Plein Jane Air 2

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View From My Door

The view from my front door. Hazier and less blue than when it caught my eye.

Sending William off on his walk to school this morning I was struck, as I often am, by the contrast of shadowed trees against the morning sky. Something about the near-black of the leaves against the bright hammered blue always makes me think of painting. There's a reason I really like Magritte's "Empire of Light".

As William wandered off I realized I might still have usable paint from yesterday. In particular some ultramarine left on the palette. Ultramarine plus white equals sky!

Thus it was the morning found me standing in my sleepwear, barely able to focus my eyes with the sleep still in them, mixing colors and trying to capture what I'd seen.

Plein Jane Air

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I have just returned from my first session of plein air painting in years and years, and my first test of my new Plein Air Painting Kit which I only just put together.

My Plein Air Painting Kit

My Plein Air Painting Kit

I'm entirely uncertain of what I'm doing here. What's been happening in my head, since shortly before I shut down my studio in Brooklyn, is I've been thinking of plants and landscapes more. I'm not sure why except maybe the way the figure drawing sessions finally failed to work out left a bad taste in my mouth. Or maybe I'm just tired of naked people. Whatever it is, I've found myself looking at vegetation and things out in the world. Trees and vines and flowers. I've found myself turning over in my head how I'd paint these things. And I've been thinking of getting outside and painting out there.

To that end I took some things I had lying around the house and put them together with the remains of my studio to make my Plein Air Painting Kit. The box I got from my Uncle Louis from his artistic phase. He gave it to me years ago along with a bunch of elderly tubes of Grumbacher paint and some sad brushes. I retubed the paint last year or so figuring on giving it my father for his artistic phase, but the phase ended before I got them to him, so I decided to use them myself. So I put those old paints and my current Gamblin paints in the box. I cut down a piece of paneling to fit the slots in the box lid and taped a sheet of Canson Canva-Paper to it. Theoretically I could transport the still-wet oil painting in the box, held in place by the slots so it doesn't touch anything else. The box also has a nasty wooden palette -- Uncle Louis never cleaned it -- so I attached a pad of Canson palette paper to that and set it so that could lie over the paints in the box.

I worked out that I could clamp the box to a portable steel easel I've had forever and use it as a painting easel. Medium is in an old medicine bottle and OMS is in a Nalgene squirt bottle I had lying around. All this I set up outside my house with my quarter-ton chair, a folding chair capable of holding my great weight (most of those cheap portable chairs are a hundred pounds short of holding me safely).

The results were...well, I'm not too thrilled. But this was more a proof of concept, a test run. To see how well it works.

My Plein Air Painting Kit

My Plein Air Painting Kit

The biggest problem I had was composing the painting. I'd had an idea but somehow when I started blocking things in it didn't work out. Instead of being a sketch of "Retaining Wall with Hostas" (which are on top of the wall) it ended up as "Retaining Wall with Budding Chrysanthemums" (which are at the bottom of the wall). I'm going to need some practice, obviously, composing in plein air.

The second biggest problem was discovering that an enormous number of diesel vehicles, to say nothing of all the noisy muffler-free cars and motorcycles, goes down my street. I thought it was pretty quiet here, but clearly that's because I was never paying close attention.

Third biggest problem: Pedestrians, including people I know from the neighborhood. I need to paint some place far away next time.

More seriously: I found the whole thing very challenging. Color: How the heck do I get that shade of pinky russet? Paint: How did I get it on my elbow? Sitting: quarter-ton chair not so good for sitting forward and working. Legs fell asleep. I should maybe try standing but I wanted a different angle.

And finally, I need to make up my mind about what kind of painting I want to do. I keep pushing more towards realism, which I'm not really capable of, but for some reason when I try to be more like Van Gogh, more Neo-Impressionist, I feel as if I'm faking and my painting pulls back towards realism.

I guess we'll see how it goes next time.

My Plein Air Painting Kit

Drawing Cara

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I've shared a studio with Reilly for about a year and half now. The first year went really well but the past six months have been more problematic. I didn't even set foot in the damned place during August or September of 2009. And since then my attendance has been sporadic. My painting has suffered (which you can see for yourself) and of course I'm wasting the rent money.

I'd been avoiding seeing anyone else from any other studios in the building because I'd been feeling, not so much anti-social as, well, as if I was being a jerk when I spoke to people, so I decided I'd rather not talk to anyone. But one of my rare days in the studio, Sam, one of our newer studiomates, brought in a dozen donuts. By the end of the day I was the only one left and there were extra donuts. Well, you can't just leave donuts. For one thing old donuts aren't very good. For another thing, who knows what vermin lurks in the heart of the building? So, sighing, on my way out I brought the remaining donuts to Deep 6. I ended up talking to Dean and, as usual, complaining, which for some reason is what I do. This is why I'd been avoiding seeing anyone else. One of my complaints was how much trouble I'd had dragging my sorry ass into the studio on any kind of regular basis.

"What you need," Dean opined -- one of the things that makes it hard to complain to Dean is he always wants to help -- "what you need is something that will motivate you to come into the studio more often. What if you put together a figure drawing session?"

What if I did? I'd met Reilly at a figure drawing group, but in late 2008 I'd had a falling out with the organizer so I'd stopped going. Since then I missed figure drawing and wanted to do it again -- and tried one other group which didn't go too well -- so setting up my own seemed like a good idea. On the other hand, my follow-through is usually terrible. And I don't know too many art models, either.

But you know what? That's all whining. I can organize things. I'm a Boy Scout. I know how to do this stuff. Onward and upward!

Well, last Thursday night was the 2nd Avenue Figure Drawing Group's third session. Amazing. I held it together for three sessions in a row! We'll see how things continue.

I haven't posted my drawings from the first two sessions because, wow, they were bad. The second session was especially egregious. I'd found Mia, who I'd drawn before and totally loved, and I couldn't wait to draw her again, and then I showed up without any of my usual drawing implements. I ended up finding some really soft charcoal sticks I'd bought for some unknown purpose and trying to use those. By the time I was done I looked like Bert from Mary Poppins I'd smeared so much black crud all over my face and hands and pants.

Our most recent session featured a new model found by Joan, a lovely woman named Cara. Finally I have some drawings I can share.

I think the last two are kind of interesting because they're the same pose, but one is in Conté and one is using my brushpen.

And then, just because I'm here already, let me throw in a drawing I did of my daughter Corinne last night at her dance competition.

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #1, 2010, Conte on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #1, 2010, Conté on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #2, 2010, Conte on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #2, 2010, Conté on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #3, 2010, Conte on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #3, 2010, Conté on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #4, 2010, Conte on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #4, 2010, Conté on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #5, 2010, pencil on paper, 8.5x5.5 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #5, 2010, pencil on paper, 8.5x5.5 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #6, 2010, Conte on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #6, 2010, Conté on paper, 9x12 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #7, 2010, ink on paper, 8.5x5.5 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cara Drawing #7, 2010, ink on paper, 8.5x5.5 inches

Chris Rywalt, Portrait of Corinne at Dance, 2010, pencil on paper, 8.5x5.5 inches

Chris Rywalt, Portrait of Corinne at Dance, 2010, pencil on paper, 8.5x5.5 inches

Canvassing Continues

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Chris Rywalt, Untitled Oil #10, 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Untitled Oil #10, 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

First up, the final version of the painting I posted a little while ago. I added lines in. Reilly says he likes the colors, which aren't coming through as well as I'd like in the photo, but it doesn't matter since your monitor isn't calibrated either. Close enough.

Chris Rywalt, Hilary on Simon's Sofa (in progress), 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Hilary on Simon's Sofa (in progress), 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Hilary on Simon's Sofa (in progress), 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Hilary on Simon's Sofa (in progress), 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Hilary on Simon's Sofa (in progress), 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Hilary on Simon's Sofa (in progress), 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

I put together a figure drawing session at our studio. There have been two so far, actually, but I haven't scanned in any drawings from either of them yet. For our first session I got back in touch with the first model I worked with at Dorian's, Hilary Schmidt. She's as wonderful as I remembered her, lovely and full of good poses, and I got some nice drawings out of the session despite being rusty as all hell. I based my next painting on one of them, a very brief sketch. But I decided to try and do the background that was actually there, which is this awesome red fuzzy leopard print sofa Simon brought over which he originally bought in Austria. I'm thrilled with how the painting is going. I'm waiting for the spots to dry so I can fill in the whole sofa color.

I'd also like to note I looked forward for almost a whole year to having a studio with a window and now that I do I find it creates an insurmountable glare problem with all my photos, and occasionally while I'm painting, too.

Back on the Canvas

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Chris Rywalt, Untitled Oil #9, 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Untitled Oil #9, 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

It's been a long time since I painted on canvas. But I've been thinking of switching back because I can prepare canvas in my studio, whereas making panels -- which involves sawdust and sanding -- I can only do at home in my basement. But I'm not a big fan of the textured surface and I'm not very good at stretching my own canvas, which is of course the right way to do it.

When I went to the art store I planned on buying canvas and stretchers but couldn't quite bring myself to do it -- courage! -- and anyway these pre-made canvases were on sale. So I bought four. Never mind the results on two of them. But these two came out quite well.

The second one turned out a little like a Tom Wesselmann. Not sure why, since it's based on one of the first (if not the first) ink drawings I started back in 2002.

Chris Rywalt, Untitled Oil #10, 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Untitled Oil #10, 2010, oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

The plan was to outline the colors (reproducing the ink lines from my original drawing) but I'm not sure I will. I kind of like it like this.

When Georgia Met Henri

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I dreamed last night that Georgia O'Keeffe and Henri Matisse met. In my dream they were waiting for a seminar kind of thing to begin, and while they were waiting, they drew portraits of each other. In my dream, for a moment, I was Matisse drawing an elegant sketch of Georgia with her hat on.

There's no reason why the two couldn't have met, I suppose, aside from the fact that they lived a few thousand miles away from each other. I don't think Henri ever visited America and of course Georgia spent most of her life in New Mexico. But they could have met, maybe.

The dream reminded me -- along with my having made it to the studio twice since last week -- that I haven't posted my latest paintings. I guess I'm just not thrilled with them. In fact, at the end of September, when I returned to my studio after having been absent since early July, I wrote the following message to my studio mates:

Subject: Sorry About Ugliness

I haven't been in, as you both know, in a couple of months. Upon arriving in my studio I was faced with the last two paintings I completed way back when. I'd forgotten I'd painted them.

I'd like to take this moment to apologize for making you look at those ugly-ass pieces of crap for the past two months. Wow, those were a couple of sucky paintings. Really, no one should have had to see them once, let alone for weeks.

One of the two paintings to which I referred I've already begun to paint over, although that's going pretty badly, too, so I may end up sanding down the whole shebang. I hate wasting paint like that, but there you go. The other one I've decided to keep for now. I'm not sure why. I guess there are some things I like about it, although there are some things that are pretty terrible, too. What I was trying to do was -- well, I'd been looking over a large, well-printed book of Van Gogh reproductions I have here, and I decided to try a more impasto, wildly colored kind of thing, and...well, see for yourself.

Chris Rywalt, Undressing, 2009, oil on panel, 24x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Undressing, 2009, oil on panel, 24x24 inches

I like the figure, she's so sweet and vulnerable, or anyway seems so to me. I don't like the dresser behind her which appears to be molded out of dogshit. Then again our dresser really is that color. For some reason in real life it doesn't look like dogshit. Not that it looks, you know, good or anything, but it doesn't look that bad.

The next three paintings I've done since my return in September. I'm out of panels again. I'm not really thrilled with these, either, although She's Tired has really grown on me as I've seen it a few more times. I like the colors.

Chris Rywalt, She's Tired, 2009, oil on panel, 24x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, She's Tired, 2009, oil on panel, 24x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, By the Bed, 2009, oil on panel, 24x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, By the Bed, 2009, oil on panel, 24x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Dawn Brushing Her Hair, 2009, oil on panel, 24x48 inches

Chris Rywalt, Dawn Brushing Her Hair, 2009, oil on panel, 24x48 inches

West Prize 2009

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Once again this year I'm applying for the West Prize. I didn't win last year, but I was a finalist in the Christi Naked competition, so what the heck.

This year the West Prize site allows star ratings. Visitors can rate any or all of the artists applying. Everyone starts out with the default three stars (very generous, I think). You can see I've got only one star.

This upsets me less than I expected. I thought I'd be crushed but it turns out I don't care that much. I mean, I care enough to check back every day, but not so much that I'm devastated by my low rating. Turns out it's easy for me to rationalize it. I figure most people are only giving high ratings to their friends and relatives and low ratings to anyone making work they hate for ideological reasons. I further figure that the kind of work I do is the kind a lot of artists would hate for ideological reasons. It goes without saying that I consider those people jealous, incompetent nincompoops. So clearly the poor rating of my work indicates that it's actually fantastic.

Or something like that. When my mind works that way, it worries me a bit.

Incidentally, do not consider this a plea for anyone to go and give me a higher rating. Don't worry about it. It's not important.

Smell Me

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I'm painting so fast I can't keep up with panels. I still can't figure out if this is a problem or not. Judging by a book I have here with a range of reproductions of good old Vinny Van Gogh's work, he finished at least four paintings in the last month of his life, which is about the same as my rate. He's known for about 900 paintings and he painted for nine years, which works out to a painting, on average, every 3.65 days. So clearly speed and quality aren't necessarily related. But I still don't know if I should be taking longer. I mean, I'm not Van Gogh. I'm not even Kirk Douglas.

Desperate for surfaces on which to apply paint, I stopped at Soho Art Materials on my way in last week. Soho Art has the benefit of being close to the A train stop on Canal Street. There I picked up four Mona Lisa pre-gessoed panels from Speedball. They have the benefit of being really, really cheap.

I've used Ampersand's Gessobord. One of things I liked about it is the surface, which allows me to wipe off the paint, leaving a really lovely texture. Good for skin, for what I'm doing. The Speedball panels completely lack this texture. In fact they have virtually no tooth at all. It's like painting on smooth plastic. Which is actually what you're doing, I guess.

The important thing about the panels, though, was that they were something I could slap paint on. So the texture wasn't a big deal. Because I really am out of panels. It's so bad, I broke down and painted over a partially finished painting that wasn't going well -- and if you've ever read this blog before, you know how bad it has to be before I'll paint over it. It has to be really bad.

This was really bad. Because I have no shame -- not between us, you and I, you know me too well -- I'm going to reproduce my lousy painting here. It doesn't happen often, but every now and then I'll bring home a photo of what I'm working on and show it to my supportive, loving wife Dawn, and she'll say, "Oh my god that's awful." And when she says that, usually she's right. Sometimes there are things I like about it -- there are things I liked about this -- but, really, when she says that, she's right, it's a horrible painting with no redeeming qualities.

Chris Rywalt, Subway Tiles (in progress), 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Subway Tiles (in progress), 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Subway Tiles (in progress), 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Subway Tiles (in progress), 2009, oil on panel

I had an idea for this, something using techniques I'd seen in Greek icons, sort of, and after these two photos and some drying time, I started and.... Let's just say plan failed. Miserably. If these look bad, believe me when I say it got much, much worse.

Chris Rywalt, Night in the Bedroom, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Night in the Bedroom, 2009, oil on panel

So I wiped off as much as I could using OMS and started over entirely, and got Night in the Bedroom. The whole painting uses Gamblin's Torrit Grey, tubes of which are given away with every Gamblin purchase when the salespeople remember. The paint is made from the air filters in the Gamblin factory, so it contains every pigment all at once and is different each year. I have a bunch of tubes. Theoretically you can use Torrit Grey, white, and black and make a value painting for the Gamblin Torrit Grey contest. I blew it by using a small amount of non-white-or-black paint in the skin tone and hair color. But mostly I'm playing with value here.

The rest of these are on the Speedball panels. At a certain point you can't add paint, only push it around, and if you use a stiff bristle brush half the time you're scraping paint off the panel instead of putting it on. But the effect can be kind of interesting.

Chris Rywalt, A Lock of Hair, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, A Lock of Hair, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Femme Nus, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Femme Nus (yes, I know it's bad French), 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, On the Sofa, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, On the Sofa, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, The Cinnamon Peeler, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, The Cinnamon Peeler, 2009, oil on panel

I'm deeply uncertain about the last one, The Cinnamon Peeler. I was thinking of the reading by Tom O'Bedlam of Michael Ondaatje's poem of the same name. But I don't think I managed to get across what I wanted; as I finished the painting and stepped back Reilly was mid-sentence and turned, stopped dead, and then finally said, "That is one disturbing painting." Disturbing wasn't at all what I was aiming for.

On the other, um, hand, Dawn said they were some of the best hands I'd ever painted. She always picks on me for how I paint hands, which I do the way I do because I'm sort of purposely trying not to give a crap about them, not to be too precious, and I'm really good at hands when I want to be. So I'm kind of trying not to be good at them, which sounds stupid now that I wrote it out like that.

Anyway. There it is.

Incidentally, I figured out that the hideous glare on all my paintings in my latest photos is from the sun streaming in the windows of my nice new studio. Damned windows. Damned sunlight.

Crawling from the Slime

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About ten days ago as I write this, someone sent me e-mail in response to my earlier post here and blew my mind. I was thinking of writing the whole exchange up as a post, and I may one day do that, but in the meantime I just wanted to say that the discussion altered some of my approach to my paintings. In particular I'm thinking more about Munsell values across the whole work.

But before we get into the studio, we have to walk from the subway over the Ninth Street Drawbridge. It's not the most scenic route over the Gowanus Canal -- I'm no Gowanus expert but I'd have to vote for the "boardwalk" crossing up at Carroll Street -- but it's got a lovely view of the expressway and the surface of the canal itself. Some days the water is coated with a scum of oil and other scary stuff which is, in one way, absolutely horrifying; and yet it's also visually beautiful. When the water is calm it looks almost like colored glass has shattered on the surface.

Gowanus Canal, 2009

Gowanus Canal, 2009.

Gowanus Canal, 2009

Gowanus Canal, 2009.

Gowanus Canal, 2009

Gowanus Canal, 2009.

You can also see the giant Lowe's sign that brings this fair city light. It's okay if it clutters up the view: They put in that little promenade down on the left in the photo. Over on the right you can see a barge waiting to be filled up with construction debris, or maybe some kind of recyclable stuff. A lot of people talk about cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, and it's a great idea, but it's going to be really hard, because unlike other industrial waterways which have fallen into disuse on a large scale -- like the Hudson or the Passaic -- it's a working body of water.

Gowanus Canal, 2009

Gowanus Canal, 2009.

Okay, so we've walked over the canal, we've passed Tonky's sign, we're in my studio. And what do we see? Why, my latest paintings, of course.

I apologize for the unimaginative titles. I mean, "Reclining Nude"? Really? But I'm not feeling creatively titular at the moment. And, as usual, I forgot the sizes.

Chris Rywalt, Blue and Red Nude, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Blue and Red Nude, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Black and Blue, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Black and Blue, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Tiny Yellow and Green Nude, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Tiny Yellow and Green Nude, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Spanish Teacher, 2009, oil on panel

Chris Rywalt, Spanish Teacher, 2009, oil on panel

I'm most happy with "Reclining Nude" despite the lousy generic title. If I get around to writing it up, the e-mail lesson I received will make it clear, but the short version is, I learned that some of my more successful paintings have a range of values; and similar, but unsuccessful, ones, are made up of paints very close in value. I decided to make use of this in mixing my colors, and this is the best result so far. (Also note use of the Golden Section.)

Chris Rywalt, Reclining Nude (in progress), 2009, oil on panel, 48x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Reclining Nude (in progress), 2009, oil on panel, 48x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Reclining Nude (in progress), 2009, oil on panel, 48x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Reclining Nude (in progress), 2009, oil on panel, 48x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Reclining Nude, 2009, oil on panel, 48x24 inches

Chris Rywalt, Reclining Nude, 2009, oil on panel, 48x24 inches

Method, Madness

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I mentioned in a previous post that I've been following the Mark Kostabi Method for the past three years. I decided recently that it was taking too long, or maybe that I'm not applying the Method properly. I decided I should do what people always advise when trying to break into any business: Be methodical and persistent.

So I've taken it upon myself to visit every gallery I can, starting with Chelsea and then moving on to the Lower East Side and maybe Williamsburg. And I'm only limiting myself to those areas because I have to draw the line somewhere. I went to Chelsea Art Galleries Dot Com where you can helpfully find a list of every art gallery in New York City, just about, and get the list by street address.

It's a very long list. There are over three hundred listed galleries in Chelsea alone.

I started going down the list last Tuesday. It is with a heavy heart and very weary feet (to say nothing of calves, knees, thighs, ass and back) that I type this on a rainy Thursday. (I was supposed to go back out today but I'm really too tired. Also, it's raining. Did I mention that?)

My heart is heavy because I visited somewhere around forty galleries in one day and I realized something: There are a lot of galleries showing a lot of art.

When I said this to my long-suffering wife Dawn, she said, "But isn't that a good thing? Doesn't that mean there are plenty of places to show your art?"

Maybe. But what it means to me is this: The art world is enormous. Absolutely burgeoning with artists being shown by galleries. And in all of that I'm supposed to think I can find a dealer who can somehow convince enough buyers to purchase my art so I can make a living. How is that even possible? There simply cannot be enough art customers to make a dent in the market. There's simply too much supply and it's impossible there's enough demand. Impossible.

Even if I were confident that I'm the world's greatest artist, I'd have to be daunted by the numbers. And I'm not confident in that. There's no way for me to be confident in that. In fact I'm fairly sure now that I will never be confident in that. Because how can one tell if one's a good artist?

How do you determine if an artist is any good? Over at Franklin's Art Blog the commenters all seem pretty clear on this, but to me they're all ultimately dancing around the final analysis. Because they talk about humbling yourself to the demands of your medium, they talk about work and discipline. Work hard and you will be rewarded.

But what's working hard in art, in painting? What's it look like? When I was a computer programmer, I knew what working hard was like in my profession. You tried to take what my professor Derek Morris called the customer's "mumble mumble" and turn it into logical structures. You guessed at how long it would take you to figure out what the customer wanted and make it for them. You wrote code and designed data structures and you made sure you had it done by the date you promised it. If your programs didn't work, if you were late, if your work was unsatisfactory, you tried harder next time.

Likewise, when my father was an auto mechanic, I saw what hard work was. You figured out what was wrong with something and you fixed it. In a way, that was a lot like computer programming. But you also pulled wrenches and lifted heavy things and stretched and squeezed and banged your knuckles a lot. You finished jobs by the date you'd promised. You stayed late if you had to and you went in early to get the work done. Working hard had a pretty clear definition.

But what's working hard in painting? Everyone agrees you can go to the studio every day and paint a painting and spend months and months on just one and still end up with a crappy painting. You can practice and gain skills, maybe, but even those are questionable: What's skill in painting? Color matching? Representation? Grasp of the Munsell value scale? Composition?

My old Glee Club director, Professor William F. Ondrick, always liked to say to us during practice, "There's no substitute for the work, not even genius." The work there was clear, too: Come in on time, follow the director, get the notes right. Practice pracitce practice. We'd spend hours plugging, going over tricky phrases to make sure we had the timing and inflection just right.

I won't dispute the value of practice. Of work in that sense. But it doesn't lead inexorably to goodness, does it? To quality? No, it doesn't. You can get better but are you really good? If you're a computer programmer or an auto mechanic, you can answer that question. If you're a singer in a Glee Club, well, it's harder but there's still not much wiggle room (I was never very good myself). But if you're an artist?

The only real way to tell if you're any good as an artist is to have lots of people see your work and decide, for themselves, if it's any good. If enough people think you're good, then you are. How many is enough? My thinking: More than will see it in your lifetime. The culture decides what's valuable, what isn't, and it takes a long time for those decisions to be made. In the meantime, though, you can get an idea, maybe. Maybe enough of an idea to sustain you while you're alive. Maybe not. But it's all there is.

So the main thing, for an artist, is to find an audience. To get people to look at your work and decide for themselves if you're any good. That's what it's all about, then: Finding that audience. Getting the work out there. Getting it seen. Communication.

And how is that possible today?

It works for some artists. What makes them different? Which is like asking, what's success? Just a few quick names off the top of my head, living artists who are well known: Chuck Close, Elizabeth Peyton, Eric Fischl. Why them and not anyone else?

Do they work harder than other artists?

Are they better than other artists?

Is it luck? Is it persistence? Is it consistency? Happenstance? Magic?

Out of the masses they emerge. They've been chosen. By whom? In what way? Is there something to be done here? Is it all just arbitrary?

With all that's going on how could I possibly get noticed?

I've been going to galleries in Chelsea for three years and I haven't even set foot in a third of them. My journey on Tuesday made it clear to me it's going to be extremely difficult for one person even briefly to visit every single gallery. And that's just one neighborhood in one city on the planet. There are only about 2 million households in the United States with an annual income over $250,000. That's approximately the fine art market right there. You do the math.

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