Our 21st century educational system, despite and supported by a technological pretense at modernization, basically remains a 19th century preparatory ground for assembly line work mindsets. The goal is to dumb down and render submissive the creative within us. That's why we fight so intensely to have our individuality recognized in a society that now desperately needs us to be collectively focused...
Questions 1 and 2:
Do I try to sell collectors "my art"?
No. Mainly because I don't sell "art". I sell artworks which may or may not be eligible to hold within them the mystery that is "art".
Do I give them (consumers) enough information that they want to own the piece?
I would feel like a shit if I ever discovered that at any time during the past 50 + years of my career one of my collectors had bought an artwork of mine because I had "led him/her into doing so".
Buyers of my artworks CHOOSE to buy my work. They tell me they want it. I don't manipulate the conversation to get them to "own"' anything! Why should I?
In our times, we are too much like commodity salesmen trying to get rid of old stock. Do I try to sell my work? Other than display it and give the general parameters of title, dimensions and medium, I tend to shut up and stay away from the whole promotion and marketing formats of the day.
Too often, we appear to be more hyped up on being seen to be artists than we are at presenting thought-filled and deep meanderings into the sensual world of our artwork making. Basically, today, we are become more distractions than lures into the visual language world we are engaged in. We often sound more like shills and hucksters.
I don't give out information focused on getting someone to "own a piece". (!!!) Whether buyers fit one or the other of consumer, investor or collector is not the point. I've sketched or painted or sculpted whatever I have and now I display it. I've done my bit. And though I will warmly welcome and speak with a visitor to one of my displays, I generally prefer to offer them free reign as to observation, appreciation (or not) and even interpretation. This is their moment to reach out and be moved (or not) by the work I have created. It's as simple as that. Sometimes they buy. Sometimes they don't. But in the end, they must make that choice and not me (or my pushing them to do so).
Oddly, communication freedom is what the commercial side of the visual arts is about since, at the core, it is a sensual, not a commodity-based exercise.
Artwork, ready to leave a studio to be exhibited, to stand on its own to speak, must be "freed up" to do so, this - despite contemporary notions which deem it necessary in our times to "prepare" audiences for the upcoming revelations of our work............................................. (!!!) Such a notion says 2 things to me:
1- We don’t trust our potential clients to be smart enough to “get” our stuff, and....
2- We don’t trust the quality of our work.
So where lies the real problem?
For all intents and purposes, artworks can legitimately be coddled during the extensive developmental stages within a studio. But once completed, and existing outside the atelier environment, created objects must be weaned - must become independent of our overprotective attentions. Why so? At this stage of the game, the lasting value of an artwork no longer depends on excessive pampering by its creator. Rather, it must gamble on the attentions, or lack thereof, of viewers being open to an artwork’s ability to communicate and the viewer's ability to connect.
Artworks are like children. They must eventually grow up and learn to fly on their own, without parental interference. So should our studio progeny. Despite contemporary practices, If I have to "sell" the virtues of my created spawn, what I actually end up doing is neutering it from the get-go. I am telling the world that I am not sure that my work can stand on its own... And the more intense I sound on the subject the more desperate I appear to be and the weaker my work seems.
Essentially, artworks, have an innate right to exist independently of us in order for the art "within the artwork” to appear and to have its say... (again, oftentimes we forget that art is not necessarily in all or even anything we create. If we are lucky it occasionally does thrill a viewer by its presence.
Where am I going with all of this?
Creating is a 3 fold experiment in processing. The first element involves a creator who generally retires from the fray in order to muse within a studio environment - this to give birth to a concrete representation of a concept, a thought, an observation, a feeling whose forever quest is to eventually be conveyed and shared with others (unless the creation process is a therapeutic one).
The second step in the process of transmitting artwork to an audience involves a right of passage, or the debutante ball aspect of the coming out of an artwork. This is not a new concept, whether this relates to individuals or individual artworks.
In ancient Greece, there were “symposia” - banquets to honour the transition of a boy to manhood. A similar event, called a “convivium”, was held in ancient Rome to recognize a young man’s coming of age. Many other cultures, over time, have had similar happenings, some religious some cultural, which opened the doors to adulthood for the all too ready young.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, debutante balls were common in Europe. Not to be left behind, the West had its own “Promenades” - soon to be known as “proms” - as first highlighted in the Harvard Crimson newspaper in 1879.
All such events are comparable to the final stage of presentation, display and introduction of our artworks to the world. As newly minted adult creations, the first responsibility of these recently “mature” artworks, (as independent “beings”), is to prove themselves worthy of the wider worlds recognition, acceptance and/or rejection of their claim to excellence.
The third and final element in this sharing experience is the very fact that an artwork must be allowed its own space to breathe within a communication environment. From the first moment of its presentation and display before the eyes of the world, an artwork must be free to express itself - and this through an excellence of rendition put forth by the quality of compositional elements “playing nicely together”.
So, is my artwork art?
All in all, and despite our intentions, talents and expertise as creators, the decision that “art” actually resides within a specific creation is the purview of a viewer, not ours. Obviously, artworks are things, buyable, tradable objects. Art is not a thing. it is a mystery which is only seen (felt) through the eyes and heart of a viewer, open to receiving the enigmatic experience of “soul” within an artwork. It is that which elicits awe and "unbelievability" from viewers.
Essentially, every artwork made, manufactured, sketched, painted, sculpted, composed or written has been created with one intent and one intent only in mind of its maker: to give the constructed end product a "life" - its own life. And so, why would anyone considering themselves to be an artist ever subscribe to the need to hawk their wares through opaque artist’s statements and sales pitches that sound and feel more like door to door salesmen spiels?
Is it that our contemporary tactics fit the times?
Yes. A good example of this is that parents today do not shy away from showing up at colleges to give hell to profs who don’t give their 23 year old babies an A+ in whatever. That’s what’s called a bastardization of upbringing. Do we practice this type of gobbledygook reality in the visual arts? Sadly, yes. More often than not the arts (especially the visual arts) reflect the era in which we live. Just read some of the artist statements available on line which describe the "non-sense" we throw out as sophisticated parlance which, in effect, seem to tell our potential collectors that we don't see them as bright enough to understand our worldly-wise work. Is this true? Possibly not. But it sure sounds like we’re going in that direction...
So the answer to the title question is?...
Once an artwork is completed and, by our own admission, ready to stand on its own, we’ve only got 5 simple things to do to show our trust in both our latest all grown up hatchlings and our client base:
1) Take 2 steps back from the work once it is completed,
2) smile proudly,
3) let the work speak for itself,
4) shut the hell up... and,
5) for god's sake, let the viewer discover the art (soul) emanating from the depths of our artwork. If they don't/can't, we'll know soon enough that this particular artwork will at least make a good paint-over canvas for a future kick at the can.
Once an artwork is completed we should take a lesson from greater artists than ourselves. The unwritten rule of thumb is to take 2 steps back and speak no more. IF our artworks are good enough to show, they are good enough to do their own speaking - which is their job, not ours.
I know that in our era we live in over-protectiveness of children - and in so doing we ruin their ability to stand on their own. The same applies to painting, drawing and sculpting. By making, creating, molding and crafting things we give these objects "life". Why, then, do we snuff it out in order to provide our audiences with info that aggrandizes us rather than our work. How is anyone supposed to come upon the "art" that purportedly resides within our work if we constantly grandstand and interfere with their search to be reached out to, touched and moved?
Why render artwork creating academic; so-called logical, it demeans the subjective and the sensuous that should be oozing from our craft?
Are we, in our time, in such need of attention and praise? I would rather people gush over my work than me. Ask 100 people who painted the Mona Lisa and few would be able to tell you. And THAT IS OK!!! It's Mona who counts. Leonardo the painter comes second, if not last. And we are in a field where so do we. If we can't accept that, we will be nothing but mediocre "artists".
At 14 when I started selling artworks, I thought I was the be all and end all... How wrong I was. Nobody cared about me. It is not me they hang on their walls. The art within the artwork is not the money I made.
By the time I was 30 I knew better and, to this day, I don't even call myself an "artist". What arrogance that is! (Let the adoring crowds do that! It's their job... not ours.)
As for artists' statements... They're better left unsaid.
So....... Everyone’s an artist? Interesting conjecture.
I prefer the contention that everyone is born creative, since creativity is a necessary component of human basic survival (and has been since the beginning of time). But, as not all are born into an environment which encourages an equal measure of creative élan, some of us inadvertently end up having less capacity to survive the trials and tribulations of life than others. (But note... If we are one of the lucky ones, that does not make us better. It simply makes us more fortunate.)
In consideration of the foregoing, I assume that, as not all of us are mechanically or mathematically privileged, it goes without saying that not all of us are necessarily and naturally "artistically creative" - at least not to a degree which merits the “traditional” title and status of "artist". Though this title once had stature, its contemporary prestige rating has definitely become a faded pastiche of its original self. So why continue to hold it up to such adulation?
Let me man-splain here...
Today, if I draw, paint, sculpt, (i.e.: make things called artworks), this makes me (in fact, if not in aspiration) a drawer, a painter, a sculptor. It makes me what I “do”, not who I suddenly feel the need to call myself. Why? Because the visual arts, as a contemporary libertarian exercise, is for the most part not professional in nature nor should it therefore be in recognition. For all intents and purposes, in contemporary individualistic societies, the quality of self-expression rarely rises above a generic level of avocation - though in capitalistic collectives, the activities may come with benefits. So... why is anointing myself an “artist” still such a contemporary craving?
Well. The irony of it reveals itself when we once again look back to the days of yore. Being an artist, in the past, meant “being seen to have achieved a level of expertise and excellence beyond the norm”. It meant we were better (at what we did), more than (as in: we gave more to our viewer), and worth it (at least re the attention of viewers and especially buyers.)
Why this contention?
In years prior to the 18th and 19th centuries, visual artists were generally known as once-apprenticed craftsmen, journeymen, expert labourers in a specific field. But once their skill sets had been acquired and their individual unique talents discovered as more than average, the status of an individual worker changed. With their work now sought after, they were crowned with the title “artist”.
Today is another matter. That mesmerizing title and its stature of specialness, of difference born of excellent rendering, still lures us in but for different purposes............we wish it not for the same reasons as in the past but for reasons our times dictate. Wearing a title, even one that has faded into an oblivion of non-sense, still gives us a feeling of having achieved in a time when achievement is hardly recognized. Anointing ourselves with it "appears" to make us different and special and “better” in a time when being like everybody else seems depressing... And so, the irony remains.... the last vestiges of status oddly prevail in a field which has long gone rogue and which now demands its due as entitled creatives who have not abandoned the myth that they were born “more than” artistic.
In essence, in the past 2 centuries, the title of artist and its concomitant ally "art", though having lost most if not all of their luster as credible professional designations, have nonetheless oddly maintained a momentum as designates at a time when excellence has faded even more than our artwork production still purports to have the capacity to affect our souls.
In this respect, since excellence in the visual arts is no longer a requisite but rather dependent on how it is defined and redefined, all that is left, it seems, is the title, status and the ease with which we call what we do a profession. This, in turn, makes the visual arts a non-entity in the grand scheme of things professional, (at least where the collective as a whole is concerned).
The following is a related sidebar (as artwork production is concerned) and in relation to calling ourselves professionals....
I would not want to be treated by someone who says they are an endocrinologist but actually isn't.... Basically, endocrinology is a recognized and respected profession. (It is also against the law to say we are of this profession and call ourselves so if our affirmation is fraudulent and worse we actually practice it.) A law practice is much the same, as is engineering and teaching. These titles are acquired, earned. To keep them as ours demands a level of practice in a field which searches out excellence as its goal. The visual arts, as a populist activity, no longer has accredited parameters. Therefore, as a field, it has no more credibility than to simply be seen to be a "generic self-expression exercise". Why is this true?
Basically, today, “artist” has become a glamour title in an arena of "everyone is an artist and everything we do is art".
In conclusion, therefore:
Wearing a title such as artist should be done with respect to its highest calling, In which case, we creatives have to recognize that we are nothing more than observers and recorders of what is, (in whatever style we prefer to render the message). We are neither god nor guru. And ours is not to preach but to share - even if our only task is to carry the message of the a caged canary in a mine shaft...
if we are honest, this end description must be acknowledged as the mandate of the arts we purport to be attaching ourselves to. Otherwise, like the too often undue wearing of the title artist, and the strutting of the status we invoke, our work would be best referred to as art therapy, its focus: creating for ourselves and its quest: making us feel better...
Bernard Poulin. . .