I am in competition with crazy people. My work is judged on the same level as an untrained street person. I am not even talking about the porn art being made by Jeff Koons and his like, I am talking about the soccer mom that has a studio, and now is an artist.
I have been looking for galleries lately, and I take my work in to show them when I set down the art for them to look at, my work is by far the best in the room. It is better in composition, color and impression. The reaction I get is like I have just set a flaming bag of dog extrusions on the floor and asked, "what do you think?"

How does one deal with the fact that there seems to be little respect for ability, quality, and beauty? In fact it seems that today skill is looked at with suspicion, or even that it is an ego trip by the artist being self indulgent.

Basically, I am starting to feel like there is no hope for the art world, that my deciding to be an artists is not unlike me saying "I am going to be a medieval knight and promote chivalry throughout the kingdom!" Most people would be like, "what ever, idiot. "
No one really seems to care about the paintings other than whether or not they fit over their couch and match the color theme of the room. Or maybe I am deluding myself and the work I am doing is just not that good.
I suppose if I were selling I would have a different tune, but I have not sold a significant painting in over a year, and I feel I am doing the best work of my life, and the best work that I am capable of at the moment.

signed ;
Artelasticum PepsiCola

The following interview is with Wivi-Ann Weber owner of Lily Pad gallery in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Specializing in realism, naturalism and semi-abstraction. Twenty six years in the business Wivi-Anne,has a PHD in art from Columbia University. Her theses was about "How people choose works of art" Over the years Wivi-Anne has advised hundreds of clients on on works of art for their homes and collections. She is the areas best known expert.

  • The artist needs to think about what the client might want. Everything is purchased on the basis of meaning to the client. Unless they are a collector filling a void in their holdings, it is all about them, and not the artist.
  • Many times I have stood with a client before two paintings. One more professional than the other. The client then would choose the less well painted piece because there was something in it that had meaning to them. I have experienced that there would be nothing I could do to persuade them to purchase the better piece.
  • It is important to listen to the sophisticated buyer. We need to remember it is about what THEY want to purchase. You always have to look beyond yourself as an artist, unless you are not interested in the commercial aspect of art.
  • When a client purchases a work of art they are creating their own soul as a reflection outside themselves. Therefore their choices reflect their inner feelings and desires but now mirroed in the outside world. Who you are has to match what you put in your intimate place, your castle. It reflects the inner you.
  • The artist need to think "how does the client recreate their inner life with your painting. What the artist needs to do is create something that completes the clients inner life.
  • In other words, the client is looking for something that represents meaning for them. What has meaning for you, the artist, may not be meaningful to a buyer. The client may not know as much about art as you do, but they know what is important to them.
  • Think about who buys the art. Usually it is a person between thirty and sixty years old. What is that age group looking for?
  • The client wants art that is personal to them, and they are not concerned with what is personal to the artist.
  • Every gallery experiences the individual who purchases art, that through well lived lives has come to know quality in a work of art. They search it out. They will purchase a work of art for its quality as well as its subject matter. But even they, want pieces that fit into their lives.
  • My suggestion is to rethink what you paint and gear it towards a subject matter in which the art buyer can see beauty. Transfer that type of image to the canvas and that will ultimately enhance their lives.
  • I tell people "take the art off your walls and see if you can still make that house into a home, it is not possible. The art completes you and your environment."


Todd Bonita said...

Sound advice from a seasoned veteran, thank you Wivi-ann and Stape...This is good stuff. Anyone serious about art making should read.

Unknown said...

I especially like that last sentence.
I have come to think of each canvas on my walls as a little window into another place, another reality. Since Todd commented, I'll mention I have two small works of his, and when I walk by them, I am transported to the Atlantic coast, and hear the water gently slapping up against the moored boats, or the raucus cry of seagulls. This takes place in a millisecond, of course, but it is there.
Art enhances, refreshes, and soothes because, for however briefly, it relieves me of the tension, or even the mundane-ness (is that a word?) of that particular moment. It's like a little vacation.
I asked myself, after reading this post, "what is it about those two paintings has meaning for me?"
They are very well executed, but it is more than that. I think it is that they represent the IDEA or the CONCEPT of a typical coastal scene, an every day common theme. They could be any boat, in any harbor, and they ring true.
So maybe, finding the universal is about finding the general. To simplify, to paint the idea rather than the specific, to portray the forest, not the trees.. that sort of thing. And if we find the universal, we will portray that beauty to which others can relate.
sheesh.. I feel philosophical tonight....

Unknown said...

The advices from that woman are simply absurd. She sounds like a character from a bad sitcom.

The artist shouldn,t be worried about selling. If he wants to create personal art, he must have another way to make money. Thats how it is and has been for a long time.

Now, most of the painters nowadays are not artists at all. There is a great distinction there. People often relate Artist and Painter as being the same. It is not.

If you have great skills and all you care is about improving those skills to capture nature as faithfully as possible, chances are you are a great painter. An artist gives a point of view on nature, a personal one.. It wont look like the nature the next guy is seeing of course because they are 2 different people. But that is closer to art than to painting.

I havent seen the works of your friend there of course but perhaps the guy with the inferior skill set is expressing himself a lot better than the super refined technique of your friend who is saying nothing other than "Ive been to this place once... its just like that. I liked it. I did a painting"

Scale said...

That's a wise advice. Recently I showed some of my paintings to a gallery owner too and she told me something very similar, that most of my pictures are too self-absorbed. Which now, after reflecting a bit, I think is absolutely true.

In fact now I see the same issue in many other young artists (I'm 29). I feel my generation has grown up being taught that self-expression is everything and that it must trump all other considerations - not only in art but in life in general, and especially in art. But like all easy recipes it's utterly wrong. There is no thing like a "right to be listened" for an artist. Self-expression works only as long as you deal with things people actually care about.

I think this is true even for political and social commentary art. I like it if it's well done, but most of it is just plain naive and cheap, just the artist screaming loud his uneducated opinion... the political art of Goya or Rockwell was another thing entirely.

I think the biggest struggle for young artists like me is finding an equilibrium between this delusion that one's own ideas are the best things ever, and the opposite extreme which is being slaves to market demand and to the throwaway logic of some kinds of illustration. Thank you for helping us with good advice.

Karla said...

Really interesting posts. I guess the old saying is true. The customer is always right. said...

Hi Stapleton,Yes..apparently there are universals.I'm sending you the The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. It's worth a read. There's a good bit in there about landscapes that you may find interesting.

The advice from this woman is right on for artists who want to, have to make a living by painting. Uccimaru, I don't think she is speaking about you or to you but what she says is valuable for many of us.I am very very fortunate to have found a way to paint both personal art and make money.I paint what has meaning to me (visually and emotionally) and people respond, not to just what I paint but to how I paint it. Call me what you like..painter or artist, I don't care.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Deb, the last sentence struck home with me, too. People seem to like and purchase much of what I paint, and of the highest compliments received was recently when someone told me "your painting transformed my house" Phew, humbling, but right on with the post. Wasn't what I painted, but what they needed. Still, the skill is never quite good enough, always something to learn, and in the paintings that don't sell there's usually a fatal flaw, unnoticed until I'm wondering why the painting hasn't left home. Terrific post, thanks, Stapleton. Can I call you Stape yet?

Robert J. Simone said...

Sounds like the difference between universal and personal art is all in who the art resonates with. A logical conclusion, then, is that if one wants to make a living as an artist it would help to know people, to be a student of human nature and the human condition. Maybe a landscape painter should spend time observing people outdoors. A still life artist might do well to observe people's things. The treasures they won't sell at the garage sale. Or the treasures they buy at the yard sale.

I would disagree with uccimaru. Quality and skill are attributes that resonate with people as well. Some people buy a vacuum cleaner because it is well made not just because it sucks air. In fact, it would be easy to argue that refinement of skill and taste are required if an artist is to master his language.

Still the question beckons. What chords can visual artists strike that will resonate with a wide audience?

Tim Fitzgerald said...

My opinion, for what it's worth has always been, is that it is history who decides who is an artist and who is a painter. Just because I have the equipment and a studio doesn't give me the right to call myself an artist.
If we work hard and love what we do perhaps someday the title "ARTIST" will be used when referring to us.
When you think of all the millions of people throughout history have painted and are painting, only a very small number are even remembered, let alone remembered as "ARTISTS". That may discourage some but the rest of us struggle on because we love it.
Perhaps some day I will be referred to as an "ARTIST" by a painter whose work I respect; that would be a compliment indeed.

barbara b. land of boz said...

Miss Weber brings to the table 26 years of experience, a PHD, and some research to back up her interview with Stapleton. I don't know about you guys... but the heart surgeon will be hired before the plumber for any heart care I need. Thats not to say the plumber won't have compasion and understanding for my well being. He's the first person I will call for water pouring out of the ceiling. Point is, go to the expert for your advise. If you don't like what they are saying,
then go on your way or find one who will tell you what you want to hear. Thank you once again for this blog. We need you and you are useful.

billspaintingmn said...

Help! I'm drowning in a sea of opinions.(but good ones!)
A pretty girl doesn't have to tell
people how pretty she is, the viewer just knows it.
A good painting doesn't have to explain itself, an interested viewer will discover it.
Doesn't talent weigh into this?
If you try to get too sharp, you risk getting cut.
My ignorance is bliss~

I will be showing my painings for sale this week end.(it's open house, or "art crawl" in the warehouse district for the arts.)
In the past, I've only offered wine & cheese.
I'm prepared to witness my own hanging! (gulp)

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

Thanks, Stape, for sharing this with us. It means a lot to hear your opinions and those of others who take painting seriously.

Darren said...

Years ago I had a gallery owner in Florida (a very successful one BTW) tell me to paint angels (putti) floating around in the clouds and that he could sell them, left and right.

Another gallery took me on as a portrait artist but said that he would not promote me that much because I refused to use photo reference.

For awhile I sold fairly well in both places, despite ignoring their advice. Then another portraitist came along, who only used photos, and my commissions dried up. The gallery said that my work was liked better but few had the time to pose when another option was available. Likely unrelated to any of that, two years later, the gallery went bankrupt.

Professionals always have to weigh two goals. One is painting what they want and the other is painting what sells. IMO, few get to the point where both are the same. That said, I have a number of artist friends that paint what they love (some who love landscapes and others who love interior scenes) and sell very well.

The gallery owner (Wivi?) is bound to focus on what sells, that's her business and that was the basis of the question. But I don't think that's the whole story.

Her first two points give me pause. On the one hand, an artist is supposed to listen to what the client wants and on the other she wants to persuade the client to buy a better piece than they want.

In the end it comes down to what makes you happy, not the buyer. If you're not in a fortunate niche where what you love to paint is the same as what the clients want then you have to make a choice. Will you be happy, painting things that quite bluntly are for the money? If so, there's no shame in that. Art is a business after all. If not, then pursue what moves your own soul and realize that the price might be paid via very few sales.

(que Robert Johnson's Cross Road Blue here)

Stanka Kordic said...

Stape, I keep harkening back to your previous post about Integrity. I believe it applies here as well.

I'd rather paint what moves me personally, with Integrity and conviction rather than figure out what some unknown buyer would like to have on their wall. IMO, the creating of Art demands a higher vocation than treating it like a chain store operation, setting up your point of purchase display to follow a trend.

Stay true, the rest will follow...eventually.

Carol Nelson said...

I love this blog. Thoughtful blog posts and comments every day. I think Wivi-Ann's advice was spot on, and she has the experience and knowledge to back it up. Take her advice to heart, if you're in the game for sales.
If you are the artist whose only goal is to "express" him/herself, then go paint your guts out. Maybe a client will have the same vision as you, but most will not.
As several have pointed out, the lucky ones are those who paint what they love, and find there are many buyers who love what they paint.

Mary Byrom said...

This is all very interesting... the personal can also be universal depending on the experience and life of the individual. When I was in my 20's I designed textiles and women's clothing. I designed comfortable things for myself that I could not buy any where. No one else was designing them. What I designed became popular as many other women wanted the same thing I did. Then I couldn't get fabric in the colors I wanted so I designed the fabric,the patterns and mixed the colors. The fabric was popular. Then I made nice clothing and charged good prices and woman bought them in multiples, one in every color. I produced a limited amount of them. I was designing to solve my own personal needs and satisfy my own taste. I became a "brand of one." No one else was doing what I was doing and I was remembered because of it. ( I also only sold in markets that could bear my prices.)
What I learned from this is that it might also be true with one's art. I see paintings and know immediately who the artist is. I think that is something to work toward. Quality always wins. "You can't keep a good painting down."S. Christensen.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I hope your show at the RAA went well.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sounds good, I think.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Her opinions are those of a successful art dealer. The people who show with her choose to do so, if they don't want to they don't have to. She is a lovely and caring person by the way.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Said;I think the biggest struggle for young artists like me is finding an equilibrium between this delusion that one's own ideas are the best things ever, and the opposite extreme which is being slaves to market demand and to the throwaway logic of some kinds of illustration.
That is the goal in a nutshell. I don't find it very difficult, but others might.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The do have a big say anyway.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are lots of ways to skin the cat. Probably including leaving the skin on with the cooperation of the cat.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Of course you can call me Stape. Stapleton is so pretentious, don't you think.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Quality can be an end in itself. A painting can have a right to exist simply because it is well made.

Stapleton Kearns said...

A painter who calls himself and artist is like a priest who calls himself a saint.-Wayne Thiebaud

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. She laid it right out there didn't she.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Good luck with the art crawl. Remember to shake every hand and thank them for coming!

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

The last thing you said is so true. You van do what you want often and a segment of the public will want what you do if you do it well.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are lots of galleries and lots of artists. You may find the perfect place for your art. it may be that selling art is not what you are after. That's cool too, but you have to find an income somewhere else.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Your description fits me.

"As several have pointed out, the lucky ones are those who paint what they love, and find there are many buyers who love what they paint."

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is a lot like the gallery scene I think.

Rita Romero said...

I can totally understand your comments. So does that mean you’re quitting art? Good. One less “great painter” for us to compete with. C’mon now, your post reeks of wounded pride, which gets us nowhere. It is human nature to look down at others to support a weak ego. This is a fear response – fear you are not as good as you think you are, fear that there are not enough buyers for your art, fear of failure, etc. Neither artists nor anyone can afford to waste time in this life being afraid. It’s like an intelligent accomplished woman complaining that men are all attracted to the young inexperienced girls just because they are pretty - even though these silly bimbos don’t have any real “substance”. There will always be a younger, prettier girl that gets more attention, just as there will always be amateur or emerging artists with a style or gimmick that people like – in or out of the galleries – and spend their money on.

There is no denying that the art business is competitive by its nature. But creating art is not about competing or who has the biggest mahl stick. There is always someone better at techniques or selling more artwork than others, regardless of whether you think other artwork has true artistic merit. Some artistic success has to do with the marketing done by galleries, or who is chosen as a “master” by the artistic pundits. Still, all artists’ work is subject to judgment in the court of public opinion, and we must accept the verdict of the people. So should the rest of us “painters” (great or not) lay down our brushes in defeat just because people prefer to buy a Thomas Kinkade instead of our work? (yes, I thought about it) As my mother used to say, “if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen”!