9 months ago | posted: 5/7/23 8:26 PM
Recently there were people visiting my home for a social event. Almost all of the art that I have ever created hangs on the walls in my home. It is interesting looking at the reactions as people browse an observe what I've created. I receive lots of information by observing and it is often most beneficial for me to view their reactions from a far. On occasion when people visit, they ask me to walk with them so they can ask questions about the paintings. These walks through the history of my creativity are often humbling, revealing, and sometimes embarrassing. There are always complicated questions to answer. The one that is most perplexing is, “why do you not sell your art?”
It is a question that has haunted me since the first day that I finished a painting. I remember a very personal moment that the painting seemed to look back at me. It was like looking in the mirror. Over the last 25 years the answer to that question has changed. Partially the answer is a difficult one to answer due to it being a very personal one. Sometimes the questioning becomes a psychoanalysis of myself and I hate it. The biggest reason is because I am afraid that the analysis might be correct. I thought it was time, after over 25 years of painting originals, that I would explore and attempt to answer this question.
Before answering it directly, if there is a direct way to answer it, it is necessary to explain how I discover what to paint. Being a writer as well as an artist, sitting down behind the computer and typing out my ideas is most natural than formulating some grand narrative. Visual art is much the same. Being a conversationalist, I often work out much of my ideas while talking to people. Even with casual conversations with friends and family, I am often thinking and preparing for my next creation whether it is a story to tell or a vision to paint. It is never a complete project from the beginning so I do not enjoy talking about what I am going to create next. Those thoughts are mostly kept private.
How do I discover what to paint? First, I will mention that I have never done a commission and really am not too interested in it. I would say that I would consider it, but much of the meaningful experience in creating is painting what I see, not trying to paint what someone else wants to see. Second, a painting has to be something that inspires me. It is important for me to have a relationship with the painting and the process while I create it otherwise I will grow disinterested. It really is much more about the process of painting and not necessarily the end result.
Sometimes the relationship is a rough one. You know. You are in relationships. I get angry or frustrated when things are not going the way I want. There is often a fight with shades, colors, or composition. The painting speaks back and often tells me things that I do not want to hear. Not literally of course but figuratively. If you have ever created anything, you know what I am mentioning here. For example, if I am painting a person and the image is not looking the way I expected it to look, I feel inadequate in my craft. I am not good enough. Stubbornly I paint until it is close enough to what I envisioned because it is never fully satisfying.
Thinking I am a head case? Well, all artists are. The relationship between the artist and the art may be different from artist to artist but it is a relationship none the less. Hate to break it to you though. You are a head case as well. We all are. If you struggle with admitting it, explore the behaviors and thoughts you have when no one is around and there is no one to witness it. The artist simply accepts these shortcomings and splashes their inadequacies through color, composition, sound, words, or whatever medium they decide to communicate through. And they are judged or judge themselves through the end result. This is deeply personal to most artists and is why many artists are not willing to discuss what their art means. In my case, what a painting means is deeply personal. Hell, even sometimes we don’t even know what the art means or the meaning changes and reveals itself over time.
Later in my years of painting, I realized that the relationship isn’t one that is a choice for me but it is a necessity. It is even much more complicated than that, I have learned. It isn’t just a having this relationship with one painting but rather a relationship with the process and the way that paintings communicate to each other. Once again not literally but figuratively. Every painting is a learning process and the things learned often show up in the next painting. Since this is a complex relationship, the painting process makes the relationship better and better. This is another reason why it is hard to give paintings away. They are like giving away pieces to a puzzle.
The best analogy I can use to explain the relationship is to compare it to mountaineering. Recently I became fascinated with the brave people that have climbed the 8000-meter peaks around the world. These peaks are deadly and many climbers have died trying to reach the summit or mostly while climbing down from it after their goal was achieved. Their struggle is immense. All the climbers have a visceral relationship with the mountain they are climbing and relationship with each climb. They are completely consumed by the desire to reach the summit. So much so that they are willing to lose their life for it and that biggest risk is coming down. It is so fascinating to me to try and understand this relationship that they have with rock. It has captured me. Not to the point that I wish to risk my life climbing a mountain but rather the feeling that I can relate.
If the painting process is like climbing Everest, then where is the summit? That may be hard to explain but it could be every painting is a climb to the top. But the process of painting is like that relationship with Everest. Every climb reveals more and more and the higher I climb the more beautiful the view is. Sometimes I die inside as the paintings reveal things to me. Sometimes it is what I have experienced viewing my paintings or what others reveal when they view the paintings. After the paintings age in time, it is like coming down the mountain. They become dusty windows from which I look inside myself or to memories of the past. They seem dated. They represent older versions of me often versions that have died.
I have often heard musicians or painters mention that their creations are like children. I can to relate to this. They have personalities. They grow and change. They disappoint and inspire. They teach you things. They gobble up space in your home. Not everyone understands them but I do. The older they get the more distant they get.
Much of this description of what art is and what creating art means to me seems somewhat universal. What is not universal is what each piece of art says. It is infinite within each painting. Another question I often receive is, “What does this painting mean?” This is kind of like asking a climber, “What does climbing Everest mean?” I don’t want you to think I do not like this question. I love this question because this is where the art truly exists. It is the meaning, not the canvas or the brush strokes of dried paint. The art is in the meaning.
The best pieces of art have the most meanings. Think about it. What does DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa” mean? Who is she? Is she really DaVinci staring staring back at you? Wow! These are really intense questions and there are many more. What does Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” mean? Who can answer such a thing? Look at these paintings and try and answer the questions. Talk about this with someone and you will discover why these are two of the greatest pieces of art ever created. You will go down an exploratory rabbit whole in google searches if you are truly interested in art.
So my work is hardly DaVinci or Vermeer but the principles still apply. When someone asks me, “what does it mean?” It is my opportunity to ask back, “what does it mean to you?” The worn-out euphemism of “art is in the eye of the beholder” is true. The responses are often unexpected and sometimes surprisingly reflect what I see the meaning to be. This means I have communicated properly through the painting. There are occasions where the answers are embarrassing. Sometimes it is too revealing and sometimes it reveals that I have not communicated through the painting clearly enough.
Those that I have had these conversations with often are often closest people to me. When someone really thinks about what I have created it is special to me. It means that they care and are interested in what I had or have to say. As well, they are interested in my relationship. Therefore, they become a small piece of that relationship. Those that express that they love my art are in a sense loving the relationship.
So there is still the question, “why do you not sell your art?” Does the answer seem more obvious? If a painting is like a child, would you sell your child? I don’t paint to sustain myself or my family so why would I sell something so personal? If I learn about myself and others through my work, why would I sell these doorways into very complex places. These paintings of mine are not priceless in the world of art but are priceless to me. I don’t mean that I would not sell them but how could I put a price on this relationship?
Some ask me If I would sell a painting even if it was for $100,000? Well I can say that I would have trouble turning down that type of money or even $50,000 or $10,000. But it is hard to set a price for something that means so much to me. Since I have a career that sustains me and supports my journey of being an artist, I have the luxury of not putting a price on my work. The art then becomes another door in my home to open up and go beyond with those that wish to explore.
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