artwork

"Why Should I Purchase Artwork?"

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As an artist with an open studio, there are lots of questions I get asked from people who are visiting Asheville’s River Arts District. Sometime, I should make a list of the funniest (i.e. strangest!) questions I get asked but that’s for another blog post. :)

There is one question out there that is very rarely asked but is actually a valid question: Why should I purchase artwork? I almost think that if you’re asking that question, you probably shouldn’t be buying artwork. You should just go home to your concrete cube, turn on your single light bulb in the middle of the cube, sit down on your mat and stare at the wall and drink your protein smoothie. What? You have a nice house on a hillside with a nice view? You have a wide screen TV? You have granite countertops in your kitchen? Why? Is that necessary? As far as basic human needs go, we just need shelter (a roof and preferably some walls). Is the rest necessary? As far as basic human needs go, we just need food. Are herbs and spices necessary? Is awesome flavor “necessary”?

Is artwork a good investment? Yes. Absolutely every time.

Why have a nice house? Why have a nice car? Why have anything other than what is absolutely necessary? Simply because those extra things give us joy. Why sprinkle herbs de Provence on your chicken? Those herbs don’t add any nutritional value, so they’re unnecessary, correct? Technically, yes. But we add them because it just really makes the chicken taste awesome, right? Herbs de Provence gives us joy. The nice extras on top of the absolute rock-bottom necessities are added to life because they give us joy.

So, is artwork a good investment? Yes. Absolutely every time. Joy is beyond value. Can’t afford a $100,000 painting by some famous artist? Neither can I. (That’s why I paint my own paintings!) What I’m talking about is not necessarily a huge financial investment in art (unless you have deep pockets and that artwork you would like to purchase gives you joy. If that’s you, please email me at stclaireart@gmail.com or visit my studio at 344 Depot Street, Asheville NC. For the rest of us, what I’m talking about is even small, wise investments into a local artist because he or she is creating things that add joy to this world. When you purchase a painting or glass vase or a ceramic pitcher or piece of hand crafted furniture, you not only invest into something that adds joy to your own life, but you’re investing in another human being, enabling them to continue to create, which gives them joy. Joy goes all around!

So now and then, reach for that nice bottle of wine, sprinkle those herbs on your meat (or veggies) turn on some beautiful music, watch a sunset and sing. Why? Because it’s a necessity? Well actually, yes I think it is.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

I’m a hopeless “creative”. I love to invent things in my mind. I love to imagine. I can’t help myself. I’ve been doing it all my life. Thankfully, I’m no longer in a job position that requires multitasking. I stink at multitasking. Give me just one thing to focus on and I’m very happy, thank you.

Because I am now a full time artist with an open studio in Asheville, North Carolina, I can focus all day long, every day, and so…I love my job. However, I’ve found that giving constant vent to creativity is both enlivening and draining. I’ve written about this before, but slowing down and “drinking in” is really important for keeping life and joy in my craft. I am realizing that during the really busy autumn season, I ran and ran and ran and didn’t really slow down until now.

Although this winter season is still full of commission projects (thankfully), because I’m taking a break from Asheville per se, I’m finding more time to take walks, stare at walls and let creativity be breathed into life again. As much as I enjoy the actual creating processes, I’m so thankful for the time to slow down and dream. It’s absolutely necessary and I know that but I usually put it off far too long because I love painting so much! What a problem to have, right?

The first photos of my new projects will be posted shortly, but not today. I’m resting. :)

Commission Confusion

This last week, I had a visitor to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District who spent quite a bit of time looking at all my paintings I have displayed in my art studio/gallery. They walked around a couple of times, studying each piece. I just assumed they were an artist trying to figure out my technique, so I was politely quiet. :)

I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it…

After several minutes, they left, but then returned about an hour later and went back to a couple of landscape paintings I have hanging near the back of my studio. On my way to my “back of studio workspace (where I do the messy work), I briefly commented that if they had any questions, to be sure to ask. They nodded quietly and continued staring at my painting. That’s fine. After another ten minutes or so, they walked slowly by my front-of-studio workstation and watched me paint. So I got to talking with him just a bit and he said that he REALLY liked a couple of the paintings but was afraid they were both the wrong size for his space. So I recited my standard commissions speech:

“If you would like to commission a painting based on one of the paintings you like, I am very happy to revisit that idea in another size. I can even change it from a summer to an autumn scene or add some sun rays coming across the trees. I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it or I’ll sell it here and paint you another one. And I ship for free, which, since you live in New York, saves you having to pay the NC sales tax…”

“Oh no,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have you do that.”

I was fine with that, smiled and told him to have a great day and to make sure he comes back again next time he’s in town. But honestly, I don’t understand his reluctance to commission a painting. Did he want a “unique” painting? Or did he not want to spend the money for a “commissioned piece”? Or did he think a commissioned piece wouldn’t have the same “artistic energy” from me as a painting that came “from my own heart”? I didn’t ask because, well, I just never would.

Is it unique?

As far as being a unique painting, each one I do is a unique piece of art. I never just “copy” a painting of mine — I always tweak it so each one is unique, but I feel complete freedom to revisit a favorite theme (look up “Monet Water Lilies” or “Money St.Paul’s Cathedral” and see how many iterations he did of the same theme). If Claude can do it, so can I (that’s my reasoning). And honestly, when I try a new thematic idea and it works, when I have gone back and rework it, the new one always turns out better.

The cost of a commissioning a painting?

I never charge more for a commission. It’s exactly the same price as it would be if I just did it to hang on my studio wall and tried to sell it here.

Is a commissioned painting inferior to a piece that “came from the artists’ heart”?

No. Bottom line is that I just love painting. I don’t care what I paint. And commissioned pieces honestly have always been the most fun because I get to paint ALL SORTS OF THINGS I’d never be able to sell here in my Asheville art studio. For commissions, I’ve painted scenes from Scotland, Canada, the Swiss Alps, New Zealand, the canals of Venice, underwater fish “cyclone”, even a sunset over Antarctica. I absolutely love it when someone says something like “I have probably a crazy idea for a painting…” Right there, they have me hooked. Something new and try!

I hope my studio visitor comes back sometime and sees something he likes. But I would really get excited if he said, “okay, I don’t see exactly what I want so let me try to explain it and see if you can do it.”

I can do it, and I promise I’ll have a blast.

Beauty in the Center of the Pit

Let me first say that if someone by chance is reading this blog, you probably already know I’m an oil painter in Asheville’s River Arts District. I paint some abstract pieces (great therapy!) but mostly I paint local landscapes. For the record, my favorite time of the day to depict in a painting is dawn or dusk, because the light is perfect, and my favorite time of the year to depict is probably autumn, because again…the light. I love trying to capture that moment in a day that may only last a couple minutes and then it’s gone — that time when the sun colors the clouds crimson and orange and the world feels like it’s holding it’s breath, waiting for the first cricket to begin it’s song. In short, I love depicting the awesome beauty of this place.

This week though has been really difficult for me and I need to write about it. So this blog entry will really be more like a journal entry. I need to get write this down or I’ll pop.

“I’m not afraid”.

I got a phone call from my 92 year old dad last week and it sounded like he had the flu, so he went to the hospital. As the days of last week slowly ticked by, we found that he has a large tumor in his colon and it’s nearly blocking the whole thing. I know what this means, and my dad does too. I knew he wasn’t going to live forever but “that day” was (in my mind) always off in the future. Grief and fear are really interesting. Most of the time, I steel my heart and I’m fine. But then there are waves that are too large, and they knock me off my feet. My plan was that my dad would live the end moments in my home. But he’s in Dallas and I’m in Asheville and this snuck up on us by surprise. By Tuesday, when they get the biopsy results back, we’ll be able to make a plan. For now, we wait.

Suddenly now, I remember all the ways I disrespected my dad (he wasn’t perfect — surprise!) and caused him pain with my words and my own brokenness, and that regret can be crippling. But when I talk to him now, I can tell none of that matters to him at all. He just loves me and wants me to know he’s not at all afraid. For him, this is the final logical step one has to take to meet his Maker, who loves him, and my dad takes that very seriously. Yesterday (through many tears) I read Psalm 91 to him…

”Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday…”

I was crying but he was encouraged. “I believe that Steve”, he said strongly. So do I.

I don’t know how long he has. Maybe days or weeks? Maybe months or years? No idea. But this is grief and I guess it’s time I become familiar with it and let it become fuel for my creativity as the waves wash over me. What does grief and creating artwork have in common? If done right, I think they are very much connected because they’re both real and honest. I found myself painting some pieces of art this week that I’m really proud of and excited about, not as a diversion from the grief and fear but because of it, propelled along by it. Strange thing.

Alright. I feel better now at least getting that much down. I promise I will not regularly use this blog to vent regarding this. But this was therapeutic.

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.

How do you create when you don't feel creative?

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I get in conversations with interesting visitors to my art studio all the time. And quite often, they ask about "the fuel" for creativity and how it works. I get the impression that a lot of people think that artists are kind of "air heads" -- that we create only on our terms (just when we "feel" like it). I get the impression some people think that if it's "not working" for me as an artist today, if I'm just not feeling "inspired", that I just sit around the house and drink beer and play Legend of Zelda all day long until I "feel" like painting again. 

How do you create something when there's just nothing left inside your head or heart to work with?

But that really doesn't describe the way any of us do anything does it? Sometimes, you just have to do your job even when you don't feel like it, whether you're a heart surgeon, auto mechanic, project manager or yes, even an artist.

People have asked "but how do you create something when you just don't feel creative? How do you create something when there's just nothing left inside your head or heart to work with?

That is a really good question and I'd like to share my own answer. I say "my own" because I am not going to try to speak for any other artist. This is just my own way to deal with that "empty" feeling every full-time artist out there gets. Keep in mind that I don't have the option of just just staying home and playing video games. My wife Joy will not let me. I have hours posted on my art studio door and I am not going to sell artwork if I am not there with the door unlocked. And to pay my mortgage and all my other bills, I have to be selling artwork. So I HAVE to keep creating. But how do you do that when you're running on empty?

Creating is like exhaling...

Don't let the needle get down to the little red "E". Don't get empty. Creating is like exhaling, and unless you inhale, you cannot exhale. The ancient Hebrews pictured God creating the universe with a breath. It's a beautiful, poetic way of putting it. God exhaled and the universe was born. When we write, or paint or cook or whatever you do that can be considered "creative", you are (in a sense) breathing out, taking various ingredients (whether they be Cadmium Red and Thalo Blue oil paint, or puff pastry, beef tenderloin and mushrooms) and with skill, you assemble something that was not there before. That's how creation works. And if you ever get to the point where you feel like you're running on empty and that creative juices have just dried up, it's because you've been exhaling until you're ready to pass out. Don't do that.

Breathe...in.

I think what "breathing in" looks like for each person will vary. If you're an introvert like me, then breathing in might be just sitting at a window staring at the rain drops hitting the porch, or reading a good book, or praying, or going for a walk, or having a super deep conversation with one or two really close friends. If you're an extrovert, I would assume you might still need to do some of the things I've listed (though I don't know for sure -- you are a sublime mystery to me), but you probably will want to be with more people at one time than I would feel comfortable being) but hey, whatever recharges you and leaves you going home feeling energized....THAT is inhaling.

If a "creative" does not inhale, he or she will eventually stop exhaling. That's just how it works. When I go on vacation and have a huge amount of inhaling time, it's like sucking in too much oxygen -- I can't wait to exhale! And that's when I come up with the big ideas that push my artwork forward several steps all at once. 

So you don't feel creative but need to create?

Stop.

Inhale. Inhale deeply.

If you inhale, you will have to exhale. It just will happen. I promise.


 

What's Next?

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I really do like this time of year. January is a time for resolutions, right? It's a great time to take stock -- to look back at last year and the year before and see where we've come from, what's worked well, what we need to change in order to where we want to get to this time NEXT year. I love this by the way. I love dreaming and scheming.

Planning and Scheming...

As an artist in Asheville's River Arts District, I really do work right in the middle of the best place to create art right now. I say "right now" because things change (they always do) but for right now, Asheville is unmatched as a location to produce (and sell) art. I have a few galleries around the south that carry some of my artwork, but about 95% of what I sell is sold right from my art studio to folks I've met and enjoyed conversation with. I love this business model. But one of the things I decided to do this year was to put more time into diversifying my sales, by reaching out to other galleries and looking for creative ways to connect with more people. Right now, all my eggs are in one basket really. I open my door and paint. That's my marketing strategy. Because in Asheville, an artist doesn't necessarily have to go around the country setting up their booth at this and that art show in order to sell their art and get exposure. People come here and I get to stay put. But if things change (and as I said, so far when an arts community has existed like this before, it's been a temporary phenomenon), then I could go scrambling if I don't take advantage of this time I have right now.

So, I'm looking for other galleries in good locations and I'm looking into juried art shows around the country.

That's my big goal for 2018. Check back this time next year for a report on how I did!

Angsty or Terrified?

So last week, as I said in an earlier entry, a husband and wife breezed through my Asheville art studio/gallery without saying a word to me and then left, sitting down on the chairs right outside my door (which was open -- with me working just inside said door). At that point, the man said (loud enough for me to hear) "well I know, but it's ridiculous! I wouldn't pay half what he's asking for that!"

To that man, I would like to say "thank you for your rudeness. You gave me something  to write about in my blog!" Because of that encounter, I began thinking about how best to respond to critique and I am taking this platform to share my thoughts to anyone interested. I have already addressed what I call the "angsty" artist who doesn't care WHAT anyone thinks about their craft (whether it's painting, writing, music or whatever). They do not digest criticism because they immediately deflect it.

The other type of artist I know is not angsty at all. They are frightened and completely insecure, not wanting ANYONE to see their artwork.  Putting their art out there for people to actually see absolutely terrifies them. I tried to teach art students who were the "terrified" type, but found them just as difficult to teach as the arrogant students who would not listen to my advice or instruction. I remember a young woman that was in the class I was teaching. She was working hard on a painting, but when I walked over to her desk to see how it was coming along, she swept it up and hid it from me. "Please don't look! It's a mess! Yours is so much better!" If you can relate to this woman,  may I gently suggest that the "terrified" artist is not that much different from the "angsty" artist? See, neither the angsty or terrified person them allows any criticism or correction -- they just take different emotional roads to the very same end.  Whichever side we fall on, we can be categorized as arrogant.

"Arrogant?" I hear the terrified artist type cry. "I'm not arrogant!" (The angsty artist doesn't see themselves as arrogant either.)

Well, follow me here. The angsty type doesn't listen to any criticism and neither do you. In my opinion, whichever side we fall on, we all think far too much of ourselves. The terrified artists (I was one of you  at once point) think we have to be perfect at what we do and critique is crushing and to be avoided. The angsty artist thinks he's already perfect, and critique is pointless and unnecessary in his mind and is to be avoided. So what's the difference?

Both the angsty and terrified artist (or whatever) types need critique. We need to be okay with correction and advice. When I finish what I think was a great idea and no one pays any attention to it, I may have to conclude that the idea may be great to me, but if the people purchasing art do not agree, I won't be selling that piece. If this is repeated with all my work, then I'm out of a job.

A professional artist has to listen to critique and adjust sometimes. Hopefully as we mature, we begin to know the difference between a good critique and someone just being rude. I think we need to feel the freedom to toss what we think is bad advice. I also think we need to feel the freedom to accept advice with humility, and that's admittedly really hard to do sometimes.

My Creative Muse

I will never get over Claude Monet. He is my artistic hero and by far my favorite artist of all time. He was prolific (with over 2500 sketches and paintings that we know of) and he was an innovator, the father of French Impressionism. His style is all his own and even without his signature, we know precisely who the artist was. He was inspired by nature -- his garden pond at Giverny, sunset on haystacks in the field and rows of poplar trees along the Epte River. What he did for artists was to introduce us to the wild use of color and light. His paintings glow. Each one is a visual feast, leading the viewer to curiosity, exquisite joy and hushed stillness at the mastery of this artist. He was amazing.

Look at the above painting of the poplars. Have you ever seen blue trees? No, but it works here in this painting. The blue shadows he uses accentuate the warm red and orange and gold used to illustrate the sunlight. And that really is the color formula he teaches us -- warm colors and their complimentary cool color right up against each other simulates the play of light and shadow in the real world.

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Here is another of my favorites. This second painting depicted above is the same subject matter as the top painting but handled differently. This is a much warmer piece but again, notice the trees -- blue shadows right up against warm gold-green in the background and directly beside bright orange in the upper foreground trees. I love this!

Monet is exactly the kind of artist I want to emulate. I don't live in rural France, but I too am inspired by the awesome nature so close at hand right here in Asheville and Western North Carolina. And being half artist, half mad scientist, my style is all my own and I want people to recognize my own art even before they see the signature. And painting on a metallic background, I too am playing with color and light. And my goal is to present a visual feast to the viewer, leading them to curiosity and exquisite joy. These are all what I aspire to.

So basically, I am just like Monet. Oh come on. Let me dream.

Musings of an artist...

I work in one art studio of many art studios in the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina. And I do most of my work right in front of my front door (the light is best there and, well, I like to greet people as they come in. And then, after being greeted, the questions start...How did you get interested in art? Why are you an artist? Why are you an oil painter? How did you get started doing this?

And because I have an open studio and work about four feet from the door, I get to talk with visitors all day long, every day. And I'm asked these questions constantly. And honestly, it's really funny. I mean, I would never go to a Christmas wine and cheese party and ask an accountant or dentist or history teacher or lawyer any of these questions. Maybe that's because I'm an introvert but still -- what is the big deal with being an artist? I mean, I do like the attention (okay, I said it). But still, what is this all about?  It's interesting and amusing and humbling all at the same time.

 It's interesting because, well, I was talking to an accountant just today and I am so thankful there are people like her that actually understand numbers! Seriously. I think THAT is mysterious and awesome. I'm just a painter. I play with oil paints all day long. I mostly paint mountain landscapes somewhat specific (but not entirely) to Western North Carolina. I do that (mostly) because I can, and (mostly) because it's fun. It's not at all mystical, it's just really, really fun. Making ledgers balance -- now that is mystical to me. If you're an accountant...thank you. I need you. God bless you.

It's amusing because people come in and see me busy painting and often (in whispers) "Oh, he's working!" This makes me laugh every time. "Yes. I am scooping up paint on this brush and rubbing it all over this canvas here..." But I never say that. I always say (because it's actually true), that this isn't work. This is joy. This is pleasure. And right now, this is my life and I am so, so thankful. But...it still makes me laugh inside when people say this.

And it's humbling because I'm no rock star. I think I'm rather awkward and can be kind of a geek (just ask me about ancient history and be amazed at my geekiness). But that's okay. How many people get paid for doing what they love to do? The answer to that question is why I'm truly humbled at the attention given artists.

And then, there was the visitor yesterday who , upon looking at the oil painting I was working on said, "Well, if I can be honest, I think you're wasting your time".  Ha ha. It takes all kinds.