Monday, May 10, 2010

Number 500

Above is a poster for a series of museum shows of Philip Koch. Philip and I sat on a panel discussion at the Cape Cod museum of art several years ago. He is a frequent and erudite commenter on this blog and I am always flattered to have him as a reader. He has his own blog to which you can go for more details and the link is on my side bar. I am very fond of his art.

Tonight's post is number 500. I missed two days so I can't really say 500 in a row, but almost. The two days I missed were because I was traveling and I couldn't get online.When I began the blog my intention was to write for a year. I am now well beyond that of course. I still have a lot of ideas about which to write. But when I hit the point where I feel I have nothing more to write about, I will stop and begin raising tropical fish.

Here is a letter,from a man I know to be a fine and competent painter living in a mid sized city. I have abridged it a little to protect the innocent , the identity of its sender and for brevity.

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

I am going to post my answer to this query tomorrow night. But I have had so much response and positive feedback from the several times recently that I have thrown the question open to readers that I will do that again tonight. So if you have advice for this painter, go to the comments and leave an opinion. If you are reading this, the comments are as much a part of the blog as what I write. There will undoubtedly be some insightful writing, click on comments below and check out what the readers think. See you tomorrow with an answer of my own and blog entry number 501........................Stape


armandcabrera said...


While I may agree with this artist about some of their observations. I don't believe that their work is the quality they thinks it is or it is priced correctly for their skill level.
In my experience there are buyers for every level and if you provide quality they will buy. There is no conspiracy of mediocrity making sure talented people fail.
People fail at something because they ignore the details needed for success. By that I mean there is more to being in business as an artist than making a painting, you must market yourself and maintain a presence through advertising and editorial. In a bad economy you have to work twice as hard as a good economy; if you aren't willing to do that, then you will fail in this economy no matter what your business is.

If this person can go a year without selling a painting then they probably don't rely on their painting as a sole source of income as I do, if that is the case they shouldn't worry about how much they sell or what galleries they are in and just paint the best paintings they can make.

Unknown said...

I Armand has pretty much nailed it.

Perhaps this artist could ask some well established and respected artist(s) to critique his/her work (and offer to pay them to do this). By doing so, he/she will get an objective opinion that may help them to either re-evaluate their own notion of the quality of the work, or to perhaps restructure their pricing.
Because if they are not selling, then one of those two things is bound to be off kilter somewhere.

My greatest fear is putting more mediocre work out there. There's too much of it already. At least in this regard, this questioner is correct.

sharprm said...

But he's a "fine and competent painter" according to Stapleton. I think its implied he has sold in the past.

I'm not an artist myself, but I think if inequality gave rise to art, egalitarianism probably killed it.

Robert J. Simone said...

Wonder what Earl Nightengale would say to this artist?

Philip Koch said...

First off, Stape thanks so much for the plug for my upcoming show! You are demonstrating a generous spirit.

About this letter from the exasperated artist, I suspect most reading this blog would find much to empathize with in his or her words. At times when I've felt down about the art world it can seem nothing but a big madhouse.( Actually this happens in my internal dialog about once a week, at least).

I pretty much agree with what's been said by the others who responded.

It's important to remember that art is like food-there is no one flavor that everybody likes. There will always be others who find significance in things that seem to us mere trifles. It is ok that not everyone will like what an artist produces. Just go on doing your best work and stick to your guns.

I wonder if this artist is approaching the right sort of galleries. If a gallery is oriented towards selling edgy, post-modern art, it isn't very likely they have a lot of collectors who come in looking to buy Barbizon-influenced plein air oils in antique style gold frames.

If the artist lives near a big city, they can try other galleries. If not, they may have to travel extensively, and/or try to approach galleries via the mail and email. Somewhere out there is an audience for whatever it is one makes. Just be sure you continue to improve as an artist and keep looking.

Also the people who work in art galleries are human. They are inundated daily by artists seeking representation. Some of these artists haven't always behaved all that well. Very frequently, gallery people, in response, affect a haughty and cold indifference toward artists who want to show them their work. I've seen this many times. I don't excuse rude behavior, but galleries don't seem to turn on the charm unless they think you're a serious customer who's come to buy.

All I'm saying is a bad reception by a gallery hurts a lot, but it isn't the end of the world. Find another venue, and if necessary, make another venue happen for yourself.

It is hard to be an artist. Many of the "successful" artists we see out there are only still in the game because they have additional sources of income they don't talk about ( money from mom and dad, a supportive working spouse or partner, a day job and a willingness to work nights and weekends at one's art). Remember Cezanne and Van Gogh were painters only because they had relatives who sent them money.

There is always something you can do to improve your situation, but it is still going to be tough sledding. If one succumbs to bitterness then you lose out. Nurture the talent to survive rejection (all of us will be given lots of opportunities to practice getting that last one right).

Robert J. Simone said...

Phillip, this comment is well thought out, well articulated and well written. It portrays a healthy attitude. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I keep finding the parallels to our "art ancestors". If you read the bios of most of the masters, you will see that they stayed their course, painting what they loved, even when the public and critics did not approve. Yes, there is a lot of whimsical art out there, cute little creatures or florals done by amateurs, that sells. Is that your customer base? Or is it clients who can afford quality and appreciate it? What about all those people who bought your work in the past? Have you offered them anything lately?

Susan McCullough said...

Philip made a valid point about how galleries often treat artists - and I do understand that they get tired of the barrage of artists knocking on their doors- but they are forgetting one vital thing- artists are their suppliers. Turning on the charm for collectors only is fine but to treat artists like mutts off the street is rather sad- I guess there are so many artists to pick from that they feel justified in their behavior?

Manatee Writers said...

Tonight's blog is really an education, from the letter to the comments. I am working at learning all I can and to improve with every painting while developing my own style. I haven't tried to get into a gallery yet but these comments about galleries is another piece to the puzzle. I'm afraid Syape is going to whip out some name and we'll all be shocked at the author so I hesitate to say it, but a sour attitude doesn't help regardless of your talent, occupation or experience. Saying people are not buying someone's work because they don't know any better is a little over the top it seems to me.

Robert J. Simone said...

Susan, "....mutts off the street." I love it. Great commentary. I'm enjoying being able to follow the thread while doing a little writing myself. Good stuff.

John Stanford said...

Everyone has posted valid comments but what I read in this letter is a lot of frustration. The situation is very complex and there isn't a 'silver bullet' here to get back on track. Yes, the market is flooded with work from artists with bad taste but this isn't your market anyway so don't let it get to you. There are galleries that cater to them but they're not where you want your work to be. Phillip put it so well I'll refer to his ideas on some things you can do. Unfortunately, sometimes the very thing that make us good artists are the very things that make us not so good business people. We have to be both to be successful. The artist does have a market, he just needs to find it.

billspaintingmn said...

Armand makes a good point.
Being an artist, and being in business as an artist is another game altogether.
I was trained as a commercial artist. Layouts, ads, and sign work mostly.
I learned gilding and had some success with that also.
I enjoy painting in oils. I try to improve myself.
There will always be someone better, and someone not as good, so I don't like to measure myself to another.
I like to think I have learned a lot from exposing myself to blogs like this, and art introduced by artists.
So if a soccer mom wants to have a studio, and make art, I'm ok with that.(in fact I encourage it!)
I guess my next step is to start selling my work. Not to compete with another, to have the enjoyment
that my work is out there.
I have sold art in the past,yet I
could not count on it for sole income. I would not expect to have sole income now either.
It would be cool if it evolved into that.
That's where the some artists dreams are.

Steve Baker said...

I am an amatuer. I don't call myself an artist, I say I paint. I am not selling. On Sat. I meet a painter who after painting for 10 years paintly at home, has found a gallery on the other side of the country that will be selling her work. This is the model I have been working on for a few years. When I feel that the work is woth something I will try and sell it. I will do so without a degree, without being a profesional, without the approval of Artelasticum PepsiCola. Fortunatly, there is no test to prove that you are worthy. That is determined by the marketplace. Certanly there is a lot of junk on the market and saddly a lot of it sells. If you are putting yourself in the realm of dealing with the public at large you have to be prepared to accecpt that they don't all think like you.
Steve Baker


Sorry, no comment on today's blog but really looking forward to your blog tomorrow and your opinion.

Phyllis Russell Franklin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deborah Paris said...

First, congrats on that 500th post. Quality and quantity!

Armand has it right. Without seeing the work, who knows, but either this guy (and I assume from the snarky soccer mom comment that its a guy) is not painting at the level he thinks or he has been looking for love in all the wrong places ( not the right galleries for his work). Either way, a reevaluation is in order. The other thing is he's going to have to ditch that attitude. I do this for a living (no safety net of another income), so I know what it means to feel rejected, frustrated, jealous, competitive, and underestimated. None of that will get you anywhere- and it becomes toxic to everyone around you and eventually to the work.

Jim Nolan said...

Let me confess that I am an amateur. I am now retired and took up oil painting for the first time at the beginning of last year. I work hard at it: paint almost every day, have joined a weekly figure drawing group group, have taken a few workshops and have done some plein aire in my amateurish way. I dream that at some point my work would be of sufficient quality that it would be validated by acceptance into a gallery. I have to presume that out of this very large cohort of amateurs will emerge successful future artists
Your artist's comments remind me of the early Impressionsts continued rejections by the academics at the Academie des Beaux Arts. Count Nieuwerkerke, the Superintendant of Fine Arts at the Salon described them thus: "...the painting of democrats, of men who don't change their linen and who mean to force themselves on public society. This art displeases and disgusts me"

Congratulations Stapelton on your 500th post I get a hint that we could be nearing the end of the line and I am certain It requires great dedication and altruism to produce each evening after a tiring day. I discovered the post last fall and it has taken until now to read through all of them. It is not that I am a slow reader- what takes the time is reading the books you recommend, googling and researching the very many artists you share with us, thinking about the enlightening concepts you introduce and expanding my appreciation of art history. I believe you are contemplating a book, however such a book would have to extend to several volumes if it were to include even a portion of all the valuable material in your blog. Absence of your blog would leave a void in my life.

Karla said...

Congratulations on 500 posts!! I am still reading back posts so I hope this won't close anytime soon.

This artist's frustration is similar to what I heard as a quilt shop owner. Other owners would complain about the "hobby" quilt shop owners who did not depend on their shops for full support and undercut the prices of the "legitimate" shops. Ah, such is a capitalist society. Combine that with a stalled economy, when just about everyone is cutting back and let's face it, buying new art is not a necessity of life, times are tough all around. I imagine most people are having to find creative ways to make ends meet. From reading this negative sounding letter this is a person that I don't think I would like to meet or get to know. Could it be that (his/her) attitude shows through in the art? Maybe he/she is just suffering from depression. said...

I wrote a big long thing here but erased it all. Here is something for everyone to think about from someone (me) who brought a new product/invention to market for my husband and sold the product all over the world for 13 years.

Art is seen as a product. Every product has a life and a market. Unless you innovate YOU WILL SATURATE YOUR MARKET. So you either have to 1)find new markets (more work) or 2)develop a new product (more work). That's the way it is.

My company was unable to sustain financing technical innovation with our maturing sales. Our market was saturated. We closed the business.(Thank goodness I had been putting myself through art school all the while).unaplog

Linda Crank said...

I think that assumptions should not be made about the quality of this artist's work without seeing it...nor should the assumption be made that the reason he is not selling is that he has not evaluated it correctly.

Among other awards, he was a finalist in the 2009 Art Magazine's yearly competition...and yet he cannot afford to paint full-time as an artist.

It would be frustrating to study classical art, produce good quality paintings, and then see artificial turf featured on museum walls and called Art.

I hope that he will get some good ideas from your comments to help him achieve his goal of being a full-time fine artist.

Barbara Carr said...

Dear Mr Pepsi Cola:
At the risk of seeming rude, I'm going to say: shut up and paint. If you're trying to make a living with your art and nothing's happening, try taking a marketing course. A lot of states, including NH, offer these to artists for free. If the galleries are looking at your work as dogggydoo, you're in the wrong places. If you think that your work is better than anyone else's, it most likely isn't. However, if Stape thinks you're competent, you must have something going for you. Find a gallery that offers art similar to yours and approach them in a professional manner, with an organized presentation and not looking like a slob. If they reject you, ask the gallerist what you might do to become more saleable. Most gallery managers/owners LIKE artists and want to help.
Don't ask me how I know, but changing your attitude will change your life. Good luck.

armandcabrera said...

First let me apologize to Stapleton because it is his blog, but I can't let the comment about the competitions go.
One, that magazine is not a judge of artistic talent by any stretch. Two, painting one good painting does not make a career. And three, whatever their ability, if they are unable to sell work,(for a year) it is either poor quality or priced too high for the quality. Otherwise how do you explain sell out shows in the last two months by Matt Smith, Joe Paquet,and group shows like the Prix De West and Autrey are seeing record sales. So obviously people are willing to spend money on what they believe is quality work. Never assume the fault is with the buyer, in my experience it is always with the artist.

Mary Bullock said...

Seems like an awful lot of judging going on here before anyone has seen the artist's work.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Thanks for the post Stape. Congrats on being so faithful to your blog. I have no idea how you do it. I am luck if I can muster a few posts a month and I have a team of Jewish comedy writers working for me.
There is a lot of great suggestions here, and I have to agree with the jist of what everyone is saying, the answer is usually to just "Shut up and paint." It is what my wife always tells me. I try to listen.
I also agree with many of the observations the artist has made. The art world has become overly democratic, when actually all art is not created equal. Of course I am a bit of an elitist. Which is why I read this blog. ;-)

Stapleton Kearns said...

To all of you.
Thank you for your thoughts and ideas. You guys are a tough crowd, but you made a whole lot of valid points.I hope Mr. Pepsi-Cola finds some good pointers here. I will make some of my own on the flip side. Rather than answer each individual comment I am going to write my own opinions.

Unknown said...


Artelasticum's letter hits several sore spots with me. I've seen the gallery pieces he refers to, and not to belabour the point, I share his pain. But the sentiment is an old one, and not always honourable, and when I find myself thinking along the same lines, I take a deep breath. Art critics at the turn of the last century, steeped in art history and the artistic conceits of their day had no idea what to make of the ignoramuses killing themselves to get their work into the salons, people like Monet, Cezanne, Sisley and Cassat and Morrisot. Read the journal reviews of their work and what strikes you is the sense of affront, of outrage: how dare they call it art! But the traditionalists were on the losing side! These same men and women who were being rejected by the good galleries of their day were making art that was, still is, transformational. The young ignoramuses today, the soccer mom's with studios, the college kids innocent of art history or traditional methods, using plastics, resins, tinfoil, pieces of bone, broken mirrors, kleenex, are actually following an old tradition: that of standing tradition on its head. And demanding, often with a degree of success I frankly envy that attention be paid. We paint, we learn, the young teach us, we stay humble, and if we're very lucky, our work stays fresh.