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.

Hi Stape,
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

Dear Tetanus:
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.


Robert J. Simone said...

Love the Georges! Benjamins would be better but Georges are good, too.

I am reminded of Monet's haystacks. I doubt he was painting them over and over solely because they were selling. I think he revisited them because their was so much color and beauty that he found a fresh inspiration in them each time. He just couldn't get enough of the possibilities inherent in the subject. For me that's the reason to return to a location or subject, because I am not finished with it yet. I want to paint it in different light, with different emphasis or with a new design inspiration. said...

Talk about Monet;how about those Waterlily paintings done because 1) he liked doing them 2) he like doing them because they sold 3) because the familiar object gave him a frame work in which to explore new techniques. All good reasons. It's the same subject painted in different ways.We have to differentiate here between the same subject and the same painting.

I have done studies and then made larger pieces. Sometime I sell the study, but it is always marked as such. When I repeat a painting it's because I fell that the painting demands a different scale.

I also have favorite objects and subjects which I never get tired of visiting in a different ways. But given that my objects repeat (think Giorgio Morandi here)I only paint them when I set a a new challenges for myself.

However, duplicating, copying the exact same painting over and over will discourage collectors and begin to put your work into the light of being a product and you a producer.You loose the wonder and the mystery of art.

Unknown said...

simone, monet may have just been experimenting with his latest "color by numbers" kit and run out of burnt umber...

barbara b. land of boz said...

I'm doing a little of catch up here. (between grandkids, 3 more coming today) So many areas touched on. I agree with make the original and break the mold. I would not be knocking at the door of repeats.
To key or not to key???? I too would like further demos on this subject. It is an area that is so important to the outcome of your work...from blah to garish where is my happy middle?

Keep on keeping on Stape!!

armandcabrera said...

Edgar payne is a good example of a talented artist who never missed a chance to sell an image as many times as possible. It is really noticeable when you see a large group of his work.

billspaintingmn said...

Artists are exspected to be creative! Making something new is more interesting than the same old path! I agree!
If I want to do the same old, I'll fry an egg, or make toast.

billspaintingmn said...

Typo! Expected! My spelling is creative too!

Judy P. said...

'An artist sells integrity'. Painting can be a daunting series of tough lessons, as it has been for me lately. I'm learning, but still it's discouraging. This post reminded me of art's grand purpose, and after reading it I straightened my posture, and inhaled with quiet pride. Thanks for another fine post.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I am always surprised at how many Cortes and Blanchard originals are out there. Not only did they make paintings of the same scene over and over, they copied themselves! Would they have benefited from giclees in their day? Definitely, but the collectors today still snap up the paintings as originals going up in value.

Philip Koch said...

Good post once again!

This is something I wonder about. Painters can get so tuned in to their own work that sometimes what would strike outsiders as minimal differences between two paintings seems big to the actual painter himself/herself.

Degas sometimes did lots of tracing paper transfers of a figure or group of figures and then did several closely related versions of the same composition. I think in his case it was taking him more deeply into his creativity. In another artist's hands this same process could have led to mechanical results.

These are good questions to ponder as we work... said...

PS. An interesting article in the Boston Globe written by Sebastian Smee about Emily Eveleth who has been painting giant doughnuts for the last 20 years.

Unknown said...

It's like running a marathon trying to catch up on all the posts after being up in the mountains for two weeks. Internet? what's that?
showers? what's that?
Anyway, great post. Integrity,that's a good nail to hang a career on.

Marian Fortunati said...

Always interesting and informative!!

I'd be interested in a workshop in California... depending upon WHEN... WHEN were you thinking???