Catch–23

Lost In Thought 48 x 42 M. Cootsona

Lost In Thought 48 x 42 M. Cootsona

“Pears seem to be selling really well. I think I’ll paint some pears.”

“Susie Smith sells figures really well. I think I’ll paint some figures.”

“My gallery liked the blue painting really well. I’d better start painting more blue paintings.”

“Plein air paintings are hot. Maybe I should start painting landscapes.”

“Everyone likes dogs. I should start painting animal portraits.”

Chasing the illusive “what-will-sell-best painting” is a trap. A giant sinkhole trap.  Most of us who sell our work have had a glimpse of this hole. The “pear line” is mine. When I was participating in Open Studios regularly I sold a lot of still lives. One year I thought, “Pears sell great, I’ll paint some more pears.”  Guess what paintings didn’t sell?

Artists need to create what is authentic to them.

“How the heck do I do that?” you ask.

The best way to think of this challenge is, “What would I paint if no one would see it?” Create the piece that just hangs on your wall for you and no one else. Thinking of my work as solely mine is the best way I’ve found to work towards an authentic voice. Whenever I have painted a painting “just for me” it is the one that everyone wants; the one that I could sell ten of.  Which, of course, is ironic, because once you begin to try and re-create a similar painting for sales purposes, you will be back at the edge of the infamous hole.

Now, this all sounds a bit like Catch-22 if you are, indeed, creating work that you sell. You are not just hanging these works in a sealed-up closet, you are trying to earn an income darn it. Here’s the “catch”: If you are truly interested in what you are creating you are not at the edge of the trap. In other words, if you are interested in creating the work regardless of if it will make you money, then you are on solid ground. You are remaining authentic. Let’s call it Catch-23.

This may all sound a bit controversial, and like I am describing “selling out,” but what I am speaking of is more subtle, and I don’t actually believe in selling out. If you need to paint an image in order to survive, then go for it. If you need to take a commission that you would rather not take, but it will pay your rent, which may not have been paid otherwise, for heaven’s sake take it and be grateful. Many people remain authentic while selling their art. Michelangelo did just that, and quite frankly, created some pretty nice commissions. The concept of “selling out” is for people who are not truly trying to make a living with their art, and for late night philosophy discussions in the dorm room. (OK, and maybe Jeff Koons, but that is his whole point! Selling out is actually his authentic voice!!! Uhmmm, and maybe the topic for a separate blog post.)

I’m describing authenticity while you are painting daily, developing your voice and your art and trying to decide what to paint. If you are painting pears because you love pears, great! Likewise with figures, blue paintings, plein air, etc. The point is to find what inspires and excites you and that energy is what people will perceive in your work. The ENERGY is what sells a painting. NOT the subject matter. It’s the difference between a nice, well-done, competent painting and one that jumps off the wall. The authenticity creates the energy, and visa versa. Catch-23. Finding what it is that inspires you can be, admittedly, easier said than done, which is why I often go back to the nice, big empty wall in my dining room. What do I want to see “just for me” on that wall today?

Find that wall in your home where you can imagine a painting that no one will see. Now go create that painting!

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15 Responses to Catch–23

  1. This is certainly my historical art journey. I always felt like I was chasing the wind.
    I love painting and I cannot stop..I have ask myself why…why do I do this. One of my artist friends and I have this conversation about once per month. Usually after another session of setting up an exhibit, and then 2 months later bringing every single painting back home with a few more scrapes and scratches as well as chunks missing from corners of frames and frame edges.
    Frequently told stories of some was interested in your painting if only you had of…….

    Oh then there it is another challenge to go paint that version…which also may never sale : )

    year after year, decade after decade, I still paint paint paint..finally I have come to the conclusion that I was borne to create, it is in my dna.

  2. Cilla says:

    Dear Melinda, loved your blog, been only painting 4 years and no matter what I paint I keep coming back to birds. I love to paint birds, also have been doing some portraits and really happy with them too. Cilla.

  3. Madison Briggs says:

    As a fellow artist, I frankly love your writing and your insight, and your art rocks, too. I don’t know how I stumbled on this blog, but I am glad I did! Thanks for “keeping the faith” so creatively!

  4. Jeff says:

    This is a great blog post, Melinda. Thanks for what you are doing for us. I recently began painting what is truly authentic to me instead of painting what is popular. It’s scary territory…but very exciting too. I hope to attend one of your workshops sometime! Thanks again.

    • Jeff! Thank you so much for your nice comment. I’m sorry it took me so very long to respond! WP is supposed to alert me when people have commented and that didn’t happen for some reason. I just saw your comment right now. I am very excited for you painting what is authentic. It can be a bit scary and it is definitely hard work. But we find our way in the doing. Keep me posted!!! Best wishes to you.

  5. Lucy Chen says:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, Melinda. I only wish you can find the time to blog more often to share your insights and enlighten us :-)

    Being passionate about our art is so important, that’s the life blood! If we aren’t passionate about it, we may well be zombies, or a banker (haha, for I was one).

    Speaking of plein air and pears, I have fallen in love with plein air and painting flowers! For flowers are beautiful life models that cost very little, and the challenge of painting plein air is quite addictive!

    • Thank you Lucy!!! I am so sorry it took so long for me to respond! WP did not notify me that there were comments on my blog! I am just now reading this. I LOVE still lives! And, BTW, I love painting pears. They are like little individual people. Keep me posted on your work as always.

  6. john ediger says:

    Well put indeed!! I just finished Silicon Valley Open Studios and was thinking ” what could I paint that would sell”! Then I read this! Thank you , this was very enlightening!!

    John

    • HI John! You may be seeing that I didn’t get the notice from WP about your comment. I’m so sorry to respond so late. How did Open Studios go for you? I saw some of your work on FB and it was very strong. Keep me posted.

  7. Phyllis says:

    Such a helpful, interesting and enjoyable blog.
    Thanks Melinda x

    • Thank you Phyllis!! Your new tennis shoe painting would sell, BTW. The conundrum…how do you paint freely like that on a canvas or piece of paper? Painting for yourself…Keep sending me work. You are doing great!

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