Sunday, January 31, 2016

Finding Balance

I'm not really one for New Year's resolutions, but as 2016 and my 54th year on this planet get underway, I would like to find a little balance. As a creative person I've always been drawn in many directions at once, finding inspiration in everything from nature to pop-culture to the classics. Often it has felt like a juggling act, trying to make all of my many projects gel and harmonize into a something that resembles a life of insight, rather than mere random chaos.

A few years ago I jumped on the "painting-a-day" bandwagon and spent about two months creating a new small, simple piece everyday. I really enjoyed the focus and discipline it brought to my work, but at the same time I also felt stifled by the tiny formats required and the minimal level of finish I could bring to each piece. Going big is out of the question when you've got to produce a completed painting everyday. But the idea resonated with me and I vowed to give it another try one day, perhaps with a different, more flexible set of rules.

Casting about for a new painting project for 2016 I realized that "someday" had arrived. The goal this time around is a more sane and manageable painting-a-week, fifty two new paintings in all for the entire year, with an overarching theme of balance. What kind of balance? Well, that's just what the work will endeavor to answer. As of this writing, there are four pieces completed and they can be viewed and purchased on my new portfolio site:

The new works are watercolor, and I'm trying to keep most of them in the affordable range. As always, I want people to own an actual piece of art, not a picture of art, so I'm not planning to do prints. If there is sufficient interest, I will mount an exhibition of the new series sometime early next year.

I hope you'll follow along with me on this new journey. Life, like art, is something we invent as we go along, trying to make some sense of all the disparate strands. Balance can be elusive. These pictures come to my mind's eye unbidden. I want to find out what they mean.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Let's Talk About Prints

Quite often, when someone likes one of my paintings, the first thing they ask is, "Do you sell prints?" More and more lately, my answer to that question has been, "no."

I did sell a lot of prints for a lot of years and I certainly can't blame any other artist for doing so. It can be lucrative, and we artists always need money. But after a great deal of soul searching about the kind of artist that I really want to be, I've decided to take a pass on the market. It all comes down to a couple of simple ideas, namely, what a print is, and, what an artist does.

It should be noted that when I talk about prints here, I'm talking about mechanical reproductions of an existing artwork, be they lithographs, photos or giclée (inkjet) prints. Hand pulled prints like serigraphs and monoprints are art forms unto themselves and are not the subject of this discussion. I'm also not talking about prints that are used in performance, street art or other installations. This is only about the creation and marketing of art reproductions.

A mechanical reproduction, no matter how well done, archival or faithful to the original, is not really the creation of the artist. It is the creation of the print maker. Sure, the content of the image, the idea, is the artist's creation, but the physical print itself is a consumer product made by a machine. It is a translation of the artwork; an echo. And it is this physical object that the artist must package, store, inventory, price, catalog, and ship. Needless to say, all of this activity takes a great deal of time and investment and ultimately distracts from the creative process. When an artist chooses to go down this road, they make themselves a merchant, a middle-man selling duplicates of a printer's output.

Just as one cannot wear virtual jewelry or drink tea from a picture of a cup, one cannot truly experience a watercolor or drawing through a reproduction.

Think of it this way: a print is a picture of a picture. If one simply wants to view a photo of the artwork, all of mine are available to view online for free. You can experience the idea or concept of an image that way, but don't think for a moment that this is anything like holding the actual thing that has been created. A painting is not like a novel that can be reproduced over and over like a paperback book with no loss of the language therein. It is a singular creation. Just as one cannot wear virtual jewelry or drink tea from a picture of a cup, one cannot truly experience a watercolor or drawing through a reproduction.

The modern consumer art market has conditioned most of us to settle for reproductions, for pictures of art. This started back in the early-twentieth century and has only accelerated as technology has brought the prices of mechanical prints lower and lower, both for the artist, and for patrons. In the early days, cost and issues of degrading quality over the course of a print run relegated most art prints to short runs or so called "limited editions." As advancing technology made these concerns largely moot, some artists (myself included), tried to maintain integrity by artificially limiting edition sizes. I've come to view this as a silly and largely pointless practice, especially when a quick Google search reveals some of my pieces being shared and reposted hundreds and hundreds of times on the internet.

As it has with so much else, the internet has changed the way we consume all visual media, including art reproductions. What hasn't changed is the creative process itself. Unless you only work in pixels, creating art remains a laborious, hands-on process that results in one singular, unique thing at a time.

Which brings me to what an artist does.

When I was young, I was often told by well meaning friends, relatives, and teachers that it was okay to be an artist (gee thanks!), but you have to treat it like a business. So, I tried to. I tried for many, many years. Of course, being in the art business means selling prints. Lots of prints. In fact, it got to the point where I found myself sometimes designing my paintings specifically to be printed. There's no doubt that selling prints can make it easier to be in the art business. The problem is, art's not really supposed to be driven by commercial concerns. As it turns out, that's not really the kind of artist I want to be.

An artist makes things that communicate a certain view of existence, regardless of whether or not such a view is popular.

Here's what I really want: I want to create one of a kind pieces of art that someone, somewhere will fall in love with and wish to own. My joy comes from the process of creation, theirs comes from owning a unique piece that speaks directly to them. That's it.

I've come to understand that art is not like any other kind of business. It's much more of a calling, something that I have to do. A traditional business makes and sells things to fill a demand; the bigger the demand, the more of those things that are made. An artist makes things that communicate a certain view of existence, regardless of whether or not such a view is popular. If someone falls in love with the piece and chooses to pay money for it, great! If they don't, well, that's okay too because the joy is in the making. The art is already done.

Art shouldn't be treated as a traditional business or as mass entertainment. Prints are a form of mass entertainment. Entertainment is comforting, it shows people what they want to see. Art is beautifully disruptive, it shows people what they need to see.

A piece of art is a captured moment in time. Something that can never be exactly repeated, like a perfect performance of beautiful music. Sure, you can record it, but it's really not the same thing is it? Only a piece of work that the artist touches, performs, builds with his own hands, only that is alive. All else is ghosts and echos.

Don't settle for echos. Especially in this day and age where we are bombarded with a constant stream of electronic echos that can dull our senses and distance us from authentic experience. Insist on something real from the hands of an artist.



To my fellow artists who choose to sell prints, I don't mean to come off as sanctimonious and I'm certainly not judging you. Hell, I was you. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, artists gotta eat. I understand. But I would ask you to look closely and consider how much time, effort and money you have invested in your print inventory. Just imagine if you invested that in doing more artwork instead - maybe even some smaller, affordable work to fill in the gaps. Keep the overhead low and the output high. Yeah, sounds like a lot of work, I know, but didn't we get into this to make art and not to sell widgets? The print market can be an insidious trap. Even if you're just licensing and someone else is doing all the work for you, you've still got to make work with "mass market" appeal. If that's your thing, cool. If not, why not avoid the trap and help educate the art buying public to favor what's real.