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Jul 10, 2010

The Edict of 'Content is King'...

As most of you know I'm back from Telluride. Rather than post my work all at once I thought I upload one painting at a time, and maybe talk about them a little as I do.

Telluride is an amazing place. The town itself has a lot of quirkiness, color, and charm, and it hasn't been completely "Aspen-ized" yet. The locals are proud of that fact. There is still a lot of grit to the town, a funky hippie-with-a-trust-fund, or I'll-work-three-jobs-to-keep-living-here quality to the place, and a 21st Century Lone Ranger or two walking the streets, as exemplified by "Kitsy" and a few others characters I ran into.

Anyway, right after I got settled I met a few of the other plein air artists and the organizers who've done this festival from year one and was bluntly told what will sell over the coming weekend will be street vignettes and alley ways and not the pure landscapes you find outside of town. This was difficult for me to accept because I came to paint the mountains, the aspen, and big rock. Not flags, flower boxes, Victorians, and Main Street. Admittedly, all of that is cool stuff but it wasn't what I flew out to Colorado to paint.

But hey, I dutifully knocked out a some street scenes and discovered those folks were right. Every town painting sold.

In other words, it was another demonstration of the age old artistic axiom, "Content is King".

Here is my first street scene. The first painting of the week, Sunday afternoon:

Back Alley Way, Telluride, Colorado
9 x 12 | oil on panel

This a painting of the back alley behind the Sheridan Opera House and you can see Ingram Falls tumbling down the far wall of the box canyon and the tail end of the light hitting the top peak. (I tried to sneak in some sort of geological reference in all my street scenes during the week, if only for me.) This was the first sale on Saturday, and it combined the two things which were stressed: street scenes and alley ways.

It is a good painting regardless, but clearly the double-whammy of the content pushed the sale.

However, at some point an artist has to ask themselves who it is they are painting for. Am I painting  for others or am I painting for me? At this point I was genuinely interested in the subject -- that particular alley way -- so I was painting for myself. But towards the end of the week I had lost interest in street scenes and was painting for other people and not for myself. (This is how we ended up with "Kitsy at the New Sheridan" on Friday. I could not see myself knocking out one more street scene and wanted a break.)

The thing, however, is that while content may be king no formula provides a a guarantee. You can load the dice but you still can't predict the roll. No established subject will guarantee a sale. There was another artist at the festival, an experienced painter whom I admire very much and is known for his Telluride alley ways -- and it important to also point out he is a fine painter of other subjects as well -- who had trouble selling his street scenes this year. I won't mention his name because his off year had nothing to do with the quality of the work or pricing. (I like his paintings so much I once considered taking a workshop from him a couple of years ago.) It's just that something undefinable happened this year.

This demonstrates that doing these shows will always remain a risk because it takes a serious investment on the part of most artists to show and paint, unless the they happen to live in the area. (Later post coming on that topic.)  In reality, very few artists can expect to make a living traveling the plein air circuit, and there are many other good reasons for going anyway, beyond chasing the sale. But you want to go home at having least broken even. (And of course, my artist-friend did manage to break even, even a little ahead, thank goodness. I also admired his ability to accept the situation. A true man of experience.)

So when you find yourself looking at a painting in an exhibition give some thought as to why the artist chose the subject and why he or she decided it was worth framing and hanging on the wall. The reason may be complicated and multi-purpose, but if the subject doesn't immediately engage you or spin your beanie try looking at it a little while longer to see if your feelings change. They just might.

After all, the artist looked at that subject for much longer than you have and there must be some reason why this is so. At least I hope so . . .


1 reader comments:

Suzanne said...

Lovely painting! I liked seeing all of what you captured in your Alley Way. I enjoyed reading the Content is King story. Isn't that what came up over a breakfast, with the thought of forcusing on the art and putting our marketing feelings aside ? :-)