One of the challenges facing artists today is figuring out where a painting belongs. If we are unsure who the audience is, we are equally unsure where the painting is to find this audience. Paintings are sold as ordinary commodities, and yet we know deep inside that the business of art is about more than just decoration. Real art tells us things about life that we need to know. Literature is like that. A novel displays a world of imagination into which we enter vicariously and painting does something similar once an image is widely known. Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World captured the longings of a generation. Anyone can see the painting now in books and feel something of its pull even without ever having seen the actual painting — though of course the actual painting adds intensity to this experience that cannot be duplicated by a reproduction.
And there’s the rub. It’s the great peculiarity of paintings that they are one of a kind. The commercial print and computer image era has blinded us somewhat to the uniqueness of an object. Real painters, old fashioned painters, working as the old masters have for centuries, make things whose raison d’etre relies on being the only one of its kind.
I just paint. I cannot say for certain why I make the specific images I do. And I paint these things with blind faith. I know they exist for a reason just as a novelist writes the story long before having made friends with a publisher.
Of late I find my career turning in a new direction as I stumble to find the places where my paintings are “destined” to live. I try to imagine my paintings in specific interiors because it helps me understand the unknown audience that my pictures address. I’m looking for rooms in a house — in a house of imagination first — a real house after — where my paintings will first begin to make their mark on the world I live in.
I know the places are there. I just have to find them. And this, my friends, is a far different thing than just selling pictures. Above is a simulation: my painting as it would look in a room I found lately that I really like.
[The original, unedited photograph by Morgan Howarth comes from Washington Spaces magazine and features a room designed by renowned DC designer Frank Babb Randolph.]
I might as well begin at the beginning. Let this be the first of my “free advice” posts. What is a fair price for art? It’s something I wonder about in regard to my own painting, as far as what I charge others, and it’s definitely something I wonder about when I visit galleries or read about the art market. The short answer is “whatever the market will bear.” That is the short-sighted answer, I think, as well.
Art buyers should be wary: not buying art is no way to live! After all, money is something you can’t take with you. So, buy art. The key to art buying happiness is to buy what you love and to think about it carefully enough to make reasonably sure that what you love today, you’ll love a few years down the road as well. In that sense art is an investment, both spiritually and financially.
If you buy what you love, whether it appreciates financially or not, you’ll still have possession of the something you love. That’s the first rule.
The second rule is to learn. The less you know about art, the more likely you are to pay too much. And hence your first purchase of art — the transaction you make when you are most ignorant — should not be the one with the big price tag.
The first purchases you make, while you’re learning about art, are made most wisely close to home. Even if you live in a small place, where you feel certain no Rembrandt is likely to be found, if you buy pictures from local artists, the prices are not likely to be very high and your risk is low. And mother nature dispenses her gifts as she sees fit. While you might not bump into Rembrandt in the sticks, plenty of creative, intelligent people are likely to be living in modest seclusion. You can find beautiful, sensitively made works of art in the most humble locale.
The painting in this post was made by an elderly woman my aunt once knew. It’s hung in my aunt’s stunningly decorated living room for twenty years, and it’s as beautiful as the day she bought it. The artist may have copied it from one of those “how to paint” books. It has the character of something repeated. But you can tell when you see it face to face that it has something added too. That added something is the sensibility of the artist. This painting won’t end up in the Louvre, but it was a good investment for my aunt and a smart example of how to get started.