An artist recently included me in an e-mail blast in which he complained about the way major museums favor “Modern Art” over representational paintings by the likes of Sargent and Rembrandt. He said it “kills my soul … and I know it kills the souls of many artists around the world.”
The e-mail reminded me of the irritation I felt 30 years ago when I first started working for American Artist and needed to defend realist artists. I wrote editorials criticizing New York dealers and museum curators, challenged art critics when they spoke to art groups, and joined a protest against the Whitney Museum of American Art because it was ignoring representational artists. The only reaction I got was an angry phone call from a gallery owner because I pointed out that she was painting her toenails in a photograph that accompanied a magazine profile. Despite my complaints about the frivolity of the contemporary art market, the situation only got worse. Now there are fewer galleries exhibiting realist art in New York, only a couple of critics writing seriously about that work, and few art schools offering courses in the fundamentals of observational drawing and painting.
I stopped writing bitter editorials, in part because the issues didn’t matter much to the average subscriber and because my complaints didn’t have a significant impact on the New York art market. In all likelihood, the young artists sending e-mails will come to the same conclusion. The good news is that there are dealers, collectors, critics, and editors in cities such as Santa Fe, Carmel, San Antonio, and Hilton Head who are supportive of talented figurative artists and pay no attention to those who aren’t. Many of the artists profiled in American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines are selling portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and figure studies for substantial amounts of money. Yes, the current state of the economy presents challenges to everyone, but there is promise of success for representational artists.
I know this is true because I hear expressions of optimism and gratitude from the artists I visit who are selling their work to appreciative collectors without attracting the attention of auction houses, major museums, and international buyers. They have taught me that it is far better to remember words of encouragement and support than to be dragged down by bitterness and regret. In art, as in life, a positive attitude makes a difference.