The past few years I've been producing my best work ever. But, it's not selling. Before this period I regularly sold work in the $600 to 4800 range, depending on size. Then suddenly sales stopped, with the exception of a few commissions, and sales outside my gallery. I've thought about lowering my prices, but can't bring myself to do it; I don't feel it would be fair to my patrons that have paid these prices in the past. And, I would feel like I'm going backwards; it has taken me years to achieve the level of distinction and worth I find in my work, as have others.
So, this dilemma has heightened my awareness of why I do the work and what it means. I've always thought I had to please myself FIRST before any consideration of selling the work, and I still hold to that agreement with myself. I think that is why it is so hard for me to take on commissions, although I have been fortunate that usually the patron has given me the freedom to do so.
I can only keep doing the best I can to grow towards attaining work that goes beyond what I've done before. I keep pushing myself to learn more about the techniques and materials. It's a journey of discovery of myself as well; as I define what I'm trying to do, the work defines me.
So, my house and studio become more full of unsold work that I find lyrical, compelling, well founded, and the best I have done.
Wow, it seems like I have not been able to carve out any time to set and write here for awhile. SO many projects going on: working on the old house in Deputy, working on the new studio/shop, painting and printmaking. My studio time has suffered the past few months as so much of my time has been devoted to the new building. Looking forward to settling in this winter for some serious art making.
I've been fortunate to have a great contractor and his crew put the building up. It's been a design and build collaboration, with Joe and crew doing the big stuff, and me tagging along running tools and materials around. It's been a great experience working with a master carpenter.
Now, I'm on the inside , insulating, paneling, building cabinets, work tables, and shelving, organizing the workspace and tools. It's the biggest project I've ever taken on, and it feels good to see the "big picture" taking shape.
Last Saturday we lost power and it wasn't restored until Tuesday night. Living without the TV, computers, and lights was actually kinda nice for awhile. Evenings spent with oil lamps and candles, reading, playing Scrabble and cards, listening to the birds and frogs, made for good conversation and early bed times. But for all my good intentions I lost my focus on writing here. So now I'm attempting to gather my thoughts about art in general, and what I do specifically, in order to throw light on the work.
Focus, dedication, perseverance... these words come to mind when thinking about what it takes to make significant work. I was listening to a talk by the painter James Rosenquist, and could relate to his observation. He said: " you only have so much time, so why not do what you want, if you have an original idea?" There's the thing: an original idea. So much of what I see in galleries around here is so blatantly derivative. Study the masters, look at their work, read about their lives, be inspired by what they accomplished, but go your own way.
As artists we can achieve some great things if we focus, slow down, don't get too distracted. Time goes by so quickly, so the more we can focus on the work the better. Some days it seems so hard; the materials seem to fight with you, that brush won't cooperate, you can't get that color you are searching for. You doubt what you are doing is any good, and it may not be, you question if you have anything to offer. You can't see a way forward. Past failures haunt you. Yet, you have to move forward; at these times you have to believe you can do it. Work through these times. Other days it seems almost effortless; thank goodness for those times.
Periodically I go through work I have in storage and purge things I know are never going to be finished, or that I feel are not that good. You have to be critical. Don't let mediocre work on to the market. Stop fooling yourself. Look at your body of work and see it's weaknesses, but also it's strengths. And, move forward from there. If you let work out of your studio that you are not happy with it will come back to bite you in the ass. It will mar your credibility. Ultimately, you must work to please yourself, only letting work out that meets your criteria, if you have a sense of leaving any kind of legacy. I guess it depends on your reason for making stuff.
As an example... one time several years ago I was getting ready to throw a few pieces in a dumpster behind my studio, stuff I knew was never going to go anywhere, unfinished stuff. A friend came by just at that time and saw what I was doing, and begged me for one of the big pieces. I let my guard down and gave in to her wishes. Some time later a local restaurateur bought it in a garage sale cheap and hung it in her restaurant. Everyone loved it! It was featured in a newspaper article about the place. I was appalled, and angered. Not only was an unfinished, technically weak piece of my work on public display, it was bought cheap at a yard sale. But, this reaffirmed a valuable lesson to me: do not ever sell you work too cheap, and don't ever let crap out of your studio.
I began this blog today as a means to help me clarify what and why I do what I do, and to shed some light to whomever may be interested on my work, my techniques and methods, and my reasoning.
This journey began when I was quite young with my exciting interest in nature. I spent my youth wondering the creek valleys, fields, and forests of southern Indiana. Always amazed by the textures, colors, wildlife, sounds and scents of all that was around me. In time this interest inspired my earliest sketches, and by the time I was eight years old I was studying with an artist in Nashville in a class of four "gifted" art students. This class in a loft of the old Masonic Lodge building cemented my commitment to be an artist. That is all I have ever wanted to be. Later at Columbus Indiana high school I had a remarkable mentor in my art classes, and had a rather illustrious time there winning many awards regionally and nationally in the Scholastic Art Competitions.
There was a period after high school, during the "hippy" era, I lived the life of a bohemian in Brown County with a group of friends, some local, some that had come to Brown County, who like me were searching for themselves and a lifestyle close to nature. We were very idealistic. After ten years or so, most went on to the chase their dreams in other places: film makers, photographers, painters, doctors, business people.
I went to the university, first to Indiana University, then to the University of New Mexico, then back to Indiana University. I was exposed to many fine teachers in these institutions, especially in printmaking and graphic design. But not so much in painting; I was looking for someone to teach technique, and never really found that in college. It was all theory, and I had my own agenda. I couldn't relate to the politics of art school and the bullshit of the ass-kissing, no talent MFA mill.
So, I took another path. I hate cities so I chose to stay in the country and close to my inspiration, painting what I know: the forest, the farms, rural americana, Working on my own terms. It has been a hard road at times, totally independent, not affiliated with the academic world. No one really "reps" me outside of a couple of local galleries. My own fault for not going to the city more and seeking out galleries.
Here's the thing: I love my lifestyle. Splitting wood in the winter, gardening in the summer, walking in the forest, observing the wildlife, A home in the woods. My wife is a kind hard working country girl at heart.
Perhaps to my own detriment, I love art, but hate the "art world" as it is. People with money and art dealers that think they define what is "good" in art. Painted sticks piled in the gallery corner; I don't think so.
I live on the fringe of that world. I've been in many prestigious shows and have won lots of awards; the work speaks for itself. But I'm not taken seriously by the "art establishment" because I don't schmooze.