HARBOR NEAR MONTE CARLO (1990) oil on canvas, 20″ x 24″
I was talking to a client of mine several years ago. She said that she had to have a particular piece I had just finished. She already owned ten of my paintings and wanted to add it to her collection. I asked her where she was planning to put it, I knew her house was filled with art and wall space was getting sparse. Her answer was she had no idea, but she had to buy my painting and couldn’t bear the thought of someone else owning it.
So why does one buy a work of art? Let’s hope it’s not to fill up a space, or match a piece of furniture or material on one side of a room. Cheap art is found everywhere. Original oils of cute cottages by the sea are manufactured by the yard, and prints of zebras or palm trees (depending which state you live in) fill so-called art galleries – oversized warehouses with a mishmash of colors good for headaches.
So why does one buy a work of art? The simple answer could be you’ve just fell in love and your soul responds accordingly. The lack of room on your walls is irrelevant, as irrelevant as what anyone else who may question your choice or thinks you’re being financially irresponsible. Artists create, that’s what we do, and though we may not admit it, the true art collector’s seal of approval is our reward.
Reinventing oneself is one of the hardest things to do for an artist, but it is one of the great fundamentals of becoming a good one. Get out of your comfort zone! Begin by looking at artists you never paid attention to before and not just contemporary ones, go back centuries, all the way to the Lascaux caves if you have to. On a more technical point, start working on larger canvases if you’ve worked on smaller ones before and look for unusual formats. Try to get away from those “standard sizes” by stretching your own canvases. Look for subjects that you normally would not find worth painting, you’ll be surprised.
Though today it’s virtually impossible to come up with anything really new, artists are left with only one option, and that is reinterpret what has been done before. Below are two images that could have been painted a few months apart – one from the Lascaux caves, the other from Juan Miro. Miro of course had much brighter colors at his disposal, but in truth it is just an expansion of what an obscure artist from at least fifteen thousand years ago created.
If you’re an artist, you had to deal with the lack of inspiration at one time or another and everything you do seems to come out of the same blender. As you search for a good subject matter, either outdoors or through endless photos or magazines, you are struck with a sense of pointlessness. This is a normal occurrence and all artists experience it. Being “bored” with one’s work can be a positive thing, but not losing heart, which is easy to do, is key.
So what is inspiration? Why do we need it? It’s the energy, the breath that drives the artist. As with everything in life, one has to be motivated. Some people would cross a desert if a treasure awaited them on the other side. Others would cross that same desert for the love of a woman (or a man, whichever the case may be), but in both scenarios, inspiration is the source. Inspiration is just another way to say our soul has been stirred. If you’re a sculptor, you’ll begin carving, if you’re a writer, words will flow onto the paper (or the computer screen!), and a painter will have to apply paint to the canvas. Nothing else in the world will matter until the battle of creating a work of art has been won and all avenues to do justice to the elusive moments of inspiration have been exhausted.
Search for inspiration, don’t wait for it, it’s nearby. The fact that you’re an artist – in other words you see the world through a different lens than other people – means you have been blessed with a talent, and as sure as the sun rises in the East, inspiration comes to you in a way that non-artists never experience. Don’t be distressed if at times it feels like it will never return. It will. Begin to work and soon it will strike and all will be well.
It is very interesting to observe that before the mid-1800’s, artists basically perfected their own techniques throughout their lives, refining their approach to art. If you study the paintings of an artist from the Renaissance as an example, or any period, you’ll notice no breakthrough to speak of from early to late works. One can tell a Raphael, or a Botticelli, regardless of when the painting was done. From the Impressionists on, radical changes can be seen in all great artists, even from year to year, as they searched for something beyond what they were naturally able to do. The illustrations above show the works of Paul Gauguin, an early painting as he found himself caught in the Impressionist’s movement, and a later work when Gauguin finally became Gauguin – a far cry from the early days.
Of all challenges, I think the greatest one for an artist is to be different, to be original. There is more art around us now than ever before. The internet and galleries are saturated with artists, some very good and some not so good. Which one will influence you? Is it a matter of taste? Yes, in a way, but you have to add education to the equation. Education creates the taste. I have written about this in more depth in one of my newsletters. Of course some artists are quite happy turning out the same product time and time again – this can be due to a lack of imagination, or perhaps the success found in the product is too much of a temptation to warrant any changes. Keep in mind that all great artists always question their own work, thus creating the need to transform and revolutionize.
An artist’s work is affected by his or her mood, life’s events. If you’re an artist, do you have a space where you can create in peace, away from the world’s brouhaha? I like to listen to classical music when I paint. I find it very inspiring. I will even select a particular piece to fit the work I’m doing – Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto for certain things, a Vivaldi cello sonata for other moods, and Mozart’s Requiem for attempting the sublime…
Below is a little snippet from something I wrote in my March 2016 newsletter. Think about that if you’re a painter.
Great paintings and great drawings ought to have qualities that distinguish them from what a camera is able to capture. This means the handling of the medium, pencil, ink, oil, or whatever it may be, must demonstrates a certain artistry. The beauty of a painting or a drawing is not in nature mirrored, but rather in the artist’s interpretation of it.
The entrance of the Mas de la Ville where I spent three weeks last September visiting my parents. A windy day – the Mistral clears the skies and drives the locals crazy! I love it. Notice the beautiful Provencal light.