15. Eyes Of The Unfeeling

Dear Sade,

The late Mark Rothko wrote: "A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eye of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky act to send it out into the world. How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent." The wisdom of Rothko's words echo in my own life as I witness the small percentage of people who truly love and appreciate art. Despondency sometimes inspires a need in me to place a large megaphone to the ears of those who refuse or fail to see the true beauty of art and to shout: " HEY, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING!" Why is it that art is viewed by many as the 'thing' children do to keep themselves occupied? Why is the artist often seen as some mystical, moody Bohemian who bathes infrequently, messes around with paint all day and rubs the public's face in his palette by charging exhorbitant unjustifiable prices for his 'creations'? John Ruskin, the critic, gave Whistler's painting 'Nocturnes' a bad review when he wrote: "I have never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler retaliated by sueing the critic for libel. When asked why he charged so much "for two days work" Whistler replied: "No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime." To the average man on the street art is not a decent, respectable occupation. To others art exists only as a result of knowing someone named Art.

It was nothing new when Whistler wrote: "There has never been an art-loving nation." It was nothing new when I saw a great painting evoke a septic reaction from a boorish, insensitive viewer and I felt the heat of anger rise up to the base of my neck. Throughout history people have condemned things they cannot understand. Art says: "Look to see, not just to look." The fickle public responds: "I am looking but I see nothing."

I know that I echo the views of many artists when I express these biting views, however there is a point to all of this: the artist who is planning to paint full-time must come to terms with the fact that, relatively speaking, the market for contemporary art is small and brittle. In the beginning they must be willing take small steps by pricing their work realistically and fairly, erring on the low side. Some artists are of the opinion that the 'Big Price' on their painting will sell it - in my experience this is not so. We tend to forget that artists' whose work commands a high price have often walked an arduous and gruelling road to get to the halcyon state of recognition. Anyone who thinks they're going to live in cloistered comfort simply by painting a couple of high-priced pictures are in for a surprise. Art requires that you win your spurs and thereafter the financial rewards will follow, although this is not a guarantee by any means.

Why do so many aspiring artists become casualties on the Art Highway? Simply, because art involves work and this to many is bad news. Remember the Talkers and the Doers and the Campers and the Hunters? Apart from action, art also calls for commitment. And commitment goes hand in hand with responsibility, obligation, artist-at-the-helm stuff - more bad news. So our dreamers resort to the two saddest words in the English language: "If only..."

Here are some I've heard:

If only...

I had more time
My job wasn't so demanding
I had more energy
Money wasn't so tight
I wasn't always so tired
I had a place to paint
I knew where to buy materials
Someone would teach me
The kids were older
I had more talent
I had some art training

In keeping with the gist of this letter, let's add another one: "If only there was a decent market for art." Sure, as I've mentioned, the market is limited but it is also select and lucrative and the only way you will find it is to have something really good to offer. The art-loving, art-buying people should be nurtured by the art-making people, for they are like a breath of life in a cultural wasteland. They buy our work and allow it to occupy a meaningful place in their lives. They become our unpaid agents by taking a piece of us into their homes, farms, offices, waiting rooms, restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, receptions, surgeries and holiday cottages - just to name a few places. The exposure we receive costs us nothing and it leads to interest and often action by others who see our work. Small orbits of interest are created around each of our paintings hanging in different places. This leads to additional sales - often cropping up at the least expected times. By being sought out we ultimately become sought after - sales beget sales thanks to the old ripple-effect.

So, after all of this, why am I an artist? I am an artist because I choose to be an artist. I accept the responsibility that comes with this calling. I have faith in my ability to make a good living doing something that I love. I believe my talent comes from the Living God, the Greatest Artist of All and for this I give Him thanks.

Love Gramps
March 1999