Art Doesn't Have to Match the Couch


This is an image by Greg Constantine. It kind of summarizes my current thoughts. I recently sold several small pieces and it made me start thinking about how to make work that sells better. That thought is like poison to me. My day job right now is taking family pictures, and I think about how much different that is from my art work. The average person sees photography as all the same, and while the tools are the same, the intention is not. It's like a baker and a chef. One makes entres and the other desserts, but both use an oven. Family portraits typically sell not because they are original ideas or compositions, but because the people are meaningful to the purchaser. A stranger looking at a family picture will mostly likely not value it like the family does. In my experience  the average family is in fact not looking for something original at all. A litte different, perhaps, but if you stray too far from the traditional portrait, they will start to inform you that you are doing it "wrong." Everyone knows what a family portrait is "suppose to look like" and even those who claim to want creativity seem to hold this idea quite firmly in their minds.

It's interesting how taking these more commercial images has given me deeper insight into what art is to me. I think of Renaissance artists, and how each one has a painting of the Madonna and Child, and famous religious scenes. Renaissancearts were commercial artists by today's standard. Most, if not all of their work was commission based. The concept was more or less given to them and they were hired on technical skill more than anything. Middle ages even more so. Art reflects the value of its society, and in medieval times, patrons were not interested in original ideas. Images of the saints were considered to hold spiritual value, and the more exactly replicated it was, the better.

The modern artist is now expected to have more original ideas and it is the concept that makes the art. A large reason for this is the invention of photograph. An exact image can be easily captured so exact replication,  while still valued on a commercial level, is not so highly esteemed in the art world. White canvases and childish mark-making are clear examples of this. It is not so much of the "how" as it is the "why." As photography becomes more and more accessible with each cell phone purchased, this divide becomes stronger.

Where does my work fit in this jumbled mess? My work is "pretty" in many ways and lends its self to more decorative applications. I make each image with meaning and intent though, not simply aesthetics. Everyone has an opinion. Make more ocean pictures, everyone buys ocean pictures. Pictures of sea shells, people love those in the bathroom. Photograph weddings, that's where the money is. Paint people's pets, they love their pets. Follow the money. This advice has a certain logic to it. I think of my goal, to be self sustained on my art. Is that not every artist's dream? But at what cost? I want to say that as long as I am making art, the end justifies the means. What happens when the money runs out though? When people don't have the extra dollar for the sea shell picture and the sell-out's funds run out? Is it  a compromise or is it smart? I don't comprise. I never went to art school with the idea that I would get rich quick. Yet people will justify the most heinous crimes if it's for provision. There must be a balance, between making art to sustain the soul and making art that pays the bill. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, yet painted the Sistine Chapel. He had to make a living too. Perhaps some of the most wonderful moments in that masterpiece are the painted statues, so real in their appearance, they seems to be carved from the fresco. He kept integrity to his work even in work that wasn't his first choice. He is remembered for it. And I bet Greg Constantine's piece is above someone's couch right now.