Saturday, December 24, 2011

Do You Want to Paint Good Art, or Paintings that Sell?

Sometimes you make a painting that satisfies your soul to the deepest depths, but it doesn't sell.  Sometimes you make one that you deem technically okay but uninspired, and it sells right away.  If you'd made giclée prints, you could have sold it a hundred times over.   Which would you rather paint?  Of course, we'd all like to paint ones that do both, and sometimes, we do.

But here's a secret.  I prize the ones that satisfy me and don't sell.  They satisfy me even more because I know they won't sell.  This is perhaps perverse, since I'm taking pleasure in what some consider a negative.   But knowing that I can keep it forever means that it's mine.  Sometimes you just want to keep something for yourself.

I think, too, that the ones that satisfy you but not the public have some mystery about them.  Something personally engaging that you need to listen to.  It may be trying to give you directions to a new and better place for you and your art.

Here's a little oil painting I did while at Zion National Park back in November.

"Blue Shadow" 5x7 oil

I doubt it'll sell because it's subtle with soft, muted color and is lacking in strong, visual impact.  But it's one of my very favorites, and I have it on the wall where I can see it from the bed.  So what about it appeals to me?  Exactly that - the subtlety, the muted color, the lack of visual impact.  It's so subtle, I'm not even sure it photographs well.

Now here's a painting that sold.  I could have sold it (or, at least, any painting of this boat) many times.  People are always disappointed to hear it's no longer available.  I do like the painting; otherwise, I wouldn't have put it out for sale.  I suppose I could make prints of it, but I won't.  And why is a subject for a future blog post.

"The Simone & Rachel" 16x20, oil
(By the way, I'd appreciate it if you'd go over and "like" my Facebookpage.)


Sandy Farley, Fine Artist said...

Some of my favorites are favorites only to me simply for the memories they evoke. The ones that are commercially successful evoke memories for others. What's "good" art, but a collection of color & form that creates an emotional response in the viewer? :-)

rick wheeler said...

I appreciate the fact that you've broached the subject, because it seems rarely discussed and yet is one of the most prevalent issues for any artist. Does a person create for art or commerce? And to complicate the issue, how do we define 'art' vs. 'non-art?' It's ironic how much of what we see in museums, and are publicly acknowledged as "masterpieces" today were grossly neglected during the artist's lifetime. Thanks for the post.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Mine, too, Sandy! Good thoughts from you, too, Rick; and I wish I had answers. I was once told, "Paint, and the money will follow." Not necessarily always true, I fear.

daniela.. said...

I love what you say here and thank you for talking about it! This is a topic I puzzle over, to myself, as so many artists obviously do because we are told not to "be precious" about our work, in art school, then, the focus is on selling. And personally, I LOVE all of your subdued work that I have seen, best of all. I love mixing limited colors and just looking at the "ahhhh" magic. I think I am addicted to this process. Some of your older paintings, the sheer color harmony/suprise that (probably comprising limited few colors)are my favourites.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Wow,thanks so much, Daniela!

Ed Terpening said...

I hear you! My best work always sells to other artists--which is good, because I know it will truly be appreciated. I've also decided recently to not sell some of my best work, as I'd like to save for a show at some point. But, I can only afford to do do as I have a good paying part time job that pays the mortgage.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

You're in a good situation, Ed! I've also made a practice of not selling my worst work - but that's another blog post. :)