Oftentimes, I am overwhelmed by the marketing surrounding fine art. As a creator, I am constantly marketed to- to buy supplies, seek gallery representation, to attend seminars and programs to assist my pursuit of what I love. This unnerves me because the nature of my work is an act of devotion, a compulsion, a love and joy that overflows from my most inward self. How can I put a price on this? How can I relegate what has been freely given to me to a marketing plan?
What I ask, as a painter, is for the viewer to take in the thoughtfulness and the care I have poured into each painting and dwell there temporarily with me. Together we may pause, take in the view, and let our minds wander back to our dreams, our memories, and the silent dwelling place within ourselves. Delacroix called this shared interval the bond that allows us to communicate with another soul across time and space. When you look at the painting, you not only see the image, but you also reach out to the painter himself. There in that space, we meet and come to understand and empathize with one another.
Oscar Wilde believed that creativity is not a special gift given to the artist, but rather the artist has the temperament of receptivity. This attentiveness to things in the world is the gift. What do I desire as a human being? I yearn to be whole, transformed by insight, a thought, a small wisdom- unnoticed. Art gifts these things to us, reactivating and renewing our sense of wonder and awe for the world.
My disenchantment with “marketing,” the materialism of the art commodity, is that it ignores the gift- the uncommon labor required to bring the image to fruition. Not that what I offer as an artist is great or grander than your experience or lived reality, because my art is, in fact, drawn from the world we both share. It is a gift because it has been freely given to me, and I, in turn, freely gift it to you.
That spirit is the spirit of a gift- not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.Maria Popova, The Marginalian
Art is a labor that is hard to quantify. How do we, as a society, honor the artmaking process as worthy of financial support? The labor involved is intense, and the need for sustenance is real. It costs the artist not just monetarily but physically and emotionally to create freely. In the market economy, how do we reconcile our spiritual need for the artist’s gift and provide a means for the artist to carry on in their labors?
The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation…The gifts of the inner world must be accepted as gifts in the outer world if they are to retain their vitality.Lewis Hyde, The Gift [This was quoted by Maria Popova in the Marginalian. She is an incredible writer with many insights into the human condition.]
I can’t provide any solid answers to establishing this mutual exchange of gifts beyond what is present now- purchasing a painting that allows you to hold the gift in exchange for the money to support the artist’s needs. All I can do is continue my labor of love and paint as best I can, all that I see and feel in this sensual world of immense beauty.
Postcard from the Field
I have begun a new project where I am sending my subscribers an image of a recently completed painting. Each image carries its unique painting practice- composition, palette design, and color choices. On each postcard, I will share some of my reveries, thoughts, or the emotional intent that lies behind the work impacting the painting’s creation. Join me in this new adventure!
A Universal Presence
The great spiritual principle of harmony- harmony in form, harmony in color, the general harmony arising from the relation of things to one another, and the relation of parts to parts- must be considered, and, as far as possible, realized by every artist in his work. No man can be in pursuit of studies such as these without finding it necessary to refer back constantly to the principles of his own constitution as a human being, of his relation to life and society.George Inness (1879)
George Inness believed in the integrity of the artist’s vision. The role of every artist is to tap into the emotional nature of sight, the overarching harmony of vision that ties existence together and, by its very nature, makes us human. And not just a baseline of our creatureliness, but an elevated humanity- us at our very best. The artist holds a certain “unity” within himself that is emotionally charged. The moment he is engaged in his work, the artist becomes a receptacle of emotional content received from without, combined with his emotional state- conscious or unconscious. This heightened receptivity prepares him to recognize content that is calling for expression.
This unity of vision, or what Delacroix called a “largeness of effect,” allows us to see the underlying harmony and uniqueness prevalent in ordinary objects as seen in nature. If a painting holds this unity in stasis, the painting expresses a feeling of recollection, the personal presence of both the artist and the viewer. My individual experience is felt, and with every flick of my brush, the viewer sees me at work, meditating on what I have discovered. I am present, like Whitman in Leaves of Grass, Song of Myself,
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.Walt Whitman
There is also a universal presence-ing, a primordial sense of “Being” that states, “it has always been so!” Although I am painting my momentary experience, I am merging it with a feeling of wholeness that encompasses more than right here, right now. This is a collective memory, a shared memory that we hold within ourselves where we can say, “yes, this is true,” without ever pointing to a direct, physical experience in time. This primordial sublime attunement, when held in play within the image, gives that image a visionary quality, a lasting taste on the tongue, an image suspended within our personal memory.
The artist holds this universal presence and their individual presence through their sensual application of paint, the calligraphic marks of technique. When done well, there exists a point of tension and a point of release within this approach. The point of tension might be the accurate rendering of form and color, a heightened feeling in the focal area. The point of release might be a vague dissolution of spatial area, a softness of focus, or a dissolving into mystery. Both aspects are held in balance through a give and take, creating movement and engagement, drawing the viewer in, and causing him to reflect.
Art is a representation of life in the form of a new and distinct potencey. The greatness of art is not in the display of knowledge, or in material accuracy, but in the distinctness with which it conveys the impressions of a personal vital force, that acts spontaneously, without fear or hesitation.Inness (1879)
Rockwell Kent embodied this ‘vital force,’ both physically through his arduous adventures in Alaska and Greenland and through his paintings that speak of man’s existential placement within a world of Neitzscheian potency. But what Kent struggled with was leaving the ill-defined as such, that which can’t be delineated outright.
I think the effervescent similitude required to hold together this point of tension and point of release is the most difficult to convey. To allow space for the undefinable, which Inness expressed as “that which hides itself that we may feel after it,” is contrary to our materialistic and scientific mentality. Allowing mystery to coincide with our lived experience, that which we can’t exactly put our finger on is immensely difficult. But as artists engaged in the practice of image making, it is our struggle to define, and yet not quite define, what we see, allowing space for a hidden presence. The story of this struggle becomes the painting itself, held as a gift, not a commodity, to the world.