Sunday, September 26, 2010

Every Town is an Art Town

"This is not an art town".  

If you told me Houston Texas wasn't a snow skiing town, I'd have no  problem believing it.  Or if you declared that Denver was not a scuba diving town I would probably understand.  The average daily temperature in Houston is not conducive to making piles of snow useful for sliding down, and as far as I know Denver is not near either coast.  Defining a community as an art town however, makes me wonder,  does no one in that town own art?  Are pictures not allowed to be hung?  Are all paints confiscated at the border?
@ 2010 P Scarborough "Holding September", 12x9" Oil on canvas
This painting has nothing to do with this article, except that I just painted it yesterday and wanted to share it with you.

When I heard "X is not an art town" used again recently, rather than let it roll off into the pile of whines that seem to develop around certain artists, I asked the question,"What, exactly, does that mean?" 

It meant that nobody, not one person in City X, purchased artwork from the artist, thereby revealing themselves to be ignorant philistines.

Rather than an entire community falling under suspicion of an artistic vacuum, could there be something else going on? Is there some other reason, besides something in the water, that would lead an entire community to keep their cash in their wallets?

Could it have something to do, dear artist, with you?

Could it be that your prices are high, your work poorly done, your attitude unpleasant?  Does your sales pitch sound like something from a late-night TV commercial? Do you even have a sales pitch? 
Do you make it easy to purchase your work, or do you accept only cash in well-ironed 100-dollar bills?
If your work is displayed in a gallery, do you change it out often, or does the gallery staff have to dust off cobwebs?

Now that I've nailed you down, let me help you out a bit. 

Okay, so you aren't exactly burning up the cash registers.  First bit of advice: don't blame your customers.


@2010 P Scarborough Mill Road 14x10 pastel
Likewise with this one.

Second bit of advice: find out why you're not selling.  Ask your gallery owner, or a trusted friend for a meeting.  In her excellent book, "I'd Rather Be In The Studio", Alyson Stanfield calls it the "Conversations Exercise". It's a way of finding out what others think of your subject matter, framing, statement, etc.  Be prepared to hear an honest appraisal, or there's no reason to bother. Remember, you're doing this to learn.
Speaking of Stanfield's "IRBITS", get  yourself educated.  Read a book or two, and a few blogs as well.  There are several excellent marketing and creativity blogs written for folks just like you.  Find out what else is going on in the art world, who's doing it and how.

It might help if you saw yourself as an educator, rather than a salesman.  I'm not saying treat your customers like they're stoopid, but gosh, maybe they've never seen artwork like yours. It could be they've never considered purchasing original art before, and don't know why they should when Walmart's got such purty things for cheaper.  Let them educate you, too. A ceramicist I know keeps tabs on each art fair she attends.  City A loves plates, City B is into mugs.  She packs accordingly.

The most important advice I can share with you is this:  Treat people as if you want them as friends, not just customers.  You may not sell them any art, but you'll leave as pals, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Matched My Sofa

Dear Readers,

Yes, I did.  On purpose.  I created art just to match my sofa.

Mind you, I've spent the better part of 40 years trying not to do just that.

Like many of you, I was raised with the idea that "Good Art Does Not Have To Match Your Sofa", an admonition espoused by all of my art professors, and the majority of my fellow artists along the way.  It was made even more weighty because the phrase was usually said with a nose tilted slightly upward, so as to make the speaker appear taller and therefore more intelligent.  An eye roll topped off the ensemble.

For years I've looked for an art piece that I could live with that also looked comfortable above my couch.  It's a darn big wall and, frustratingly, nothing seemed to work for very long - mostly because the admonition to avoid "matching" echoed in my head.  To hang anything that carried the same muted tones of ochre, rose, green and blue woven into the fabric of my furniture seemed to be worthy of 40 lashes with a Thomas Kinkaid paintbrush.

Well, to heck with that.  I gotta live with my couch, my wall, and myself. 

I made a play date with my paints. I shrugged off my "serious artist" attitude and spent several hours creating a piece just for me, my wall and my sofa. 

Three hours, 8 canvases, 6 colors of cheap acrylic paint and a really good time later and I've got a pretty fantastic spread of canvas on my wall.  It's a mix and match set.  When I get tired of the current arrangement, I'll simply shuffle them like a fat deck of cards and re-hang in a new way.  Ooh, I can hardly wait.

© 2010 P Scarborough Meditation in 8 Squares 24x54"oil on canvas

My personal favorite-

© 2010 P Scarborough Meditation 5 12x12"oil on canvas

Or, no, maybe this one-

© 2010 P Scarborough Meditation 7 12x12"oil on canvas

Er mmmmmmnno, this one...

© 2010 P Scarborough Meditation 8 12x12"oil on canvas

I matched my sofa and I'm pretty darned happy with it.
Learn to live with it.  I will.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Smaller and Smaller

Greetings Dear Reader-
I've shared with you in the past about my ever more narrow challenges dedicated to learning about what makes up the landscape around me here in south central Nebraska.  I've gone from painting whatever I decide is valuable, such as our fabulous skies, wide open horizons, undulating hills covered with crops, etc. to small, overlooked corners of overgrown city lots.
Eighteen months ago my Canadian friend Mavis Penney and I embarked on a 100-day project painting only what we could see from a highway.  Quite honestly the first weeks of that project didn't change the way I looked at the world much, because highways criss-cross my part of the word at fairly frequent intervals. 
The limitations of that project soon opened my eyes, though and I found amazing, delightful things to paint that stretched my aesthetic and my talents.  That project opened another challenge for me to paint only what I found in a single square mile.  Suddenly I was finding excitement and interest in spaces I'd overlooked before.
And this summer I've narrowed my focus even more by limiting myself to a 2-block area for plein air painting.  Removing choices from the wide range of available options has proven to be a gold mine for learning about myself and what makes up the world around me.
Mavis has gone one step further with her painting challenge.  In order to regenerate her interest in watercolors and to focus her prodigious talents in the act of painting itself, she has taken on her own backyard.  Repeatedly.  Her work is exciting, loose, fresh.  It'll be very interesting to see how she grows, and her work along with her.
Skip on over and take a look.  You'll be imressed, and even inspired to take a closer look at your own backyard. 
And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Way I See It

Greetings Dear Friends-

Last week I shared that I was reading "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger. Published in 1972, it is described on the back cover as being "one of the most stimulating and the most influential books on art in any language".

I'll admit right off the bat that I've had to read the first chapter three times. It'll take probably another three before my brain can wrap itself completely around what Berger is saying. It's fascinating stuff actually, but not if you're looking for easy answers.  I mentioned that I read the first chapter three times, didn't I?

My thoughts on the first chapter... you are welcome to agree, disagree, or shake your head in wonder...

The first sentence in this book is: "Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak."  As children what we know of the world comes through our vision, literally. Children accept the world as they see it.  The sky is a blue umbrella.  When Mom goes around the corner into the next room she  no longer exists. (This is why playing peek-a-boo with a child is a universal exercise.) Seeing is pure acceptance of what is before us. The only context at this point is the shared experience of seeing others and their reactions to what we see.
Actually, I love this concept. As a painter, I paint what I see, or perhaps what I interpret I see. It is a simple, honest way of painting, I believe.

  @2010 P Scarborough Daisies in a Blue Jar  7x5 Oil

With the development of language we begin to have subtleties and nuance that weren't there before.  I share my history, you share yours, we blend them and create new meaning, far beyond what was observed by either of us. (There are stars beyond the ozone layer...Mom will be right back...the earth is round)
What this has to do with looking at, or appreciating art, is that the viewer brings - or doesn't bring - their history (of feelings, words, experiences) into the act of seeing the artwork, thereby giving it perhaps new meaning.

Would you feel differently about this little painting if it was titled "Memorial Day"?

The Art Critic/Historian adds mounds of additional rhetoric to the act of seeing, which has the potential to change how the art is "appreciated". We've all read paragraphs explaining the deeper meaning of a paint splotch as explained by an artist with a master's degree.

Now re-title this painting "Jilted Prom Queen".

There is the additional complication of where physically the image is experienced.  Originally scribbled on a table napkin meant to record a fleeting thought, is it now seen behind bullet-proof glass in a museum? Surely that changes what we think of a piece of artwork. (Gosh, it must be good, it's behind bullet-proof glass!)
Finally, Berger introduces the idea of authority into the act of viewing art.  Who decides what the art means?  Who decides where it will be seen? (In a museum, on a t-shirt?) Who decides its value?

Headline reads:  Unsigned Painting Found in Jackson Pollock's Attic!

Unknown Pollock? Worth Millions!!

My niece MHC summed it up neatly when she said: Berger is ... "challenging the dominant point of view, as in, make sure you're not viewing this nude or cornfield, or nude in cornfield, through the eyes of a rich old white guy".

Dang, I wish I'da thought of that.

And that's just chapter one. Reading Berger's book has made me more ... aware of what I'm seeing.  More thoughtful about what I'm seeing.

How do you look at art?