After participating in a panel discussion about career
goals for artists at this year’s Portrait Society of America Conference
I wanted to share a few more tips that I use to keep my art growing and
evolving every day. Or at least, that’s what I’m striving for.
For the Portrait Society of America Conference in Atlanta this year, I
was invited to participate in a panel on Professionalism, Leadership,
and Service. I was asked to speak to “Building a Career for the Long
Term.” Now, anyone who saw my tax returns for 2010 would NOT have put
me on a short list for advice on professional success, but I guess
there are different kinds of success. For artists, commercial and
financial success is only one goal. So, don’t ask me for financial
advice, but I am happy to share my thoughts on what have been some
guiding principles for an oil painter’s long-term career goals.
Sometimes in making a small study for a larger oil painting, an artist
will sketch in certain areas very loosely. It's almost as if she says
to herself, "and there's some other stuff that fills in this area of
the composition, but I'll think about that later." With the set of
small paintings I was doing recently, I wanted to push myself to answer
those questions earlier, and allow myself more time to critically
consider the elements I include, before committing to the time and
scale of a large work.
For a while now, I have been exploring narrative themes. This is what
R. H. Ives Gammell called “poetical pictures.” In the 19th century,
this was commonly referred to as “history painting”, but by history
they did not just mean world events as we define the term. “Poetical
pictures” are paintings that draw on a narrative story, whether a
literary source, or simple metaphor, or allegory. So, the paintings
have a “subject,” in addition to being visual compositions or records
of visual experience. (This may seem obvious, but after 100 years of
breaking down narrative painting, nothing can be assumed!)
Perhaps sometime over the last couple of years, you looked at your most
recent drawing or oil painting and thought “Why am I doing this?” The
economic recession has caused all of us to rethink our commitments and
has given many artists reason to doubt that “making it” as a
professional is a realistic goal. For most of us, sales and money in
your pocket make you feel like a “real” artist, and give (maybe false)
validation of one’s accomplishments at the easel.
When we start making art, we don't start from a position of, "I want to
paint like so-and-so," or not even, necessarily, "I want to paint
well." We should start from a position of, "I have a need to make art."
This is an important principle; it gives us the strength to overcome
our own bad work, and it illustrates that our first loyalty is to our
vision, not a technique.