Talking to Artists

I’ve met many collectors who get tongue-tied when it comes to talking to artists. Most collectors do not want to hurt anyone’s feeling, especially an artist they admire. The question is then, what can they say that won’t get them in trouble?

On the flip-side, because art comes from a personal place of introspection, it can be difficult for some artists to express their work’s deeper meaning verbally. This may be why, when asked to talk about their work, many artists fall into “art speak,” when they tell you all about their medium, creative process, or how they search for beauty or great designs. In other words, they stay on the surface — literally.

If you are a collector who wants to make a genuine connection with the artist whose work has caught your eye, here are some of the politest ways to get past “art speak” and into the heart of an artist’s story.

If you’re an artist, please chime in with your thoughts on how collectors can connect with you.

Genuine Connections

Think of art as an extension of the person who made it, like tangled necklaces, the two cannot be easily separated. Everything from the daily news to books, movies, and random conversations can filter into a person’s art. And then there are the memories from childhood and past relationships, where you live, travel — the sky’s the limit. In other words, a person’s entire life is fodder for art. And how that comes out is part of the language each individual has developed in their chosen medium.

    As a collector, you want to know the origin stories of artwork in your collection for several reasons. First, this is the heart and soul of the work. Second, as a human, you’re hardwired for stories, so this is your strongest connection to the work. Third, stories add to the provenance of the work — think Picasso’s Blue Period or Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings.” When collecting living artist’s work, you want pinnacle pieces. Learning the origin of thought behind each work is the key to getting to this peak.

My Kid Could Have Done That

So, how do you draw out these stories? Let’s start with what not to do. Do not say out loudly in a room filled with artists or any sort: “You call that art?! My kid could have done that.”

    If you’ve said this, please never do it again. Your kid didn’t make the art hanging in a gallery, museum, or your friends’ home. When you say this, it reflects poorly on you; you are immediately pegged as someone who has no true interest in art, so engaging in a conversation will be a waste of time. And really, isn’t there enough negative talk in the world these days?

Step one: Keep an Open Mind

Art requires your participation. The level to which you participate — from a passive glance to making a purchase — that’s up to you. The artist can’t make you feel anything. Add to it that the more you understand about art, the more you will respond. Even if you never enjoy a particular art style or form, your knowledge will allow you to bring an educated eye and a curious mind to the experience.

    Collectors who are curious and enjoy learning also tend to bring the spirit of open-mindedness to most situations. They slow down and ask themselves why they like or are bothered by something. Knowing that they bring their own baggage to every situation, not just an art experience, allows them to step back and think through what’s stirring up strong emotions — and helps them not buy on impulse or dismiss something important.

    Open-mindedness is a skill worth developing. Visit museums and gallery exhibitions and listen to those immediate reactions. Then, ask questions and read up on the work you are seeing. This isn’t about learning to like art you simply don’t like; it’s about <ITL>not letting subjective feelings rule your thought process.

Origin Stories

One of the most common questions people ask artists is: “How long did it take you to make that?” And a common (snarky) artist response is: “My whole life.” Because it did, essentially, take an entire lifetime of experiences to make the art you’re looking at. And the next piece will require all that experience plus this new experience learned from creating the last object. So, it’s not a total brush-off, but it is a way to deflect the question. Why, you may wonder, would an artist want to avoid answering something so straightforward?

    Frankly, artists have learned that it’s much easier to give a snappy response to this one because the amount of time is irrelevant. Besides, this is just a conversation starter, much like “What do you do for a living?” But there’s also the part that can bite an artist. If they say, “Oh, this one just flowed out of me in a couple of hours!” Then the client does some quick math and translates that into an hourly rate — because non-artists often charge by the hour — and now the inquisitor is in the position of deciding whether the artist is worth that hourly rate or not.

What Artists Would Rather Talk About

Instead, here are a few examples artists wish collectors would ask instead of “How long did it take you?”

    Artist David Michael Slonim would love to answer this question: “What visual input from when you were young do you suspect might be showing up in your work now?”

    In fact, he often writes about his response to this question on social media:

Marketing Your Art
"Flying Machine," David Michael Slonim, 40 x 30 inches, oil on canvas

Dad’s gone now, but I can still picture him as a young man sprinting back and forth across a field trying to get a colorful box kite airborne. Eventually, the kite lifts, he lets out the string carefully, then comes over and hands the spool to his 8 year old son — so I can fly my kite. That’s fatherhood in a nutshell: Busting your tail to give something of value to your kids.

His painting Flying Machine, he realized after it was finished, came from this memory. 

    Victoria Eubanks loves this question: “Where were you when you painted that?”

She always remembers where she was when paintings came to her, and she feels like that question leads to bigger conversations. “I might have been sitting with my father while he was in the hospital and drew his shoes because I needed a break from the stress of being there,” Eubanks says.

Artist Marketing
"Reminisce," Victoria Eubanks, encaustic over recycled paper, 24 x 24 inches
artist marketing
"Baby It's Cold Outside," Kim Lordier, pastel, 24 x 36 inches

 

Kim Lordier finds this an intriguing inquiry: “What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome to be an artist?”

And Sophy Brown finds the question, “Is what you do cathartic?” to be interesting and complicated. “It’s true that subject and content are determined by an emotional connection. But the word ‘cathartic’ suggests that there is some kind of psychological relief, a cleansing through the expression…”

artist marketing
"Street" Sophy Brown, mixed media on paper, 41 x 48 inches

To know the rest of Sophy’s answer as well as how your favorite artists might respond, you’ll just have to ask.

Do consider your surroundings, however. If you’re at a crowded opening, the artist might be too distracted to get into a deep philosophical discussion, but if they do want to go down that path, you might be surprised by how many others gather around.

    Ultimately, this is the stuff you want to know; it’s the information you will repeat when someone asks about the art you own. And the bonus is that you will be forging a deeper connection with the artist while uncovering commonalities that you had no idea existed.

More Great Conversation Starters

Are you stumped when it comes to talking to artists? Perhaps a bit starstruck by your favorites or afraid to sound uninformed when asking questions? We’ve got you covered. Here are some questions to consider before your next artistic encounter…

Did you have a mentor when you started as an artist?

Who inspired you to become an artist?

What surprised you as you worked on that piece?

Where do you see your work going next?

What art books do you recommend?

What question do you wish people would ask you about your work?

Where do your ideas come from?

What’s the key to your growth as an artist?

What advice would you give your younger artist self?

What do you collect?

Please leave your favorite questions below! Thanks for reading.

how to find your voice

How to Find Your Artistic Voice

  • In the art world, grand gestures and schemes may make a splash, but they often die just as quickly. Creating with your true, authentic voice, however, resonates long after you set down your brushes or camera or chisel.
  • Children learning to speak don’t think about finding their “voice”; it’s already inside them. Children simply want to communicate. 
  • Don’t worry about finding your own voice, you already have one. Focus instead on what you’re wanting to express. Let yourself become genuinely curious–obsessed even–and your voice will take care of itself. 

The Ripple Effect of Small, Kind Gestures

One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every time I watch it, I am reminded that it’s not the grand gesture but the many small things we do and say each and every day that makes a difference. We may not even know we made a difference, but the person on whom those kind words and deeds landed has been forever changed.

Like the opening quotes to this blog. They’re from abstract artist David Michael Slonim. David cracks me up. He can be going through some serious shit and he still finds humor in life. For example, he often tells students who are getting down on themselves and saying things like ‘this is no good,’ or ‘I don’t know why I’m even trying to make art,’ and ‘I’ll never find my own voice,’ that he’s going to charge them a dollar every time they make a disparaging comment about themselves–not because he wants them to stop, he explains, but because he needs the money. Ha. Funny guy.

But that’s not why I want to make sure you get the transcript of my interview with David. It’s because I really want you to have his uplifting message in your mind as you head into the new year.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. To listen to the entire conversation, please click on the link...

ROSE: Hello, David! I remember when I first met you, you were painting landscapes and then, suddenly, something changed….

DAVID: I remember that so very clearly. I had been a landscape painter for 18 years, painting outdoors from life. But I was also very interested in learning what it was about an image that moved a viewer emotionally. I was constantly scouring art books to figure out how an artist would do it. I was looking at Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Pablo Picasso  (1881-1973) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985). 

One of the things I began to do was pay attention to the artists whose work was disturbing to me but also kept attracting me.

ROSE: OK, wait, I just want you to repeat that: you paid attention to work that disturbed you?

"Woodlands No 14," 2013, 30 x 24 inches, David Michael Slonim, oil

The Importance of Discontent

DAVID: I did. But I don’t mean disturbed as in “repulsed.” I mean, I didn’t understand it, but I felt compelled to keep engaging with it. There was something going on that was attractive; the disturbing part was that I didn’t understand it.

I was looking at Cezanne breaking nature into little mosaics of color. Well, that’s not photographic realism. That’s not even representation in the way I learned how to do it in college. 

And I was looking at Picasso, right, and he’s breaking nature into different sorts of chunks of parts and pieces. At first that’s disorienting—and I think it is for lots of people—and it took years of thinking about that before I understood what was happening.  

Cezanne
Dow
Picasso

It was Cezanne who really unlocked it for me, in combination with reading Robert Henri’s (1865-1929) “The Art Spirit,” and “Composition,” by Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), who was Georgia O’Keeffe’s (1887-1986) mentor. He wrote that book in 1899, so these ideas have been around for at least a 100 years out there in the public. 

So here it is. Are you ready for it?

Music for Your Eyes

ROSE: Yes….

DAVID: Abstract art is music for your eyes.

ROSE: Oh, I like that!

DAVID: So, what that means is that there is no game being played on you; this is not a scam. There’s no charlatan activity involved here. What this is is tones arranged in space to please the eye and to move the soul. In that sense it’s the same as music. Music is tones in time to please the ear to move the soul. So, anyone who loves music, loves abstract art, they just don’t know it by that name.

Every time you listen to any piece of music—especially instrumental music—you are listening to an abstract arrangement of tones and it’s moving you emotionally. Abstract painting is doing that same thing but it’s doing it visually. Instead of through the ear, it’s through the eye. It’s an abstract arrangement of tones that move you emotionally.

Painting is an abstract arrangement of tones that moves you emotionally.

Recognize Your Voice

I learned that by staring at Cezanne for years then staring at nature. I began to be fascinated by how it’s the underlying abstract structure of a painting that moves you whether we’re talking about Rembrandt or Sargent or Cezanne or Rothko. The issue isn’t whether it’s realism or abstraction on the surface; the issue is the arrangement of shapes, colors, values, and textures—what’s the visual “musicianship” behind it.

With a permission slip from Paul Cezanne, I would happily go out in the woods and begin breaking down what I was seeing into textural patterns of color shapes. And I remember on March 19, 2013, I painted one of those from memory in my studio, and I remember looking at that painting and realizing: I understand what this is. I saw a door open for me. And I said right then and there, “I now not only aspire to be an abstract painter, I am one and I know why.”

Listen to Your Voice

"Woodlands No. 56," 2015, David Michael Slonim, 38 x 28 inches, oil

ROSE: Part of the reason I wanted you to repeat that comment about looking at work that got under your skin is because I think that is the key to really understanding art but also to understanding yourself.

DAVID: Yes, really well said. Because, if it’s resonating with you, there is something already present in your soul or your spirit or your emotional makeup that hears its name being called. That’s what’s happening: the art is calling to you. And there’s a part of us—and this was true for me—where that made me uncomfortable because I didn’t understand that part of me and I didn’t understand what was happening in the art.

ROSE:  There’s a fear, I would think, as an artist, to follow that voice because this is your livelihood. If you take a turn away from what you’re known for, you have to hope everyone comes along with you.

DAVID: For me, I would describe it rather than a sharp turn, it feels like a natural progression. I would describe my realism period as booster rockets that fell away but the trajectory stayed the same. I’m still going to the moon; I just don’t need the booster rockets anymore.

ROSE: I love that. That’s a great analogy.

DAVID: One thing that staring at Picasso and Joan Miro (1893-1983) and Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) and Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and others did for me is it demolished any reluctance to be whimsical or playful as a form of high art.

Oh, Be Joyful!

I grew up listening to jazz. I played trombone and was in a jazz band and orchestra. If you think about what jazz music is, there’s a structure of chord progression and rhythm that’s laid down and then the instrumentalists improvise over the top of that. For me, painting is really similar. I create this color situation with the chords then—with this particular painting—I made up my mind to do a jazz solo and it’s going to be one take only. I’m going to paint an improvisational line intuitively and slowly. 

marketing your art
"The Juggler No. 1" David Michael Slonim, 20 x 16 inches, oil on canvas

When Voice Is Given Room to Speak

DAVID: When a collector is experiencing something with a painting, it’s a good idea to consider what is moving you and firing your imagination. As you sit with the work and answer that question, it becomes more personal to you.

ROSE: It’s interesting to hear you talk about self-interrogation versus trying to wrangle a piece into submission. It sounds like, possibly, you are coming at it with more of an emotional IQ?

DAVID: Yes, I think so. One of the pieces of feedback I received from a collector through a gallery—he owns 20-25 pieces of mine—I heard that he said he deals with numbers all day, he’s a very high level executive. He said, “I love coming home to this work because it opens a whole new part of my brain and whole new emotional space that I don’t get to live in during the day.” That really meant a lot to me.

ROSE: And, of course, art and music have mathematical connections.

Permission to Play

DAVID: Right, but with painting, it’s intuitive so it’s coming from a sub-conscience place for me. Obviously, there’s geometry involved here but the geometry is above my pay grade. I’m just the low level guy who’s playing with the stuff; I don’t actually understand the stuff. What’s interesting to me is that a lot of my collectors are surgeons or mathematicians or doctors. I think it’s because they’re using the mathematical part of their brain all day long and they’re using it in a very technical and sequential way; I think my art helps to free up what’s already there, that’s knocking on the door, saying, “Hey, this part of you is allowed to come out and play too.”

ROSE: So, in a sense, your work is giving them permission to play?

DAVID: I think that may be true. I had a collector who did a lot of business around the world and attended a lot of fundraisers—formal, very proper, very polite—but with me there was a lot of just laughing our heads off. I love that I was one of the few people in his life who got to have that experience with him. I wonder and I hope that my work can be that for people. It has a playful streak; that’s what I aspire to.

The Origins of Authentic Voice

ROSE: For artists and collectors alike, I think, so many things we’ve talked about are vital to consider. Ultimately, viewing art should feel like you’ve met the artist, whether the artist is there or not, which is the artist’s authentic voice coming through.

DAVID: Something that’s been really fun over the years doing this work is that when I sit back and look at it, I think it’s some of the most authentic work I’ve ever done. I’m working with line. I’m working with planes of color, mostly flat, and there’s a sense of whimsy and playfulness to it.

We were talking about being authentic. When I look back at my own history, I realize that my father took me out to fly box kites, which are planes of color with light coming through them, connected to a line connected to love and, in my dad’s case, a very playful personality. And before I could speak, I was given this toy, a Playplax. I was probably 1 ½ or 2 when I started building with the Playplax, which is made of translucent planes of color.

Oh! And then, my mother had a Picasso print in the kitchen and a replica of an Alexander Calder mobile, a Henry Moore (1898-1986) book out in the living room, a VanGogh Sunflower print in the bedroom. So, I grew up with some of the finest examples of modern art in the background of my life.

ROSE: So, this is you….

The Work Is You & You Are the Work

DAVID: Right. I’m not putting on an act. I’m not asking what will sell—I never do that. But it is so helpful to be able to look at this wall behind me and recognize that this is completely honest to who I am whether anybody else enjoys it or not, it doesn’t matter. This is me. This is real. This is my honest presentation of who I am.

I love when my work connects with people because it connected with me first. 

I don’t know if people know this about artists but there is this moment in the studio when you’re struggling with something that doesn’t seem to be working. And you’re thinking, am I a fool, should I even have tried this? Should I throw it away and start something new? And then you press through, and this thing clicks to a harmony and it’s like Adam taking his first breath—it’s alive. It’s resonating with you, speaking with you. I sit back every time and think, ‘how did that happen?’ Every time I get to experience that shock of realizing this thing is living and breathing. Then to put it out in the world and have that happen for someone else doubles the gift.

The Gift of the Journey

"Sonny Loves Cha Cha" 2021, David Michael Slonim, 22 x 30 inches, oil on paper

ROSE: Perhaps too, having enough faith to persevere is a gift we give ourselves. I was talking to a sculptor who said there’s a point in the creation of a sculpture when it’s done, the spirit is in it.

 DAVID: Yes. And for me there’s a quiet that comes over me, a sense of peace. And it’s startling and wonderful. 

The Ultimate Human Connection

DAVID: That’s what I’m working for, that’s what this is about: dare I say, joy. That’s what I’m sharing, that’s why people collect because they’re getting that sense of peace and joy. Beauty is a powerful thing. Harmony is a powerful thing, and it does something to our souls.

ROSE: I think that’s right. I know it’s right. It’s kind of miraculous that you get to live in that space, creating it, and that you get to give it away. I think when you’re being that truthful and you put it out in the world and let people comment on it, I can see how a lot of artists would not want to do that.

DAVID: For me, there’s always a little bit of that struggle, but because I know why I’m painting what I’m painting, and where it comes from, I know this is actually me. There’s a freedom in that. It’s OK if it only gets three likes…I’m not thrown off by that. If I were looking to the crowd, asking someone to tell me what to do, then, yeah, that would be very disconcerting. Maybe it’s partly my age, I’ve been doing this a long time, and there’s this freedom that comes with loving and respecting the audience enough to give them what’s true about me because I think it’s also true about them.

And I think, when they hear their name called through the art, there’s this gratitude that wells up in the collector. I’ve had people hug me through their tears, as they’re writing the check, because they’ve just been given a piece of themselves back that they didn’t even know they were missing. 

That’s what’s so powerful about this: if I can be my authentic self, I’m actually giving a gift to my audience out of respect for them and it’s something they didn’t know to ask for in advance. And that’s part of this whole transaction that fascinates me. I’m so thankful to be part of that weird world where that even happens.

DAVID: I'd like to end with this...

We're all on a journey, so wherever you are on the journey, I want to encourage you to keep going. Learn to trust your responses to art. When a piece of art moves you, when you feel it in your body, know that there's something inside your soul that knows your own name when you hear it.

Want more conversations with artists? Check out our series of talks here...

Check out these blogs packed with helpful conversations and insights for artists.

Collect Like a Pro

From genealogy searches to knowing how to sniff out pinnacle works of art, adopting the habits of serious collectors can make you a more savvy collector.

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Art Forgeries Kenneth Rendell

Don’t Get Fooled Again

Oh, how I love juicy art forgery stories! Those fabulous tales of deception and greed, peppered with mafioso and Nazis and dubious art world figures always add a sense of adventure to our otherwise sleepy industry. So, when I got word that Kenneth Rendell, one of the foremost authorities on and authenticators of historic documents—and the great spoiler of some of the most audacious forgeries ever—had released a book, I jumped at the chance for an interview.

Kenneth Rendell Safeguarding History

In his new memoir, Safeguarding History, Trailblazing Adventures Inside the Worlds of Collecting and Forging History, Rendell takes us behind the scenes as he debunks the Hitler diaries (here’s a fascinating article from the New Yorker you might enjoy), the Salamander Mormon letters and murders, the Jack the Ripper Diary hoax, and others, as well as how he meticulously curated renowned private and public libraries across the country, earning him the title, as Stephen Ambrose puts it, ‘the greatest collector in the world’. 

I talked with Rendell about his work in the field of historic documents, why he’s so passionate about setting the record straight, and what tips he has for collectors to help them avoid being hoodwinked.

I'm in a world where you have to be very careful about what you're doing. I always have to be vigilant.

As any serious collector of historic works from documents to fine art and antiques can tell you, the market is riddled with forgeries. In the world of collectible objects, the conditions that set the stage for forgers to succeed are numerous. But, when you know what you’re looking for, forgeries often reveal themselves as pretty bad knock-offs. And yet, even when all signs point to fakery, why do seasoned collectors fall prey to swindlers? According to Rendell, it often comes down to human behavior and wishful thinking.

How Badly Do You Want It

“I think the key to it is self-analysis,” Rendell says. He suggests collectors develop a healthy inner skeptic when considering the purchase of historic objects. Start by asking yourself what you want out of the purchase—are you hoping to make money or beat out the competition, for example—and then think about what factors will make you go through with the deal. “That’s where you’re vulnerable,” he says. “That’s where you’re not being careful enough.”

The Hitler diaries and Jack the Ripper diary are excellent examples. The bogus Hitler documents were brought to light by a reporter who wanted to break the story and who had ties with Nazis. The editors at Newsweek, who were about to publish the Hitler diaries, were thrilled they were beating out Time Magazine for the scoop. Similarly, with the Jack the Ripper diary hoax, Time Warner was focused on the prospect of selling hundreds of thousands of copies. “It blinded them” Rendell says. “Jack the Ripper was so wrong.”

Winning Lottery Ticket

As a keen observer, Rendell possesses the uncanny ability to cut through the hype and hone in on the troubling issues that are often painfully obvious. In the case of the Jack the Ripper diary, he offered the British publisher who bought the forged manuscript for a sum that he probably couldn’t have afforded, 25 forensic reason why the manuscript was a fraud. Then Rendell asked to talk to the person who first discovered the manuscript, to which the publisher responded, ‘Oh, he’s dead.’ “The critical person is always dead in these situations,” Rendell says and recalls how the publisher responded. “The publisher said to me, and he said it in a really sad way: ‘You don’t understand, this is my winning lottery ticket in life.’ That’s what he was grasping, his winning lottery ticket. The people doing the fraud contacted the right kind of person to get it into the marketplace; someone who would latch on to it as the greatest thing that could happen.”

Follow the Provenance Trail

Another critical component to authenticating historic works is provenance. Think of provenance as the paper trail of an object. This is where collectors really need to be weary. “I used to say to other dealers, always think about what you’re going to say to the FBI when they sit there and ask you how in the world you think you could have gotten title to this? What are you going to tell them?”

In other words, if it’s too good to be true…ask more questions. Rendell says to come right out and ask dealers how they know the object is genuine. And he recommends only working with people you can take to court if things go sideways.

Provenance, however, is getting trickier because forged documents have been slipped into libraries and collections and, over time, because no one questioned them, they have become accepted. “I just saw a forged Oscar Wilde manuscript—it was atrocious. I could have done a better job. It didn’t look anything like Oscar Wilde,” Rendell recalls of the manuscript that had been placed in a library’s collection in the 1920s. “Nobody really compared writing samples; that manuscript was slipped into the collection before people were intelligently looking at things. How many documents got into libraries, then somebody writes about it and subsequent researchers don’t look at the original material but base their research on what other people wrote.”

Inside the Mind of a Criminal

Rendell does admit that his cautious nature has probably cost him the opportunity to buy a few authentic documents, but he says he prefers to err on the side of caution. “I don’t think I’m overly suspicious but honestly, I think it adds to the enjoyment; you have a much nicer relationship with people if you are really considering them.”

“The other thing,” he adds about the pursuit of collecting is that it’s an intellectual process and an escape from the horrible news that’s going on in the world today. “You go to a museum to look at paintings and it changes your mood. You read books and you feel good, so your guard is really down. These are places in which you don’t ever have to have your guard up.” Besides, most collectors are honest and would never think of defrauding someone. “It occurred to me, in the old days in New York when muggings were such a problem that good people are scared to death in a mugging, they’re the deer caught in the headlights. But the mugger is relaxed, they control the timing—they have an enormous advantage.”

“My whole life has been about the complexities of human nature—good and sometimes bad. Understanding the people on the other side of something is always so important. You need to think like them,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you become them.”

The World's Greatest Collector

Recently, at a dinner party, Rendell was asked to speak about his work. He began by saying, “You know what you learn from reading other people’s mail? Everyone’s teenagers are a pain in the ass.” The room lit up, of course, because most everyone could relate. “Dwight Eisenhower,” he continued, “wrote to his wife almost every other day during the war. He was talking about what’s happening with their son. His letters, they’re very human. It’s quite fantastic, everything is handwritten”

Rendell then told the dinner guests about a letter George Washington wrote to a friend confessing his fear that people had put him on a pedestal, that he didn’t win the war, the soldiers did, and that people were expecting so much of him, he could only fail. “Dwight Eisenhower,” Rendell says, “wrote out on presidential stationary that that is exactly how he felt: ‘everyone credited me with winning the war, which is just unfair. And they expect so much of me as president that I can never fulfill these ideas people have.’ ”

Though the sensational forgeries jump off the pages of his memoir, it is Rendell’s deep reverence and passion to preserve the words and deeds of historic figures that drive him. “My ultimate goal is for people to understand each other as human beings and to understand how much more we have in common. To get involved with my work, you have to be interested in something other than yourself. If more people would be open about their feelings, they would find out they’re not nuts. People would feel a bond. You can have different opinions and not see the other person as a villain. If you read letters of other people in history, you see them as real people.”

When his daughter was young, she asked if he believed in ghosts. “Now this is a question where you’re going to disagree,” Rendell recalls. “But I said, ‘yes, I do.’” Taken aback, his wife admonished him, but he stuck to his guns, explaining that his vast collection of historic documents and manuscripts was indeed filled with ghosts, their words, and deeds, and they spoke to him through time. “All those things are alive, and their spirit is alive today.”

Want More Good Reads, Check Out These Books

I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Art Forger, Frank Wynne, 2006. The tale of Hans van Meegeren the disillusioned Dutch painter who turned to forgery and caught the eye and won the patronage of Nazi leader Hermann Goring.

Provenance: How a Con Man and Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art, Laney Salsbury. One of the 20th century’s most audacious frauds, this book reads like a thriller as you follow along with the deception that allowed for hundreds of forged works to find their way into museums and private collections around the world.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, Robert K. Wittmann, founder, FBI Art Crime Team. A wild ride-along with the FBI agent who caught countless art thieves, scammers, and black-market traders and rescued some of history’s greatest treasures.

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger, Ken Perenyi, 2013. Art forger Perenyi tells the story of his 30 year career forging fake paintings that went on to sell at both Christies and Sotheby’s until the FBI brought him down. Perenyi walks you through the steps he took to create near-detection proof work.

Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters & Documents, Kenneth Rendell, University of Oklahoma Press. The standard reference book to help collectors understand forgery detection and educate themselves on the commonalities most forgeries share.

Please share your favorite art books! I'll pass along your suggestions. Thanks for reading!!

Pricing art and the Gender Gap

Pricing Art: The Gender Gap

I’ve written about how art is priced in the blog Making Sense of the Price of Art, but the gender gap in pricing is a bit more nuanced. And, yes, it’s still a thing.

Let’s dive in.

The Numbers Don't Lie

According to an article published in Forbes, Aug 2022, titled “The $192 Billion Gender Gap in Art,” of the $196.6 billion spent at art auctions between 2008 and 2019, work produced by women accounted for only $4 billion, or around 2% of the total sales.

At auction, the gap is quite striking. Consider the $450 million paid at auction for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” compared to the record for a female artist–less than 10% of that value–$44.4 million for Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1.” 

pricing art image

How about sales for living artists? Here Jeff Koons holds the record of $91 million for “Rabbit.” The closest woman: Jenny Saville’s “Propped” went for $12.4 million; that’s 14% of what the Koons went for.

Of course, historically women weren’t allowed to make art as anything beyond a polite distraction, with the exception of such trailblazers as Camile Claudel (1864-1943), Rosa Bonhuer (1822-1899), and Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1952/53). And for many female artists such as Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), access to subject matter as well as the freedom to have a career outside the home was strictly dictated and often forbidden. Thus the dearth of women artists.

How Women& Their PRices Prices Stack Up, A Snapshot

Forbes analysts also found these fun facts:

  • Art by women sells for 42% less then men. (See “Gendered Prices” from Oxford Academy.)
  • Phos One‘s analysis of 18 major museums shows 87% of collections are make and 85% are white. 
  •  According to research by Helen Gorrill in “Women Can’t Paint: Gender, the Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art,” when men sign a work of art, it increases in value; however, when women sign their work, it decreases in value. 
  • Mary Ann Sieghart on BBC Sound in the episode, “Recalculating Art,” uncovers many truths like the research that people can’t tell if something was painted by a man or woman, however, people preferred paintings attributed to a man, whether they were painted by a man, woman or AI. Further, she notes that in Gombrich’s “The Story of Art,” a book used as a textbook for college students, only one female artist is mentioned.
  • 70% of students in art school are women, and yet, in the art world, this is reversed when it comes to validation of an artist: 70% of artists in galleries and, thus, work in collections and awards go to men.

The Pricing Conundrum: Western Auctions

OK, apply all the above to non-blue chip women and it’s more the same. Here’s where it gets personal.

A friend of mine had been asked to take part in a Western themed auction held annually in Wyoming. She created a painting for the auction–a truly wonderful piece that pushed her out of her comfort zone–but when she went to price that painting, she faltered. 

Was she, she wondered, undervaluing herself and her work once again?

There are layers to this pricing conundrum. 

First and foremost, auctions are not usually kind to living artists, man or woman. Here’s why. 

When art goes into an auction, the auction house starts bidding well below retail, often half. The thinking is that a good auctioneer can whip the crowd into a frenzy, pitting bidders against each other. If the auctioneer can get several people to dig in their heels, game on. The key is “several” bidders have to want the art. Oh, and at least two interested bidders need to show up. That means the weather needs to cooperate or their internet needs to be working or they have to remember the auction is happening and they can’t get sick or have any kind of emergency that calls them away. Lots of ifs….

Let’s say all that happens, the artist is still put in the crappy position of seeing their work open at 50% of retail, because retail pricing doesn’t encourage competition since buyers can, auction houses insist, buy art anywhere at retail, so what’s the fun in that? 

For artists, it’s only fun when their work goes for a price over retail. Otherwise, auctions are purely an anxiety-ridden experience that does nothing more than shave precious years off the artist’s life.

The Rules Apply

For some reason, the Western US market for Realism treats art sales like cattle at a live stock auction. Auctions are the antithesis of high-brow East Coast sales where people dress in Dior and talk in hushed tones while sipping champagne. No, Western Art auctions are ruckus affairs straight out of a wild west show. Instead of cowboys getting trampled, however, we stand back and watch our artists get thrown.

Personally, I don’t understand it and have avoided working on auctions at all costs. But when it’s part of the milieu, what can you do but play along? 

My friend knows all this and still she asked me what I thought might happen if she raised her prices for the upcoming auction, the one where she’d plan to submit that killer new work. treats

The thing is, she wasn’t thinking of just upping her prices; she was thinking of doubling them to align her retail with that of the men in the auction.

Keeping an Open Mind

I listened carefully as my friend laid out her reasoning, but I knew this was a bad idea. 

In a nutshell, she agued the following:

1. She’d been painting as long as many of the artists in the show, thought not as long as most.

2. Her prices were, compared to her peers, half that of the men. 

3. She always sold well at this particular auction.

4. She would be featured that year in a pre-auction collector get-together, so she’d be getting a little more attention on her work.

5. She’d heard whispers that some artists increased their prices for auctions and major shows, so why was she the only one following the rules?

But double?

“I started thinking,” she said, “men were inflating their prices for the auction. So I went through past show catalogues and looked at prices, it looked like that was the case. And I thought, ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ And they’re getting it, the work is selling at those prices.”

Then she went to gallery websites and saw they actually hadn’t inflated their prices for the auction; that the men were indeed getting higher prices than the women. 

“The veil was lifted; I felt this huge gap,” she confided. “There are 16 women and 86 men in that auction. I spent a little time going back to see where women’s work was priced and I do think, overall, we do price at a lower threshold, despite having similar credentials.” 

In this sense, if she doubled her price for the auction, she’d still be well within the range of the other works for sale.

Pricing: A Double Edged Sword

My advice:

Do not double your price for this one painting in this one event. 

Why:

Collectors do their homework. They will look up your prices–just like my artist friend did when comparing her work to her peers. They will see you put an unreasonable price on that one painting and will pass. 

But if it’s a great painting, isn’t it worth more?

Nope. Not when you’re a living artist who is still actively making art. I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating: Artists are poor judges of their work. They feel like they accomplished something, and they probably did, but in the grand scheme of things, the accomplishment may be relatively minor. Or it may be monumental but collectors rarely see or know this has happened. What collectors see is that an artist has raised their prices too high, too quickly. Collectors may stick with an artist, calculating the increased value in the work they currently own, but they often won’t buy more. In fact, the collectors who watch the market may be considering selling that work and trading up for something else.

The Race Is Won By the Sure & Steady

Despite the fact that several artists did pad their prices, she hung with the majority who kept to their retail across the board. She did take a small price increase, but planned to do so anyway–she takes a 5-10% increase every January.

“You have to look at this through a bigger lens,” she said, of her decision. Once her price was determined, the bigger issue was then, where to start the reserve, which artists were given the opportunity to increase.

“What will be the lasting impression,” she wondered, when thinking through the ramifications of changing the reserve, “from a collector’s experience, if they see your work go for half the retail? But consider being the artist whose painting goes for $3,000 over. That leaves the collector watching and thinking, ‘this isn’t an artist who has shot the moon; I should get in there and buy her work.'” 

The director of the auction, in a preliminary conversation leading up the event, mentioned that she thought her price increase was smart, and that they were getting a lot of good feedback on her work. Yet, she was still feeling unnerved.

“I was feeling gender gap issues and what the numbers seemed to be doing in my head,” she said. “After our conversation, it helped me think about how to position myself in a good way.”

She went on to express her frustrations with the whole Western market and auction system.

“Big picture, there’s something about the auction; it’s a nerve-wracking experience,” she said. “I feel a lot more “good old boy’s club” at these traditional shows. I painted to a scene that, for me, feels more masculine. For the first time, I depicted an historic “comment” on the western world. I love the painting but every time I see it it feels like I painted one of the boys’ paintings as a woman. I even questioned that if they didn’t know it was me–a woman–how would it sell?”

Though she believes these are merely her own insecurities, she recalled being at a show and talking to a group of women. “One of the gals was looking through the roster and said, ‘Oh, my god! Where are the women?'” 

Back to Square One

As women’s voices grow stronger and they take on work and subject matter that is vital and compelling, the question of parity remains. I asked her why she believed men in the Western art/Realism market command higher prices?

“A man’s stance on the West is the cowboy because that’s what men did. A bunch of women on a cattle drive, that didn’t exist. A woman’s experience is more of place and home. Yes, there are modern cowgirls but the glamorous roles were male,” she said, and added, “That’s one of the reasons why I paint the landscape; there is a sense of place that holds many stories and doesn’t differentiate between gender.”   

Maybe the bigger question is: why do women feel the need to compete with this subject matter in the first place? Maybe this is part of the gender-gap in pricing; we’ve come to believe the stereotypes and women don’t fit in them neatly. In fact, women don’t fit the stereotype of artist as professional and so are treated as if they are working at a nice hobby. But when a man enters into that world it’s like, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ His work and choice of career lands differently.

And yet the vicious circle spins: The majority of art we see is by men; it’s familiar; we studied it and were taught it’s importance and value. If collectors don’t understand the worth of a woman’s work–because the market doesn’t support that at sales and auctions–how can women ever break through?

“The cowboy and Indians, horses, tipis, white men painting Native Americans,” she said, “really bothers me. These are depictions of things that happened in the 1880s. But they still get gobbled up.” 

Post Auction Blues

I heard from my friend in a text she sent from the road as she was headed home from the auction weekend. It did not go well. Her painting went for under the reserve; she was devastated. In the weeks since, my friend looked back a bit more wistfully. “I’m proud to be one of the female voices; it’s really important that we are in there. If we all bail, that doesn’t help us. I am part of that movement, that presence. We need that counter-voice.”

As for the sale, she also heard from the organizers, who were roundly disappointed in the sale, that no one did well. Perhaps, I mused, it’s time they rethink their structure and motivation, maybe start listening to the artists?

The numbers went like this:

103 paintings and sculpture

16 women and 87 men

20% of the art went for asking or above

43% sold for 75% of asking or lower

12% were bought-in (unsold because they didn’t meet reserve)

The day after the auction there is a quick draw. My friend didn’t participate this year, but related the story of what happened in a previous year. 

Artists set up in a crowded plaza to paint while spectators mill about asking questions and making comments on the work. After the allotted time runs out, the artists set down their brushes and their paintings are judged, someone wins a prize, then the artists are told to line up and parade their work, when called, before the audience who gets to, once again, bid.

“I fucking killed it,” she said of her on-the-spot painting. “I represented myself very strongly.” The guy who won the Quick Draw, she told me, did a small sketch painting. “Something about the way the auctioneer worked the crowd didn’t sit well with me. He put his arm around that young guy and they were laughing and joking; he was the favorite, I guess. It just felt that way. It wasn’t cool.” 

Please feel free to share my blog with anyone who would benefit from it. And if you have a topic you’d like me to explore, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading! If you haven’t already subscribed, please do so HERE

how to succeed as an artist

Talking to Women with Power Tools

How to Succeed as an Artist

Let’s face it, the art business is tough. And the gage of “success” is a moving target. Is it money? Accolades? Galleries and collectors? Museum shows?

Or…maybe true success is found by looking inward. Maybe success comes when you reach the point where your creative vision and expression unite as an authentic work of art?

Inspiration

If successful artists are those who have found the freedom to create and have learned to actualize their vision, then I believe the sculptors in a show I curated for the PACE Center are tremendously successful.

Women with Power Tools,” May 16-July 6, 2023, turned a spotlight on four sculptors who probably don’t spend too much time worry about the definition of success; they simply are successful.

A Note About This Exhibit & Blog

A few years ago, sculptor Autumn T. Thomas told me a story about buying a table saw she needed to create a new series of work.

how to succeed as an artist
Autumn T. Thomas in the studio

She researched the one she wanted and found it at a hardware store. When she finally flagged down a salesman to help her load it onto a cart, he looked at her and said, “You don’t need that.” 

And then he walked away.

I was dumbfounded by this story, though I shouldn’t have been.

Autumn isn’t the first female artist to run up against such chauvinism and won’t be the last. But it got me thinking about the tough-as-nails women sculptors I know who have created important and monumental works, chauvinists be damned.

“Women with Power Tools” isn’t about “women” artists, not really, anyway. It’s about great art. Ingenious art. It’s also about perseverance and determination and the drive to press on past every obstacle, not the least, your body’s physical limitations.

Because the show is comprised of 3D works, I interviewed each artist for didactic wall materials. This blog is an edited version of those interviews and focuses on the qualities I believe make each artist a success.

 A shout out to my dear friend Todd Pierson who photographed the sculptors in their studios, which, for me, was frosting on the cake!

Madeline Wiener, stone sculptor

how to succeed as an artist

My mother saw me as a nice, little housewife. 

“I remember, in my mid-20s, I was running a brush through my hair when my mother walked by and noticed the definition in my arms. She was appalled. She said, “Women are not supposed to have muscles.” I thought, how ridiculous was that? Welcome to the 20th century, Mom.

“I was studying painting at the New York School of Visual Arts. I wanted my paintings to pop off the canvas; I wanted my work to look as dimensional as possible. And I was always sketching sculpture and people. One of my teachers said, “Have you ever thought of carving?”

“For the first seven years I carved in soft stone with a hammer and chisel. I love that sound. The stones were 35-40 pounds—whatever I could carry up two flights of stairs to my studio in New York City.

“Now I’m working in tonnage. I use a folk lift, grinders, diamond cutting tools. I’m 75 years old, so my assistant of the last 40 years does my chainsaw work. I’ve carved more than 60 private and municipal sculptures and learned early on to accept help.

“I had to learn by myself because my stone carving teacher was a bronze sculptor. He didn’t have the knowledge I needed. 

how to succeed as an artist
Madeline Wiener in the studio

The book “Contemporary Stone Sculpture” by Dona Meilach—a woman—taught me everything I needed to know. I still use that book today when teaching new artists. 

“The other person who taught me about power tools was Frank Swanson who put a grinder in my hand and walked away. That grinder started arcing the second I turned it on, and I threw it across the studio floor. When I brought it back to him, he said, “You broke it, you fix it.” It was his mean way of making me become self-sufficient. He did me a favor that I didn’t understand at the time.”

To learn more about Madeline Wiener, visit www.MadelineWiener.com.

Autumn T. Thomas, wood and mixed media sculptor

“I’ve become attuned. If I’m cutting wood and it has tension or a knot, I can feel that through the vibration of the tool, so I know if I should slow down.

how to succeed as an artist

There’s a different language that you learn when working with bandsaws and table saws. Blades sing or vibrate differently.

“There are nuances with power tools. You have to trust the tool’s power and respect it. Once you do that, you can sort of wield its power to your advantage.

“My pieces are fragile. When I started out, it was devastating when something would break. But now I think it’s the nature of art. There are no mistakes. There are no rules. I’m making something that doesn’t exist. I’m making something that no one asked for. If I make a cut too far, I accept it and embrace it. This understanding has allowed me to be freer.

“I’m a spontaneous sculptor. When I’m at the point of cutting the wood, that’s also the point in which I’m developing the idea. When I’m taking away from the wood, this is where I’m embedding my ideas and feelings into the piece. I have to be in tune and focused to be safe. All these ideas and feelings combine with me and the power tool to go into the wood. Once I’m finished cutting, the wood is imbued with emotional power. The final step is to take it from a beautiful piece of wood into a beautiful piece of art.”

To learn more about Autumn T. Thomas, please visit https://atthomas.com.

Pati Stajcar, bronze, wood, and stone sculptor

“I’d always been the wild child. Definitely not a girly-girl. Using power tools was just a means to an end. I never thought I was doing anything different than anyone else.

how to succeed as an artist

I’ve got more diamonds than any woman I know. And they’re all industrial strength.

“When I was learning to carve wood, I only used hand tools. It’s a really good way to learn; you get the feel of the wood. When I got more confident and started using power tools, I had to learn to go slow and work in stages.

“The first thing you have to master is confidence, that you’re not afraid of your tool. That confidence comes with the comfort of the tool in your hand.

“I love mistakes. I have almost never made a piece that came out the way I envisioned it first off. Every time I’ve had an accident—might not even be my mistake, it might be in the material I’m working with, a rotten piece in the middle of the wood—once it’s exposed, I learn how to get around it. If I go in with an open mind and let the wood or marble take me on its journey, it becomes a better piece than I envisioned.”

To learn more about Pati Stajcar, please visit https://stajcar.com.

how to succeed as an artist
Pati Stajcar in the studio

Alex Branch, interdisciplinary

“In college, I had a drawing instructor who made us keep a sketchbook. I started sewing objects onto the pages of mine and attached different materials that made the books become three-dimensional. At one point my teacher told me that was a strength, my use of materials.

how to succeed as an artist

I’ve always liked to take things apart and put them back together.

“I spent a lot of time on a decommissioned lighthouse boat that’s docked on the Hudson River. In the hull, I noticed how the sound from outside resonated like the body of a cello or guitar. And the boat’s rigging lines made it look like an instrument. I thought, what if I intentionally made a hybrid of the two?

“When I was living in New York City, I didn’t have a space to make a boat so, I got a residency in New Mexico, which is ironic because there’s not a lot of water there. I had to make a boat in six weeks. I used an old form of boat building called “stitch and glue,” which is a descendant of the sewn boat building technique.

how to succeed as an artist
Musician playing Alex Branch's Piano Boat for the Rio Grande

“I play guitar but I’m not a musician. I think there’s a difference between someone who plays and someone whose medium is music. I can play my boats but something different happens when a musician plays them.

“It’s mysterious where ideas come from. You get an idea, and you go after it. You catch the scent of it and go after it and you don’t know what will happen along the way.”

To learn more about Alex Branch, please visit https://alexbranch.com.

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How to get into galleries

How to Get Into an Art Gallery

With so many online opportunities to sell your art, a lot of artists are wondering if getting into galleries is worth pursuing. This month I’m exploring the pros and cons of working with a gallery as well as offering professional insights on how to get into a gallery, should you decide to go that route. 

I asked dealers I know to give me their thoughts and best advice. Special thanks to Doug Kacena, K Contemporary, in Denver, Maria Hajic with Gerald Peters, in Santa Fe, and Nikki Todd of Visions West Contemporary, Bozeman, Livingston and Denver, for sharing their thoughts.

Readers, if there’s something I didn’t cover, please leave a comment below so I can answer it for everyone! 

where do you find new artists?

The answer to where dealers find new talent was unanimous: 

1. Art fairs (prime territory to consume a lot of art in person, says Nikki);

2. Instagram;

3. Through trusted artists.

Maria Hajic cites museum shows, independent curators and fellow dealers as other great resources. 

Where dealers are NOT finding new artists?

From people who drop in and make cold calls.

“People do wander in off the streets wanting to show me their portfolio,” Doug Kacena tells me, but warns, “it’s not a good idea.” 

He says the worst possible time to hit up a dealer is during an opening, which happens surprisingly often. “When artists do this,” Doug says, “I usually ask them to imagine this was their opening. How would they feel if my staff and I were off in a corner looking at someone else’s website instead of tending to your work? They usually get it then.”

How to Get Into Galleries
Doug Kacena, K Contemporary Gallery

What About Emails?

Doug put it this way: “Have I brought on an artist from a random email? Yes, but I get more artists through recommendations from artists I currently work with.”

The Big Takeaway

1. Put yourself out there where people in the biz can find you. 

2. Keep your Instagram account populated with strong visual content.

3. Getting seen at an air fair requires a dealer to take you, which may sound like a catch-22, if you don’t have a gallery that attends art fairs. An alternative is to applying to Calls for Entry to shows that dealers working in your genre attend. (Subscribe to my site for my e-Book, “Upping Your Game” for help with this process.)

4. Ask artists you know about their galleries and if they would put in a good word for you. 

How Important Is Your Online Presence?

Social media is definitely a factor these days. And though posting can feel like shouting into the void, there are things you can do to increase your visibility, such as having a business account and using hashtags wisely. 

You should expect that when a dealer does reach out, chances are good that they’ll ask what kind of following you have. 

Beyond social media, make sure you have an up-to-date website. If you don’t have a website or are frustrated with you current site, check out FASO sites. You can be up and running in an hour. 

Other online opportunities include having your work listed on Artsy

“Artsy is gallery driven; you have to be in a gallery to get on Artsy,” Doug says, “which means you’re in important galleries, because Artsy is not cheap, but it’s important. If your gallery puts you on their Artsy account, that means you have a following and an audience of people interested in purchasing your work.” 

Keeping up: Tips for Managing Social Media

Concentrate on just one or two social media outlets. 

Convert those outlets to business accounts and keep your posts professional.

Be positive and spread the love by commenting on other artist’s work and successes. 

Share great posts you see, especially if they’re coming from a gallery you’re interested in joining. 

Set a timer to remind yourself to get off the infinite scroll.

Look into time saving apps such as Later or LinkTr.ee that will help you broadcast to various platforms.

Canva is an invaluable tool for creating exceptional creative materials and they have a feature for scheduling releases over several weeks.

Qualities of a successful Artist-Dealer Relationship

“I look at this as a business partnership,” Doug says. “We do a lot of development strategy with our artists, mainly, how do we get them in front of collectors and in museums? So, for me, I want to know: is the artist all in? Is this their job? Is this how they’re making a living?”

How to Get Into Galleries
Maria Hajic, Gerald Peters Gallery

“Professionalism,” Maria says, citing that this is her favorite trait in an artist because it encompasses things like time management, attention to details and deadlines, and indicates that an artist is a clear communicator, and responsible. 

And she adds, “Honesty, clear boundaries, willingness to collaborate, flexibility, and a sense of humor always help during a rough patch.”

The artists become like family. We are lucky to count several of our artists as close friends. I think when artists really listen to our advice and know that we are striving to advance their careers as much as just selling the art and putting money in their pockets, that's when I feel like we have reached a successful place in the partnership.

Doug adds, “When I sit down with an artist, I am always asking, what’s the next goal, what are we trying to achieve? Each artist is different, and each has a different path, but they are serious; this their career.”

Interestingly, he says having multiple galleries is a good thing. “I don’t think it’s the same for all galleries but I think it’s better to have multiple galleries supporting them. It’s in everyone’s interest.”

How to Approach Galleries: What Not to Do

#1 response: Do NOT show up unannounced. 

“I would advise never just popping in and asking for the work to be looked at on the spot.,” Nikki advises. “We get that so much and it just shows lack of respect for the business and for the artists that are hanging on the walls.”

“Respect our time,” Maria says, and adds, “No cold calls, please. I prefer an email approach as I can give the artist’s submission my full attention when I am free.”

According to Doug, the biggest issue he sees is that many artists are not self-aware. “You have to be honest with yourself about where you really are in your career and ability,” he says. “And if you can visit a gallery in person, do so before reaching out. Get a feel for the price points of the artists that gallery represents.”

how to get into galleries
Nikki Todd, Visions West Galleries

So, though it feels like a catch-22, if your prices aren’t there, hold off on applying until you’ve built your career up to that point where you’re pricing is commensurate with the others in the gallery. 

Another major faux pas is submitting your work to a gallery online when it’s clear you don’t know anything about the gallery, the kind of work they carry, their goals, and mission. 

“I will tell you that 99% of the submissions that come in are from artists who haven’t done their homework. It feels like artists send out blanket submissions–copy and paste–without researching the gallery.”

Fun Fact About Most Dealers

“Even though, on the website, it says we’re not looking at new artists,” Doug says, “I do love looking at art.” He says he used to respond to everyone who emailed but now he doesn’t have time. So, whether you get a response or not, know that Doug, as well as most other dealers, are looking at every single solicitation they get via email.

Tips for Submitting Your Work

Don’t send materials through the mail. No one wants to deal with returning them to you.

Do send via email:

Multiple jpgs of current images

Resume/CV

Artist statement

Cover letter

Do you need help creating cover letters, artist statement, CV and bio? Schedule some time with me to get this done. Click Here and scroll to Calendly to book time.

Is the Process Worth It?

“Galleries are the king and queen makers,” says Nikki. “I don’t think that will ever change. Galleries will take artists to fairs and give exposure that is impossible to achieve from Instagram or a website presence: a brick and mortar place to exhibit; dedicated staff whose sole job is to promote, sell, organize your work and career; and networking with important clients, institutions and museums.”

“If you want to sell online, you have to continually feed that beast,” says Maria,” which takes precious time. Most, though not all, artists would rather concentrate on their art. Cultivating relationships with clients and viewing artwork in person is very different than viewing it online. Of course, a gallery must do both in this digital age. Does an artist have time for all that?”

Doug agrees and adds, “You can’t go to an art fair without a gallery, and every curator in the country shows up to fairs. I know some artists who have gotten big enough that they don’t need a gallery and can do it on their own. But how do you think they got there? Other people were doing the work for them.”

Ultimately, dealers are taking care of you while you’re concentrating on your work. They’re motivated to make sales for you because it keeps their doors open and the lights on. They’ll handle the negotiating with collectors and make sure your work is put in front of the right audience. They speak for you when you’re not around.

 

Final Thoughts: Playing the Long Game

Only you can decide whether it’s worth the effort to get into galleries, but consider the vast benefits that come when you do find the perfect fit. 

Understand that this is a process. You will get rejection letters–or simply not hear back–don’t let that stop you from trying. It’s a business, so keep searching for galleries and dealers who are excited about your work; they’re the ones who will become the kind of partner, promoter, and confidant you most need.

Check out my blog The Artist Curator Relationship for a deeper understanding of the nuances of working with professional dealers and curators. 

Do you need help putting together your presentation pitch to galleries: cover letter, artists statement, CV, etc.? I can tackle this for you. Schedule some time with me to discuss.

Studio Mojo: The Potential Power of a Home Studio

Meet Nancee Jean Busse

My friend, the wonderful artist Nancee Jean Busse, dug into the pros and cons of establishing a home studio. I love Nancee’s wry sense of humor and candor. In Studio Mojo: the Potential for Power in a Home Studio, Nancee addresses some of the practical needs–more space and ways to organize–along with the mental side of carving out solitude.

For more about Nancee, click here.

Studio Mojo: the potential for power in your home studio

By Nancee Jean Busse

Nancee Busse studio

I’ve been either an illustrator or a painter for almost 50 years. During those decades I’ve created art in wildly varying spaces, most of which were problematic. I worked in an office for some of those years, but when my son was born in 1984 I decided it would be a swell idea to work from home; a very small, very humble home.

So let’s have a little chit-chat about some of the home-studio issues that came up over the years for me and how I solved (or attempted to solve) them. Here’s a list of studio problems and how to solve them.

Issue: I don’t have a spare room for a studio.

Yes, that sucks. For years I painted at the dining room table. Whenever the cat was unhappy he would jump up on the table and vomit on what I was working on. I was also fair game for every family member to unload their problems on. That was fun. If you have to work in your home’s family space, get a compact, folding table easel and work at the kitchen/dining room table. Store your art supplies in plastic tubs. In order to keep from driving yourself mad with clutter, put that stuff away when you’re not actively painting. Your sense of space and privacy will be greatly compromised, but I found headphones to be helpful…and ignoring the sound of breaking crockery.

Issue: I can use the spare bedroom, but it’s tiny!

Not ideal, but a step up from wiping someone’s dinner off of your work!  Minimize everything and keep your creative sanctuary as uncluttered as you possibly can. One easel, good lighting, a cabinet with drawers or shelves for paint, and storage for supplies that you don’t use daily are all you really need.

If you have the space, a bookshelf for your reference materials, instructional books, and any other print material that inspires you to jump into your creative endeavors with both feet.

Busse storage unit idea

Issue: I don’t feel the sense of privacy I need.

To a great degree, this is inner work. Requesting alone time and setting boundaries is, for some people,  one of life’s greatest challenges. My completely dysfunctional style was to be kind and polite with every interruption until I reached my limit of tolerance and then became a screeching bitch. I hope you are better at this than I was! From a practical perspective, having a door that closes is helpful. Letting others know when you’re unavailable is another helpful tactic, but I realize that even mentioning the fact that you’re “unavailable” is offensive to some people. This whole “I need to be alone” thing is icky tricky and I’ve been helped along its path by reading books on setting boundaries and co-dependency issues. 

Issue: I have a studio, but it’s a cluttered mess.

Clutter impedes creativity. If your beautiful paintings are piled in with a bunch of clutter it will diminish them in your eyes and the eyes of others. Marie Kondo the hell out of your studio and give yourself room to breathe and think. Get rid of old, ugly paintings, dry paint tubes, broken or useless brushes, old magazines, etc. Be ruthless.  Try to avoid letting family members use your studio as a place to store their excess possessions. If there’s anything in your creative space that depresses you or makes you feel anxious, get it out of there. 

Issue: Well crap, my studio is full of unsold paintings.

Hoo-boy, that one totally sucks. There are solutions, but none as good as actually selling the work. First, take a look at your work with a critical eye. If the painting is just so-so, take it out of the frame and store it that way. If it’s really an embarrassment (I have some of those), gesso over it and breathe a sigh of relief that no one will ever see it. If you can find a local restaurant, doctor’s office, or business who would like some art on loan, then you can place them where they will have visibility. Document the agreement and get a receipt for your pieces. Set a specific time frame for your art to be displayed. If all else fails, you can start foisting them off on relatives in the form of gifts. They’ll either be thrilled or appalled, but either way they’ll probably smile and be nice about it.

Issue: I can’t feel creative when I know how much I need to do around the house.

I’m so familiar with this one. Remember the old Peggy Lee song, where she sang that she could bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, then wash up 44 pairs of socks and be ready to boogie by nine? Well, I ain’t that broad, and you probably aren’t either. 

Make a quiet and solemn agreement with yourself to be in your studio at a certain time each day. If you’re going through a time in your life when chaos reigns and it’s all you can do to get through the day, then I believe your Muse will not only understand, but will wait patiently and lovingly in the wings for the chance to be with you again at the easel. 

Issue: I get bummed when I go to my studio and can’t think of what to paint.

Have a comfortable chair in your studio. Make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and know that it happens to every artist. Flip through some art magazines or art books. Watch a YouTube painting demo. Light a candle. Play some music that has creative substance, nothing that is as familiar as an old pair of shoes. This “time out” is a gestational period.  Have total confidence that your creative juices will flow again soon, because they will. You can’t stop them, even if you tried. 

Issue: There are so many artists who are better than I am. Why would I need or deserve an art studio when I’m just mediocre?

First of all, don’t judge yourself. There are plenty of people out there who will be happy to do that for you.

Know that the cocktail of creativity, desire, time, repetition, and passion is a powerful one. When you have your own dedicated space, rituals, and consistent work habits, you WILL grow as an artist and your work will improve. When I look back on some of the paintings and illustrations I did 20 years ago, I cringe.

I would also suggest that you find some art books, magazines, and references that inspire you. Absorb them. Watch YouTube tutorials, artists’ biographies, and art history videos. There’s bucketloads of wonderful, inspiring content on YouTube and other sources. 

You don’t have to muster up a bunch of self-esteem that isn’t there yet, just trust the process and watch your progress over time for affirmation of your growth.

My studio has become an extension of myself. It holds my favorite toys (art supplies), the representations of hours and hours of time, care, devotion, frustration, victories, and losses. Along with the usual furnishings, my studio has an old sofa, a small espresso machine, an electric teakettle, and a jar of chocolate chips. I say good morning when I enter, and tell all my favorite things goodnight when I leave. My studio is a comforting constant in my life. No matter what is happening outside my studio, when I’m there I only have one job to do: CREATE!

Let Nancee and others know about your favorite studio tips, tricks, and stories. We all appreciate the quest for a place to add beauty to the world. Add your brilliant advice in the comments section.

And to see Nancee’s work and read more of her blog posts, visit https://www.nanceejean.com.

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Embrace Change Like An Artist

Over the course of curating and installing the 2022 Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale, I noticed something quite remarkable. The entire show from paintings to sculpture, photographs, and prints, has an overwhelming sense of calm. 

But why? Truly, of my 26 years curating this show, why is this year so much different than any other? 

I mean, it’s not like the world has gotten safer and we’ve beat the pandemic, cured cancer, and handed out cute puppies to all. Certainly, artists have suffered through this weird, stressful series of dramatic cultural changes just like everyone else. 

If anything, the pandemic hit the art market especially hard–and we’re already one of the most fickle and flat-out unstable places to work as it is. Galleries and museums closed their doors overnight, shows were postponed indefinitely, and workshops canceled, which meant artists were suddenly stranded, cut-off from patrons and collectors.

And yet, the work that these artists in the Coors Show produced over the last year–the work I had just watched my installers hang–is inspired, hopeful, and stunningly harmonious. 

I have a theory

2022 Coors Show Gallery Preview

Whether you like change or prefer the status quo, I think it’s fair to say that the changes thrust upon us all thanks to COVID have stretched the limits of even the most amenable among us. 

I suspect, however, that for artists, once the initial sense of terror settled down, a long, slow sigh of relief rose to the surface.

Suddenly, artists everywhere were summarily relieved of deadlines. One day it’s the grind of constant nagging stress, the next, there’s room to step back, to think, to play. 

Don’t get me wrong. Every artist I talked to has struggled with COVID and isolation. Despite the common depiction of the artist as loner, most artists will tell you that they heavily rely on gatherings of their peers to paint and draw together, and critique each others’ work over bottles of wine. In other words, inspiration is often found in social interaction; art is very much a team sport. 

And, so, standing amid so many truly authentic and subtle works of art, I had to wonder:

Are artists uniquely capable of adapting to change more so than others?

The Psychology of Change

Times of upheaval–great depression, wars, a pandemic–create interesting opportunities to observe evolution. Humans are in the petrie dish, so to speak. The question of the hour is: how quickly can we change and adapt?

Or not.

For some, this disruption in the status quo has been cause for panic, even anger, and the need to dig one’s heels in while pushing back with great force.

But why is change so hard for some while others, albeit not thrilled, seem to roll with it? 

According to a 2012 article in the SAGE Journal titled “An Analysis of Resistance to Change Exposed in Individuals’ Thoughts and Behaviors,” by Lena M. Forsell and Jan A. Astrom, “all psychological resistance is built on a fear of change where the outcome could result in a worse situation.”

Everyone experiences resistance to change to some degree, but most of us think things through and deal with it. However, research shows that the ensuing fear of change can often be traced back to “the attitudes and behaviors of the [person’s] parents or other adults from their childhood.”

Yep, that’s right. Go ahead and blame your parents for this one.

That’s science, my friends.

Hoping to Sprout Wings

Though I’m in the camp of folks who get peevish with the status quo, I’m not the most confident of women, by a long shot. I do admire it in others, probably because I recognize that it doesn’t come easily for me. I bring this up because I don’t think an abundance of confidence is the key ingredient to an artist’s ability to adapt to major societal changes, such as a pandemic, and not just because I don’t have it.

It’s a strange kind of push-pull, in my mind, to love change, even the change that feels like you’re walking off a cliff, hoping to sprout wings, and yet struggle to ask for help along the way. Asking for help always feels like admitting failure. That I’m a fraud, an imposter. I’ve written about the imposter syndrome and the fear of failure in my blog post, On Voice, because a lot of us in the art world suffer from an overactive inner critic.

Either way–too much or too little confidence–my guess is that we can toss confidence out the window as a factor in my theory as to why artists seem to have weathered the pandemic better than others. 

A Little Fear Goes A Long Way

Art is, by its very nature, abstract and ephemeral. Not all minds can hang in that space for long. But for esoteric, searching thinkers, this is home. Change in this space is ever present and, if not always readily embraced, it is, generally, quietly accepted.

Accidents lead to innovations that are frequently lauded among peers. That giddy feeling of being on to something profound–or stepping off the precipice into the abyss–can be an incredibly exhilarating space. 

If the nearly 400 harmonious works of art in the 2022 Coors Show are evidence of anything at all, I think it’s that art thrives when the mind is free of deadlines and the demands of the market–something that happened overnight when COVID struck. 

There was also no time for self-doubt; artists had to keep making art because it’s what they do and who they are. 

An artist must trust that art makes the world better because it gives meaning to, well, everything. As unstable as a life in the arts may be, it very well may be the safest place for the wild minds that strive and survive in spite of societal upheaval. 

Embrace Change Like an Artist: PART TWO

I recently curated one of the most impactful shows I’ve ever worked on. Mental Health Through the Eyes of Artists ran this fall at the PACE Center, Parker, Colorado.

While COVID has been a global trauma, the artists in this show struggle with internal trauma, physical pain and disabilities that left many contemplating ending it all.

Art became the eye of the storm.

Surreal depiction of Ethan's story

This show came about thanks to Idaho artist Scott Switzer whose recent body of work tells the story of a friend’s schizophrenic son who was killed by a police officer. Ethan, 24 at the time, was shot in the back while running from a homeless camp. He had committed no crime, was shirtless and shoeless, and had no drugs in his body. He was in the midsts of a psychotic break. 

Ethan’s death hit home for Scott, who also has a son with schizophrenia. And Scott, he deals with his own mental health issues. 

Just as asking for and accepting help has been difficult for me, this show brought to light just how difficult it is for some people to talk about mental health. Yeah, I’m including myself here.

But why? 

Isn’t this reluctance part of the reason we have so many people struggling and isolating themselves when they need help the most? Hell, isn’t this why I’ve stayed stuck in bad situations, growing more and more angry with myself for my inability to get unstuck?

Scott’s work and willingness to speak openly about his son and his own challenges sent me down an incredible path. I knew this was an important topic and that art was the perfect vehicle with which to start the conversation.

And, because I wanted to include Colorado artists, I reached out to the Denver Veterans Association. Wow. I had no idea that I would get to know so many truly brilliant artists whose work brings to light such honest, open, and vulnerable emotion. 

Many of these artists are dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and constant physical pain.

More than one artist told me he had held a .45 to his head, thinking of ending it all. Their stories of finding community through the Veteran’s Arts Council and how creating art allowed them to face some truly astounding challenges gave me unforgettable and precious insight into the resilience of the human spirit, and the unique ability for the act of creating art to heal. 

A Man with a Vision is Never Truly Blind

Jim Stevens was one of those veterans who thought of ending it all. A Long Range Patrol Leader in the Army during the Vietnam war, Jim was shot in the head while on a combat mission. Though he recovered, the bullet left fragments in his brain that gave him severe migraines, which he still endures to this day. 

When he returned home, he took a job as a professor at the University of Colorado and resumed his art practice, something he had done his entire life, starting as a kid when his grandmother taught him to paint.

In 1993, that all changed when a migraine caused a bullet fragment to move and trigger a stroke that, in 30 minutes time, took his eyesight. 

“I found myself divorced and the blind single parent of two preteen daughters,” Jim told me. “I lost my job and all confidence in my art.”

At that point, Jim sank into anger and depression.

“I was so angry that I destroyed my motorcycle with a crowbar and trashed my unfinished art pieces with a baseball bat and ripped up most of my notes, drafts, and records,” he said. “It took many years to accept being blind.”

Through it all, his daughters kept asking him to make art. Finally, in 2000, Jim went back into the studio. 

Heading the Call for Help

Legally blind, Jim sees the world through pin-pricks of vision. He told me that, when in front of me, he could see one of my eyes but to see my nose, he had to move his eyes to focus on that. Everything else was an empty void.

Obviously, his initial attempts back trying to make art were slow and frustrating. His initial attempts were rough, but he soon discovered that the more he created, the more he felt he could accomplish. “I kept working and relearning the craft, learning how to do my art without the eyesight an artist so desperately needs.”

With patience, he was able to remastered the skills he’d learned before the war and his injury.

Then this happened. From the backyard, one warm summer afternoon, he heard the pained cry for help from his six-year-old grandson. While practicing his casting, the line from the boy’s toy fishing pole had gotten stuck in a birds nest. As Jim stood in the backyard, hands full of tangled fishing line, he thought, “Yeah, right, the old blind guy’s gonna fix this.” But then a cloud moved over head and blocked the sun. Through his pin-pricks of vision, it created the illusion that the monofilament line was rippling in his hands.

“I couldn’t get that image out of head,” he recalled. “I kept thinking, how could I create something out of this material?”

Side view, Jim Stevens monofilament painting

Soon Jim began experimenting with monofilament, trying to recreate that sensation, but how? After much experimentation, he realized he had to lay out the fishing line on a grid. From there he started painting on the individual stands of monofilament which he then stacked in separate layers, one on top the other. Together the disparate layers filled in the missing notes and created a complete image. 

With the aid of special lenses, Jim has been able to  create art that not only communicates his inner vision but also, in a way, allows people to get a glimpse of the world through his eyes.  

Jim Stevens peering through lens

“I paint each layer with a slightly different shade, so that paint pulls your eye through,” he explained. “It takes about two month to paint one work of art because each layer has a complete painting on the monofilament.”

Jim Stevens monofilament painting Embers

Jim has, in this work, brought us into his mind’s eye, which is decidedly not blind. “With these monofilament paintings, I’m literally painting one strand at a time, straight ahead. The abstract linear paintings, those portraits are hundreds of individual lines.”

Between the lines, there is nothing. Just like his vision, it is empty. “The way I paint reflects the way I see the world. I can see your eye. I can see that one strand. But for me there’s nothing on either side. I have to move my eyes to see where that is. When I look at one spot, it’s just empty.”

Jim’s work continues to evolve despite his physical challenges. His latest portraits are painted on a clear acrylic panel that he floats over an abstract painting on komatex panel. “The portrait is painted without shading,” he said. “The abstract painting creates all the shading in the portrait.”

What's Your Motto?

I could stop there, with Jim’s art and his incredible spirit, but I’m sure you already guessed that Jim has impacted lives beyond art. In 2015, he and his fellow creative veterans banded together to create the Veteran’s Arts Council (VAC) at VFW Post 1, in Denver. The program gives veterans a place to gather and create art and show their work. Jim insists on bringing vets into the mainstream with the Arts Council, as well, by holding first Friday openings and finding new venues to showcase the art of his fellow soldiers. The VAC even pulls in non-veteran artists to participate as well. And, naturally, Jim has been asked to help start VAC programs across the country. 

For the opening of the PACE Center exhibit, we had a panel discussion, Bringing Light and Love to Mental Health. Scott Switzer and Jim Stevens were among the panelists who spoke openly and frankly about mental health and healing through art. Many artists from the show were in the audience and contributed to the conversation that emphasized the importance of talking about mental health as a way to lessen the stigma surrounding the topic. 

One of my favorite moments in the conversation was when Jim explained his approach to working with veterans who are struggling to see a good way around their problems. 

Scott Switzer "Ethan's Kisses"

“I tell them to focus on one line for life,” he explained. By this he means, find your motto, keep it simple, reflect on it daily to stay focused. Don’t try to solve all your problems in a day; that simply won’t happen. 

Upon hearing this, Scott said, “I think my motto is: I know there’s a god and it ain’t me.”

Amen to that.

Here’s Jim’s motto and mine. 

“A man with a vision is never truly blind.” -Jim Stevens

“Ask for help; there is grace in vulnerability.” -Rose Fredrick

To learn more about Jim Stevens and how he creates, check out this video.

Thanks for reading! Please share your motto below.

David Griffin: The Artist-Curator Relationship

Over the years, curating the Coors Show and other exhibitions, my sense of this job has evolved in many ways except one:     A curator is not an art director.  

In other words, I do not tell artists what or how to create. If I wanted to make art, I would. But I don’t because it’s flippin’ hard to do. 

I do like Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s notion of a modern curator, though:

“I see a curator as a catalyst, generator and motivatora sparring partner, accompanying the artist while they build a show, and a bridge builder, creating a bridge to the public.” 

Meet David Griffin, 2022 Coors Show Featured Artist

Because so many people ask about my job–often believing it’s one long series of cocktail parties punctuated by studio visits where we talk art theory and drink cocktails until the wee hours (not far from the truth, actually)–I thought I’d share a conversation not unlike others I often have with artists. This call with David Griffin was to discuss what he was planning for the next Coors Show. 

David Griffin zoom with Rose Fredrick
Rose Fredrick Zoom with David Griffin

My first concern was making sure he wasn’t trying to “psych-out” our audience. i.e., creating paintings he thought people would like vs. painting that were authentically of his “voice.”

To which David replied:

“Over thinking this thing is exactly where I was headed. Complicating it, adding all these underlying meanings, which I don’t even know the answer to so how could I expect someone else to know the answer? I have to continue to remind myself–because this is like the Super Bowl to me–I have to treat it like it’s just another game.”

I knew it. Once I assuaged David’s pre-game jitters, we began talking about his journey from illustrator to fine artist.

ROSE: When you started with the show, you were painting cowboys. And you had been an illustrator. But your work has evolved so much; I haven’t seen you paint a cowboy in five, six years.

DAVID: Something happened. Maybe it was a step at a time but there was–I’m going to use the word liberty–maybe it was permission, but liberty to do what I wanted to do not what I thought people expect me to do. You were encouraging for all of us to do what we feel. And that started a whole other conversation of digging deeper into why I was doing what I was doing in the first place. If I was going to understand how to talk to people, I needed to understand what was going on in my head about these paintings.

R: How did you do that?

David Griffin Last Light oil 30x24
David Griffin, Last Light, oil, 30x24 inches

D: Well, I don’t know. That’s what’s been amazing about this journey. I felt like these newest paintings just happened. And it’s not that easy, you don’t see the struggle. You don’t see the battle, the blood, and sweat. But, I think, I connected to creation, to nature, in a way that I was already probably connected and just didn’t know it. 

I was listening to an interview with Andrew Wyeth the other day. He was talking about why he did what he did, the impetus of his work, and he said, a lot of it comes from memory. So, that kind of affirmed what I was already thinking.

Now, I wouldn’t have taken a risk if I hadn’t already felt comfortable bringing it in the show. I could step out of something that was comfortable and into something that was maybe a little uncomfortable and think, well, I know Rose is going to tell me what she thinks and that’s what I really wanted to know.

R: When you made the switch from illustration, I think that had to be a conscious decision, right? Tell me about that because when you first started with the show, you were painting “fine illustration.” And now you have completely switched. But it was gradual.

D: I agree. When illustrators switch to fine art it is a real departure financially because you would get a job from Sports Illustrated and get ten-grand for a cover, five-grand minimum. 

All of the sudden, you go to a gallery and start asking ten-grand for a painting right off the bat and collectors are thinking, wait a minute, I don’t know who you are.

My transition was a little less dramatic than that. I’d been to Europe and I’d started to paint some things, figuratives, and Tony Altermann came into my studio and said, ‘you know I can sell these paintings.’

So, he took three or four and sold them. That helped me make up my mind because I was trying to support my family at the time. My break was pretty clean. One day I was doing illustration, the next I was painting. It was that cut-and-dried.

I think the fact was, this was what I wanted to do all along. I got tired of being somebody’s hands. Deadlines and working all night. An art director would just send me a script and I’d have to turn it out. It’s a factory. I wanted more time to spend on painting. 

R: And then Tony Altermann walked into your studio and gave you the opportunity to do your own thing–

D: Well, I did a lot of portraits for them, things I didn’t really care to do but it was a way to make a living. I stayed with him for a long time then one day he called and said, “you need to do something new. You can come and get these paintings.”

R: Wait, what happened? 

D: I can’t remember, there was a financial turn down, I think, but there were times when the relationship was a little testy before that. Anyway, I walked down the alley to the gallery and got my paintings and didn’t talk to him again for a long time. That was a “rip the band-aid off” moment; I didn’t have anyone who was representing me then.

I was really in the salt mines. Then I got connected with Bill Bufford. He was bigger than life, he told you what to say and what to do. I’d pull up to the gallery and he’d be talking loud enough so you could hear him in the parking lot. 

David Griffin, Cordillera Mosaic, oil, 12x16

But, all those moments when I thought I was wandering in the desert, three kids at home, and then something would happen. Like getting a call from you about the Coors Show. I was in shock. I look back on landmarks and that was a huge landmark. I had given up illustration long before, of course, but that was a step that put me on a different path because, always before, gallery people had told me what to do.

Rose Fredrick zoom with David Griffin

 R: That’s what I’m wondering about because, essentially, you traded an illustration rep for a different kind of illustration rep–the gallerist who dictated what you were to paint, right?

D: Yeah. I remember going to lunch with Tony, and he’d get a napkin on the table from where we were having lunch. I never had to ask him what he wanted me to do. Basically, it was: ‘Here’s the script and I’m going to give you the outline, metaphorically, David, and I’m going to tell you what to do.’ Bill wasn’t quite that dramatic about it but he’d still say, ‘David, you need to do more of this, this is what we can sell, and I don’t want to surprise my clients and spend a lot of time explaining what you’re doing.’

So, you’re right. I was a private, showing up, saluting, doing the paintings. When you came along, I kind of wanted you to tell me what to do.

R: Usually the first thing I tell artists when they come to the show is that I hired you to do what you do. I don’t paint for a very specific reason. I won’t tell you what to paint but I will tell you what I don’t think we can sell. But other than that, I’m never going to tell you what to do.

David Griffin, Graceful Silence, 32x32

D: That was part of our first conversation and it was a little disconcerting from the standpoint of, “you mean I’ve got to come up with the ideas? You’re not going to tell me what to do?” I may have, in fact, asked you on more than one occasion, will this be OK? Because I was so uncomfortable. I’d been living in my head with something that I’d always been told: This is what you have to do to be successful. And then I find out, no, that’s not true. There’s another way to do this and a better way, a much more liberating way, creatively inspiring way to do this.

Not having anyone directing me, telling me what to do–believe it or not, Rose, that’s hard.

I look back on that now, and it was kind of a crutch and one of those things that was holding me back. I would take paintings to the gallery and they would say, “yeah, this one is working but take these back and give us more of these.” I was in the marketplace and selling but without complete freedom.

To be honest with you, when you’re given the freedom to do your own thing, it exposes your weaknesses. I could draw, I could paint, I knew color, but now I had to come up with my own ideas, and had to ask myself if I was up for the task. So, it did expose weaknesses. But they needed to be exposed. I needed to look at my weaknesses and my failures if I was going to do anything.

R: Freedom is, to an extent, scary. But if you trade one set of handcuffs–the art director for the overbearing art dealer telling you what to paint–what kind of life is that? 

D: But you’re not growing. Think of all the people who had to have this conversation with themselves and their families about walking away from steady revenue. And I don’t regret Bufford or those guys telling me what to do; that was part of my training. But some of these artists painting western illustrations now have collectors calling and saying, ‘What are you working on?’ and ‘You better sell it so we don’t lose money on our investment.’ It’s hard enough coming up with the ideas and painting without having that pressure.

David Griffin, Gold Never Fades, oil 12x16

R: We were talking about that transition in your work, and I was saying on the phone to you, I think this work was a leap even from last year’s work. How did you make this leap?

D: I started to depend on a different part of me for the creative making. This year was the first time it was 100% me, not being influenced, either way, good or bad, by someone else. I think it had something to do with me having more confidence in my own intuition. I wanted the paintings to leave the studio because I was happy with them on my own terms, not because I thought somebody was going to like them.

R: How scary is it to create work that’s 100% you?

David Griffin Winter's Dawning oil
David Griffin, Winter's Dawning, oil, 16x12

D: In my own experience, it’s real scary. But you’ve nurtured the ground I’m going into to the point where I’m able to grow my own voice. I hear that a lot, but I do think there is something to the point where you say, “this is what I like hearing coming out of my own voice,” metaphorically, and to have people respond. But it is scary because you just don’t know. We all want people to like us. The extension of that is, if people like my work, they like me. That’s dangerous and that’s scary because you’ve exposed yourself even more. 

I’m sure artists have told you, at the Coors Show, “I feel like I’m standing there without any clothes on and I’m trying to tell you what’s important to me. And if you don’t like that, is it because you don’t like me?” That’s a bad way to put value on things. But risk and reward. The reward is bigger.

R: You were talking about deeper meaning, especially in landscape–

D: I’ve been reading the philosopher, Roger Scruton, and his conversations about how we live with beauty in the world we live in today, how we live with beautiful writing, beautiful film, beautiful paintings, and that in itself is how you describe beauty.

And I’d read Andrew Wyeth and Makoto Fujimura who talk about the theology of making and beauty. I would equate some of that to my thinking deeper about a painting. Now I sit and look at a painting longer, and wonder what does this say to me or do I need to start over? But it all comes back to: what’s beautiful and can I use that as a threshold?

R: Several years ago, a PhD candidate in music reached out to you saying she would like to compose music for your painting, “Weathered Moon,” and would it be OK if she did so. You sent her the painting, and when she’d finished her thesis, she returned the painting along with a recording of the music created and composed for quartet (oboe, cello, bass, and violin). Tell me about that experience.

D: That was the first time I thought there was more to my paintings, that someone would get more out of my paintings, something more than a visual experience. Her thesis, it’s all these sounds you might hear when you’re out painting plein air, little discordant sounds that might be bugs over here, or the wind blowing through trees. And there’s a melody to it that was hard to find at first. 

She was drawing sound out of a two dimensional painting. That was when I started focusing on landscape paintings.

David Griffin Weathered Moon oil
David Griffin, Weathered Moon, oil, 24x36

R: We all worry about what others will think about our work. But, if we stop worrying and just let the work go out in the world, someone might just come along and create a symphony around it. 

D: Yes. And, the collaborative effect is amazing. I do like collaboration. I think there is a value in that. You’re adding to the beauty; it’s a more beautiful orchestra.

R: Speaking of collaboration, after all these years moving from illustrator to another kind of illustrator but for galleries, to creating work for the Coors Show, do you still consider this stage a collaboration?

D: I would call it a collaboration. You have created an atmosphere that an artist can walk in and be part of. You’ve got people who love art. You’ve got people who are certainly well educated, they are well read, they understand what beauty is, they understand the value of that. And you have this show where you afford people the space to have conversations. I think every bit of it is collaborative.

David Griffin, Thunderstruck, oil 40x30

You know, every year I walk around the show and tell my wife, “She painted the wall just for me. My paintings went on that wall perfectly. I know she did that just for me. I’m the only one she’s done this for, I’m sure of it.” Then I go walking around and see you’ve done this for everybody.

I’ve heard you talk about the joy of uncrating the paintings, taking them out, putting them on the wall, figuring how they go together, how they look when you come in or go out of the gallery, what the color is, the spacing, getting the lights all perfect. I don’t know what a job description of a curator is but I can’t imagine it’s more than what you do. 

So the collaboration–you give me confidence because you’re confident and because as you describe, you’re an eternal optimist. People gravitate to who they want to be around. So, I do think the collaboration goes beyond that night. 

R: On a personal note, with your Coors Show paintings this year, you tapped into a memory of mine, unwittingly. It was that painting, Thunderstruck. From the moment I saw it, my mind drifted back in time to my childhood, watching a storm roll in, feeling the air change and become charged with electricity, and that scent of petrichor.

D: Memories are strong. They might be the biggest impetus for a painting. I’m not going to dismiss those memories in my work. I’m going to hone in and make that the foundation. You’ve just given me more than you think you have. One day I’m really going to be able to tell you how grateful I am for all of this. You have single handedly been the most important part of my painting life.

R: I hope you know you make me look pretty darn good.

D: We’re gonna keep talking. But right now., I’m going out to take a walk and digest all this.

Recorded Zoom interview with the 2022 Coors Show Featured Artist, David Griffin, on February 9, 2021, has been edited it for clarity and brevity.

If you are interested in delving deeper, here’s a talk with Makoto Fujimura, on art and faith. Recorded on January 11, 2021, he talks about dealing with trauma and tragedy, and the connection to healing fractures through art. 

Art Buying Etiquette 101

Miss Manners: What to tell artist friends, besides ‘That’s pretty!’

The Washington Post, January 10, 2021

“It’s not hard to please artists–or any other creative people–with compliments. Any enthusiastic generality will do. And while you are not there as an art critic, Miss Manners has a kind remark even if you really hate the work: “You must be so proud.”

Um, wait…what?! 

OK, Miss Manners, step aside. Here’s some actual etiquette for talking to and working with artists.

You’re welcome. 

GALLERIES: Respect the relationship. 

RULE: If you found something you like at a gallery or show or through an independent art dealer, that is where you need to conduct your business. 

WHY: When collectors circumvent the gallery–usually because they think they can get a deal by cutting out the middleman–what they are really doing is putting the artist’s business at risk. 

Yes, this actually damages the artists career–the art community is small.”

-Billyo O’Donnell (“Morning Light Over Leadville,” oil, 9×12 inches )

Faithless artists are usually dropped from the gallery as soon as this behavior is discovered. Losing this relationship can ultimately ruin an artist’s career because they lose the stability and benefits of having someone represent them and explain their work and pricing system.

“Over the last few years,” Billyo added, “there have been many artists leaving galleries and going out on their own to sell their artwork. I have learned that there is a direct relationship to having a long-standing association with a respected gallery and being able to maintain solid prices for your work.” 

ETIQUETTE: Work with the dealer, be transparent, and ask lots of questions; it’s their job to educate you and help guide you through the process. And, if meeting the aritst is important to you and, in my opinion, should be part of your final decision, have the dealer facilitate.  

Think of it this way, when you try to cut the gallery out of their rightful commission it’s like asking your doctor if you can avoid paying the hospital by going to his house and having him perform surgery there, at a discount.”

-Carm Fogt (“Altered Enso,” Chinese ink and mixed media, 24×24 inches)

EXHIBITIONS: If you saw the work of art at a show but the show’s over and the work didn’t sell, who gets the commission if you buy it?

RULE: People can argue this point, but in my mind, if you saw something you were interested in but didn’t buy at the show venue, it’s still considered–for a reasonable amount of time after the close of the show–proper to either run the sale through the exhibition or have the artist forward on the commission to the show. 

WHY: Artists need shows and shows need reliable artists. It’s a great relationship when it’s working in harmony. Collectors help keep the harmony by understanding and supporting this important business relationship.

ETIQUETTE: Juried and invitational shows do have an actual end date, so, realistically, if it has been a month or so or if the work of art has since been sent to a gallery, the gallery would then take the commission, not the show. Often national exhibitions are established to support a cause; consider supporting the cause no matter when you finally decide to make the purchase of a work you found at the show. 

Collectors need to be reminded of the expenses incurred when putting together an exhibition, whether by a non-profit for a cause or a private gallery.”

-Billyo O’Donnell (“Below Mount Lemon, Tucson, AZ,” 12×16 inches)

DISCOUNTS: when is it OK to ask for or expect a discount?

RULE: Discounts are for devoted clients who work with a dealer fairly exclusively and buy considerable amounts of art from that dealer or buy numerous works at one time. 

WHY: In the days before discounting art became ubiquitous, dealers used this as a perk for their best collectors. Commonly, 10% was, and still is, the amount which would be split between the gallery and the artist, with each side absorbing 5%. 

The biggest problem with discounts, if done frequently, is that they devalue the artist’s work across the board, meaning everyone who purchased work without a discount has, in essence, overpaid.

I remember a collector who commissioned me to do a painting,” recalled Dan Young, long time Coors Show artist. “It was back when I was starting out and really needed the money. I did the painting but then the guy asked for a discount. I wouldn’t do it. I walked away. Twice. Finally, he agreed to the price and bought it, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.”

-Dan Young (“The Snow Moon Rises,” oil, 12×12 inches)

ETIQUETTEBefore asking for a discount, collectors should understand how prices are determined.

Often, painting prices are calculated by the square inch, e.g. a 16×20 is 320 sq in, at $10 per, the painting will be priced at $3,200. Pricing editioned work can be determined by edition size, how complicated the work is–how many plates for a hand-pulled print or how large for a bronze–and importance or relevance, especially with photography. THEN, pricing structure is predicated on artist’s longevity, the stability of their prices, and what the market will bear

  • How long has the artist been working professionally? 
  • How do they price their work? 
  • What national exhibitions have they been invited to and participated in? 
  • What kinds of publicity have they garnered–magazine editorials, awards, honors, inclusion in major collections? 

I don’t raise my prices every year,” Dan said. “I may bump them 10%, if I do. Sometimes I only raise them 5%, depending on the market. Artist have to know their market and raise prices in a smart way; collectors want the value of their paintings to go up.”

-Dan Young (“Last Hurrah,” oil, 12×10 inches)

 

“People who truly connect and value my work,” Carm added, “rarely ask for a discount.” 

COMMISSIONS: no art directing allowed. 

RULE: The aritst is not an extension of you.

WHY: Commissioning an artist doesn’t give you free rein to dictate anything beyond the size, medium, and subject matter you are interested in acquiring. When starting the commission process, always keep in mind that the artist doesn’t live in your head and you do not do the work that he or she does for a living. 

I’ve realized over the years,” said California landscape aritst Kim Lordier, “that trying to get inside someone’s head to understand what they are feeling is very difficult.

Now my process for a commission is to create that balance of sharing ideas then allowing for first right of refusal. If I’m presenting the collector with a piece that I am proud of, it will be worthy of one of my galleries. That has only happened once, that a collector didn’t want the commission. But, then they came back six months later wanting to buy the painting and it had already sold.”

-Kim Lordier (“Intricately Interwove,” pastel, 36×24 inches)

ROSE’S DOS AND DON’TS FOR COMMISSIONING WORKS OF ART

  • Let go of any preconceived concepts and allow the artist to create. 
  • Once you agree on a concept, price, and timeline for completion, sign a contract.
  • You can ask for updates throughout the process but that’s it–no surprise studio visits, no emailing color suggestions or photos of your dog that you’d like the aritst to slip in. 
  • Many artists won’t take commissions, so don’t expect everyone to jump at the chance. (Nearly every artist I know has a horror story about a client who decided, mid-process, to dictate changes and treat the artist like a servant. The end result: either the client was fired or the finished work was rushed just to get rid of the client.) 
  • Consider using a dealer or consultant to manage the process; they can work through issues that arise and can keep the project on target.
  • Expect to pay 50% down before the artist gets started. Enter this relationship knowing you won’t get this money back if you don’t like the finished work. 
  • Do NOT ask an artist to replicate a work of art that already exists, especially a work of art by a different artist! Original art, whether commissioned or not, is just that: original and unique.

My two-cents: If you’re really wanting a specific vision, consider taking art lessons. Who knows, maybe there’s an artist in you struggling to get out!

STUDIO VISITS: a time honored tradition.

RULE: Never show up unannounced. Always confirm your appointment. Do not assume you can buy anything out of the studio and that you can get the work you see at “wholesale.”

WHY: Studios are sacred spaces. They are personal and creative, but also professional places of business. So, plan for an amazing behind-the-scenes opportunity by researching the artist before you go. You’ll have a base of knowledge so you can jump right in.

I rarely invite collectors to my studio,” said Lordier. “Sometimes it feels like people are rummaging through my lingerie drawer. I feel judged, feel compelled to make excuses for why this or that is at a certain stage, even though that is not the visitor’s intent.”

-Kim Lordier (“Goodnight Sea, Goodnight Tree,” pastel, 12.5×18 inches)

ETIQUETTE: Keep judgements to yourself. Art in a studio will be in various stages of completion. The artist has a vision, whether he or she is struggling through a work, trying something new, or trying to make something work that, so far, has been fighting them all the way. Generally, artists will not have this work out for you to see, so don’t rummage around the studio. 

Ask questions. Seriously, if you don’t know something, ask. If the artist uses a term or refers to some aspect of the work that you’ve never heard about, have them explain. 

Tell the artist what you like and what interests you about the work. This is a great way to find out more about technique and what inspired it. Alternately, if there is a work you don’t care for, you could ask about it–without judgement–so you can learn why the artist believes it is successful.

Visiting artist studios is one of the best parts of my job as a curator; I always look at it as a privilege. If you’re invited to an artist’s studio, plan for at least an hour, do your homework, and don’t be afraid to ask questions–just keep it professional.

Still have questions? Send them my way. Chances are other collectors are wondering the same thing.