process

"Aqueous Dream"

Several months ago, I was asked to create a large installation piece of art for a design showroom in Oklahoma City (30A Home). The place is awesome and amazing and they are displaying one other installation piece (multiple panel art) and several single abstract paintings of mine already.

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This piece was an unexpected challenge. Ha! I have found that the term “unexpected” is usually applied to all my abstract paintings because they seem to have a mind of their own. I tell visitors to my art studio that painting an abstract painting is a bit like raising a teenager: they have their own mind and don’t like to be forced to conform to YOUR will. They have their own plan. It sounds almost metaphysical (sorry) but my job as a painter is to figure out what each abstract paintings “wants” to become. Landscape paintings are totally different. They’re like the super agreeable and responsible first born kid. An abstract piece is, uh….not like that. This particular abstract installation was a particularly challenging painting, in that I painted it twice. I originally had my own idea regarding what I wanted it to look like. So I spent several weeks applying paint and not liking it. So I worked on it more and arm wrestled it into compliance…and..then…

It won. It did not want to be what I wanted it to be. So I killed it. (It’s okay. It’s just a painting. I’m anthropomorphizing it.) So in a fit of rage (not really, but it makes a great story), I covered over every single panel with fresh aluminum leaf and…begun again.

This time, I just picked a color palette and let it have it’s say. And oh my gosh, even after the very first then application of paint, I was so glad I started over. I loved it. There’s got to be a life lesson here. I should write a parenting book I think. Anyway, after several more weeks of simply “listening” to what this piece wanted and complying; gently coercing it to my will here and there JUST A BIT, it turned into something I am so proud of. Wooo Hooo!

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SURVEY: GLOSSY OR SATIN

Even before I became a full-time oil painter in Asheville's River Arts District, I was developing a unique way to create a painting using dimension, both in the build-up of the composition and in the finish (which has mostly been using a thick, high-gloss, solar-resistant resin). In fact at this point, I think I'm probably known for that "shiny" resin finish. I like it a lot. It allows me to embed flecks of gold that are essentially "floating" above the surface of the actual painting.

That said, my largest commissions over the last couple of years have been with a satin varnish finish, which leaves all the texture visible (and touchable) and is not nearly as reflective as the high gloss resin. And I'm really liking the results of that finish as well.

Lately, I have more and more people asking about the satin finish and so I'm thinking I need to listen.

And so I'm asking for your brutally honest opinion:

Would you suggest I continue to produce paintings with a high gloss resin finish or would you honestly prefer a softer finish that leaves more of the texture showing and is much less reflective? You won't hurt my feelings either way and on the contrary, you'll really help me decide what direction I need to go now.  (SEE PHOTOS BELOW FOR EXAMPLES OF BOTH)

 HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

 SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

So, what do you think? One or the other, some of both? Mostly one, some of the other? I'm really open to listening. If you could leave your opinion below (so they're all consolidated in one place), that would really be appreciated! Thank you!

A Word About Accolades

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Since it's Sunday and my "day of rest" in which I can enjoy some down time to think and relax, I was mulling over this past week at my art studio. There were moments of listening to critique and moments of listening to praise. I've written previous blogs about some of the critique artists can get, and learning how to gracefully listen to that critique (without punching someone) is a useful skill. But there is one skill infinitely more important to master and that is how to deal with praise. Not dealing with praise correctly, I think, can destroy creativity and ruin a life and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that. I'm speaking from personal experience. 

When I was a kid, art was the only thing I did well. I was teased a lot and easily crumbled emotionally. But I found that if I created something artistically, the same people that teased me earlier would praise me. So...I wanted to be the best at art. And the insidious thing about it was that this determination was unrecognized by me (or anyone else) as being dangerous at all. What's wrong with wanting to be really great at something? We praise people who have grit like that. But I didn't just want to be great. I wanted to be greatest. And because I probably had some natural abilities in art, and because I applied myself to the extreme to creative endeavors, I was consistently the best artist in all my school classes and life was sweet. Until...

When I entered high school, I met a guy that toppled me from my throne: John Howarth. John was a nice guy and popular. But I kept my distance. I did not like John Howarth, because he ruined life for me. He was the first person I met that was a much better artist than I was, and for the next three years, I was forced to deal with being "second best" (which to me, felt like utter failure).

Thankfully, I can honestly say I learned something from that whole experience. I learned that praise is addictive. It's nice but the more you get, the more you need. It's never enough. I learned that I was USING my art and my abilities to create and bolster a sometimes sagging self image. But I came to believe that creative ability was not given to me as a means to an end. I firmly believe that art is a joy in and of itself. It is the gift, not the means to the gift. And interestingly enough, I can look back at my high school years and the emotional-spiritual processing going on in me and can see that that was a real turning point for me, and my creativity radically increased. When I stopped using art to get attention and "be someone" and simply enjoyed art, creativity opened almost unbidden, like a flower in my hand.

So, I feel sorry for people who are criticized. Unasked for critique especially is difficult to hear and not become instantly defensive. But I'm terrified of people who can't bear to not be "the best". I've been nearly destroyed by people like that. But I'm probably scared of them because I was just like that, so it's like looking in a mirror if I can be honest (and it's my blog, so that's my prerogative). They say that the things that bug you the most about someone else are probably your own weakest areas. I have found that to be true.

So for what it's worth, here's some advice:

If you're criticized for something you do, don't let criticism crush you. Listen to it. I mean, there may be some helpful nuggets of truth mixed in with all the garbage, so sort out the critique like someone sifting through a latrine for a wedding ring dropped into it.

If you're praised for something you do, just enjoy the praise for what it is in the moment it's given. Don't live off it or for it, and don't make adulation and attention that thing you need to base your life on. Personally, I need something much more stable and eternal for something that important. That's just my opinion. Happy Sunday!

World View #7: New Age Pantheism

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I've been looking at the major World Views of western civilization and have briefly described the affect those world views had on society in general and art in specific. This is because, as an artist in Asheville's River Arts District, I see the effects and influences of world views every day as I enter into conversations with people visiting my art studio / gallery. So personally, I find all this fascinating because it helps me know how to interpret the art I see around me, not just in Asheville but in every art museum and art gallery I visit.

In discussing this subject, I left off with the world view commonly referred to as "Modernism". A modernist would look at technology and design, and assume that the problems of mankind could be addressed and solved with the tools technology brings to us, thereby negating a need for a "higher power" to "take care of us" (so to speak).  At the turn of the 20th century, society in general was quite optimistic about the many benefits the industrial revolution had been bringing to society, and many people were convinced that the "golden age" was unfolding before them. Technology and design were seen as finally creating a world of peace and prosperity that we've always longed for. That infatuation with this new "faith" ended abruptly however when the world plunged into the first World War, a massive economic depression, and then the second World War.

And so, by the 1960's, society went shopping for another world view, and the return to spirituality was at the core.  Enter New Age Pantheism.

Pantheism was an attempt for a society which was "weaned" (as it were) on Judeo-Christian assumptions (see my blog on theism) to return to spirituality, but return in a way divorced from the assumptions theism espoused. For instance, New Age Pantheism taught: 

All of creation is One.  

Since all is One, all is god.

We are god.

Morality was viewed in terms of gray, not black and white. So typically, if you ask a New Age Pantheist "is this or that right? the answer would be, "well, is it right to you?"

In the 1960's, we see a society disillusioned with organized religion but still hungering for all things spiritual. For a couple hundred years, it was "old fashioned" to admit this spiritual longing if you were an academic elite, but now, people were "talking faith" once again.

So with the birth of New Age Pantheism, we see we see a return to the “spiritual” once again (albeit a decidedly "eastern" form) and we see people unashamed to talk about their faith. And by faith, I can not use the "western" traditional view of faith (a faith based on an agreed upon, established and authoritative "truth"). To a New Age Pantheist, faith is "believing something is true even if there is no evidence that it is objectively true. Faith makes it true for you." And so, once again, you heard people speaking of "the miraculous" and that there was more to reality than just the material world.

As far as the effect on the arts, consider the poem “Life's Journey” by Joy Light

You are the earth, and I the sea,
You hold and nurture me
While I play restless in your arms.
The sun warms and lifts me from your gentle touch,
Into the vast oceans of the universe,
Where I dart and fly in my human race with time and space,
Until in the light I blend,
Misty eyed with nature I transcend,
Like a raindrop drifting in the wind,
Then touching softly your arms again,
Knowing now life never ends,
Feeling now the peace within
.

Although the tenets and assumptions of New Age Pantheism felt "new" to those in western civilization, they actually were borrowed directly from Hinduism and Buddhism and packaged in a way that would be palatable to the western mind.  So at this point in history, we had a milieu of world views competing for the minds of people. If you went to a university in 1965, you'd be taught naturalism in your science class, nihilism in your philosophy class, pass some Hari Krishna's in the hallway, and get lectured by your modernist parents about keeping your grades up so you can get a good job. This created a western society with very little "common" assumptions about truth, morality and spirituality. And THAT discord leads us to the last world view we will discuss next time: Post Modernism.

"Trigger Warning"

St.Claire mountain landscape (full view)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 1)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 2)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 3)

After the school shootings at Parkland, Florida and after watching a horrid video (that hit really close to home) showing a black man being totally brutalized by a local white police officer, several of my artist friends were talking and trying to process our grief and rage. This should not be normal. None of this should be normal. As the conversation progressed, we decided we needed to use our artistic voice to challenge our society to call that society to think and reason. This has turned into a multi-venue exhibition of art called "Trigger Warning".

As I said in my earlier blog about this, I wondered what I could do (as a landscape painter) to say something strong about this whole subject (because that's what it deserves). I really felt completely perplexed. But then in the early hours of the morning, the idea regarding what I had to do came to me.

Rather than wax on about what I wanted to say with this, I would like very much to know how it affects you, the reader/viewer. I have not titled this piece. What would you title it? Does this piece bring up any thoughts, emotions or questions? I'd really, seriously like to know. This was one of the most difficult paintings I've ever done (knowing what I was going to do to it to make it say what I wanted it to say). I would be very curious what exactly it's saying to you. Sincere thanks!

World View #2: Deism

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In this blog series, I'm looking back through history and tracing the effects of societal world views upon art.  By way of reminder, a "world view" is a fancy term (use it this week and impress your friends!) that simply refers to the "comprehensive conception of the world and how this world works", i.e. our basic assumptions about life. I think this is interesting and helpful because understanding the mind of an artist greatly helps us interpret (and maybe even enjoy) his or her artwork, and that is the point of this blog.

So in my last blog, I talked about theism, the dominant world view in Western Civilization until about the 17th century. Around that period of time, the mindset of the average European peasant was fixed in theism and the mindset of the average European academic was fixed in skepticism.  This was the time of the Enlightenment, when the West examined theistic explanations for why things are the way they are, collectively scratching societal heads wondering "WHY do we believe all this stuff?"  So you really had two basic camps: the religiously devout and the skeptics, and in between both of them stood the deists.

The basic assumptions about life according to a deist can be summed up this way:

Deism derives the existence and nature of God from reason and personal experience (rather than from a written scripture or religious institution).

Deism reject supernatural events (prophecy, miracles). According to a deist, God exists but does not intervene with the affairs of human life and the natural laws of the universe.

Deism accepts holy books of religion as interpretations made by other humans, rather than as authoritative sources.

Deism purports that God's greatest gift to humanity is not religion, but the ability to reason.

Deism teaches that there is right and wrong, good and evil based upon the laws set up by the Creator because by those laws, society runs best.

Where theism teaches that the chief end of man is to "glorify God and enjoy him forever", deism would postulate that that would be utterly impossible, because God is viewed as basically unknowable and distant. A deist would assume that God created the world but that he/she or it is aloof – somewhere out there beyond the stars but too busy and/or to grand to notice us much here on earth.  A famous illustration of what deism teaches pictures God as a watch maker who created this grand time piece and set it ticking. Then God left his work desk and left the watch to tick by itself.  And so a deist would believe that human beings still have the dignity of being created in the image of God but this God offers no personal relationship to men. So whereas theism teaches "God is here" (present), deism teaches that God is "out there somewhere" (unknowable).

How did all this affect artistic expression? Most notably, visual art was no longer centered on religious themes, but on natural situations in everyday life. Humankind was now at the center of attention rather than the Deity. To illustrate this, compare two examples. The first is of the Madonna and Child by Giotto di Bondone.

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What is the focus of this piece of art? It very obviously was painted to exalt the deity. Compare this piece to "The Concert" by Judith Leyster, ca. 1633.

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What is the focus of this piece? Obviously, people...human interaction with each other. Is God there? Oh, maybe off somewhere, but definitely not included in this moment from "normal" everyday life.

This shift in world view rocked all human expression. I have noted an example of this regarding visual art, but as far as music goes, one the most famous pieces ever written actually illustrates this world view shift with remarkable clarity. Beethoven's masterpiece, the "Ode to Joy" from the final movement of his Symphony #9 has to be one of the most beloved pieces of music in all Western history and perfectly illustrates the influence of deism. See if you can catch it.

"Ode to Joy" by Ludwig van Beethoven

Joy, thou source of light immortal,

Daughter of Elysium!

Touched with fire, to the portal,

To your radiant shrine, we come.

Your sweet magic frees all others,

Held in custom's rigid rings.

All men on earth become brothers,

In the haven of your wings.

Whoever succeeds in the great attempt

To be a friend of a friend,

Whoever has won a lovely woman,

Let him add his jubilation!

All creatures drink joy

At the breasts of nature;

All the good, all the evil

Follow her roses' trail.

Kisses gave she us, and wine,

A friend, proven unto death;

Be embraced, you millions!

This kiss for the whole world!

Brothers, beyond the star-canopy

Must a loving Father dwell.

Do you bow down, you millions?

Do you sense the Creator, world?

Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!

Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Do you see the shift? Whereas the piece by Bach I referenced in my last blog (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring) had the deity as the center of attention, Beethoven has humankind at the center. Is God there? Oh, yes...somewhere "beyond the star-canopy...beyond the stars he must dwell".

So bottom line, a theist would say "God is here" and a deist would say "God is out there somewhere, but certainly not here". Theism holds out relationship with God as prime, and deism takes a big step back from that.

In my next blog, we'll progress to the next world view that hit the stage, that of "Naturalism". And by "Naturalism", please do not think of organic food and care for the earth. It's not that nice at all. But I'll save that for next time.

World View #1: Theism

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By way of reminder, what I am doing here is trying to help people appreciate and understand the art they look at. I am not going to attempt to get you to "enjoy" that art. No one can do that. You're not going to enjoy all art just because you understand it and that's fine. I understand sushi and I can appreciate the exquisite art of preparing it, but you won't catch me eating it because though I understand and appreciate it, I do not enjoy sushi at all. Sorry.

So what we're going to do is to try to understand and appreciate the art by understanding and appreciating where the artist is coming from (i.e. his/her world view). By "world view", I mean the comprehensive conception of the world and how this world works, i.e. our assumptions about life. The way I'll do this is to trace the historic progression of the dominant world view as it evolves through history. One note here...No one really holds to just one world view, no matter what we say. For instance, a religious person may intellectually hold to a theistic world view but act as though there were no God or higher power at all. A nihilist may say there is no real "importance" to life at all and that there is no basis for any moral standards at all, and yet act and live as though something like global warming WAS important and that it's "wrong" to be homophobic or racist.

So, when we talk about someone's world view, we're painting with a broad brush -- there will be exceptions because most human beings are anything but consistent.  That said, there is something to be learned from looking at the dominant world view an artist (or anyone for that matter) has because it helps us interpret everything else about them. It's not really fair to judge someone with my own standards even if I believe those standards are correct. What I would like to encourage you to do is to learn the standards of someone else and interpret their life and their art on that basis. Why? Well, because that is just respectful and I hope that's still a valued attribute to everyone reading this, no matter your world view.

Enough of a prologue. Let's get into it.

First of all, for thousands of years, the dominant world view was that of THEISM. The basic assumptions about life according to a theist can be summed up this way:

  • There is a God. He* has created everything there is.

  • He has revealed himself to the world (he wants to be known).

  • He is actively involved in the world of human affairs, i.e. what we call miracles are possible if there is a God.

  • God controls all things and provides a sense of order.

*By using the pronoun "he", I am simply acquiescing to the historical way of referring to the God of the Bible since that God is not portrayed in the scriptures as an "it" but as possessing a personality. That said, I need to be careful because that God is not portrayed as possessing a Y chromosome. The God of the Bible is not male; neither is he female but the creator and wellspring of all that is male and all that is female.

According to theism, there is actual

  • Good and evil

  • Right and wrong

  • True and false

  • ...and what you do (good or evil, right or wrong) ultimately matters.

The historic theistic world view states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. It states unequivocally that human beings are significant because they were created in the image of God.

So, a question...

What would you expect visual art, music or poetry to look or sound like that is coming from a theistic world view?  Other than the obvious (saints and halos), any art that CELEBRATES ORDER may well be coming from a theistic assumption of the world. Sometime, look up the "Golden Section" or "Divine proportion" (same thing). It's an amazing proportion that artists and designers have been using since the days of ancient Egypt. That proportion is 38:62 By and large, your navel is at about the 62% mark from your feet to the top of your head, your elbow is about 38% from your shoulder to your finger tips. The dorsal fin of a dolphin is 62% back from the tip of its nose to it's tail. This proportion is in plants and animals nearly everywhere you look. It even dictates the planetary rotations of all the inner planets out to Jupiter, and is clearly seen in the location of bands in the rings of Saturn.  Architects have employed it in the design of the Great Pyramid and Parthenon and it was used in the proportions of the Ark of the Covenant in the book of Exodus.

The existence of order in any artwork (visual art, music and poetry) is a "tipping of the hat" to the theistic world view.

As far as music goes, take a break and go and listen to Bach's Fugue in G Minor. I don't care if you like or love Bach. Just do it. I chose this rendition of it because it comes with cool graphics (so it'll be entertaining!). Look at and listen to the incredible order in this piece of music. This is literally mathematics set to music, and it definitely comes from the strong theistic world view of Johann Sebastian Bach.

For an example of poetry coming from this world view I've selected a verse from Bach's hymn "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring", and as you read it, rather than agreeing or disagreeing with his assumptions very clearly written here, read it and understand simply WHAT his assumptions are. According to the lyricist of this piece, (ask yourself) is there meaning to life, does life matter, are people important?

Jesu, joy of man's desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

So that is Theism. In a theistic world view, you have a God who is there, who wants to be known by humans. BUT…everything eventually morphs. In my next post in this series, I'll look at the next world view, Deism and it's powerful influence on painting, music and poetry as well.

 

 

 

 

A Time to be Disturbed

 Beginning of one of the most disturbing paintings I've ever started

Beginning of one of the most disturbing paintings I've ever started

If you know me at all, or are familiar with the work I do, you know I love painting landscapes. That's my thing. But now and then, something just really hits me and changes to course of what I'm doing completely. The last time this happened was when Joy and I visited what is left of the concentration camp at Dachau (just north of Munich) last September. Seeing what I saw -- I was shaken to my core. That doesn't happen very often. I'm pretty "even-keel" but when I left, I had to express myself in my language (art). If you're interested, just click here for a link to that blog. 

Well, it's happened again. I wish this wouldn't happen in my head. I'd sleep a lot better if I could just paint trees and mountains all the time, but I think I'd explode if I didn't say something right now about an issue that's really hot in today's news. If you have a minute, please go to this link and if you have the stomach for it, please, please watch the video and then me know what YOU think. 

When I watched this, I couldn't help but respond. And I'm (thankfully) not alone. A group of artists in my building (the Pink Dog Creative Building in Asheville's River Arts District) met and dreamed together. We are in the beginning phases of putting together an exhibition of art from artists (painters, poets and musicians) all over Asheville that encapsulates our response to police brutality against black men and gun violence in general.

So right now, this painting I'm starting looks pretty innocuous and no different than anything else I do, right? Well, I'm going to be taking you through the steps to the very end, so you can see it evolve. I know what it'll look like in the end and some of those I've explained it to have teared up. For now, I'm keeping a tight lip until it's done. 

I'm honored to be working with these other artists. It's so nice not to have to do this alone, because I really don't know what I'm doing. I just have one voice, but a multi-thousand member choir is made of individual voices. I want one of those voices to be mine. Sing with me?

 

"Remember...there are no mistakes with art"

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I hear some crazy things sometimes. It just cracks me up what some people say. Just by way of reminder, I work in an open art studio in the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina. An "open" art studio means that people can visit from all over the country and all over the world (literally!) and drop in and visit with me and take a look at my artwork displayed on my walls as well as watch me paint.

My work desk/easel is about four feet from the door and so I'm right there. I can hear everything. :)  Here are some snippets of conversations I've heard recently that just made me crack up:

  • "Babe, you could TOTALLY do this art! Ask him how he does it!"
  • "Yeah, it's nice and all but did you see the PRICES!?"
  • a guy to his girlfriend..."First he takes a photo and dips it in the glass..." (really??)

and my recent favorite..."Remember sweetheart, there are NO mistakes in art..."

That last comment is the one comment that makes me cringe actually. What that kind of mindset infers is that there is no such thing as skillfully crafted artwork and poorly done, ugly artwork. Believe me, I've made ugly artwork and I can guarantee there ARE mistakes in art because I've made a whole lot of them. Pay attention here...(I'm about to say something profound)...the freedom to MAKE mistakes with art is what also creates the freedom to innovate. Some of the crazy things I try actually work. Some unequivocally do not, but some do and that is how technique and skill advance.

I can guarantee there ARE mistakes in art because I've made a whole lot of them.

To say there are no mistakes in art is ridiculous. I mean, is art the ONLY thing human beings do that has no standard? I've heard good music and bad music. I've heard good voices and really bad voices. I've read well written books and really poorly written books. I've tasted really good food and really dreadful food. So is the creation of a painting or drawing in a completely unique category that makes it immune from scrutiny? Of course not. There is beautiful, well-crafted art and really bad art. I know this because I've made both.

"...the freedom to MAKE mistakes with art is what also creates the freedom to innovate."

I guess the other reason I don't like that comment is that it reveals some insecurity on my part, and I'm willing to own that. See, if it were true (that there are no mistakes with art) then I'm wasting my time trying to push the limits of what I think I can do with my own art; I'm wasting effort trying to get better and more skillful as an artist if there is no such thing as "better" or "skill" as it relates to art. But I really believe the creation of great art (any art -- painting, ceramics, sculpture, music, food just to name a few) involves developing skill. And skill at learning anything at all involves experimentation and playing with your ingredients and experimentation inevitably involves some failures. That's the human condition and art, if nothing else, is absolutely and completely human.

How to Make a Living as an Artist (Part 2)

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As I stated in an earlier blog, I was recently asked “How do you make a living as a full-time artist?” And honestly,  I wake up every morning absolutely baffled that I CAN make a living doing what I love doing.

I work here in the mountains of western North Carolina in the town of Asheville,  and largely because of that, I do not do art shows or art festivals. I really don’t go anywhere, because I can't afford to leave my studio.  Basically, I walk to work in Asheville’s River Arts District, unlock the door, turn the lights on, stick the “OPEN” flag out on the side of the building and then I start painting, and people (some locals but mostly tourists) come through my door and look at my artwork and by far, most of my sales come from people who walk in off the street. They are visiting Asheville, heard about the River Arts District and they want to make sure they check that off their “to do when visiting Asheville” list. If I lived practically anywhere else, this business model would not work at all. But because there are now about 220 artists within about one square mile who do this, and who go together on advertising to get the word out, people know about us and they visit (and purchase art!)

 If I didn't have this business model available to me as a real option, I'd probably be in trouble.

So the fact that I can make this business model work is largely due to where I live. But the details as to how the situation in Asheville makes my life as a full-time artist possible -- I don't see why that can't be replicated anywhere else. I really hope it can. There's nothing magical about Asheville (although some locals explain that Asheville is special because of giant crystals under the city. Ground penetrating radar has never detected said crystals, but I digress...

If I didn't have this business model available to me as a real option, I'd probably be in trouble.  Most other full-time artists around the country that I know get their work into as many galleries and art festivals as possible. I truly have all the respect in the world for artists who travel from art festival to art festival and have their work in select and profitable galleries and who make a living that way. I cannot compete with them. I mean, I have found a few galleries that now carry and sell my work but honestly, I make most of my own sales from my Asheville studio. I would love to find more galleries around the country that would represent me, but I honestly don't know how to find them, so I unfortunately cannot be much of a help with any of that.

But because I live where I live, I am literally "piggybacking" off the momentum every other artist here has created. It's symbiotic. Visiting artists have asked "is there even ROOM for another artist here?" and my answer is always "YES!" because it's like gravity -- the more the mass, the more the gravitational pull (i.e. more visitors recognize us as an arts destination) and that's a really good thing for all of us artists.

The other thing the artists do is to have "regular open hours" 

Why is Asheville so special? Well, for one thing, it is a tourist destination in and of itself, and that REALLY helps bring people into the area.  And here, the artists are working together and they are operating their business like a business. Let me explain.

First of all, most artists all rent studio space in the same part of town (not all scattered through the city). The artists have an organization they pay dues to and they (the River Arts District Artists) advertise and promote what's going on here. We have a printed studio guide with a map of where all the studios are, to make it easy for people. 

The other thing the artists do (well, enough of them anyway) is to have "regular open hours". I have my hours posted in our studio guide we pass out and on my studio door...10:00 - 5:00 every day but Sunday. So my studio is not just where I paint. I do paint here, but the public walks through my door every day, watch me paint, and they look at my finished artwork hanging on the wall. So it's kind of a cross between a messy studio and a classy art gallery that's open to the public. THAT is what I (and lots of other artists here) do.  And honestly, the only people I hear around me in the arts district that complain about not making sales are those who can only be here now and then. I totally get it that not everyone can or wants to do this full-time, but if you want to make a living with this more "retail" type art business model, you have to be open.  In other words: You cannot sell your artwork if your studio is locked up and dark.

Let me illustrate this point with a true story.  I was driving through an un-named state a couple years ago and saw a sign "historic arts district" and I thought "Oh COOL! Let's take a few minutes and explore!" So we did. My wife and I found the arts district and were really impressed with the concept. Turns out that the downtown area of this town was dwindling and the city wanted to re-vamp the area. So they sold studio space to several artists for SUPER cheap and even gave $10K per studio for upgrades and interior design.  And artists moved in! But when my wife and I were there (on a Friday), we spent an hour walking around the arts district and only one studio was actually open. If someone opens a hardware store or lighting store or barber shop or coffee shop on Main Street, they would have been there. They would be open. There is probably something I'm missing, but as a visitor, I didn't see how having closed art studios was helping to create a vibrant new downtown. I'll never go back. Not because the town wasn't cool (it was), but because it was a ghost town.

So my suggestion would be that you move to Asheville (I know artists who have done just that for all the above reasons I've mentioned).  But more realistically, I really think that wherever you live, you could try to get artists around you working together (in as close a proximity as possible). You could pool monetary resourses and advertise. Get the word out that you're there. Let the chamber of commerce and tourism office know you're there.  And BE IN THE STUDIO with lights on and door open and OPEN flag out front so people are invited in. That's what we do here and I know it works.