Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My job; painter

Bryant Stove and Music Company located in Thorndike, Maine is the best source for restored antique wood stoves. They have an incredible selection and can ship. You may have figured out that I like antique stoves.

I thought I might discuss something that came up in another blog I read recently. That is, what title does our occupation have? Some of you might disagree strongly with this, and that's why there is a comments page.


To me it sounds pretentious and a little too casual. I am always flattered when other people call me an artist, but I call myself a painter. If people ask what I do, I say " I am a professional oil painter". If people ask "Are you an artist" I reply "Oh! I sure hope so!"

I was told as a student long ago that "A painter who calls himself an artist, is like a priest who calls himself a saint" and I always liked the idea. In fact I think it encourages people to think I am an artist more than my telling them so, they like "giving" me the appellation themselves. It makes em feel generous.

I have noticed that a lot of the pros, at least here in New England will tell you they are a painter rather than an artist. I know a lot of the old timers did that. I think it is probably a 19th century convention, and I do like old timey ideas and things. I am the derriere garde. Calling yourself a painter carries a sort of humility and it is also a code word. When someone tells me they are an artist, I usually expect them to be an amateur. When I hear a stranger tell me they are a painter, my ears pick up and I think I am probably meeting a pro.

When I am at openings there is always some blowhard dressed in black, wearing a beret and loudly telling anyone who will listen " I am an artist!". I fight the urge to ask,"Do you file quarterlies?" but I might ask " NO kidding, maybe I've seen your work, where are you showing?"
I suspect that at at least a subconscious level a lot of people think the speaker is "putting on airs". Even if I didn't have a philosophical reason for calling myself a painter and not an artist, I would still do it for business reasons. It seems more professional to the dealers and clients.


Item two;

I will never talk a painter down in front of a client, dealer or almost anyone else. I believe this is unprofessional. If their work is weak, others will eventually see it without your pointing it out anyway. I may say very little about their art, but I try not to dump on them. I do this for several reasons. The first is, they may well be trying to feed themselves and their family and I don't want to pull the bread out of their childrens mouths. The other is that it often gets back to them and you might incur a lifetime of resentment, and deserve it too.

Sometimes you will hear an artist ( yes, I happily use that title for OTHER people) run down the work of another artist to build up their own standing with their listeners. That seldom is really effective and instead makes you look insecure at best, and petty at the worst. You will seem confident when you find a good word to say when another artists work is pointed out to you. If you can't figure out anything good to say, try "I like that red" or whatever color dominates the painting. Or remark on it's subject "those are strong looking horses aren't they?" People are really invested in their art, if they aren't hardened pros they may be desperately sensitive to criticism, especially when it is neither private or constructive. They may wear their nervous system on the outside. You can really hurt people with a single casual remark. This is especially true if you are a successful or well known painter, so be kind.

When I am in the company of a trusted friend who is a pro, I may say what I think of a particular painting, but never in earshot of anyone else and only if I know it will go no further. I also feel free to criticize big time New York modernist painters who couldn't possibly be wounded by midgets like me and have such colossal egos that I wish they could be. The dead are also fair game for criticism, unless you are talking to their relatives. I have no problem hurting the feelings of someone who has been dead for a hundred years.

This is a professional courtesy I extend to my fellow artists, and hope for in return. Making it as a painter is hard enough without other artists sabotaging you.


Anonymous said...

I once told someone I was a painter, and they asked which houses I'd done recently. "Artist" is at least unambiguous. Calling myself an "acrylic painter" would just result in puzzled stares. I think "artist" cuts to the chase without being too cute. Maybe I'm too much of an amateur, but I'll stick with "artist" until I can think of something better.

Sergio Lopez said...

LOL Barbara I've ran into the same type of thing. Being Mexican doesn't point them in the right direction either...

Abel said...

I like the stoves too.
I'm just a student wannabe-pro at the moment,but I can foresee that I would have a hard time calling myself an "artist". To me it seems too vague. Even if I'm not doing illustration at the time, I'll probably call myself an illustrator. "draughtsman" sounds kinda cool

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape,
Today the architect who designed the restaurant where I am doing my murals, a man I have never met, asked the owner to introduce him to me. He considered me an artist, ( very uncomfortable, I tell my painter friends that painting billboards for people in their homes and businesses, is like a 2 year old standing on the table singing 'How much is that doggie in the window' which relatives said I did!) within a few minutes he was telling me he was a prostitute because he would incorporate a customers remodeling into his design. Apologizing, he showed me beautifal watercolor drawings made from the mess! We creatives are very complicated, in how we judge what we do.
I love what I do, I take my customers dreams and with all my knowledge try to create a place for them, a room with a view. And with my own time I try to create my own view.
What I would like to ask is when you get up in the morning how do you decide what to work on, how do you identify what area needs practice in your work? Thanks as ever, Terry

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape,
It's 1:30 AM and I couldn't sleep, it's so cool to find you on the same wave length! How we fit in to this art world is complicated. Are we the originator (1e Bach), the person who plays Bach, the person who creates Bach like work, or the person who creates Bach for 'HIP-HOP'!! Terry

Charlevoix Sax Quartet said...

Your post reminded me of the time one of my ex's co-workers dashed around, excitedly proclaiming to everyone, "I entered a photo show!!!"

I just had to smile and nod.

Catherine Meeks said...

Love your blog. It took me years to be able to say "I'm an artist" but of course we all have been since day one.
My 1910 Glenwood stove is beginning to show signs of age, so the stove component of today's comments is very timely! May make a visit to the stove store during one of my three Maine weekends next month.

mariandioguardi.com said...

I'm about to spend a week in August cooking on a wood stove and in a wood oven (no running water or electricity in this Algonquin Provincial Park camp). I cook a lot and I love wood stove cookin'.

Anyway, I'm weighing in on the side of calling myself a "Painter". To quote: "I never call myself an artist." I create paintings, other people may call it art. I am a painter. Other people may (or may not) call me an artist. Painting is my profession, that's where my income comes from and I am proud of it. The term artist can carry it's own stereotyped baggage; "starving artist", "unappreciated artist", "inaccessible artist", "commercial artist", "crazy artist" etc. (Painting Houses, yeah I've heard that one too. That's an honorable profession as well.)

I had a prospective client call me the other day to ask if a particular piece he had seen in a hospital exhibit was for sale. I said "Oh yes, I am a painter and it's what I do." His response was "You are the real deal then, great. I'd like to come to your studio and see your work". *note he did not call it art.

LandPainter said...

Wonderful advice!

Briana M. Corr Scott said...

THe painter-artist thing is confusing. I am not a professional (yet) but I do call myself an artist--for the reasons others have stated above-when I say I am a painter I get the "You paint houses?" thing. When I am in the company of other creative types I say "painter" because that is what I am comfortable with, and because that is what is true-when I am in public I say artist because it is the quickest way to a point and I avoid the whole house painting thing. An interesting topic to be sure.

Unknown said...

Well said!

Boldheadstudio said...

wonderful professional ethics, I can see myself in there. besides, everyone calls himself artist nowadays ;)

John D. Wooldridge said...


I'm a long time reader, first posting. This one hit home with me. I hadn't quite made the stark distinction that you have here but over the last few weeks I have been re-examining an old idea of mine that art is vastly independent of the medium of creation but is much more a function of the intent and drive of the individual. I think an artist is anyone who, using the filter of their love, life, and character, bring something of beauty into the world, be it a car, a plane, a cabinet, or perhaps a wood burning stove.

I kinda like the idea that artist is an honorific bestowed upon a person and not a self affected title.

billspaintingmn said...

My schooling after highschool was a Vocational Techincal,(Vo-Tec)
There I learned commercial art and advertizing. We exsperienced alot of areas in the industry.
Fridays we did drawing of live models, still lifes, casts and also plein-air pencil, pen & ink and charcoal studies.
Lettering was my worst ability, yet sign painting was where I made my living.
I could draw well, maybe because I loved to draw. I drew everything.
It was pointed out to me early on that I was a commercial artist, not a fine artist.
I wanted to be a fine artist, but wasn't.
My card read Sign Painter! I did trucks, billboards, windows, and
I was interested in oil painting, and dove into it with both feet.
It was trial & error,but a lot of fun.(I even sold many paintings!)

Today I am at a studio shared by several artists. Some from fancy art schools(fine art) and they all are doing showings and advetizing themselves as fine artists!
They tend to skoff at my art work.

I did however learn to gild. I got very good at it, and was sought out by some for this work.
About a year ago I started oil painting again.
I refer to myself as a commercial artist. A sign painter. A gilder.
some say I'm an artist, I think I am.
It is not an easy life, nor did I exspect it to be. I'm just happy to be here today.

Robert J. Simone said...

Wow, don't let my wife see all those stoves. She'll drag me all the way to Maine just to see.

I once had someone tell me she was a "gallery artist". Still trying to figure out what that meant but I'm sure it is very significant.

Woodward Simons said...

Ha! my license plate is: OILP8R
Guess I have chosen wisely.
Thanks for blog, Stape.

Carol Nelson said...

Oh God, it took me years to get up the nerve to say I am an artist when asked. Now I have to send out retractions.
And, since my name is a common one, I had to add "Fine Art" after it on my blog and website. I struggled with doing that too because of the pretentious sound of it.
Technically, since I paint in oils, acrylics, mixed media and collage, I'd have to say I'm a creator. (Not THE Creator). That also sounds wacky too.
You dumped a whole lot of angst on me with that blog entry.

Unknown said...

Love this post and all the comments.
It took about 50+ years for me to stop everything and decide to follow what was in my heart and soul for as long as I can remember.(that stack of scribblings from early age bears testament to that). Now, I figure this painting thing is really what I was designed to do (by THE Creator). So I like to think of myself as an "ordained painter."
Don't mean that makes me special - only that I'm doing what I think God created me to do and I better give it my best shot. Keeps me humble, actually, especially on those days when it seems I woke up and forgot completely how to do it.

James Gunter said...

I tell people that I paint landscapes and portraits. That's a longer phrase than "painter," but it heads off the "house painter" questions.

Thanks for what you wrote under "Item Two."

Stapleton Kearns said...

They sometimes say that. I give me the
opportunity to reply. "I paint pictures".

Stapleton Kearns said...

Druaghtsman, good to use the English spelling. More style.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Main Loop;
Tell them you are a Hittite!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am always practicing something. I go on fads. I read some statement, often by a dead historical artist and it sends me on a quest.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't sllep either. I don't do Bach. Recently Johnny A has been playing around here,

Stapleton Kearns said...

I smile a lot.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is so cool there. Bring money.Thorndike is not a great metropolis.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hadn't thought of that. But there are all of those unpleasant stereotypes. I like that calling myself a painter allows people to decide whether or no I am an artist.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sketchguy. Gee, so many comments. What will I say next. Thanks.

Stapleton Kearns said...

So they ask "house painter?" It just gives me an opening to say what i do. Not a problem.It is a conversation starter. perhaps they have a cousin who is an artist. She might be 9.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. Can Rick Warren see yet?

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is part of why I avoid it. When others zig, I like to Zag.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes I am after that honorific idea. I love to be called an artist.But I leave that to other people.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The family that leafs together, stays together!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have heard that gallery artist thing too. It is a decoration applied over top the usual hubris and self important folderoll.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have heard that gallery artist thing too. It is a decoration applied over top the usual hubris and self important folderoll.

Stapleton Kearns said...

"You can't be Stapleton Kearns!" She was expecting Peter O'toole! She received more rock and roll than expected given the name.

Stapleton Kearns said...

How about Carol Nelson, Fine arts.
That refers to what you do rather than claiming the mantle of artist.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Ordained, thats a nice word.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I don't mind the house painter question. It is a cue for me to tell them about what I do. When I say "I paint pictures" it says a lot about my attitude about painting too.

elijebrg said...

There is nothing wrong with calling yourself an artist.. or a painter.. or a hack for that matter. Don't let it stop you. So what if your an amateur or a student every pro was one once too. Be comfortable so you can do your work and pay no attention to labels, just focus on your goals and keep moving forward.