Could I sell these paintings?

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on 19 May 2012 12:29 AM

I've tried to post this question twice in the Beginners forum and once in the Acrylic one, and every time it tells me that my post needs to be approved by a moderator before it can appear, but I never hear anything after that. So, with deepest apologies, I'm going to violate forum etiquette and all that is holy by posting this in the Community Help forum. It doesn't belong here, but this seems to be the only forum I can post in without pre-approval.


Back in February of 2011 I started painting stuff. I've been doing artsy stuff my whole life, but I hadn't really done much painting before that. The only art classes I've taken were in high school, and they mostly focused on drawing and sculpting. Personally, I think the paintings I've done look like something you'd do in elementary school. But other people who see them seem to like them okay, so I thought I should ask some questions here.

• Would anyone buy these paintings? If so, where could I sell them, and how should I price them?

• I feel like---and other people have strongly suggested that---I shouldn't be selling any originals without first getting them photographed at sufficient quality to enable print reproductions. There is a place that does this locally, but they charge $85 to do a 16x20 painting. If I sold my paintings for about $100, which seems to be the going rate for a 16x20 painting on Etsy, then when you account for shipping and supplies and such I'd probably be losing money on each painting. Am I missing something here, or is it just not practical to get my paitings photographed before selling them?

• Should I sell the originals, or prints, or both?

• If I sell prints, how should I price them? Just producing a 16x20 giclée print seems to cost about $40-50, not counting things like shipping costs, and that in itself seems to high to me---I kind of doubt I could sell prints for that price. Maybe if I made them smaller than the actual paintings?

Bottom Rung
Bottom Rung looks at history like paint peeling off a house in layers. The top layer is the most recent, showing twentieth-century circuit boards. Looking deeper, one sees a layer of metal pipes and mechanical gears, then a layer of stone or bricks. Deeper still is a layer of sticks and furs. In the middle is a set of petroglyphs, symbols carved in rock, technology of the first humans. At the very center lies a human hand.

I painted Spheres after reading The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain, which proposes that the advent of literacy was partly responsible for shifting human societies from peaceful, goddess-worshipping cultures to patriarchal ones that venerated harsh male deities. Shlain, a neurosurgeon, attributes this shift to literacy “rewiring” the brain in a more left-brained direction.

Spheres contrasts a left-brained, language-based world with a right-brained, iconic world, their two sections of the painting twisting together like Yīn and Yáng. The moon embodies a cyclical right-brained perception of time, while the sun is associated with the linear left-brained idea of time. The left-brained people work during the day, while the right-brained people dance at night.

This painting does not have a specific top and bottom, and can be displayed in any orientation.

Ouroboros—named for the Greek depiction of a snake eating its tail—shows parallels in the life cycles of monarch butterflies and milkweed plants. A butterfly spreads its wings, while the plant opposite the butterfly spreads its leaves. The butterfly lays an egg; the plant, a seed. The egg becomes a long caterpillar, the seed a long stem. The caterpillar hardens into a chrysalis, while the stem bursts forth into a leaf. The leaf becomes a mature plant, while the chrysalis becomes a butterfly, completing the cycle. As the plant and butterfly die, their rotting forms feed the roots of more plants and the mouths of more caterpillars, continuing the cycle.

I don’t really like this painting very much, but other people have unaccountably said it’s one of their favorites.

The Watchers
The Watchers shows a caravan traveling through the desert. The traveling humans, searching the sky, are the most obvious “watchers” in the painting, in contrast to the camels and jackals, who are interested in more mundane matters closer to the ground. But the humans, camels, and jackals together take up comparatively little room in the painting, most of which is dominated by a large, starry sky. The Watchers portrays humans as animals that are interested in the wider world, watching—but is someone, or something, watching them?

Conjunction explores humans’ position between the natural and technological worlds. The natural world is depicted as a round cell, while the technological world is shown as a round disk. The base-two binary system contrasts with the base-four (A, C, G, T) DNA system, and the technological role of electrons as energy carriers parallels the biological function of iron—that is, hemoglobin. The space created by the overlapping biological and technological world is filled by a large human eye. Humans could be seen as halfway between the other animals from which they evolved, and the machines they create.

Inside-Out is a painting that lends itself to multiple possible interpretations. The human with hell inside their head and heaven outside is inside-out—but how? Maybe the human is a perversion, an aberrant and depraved animal in a natural world that is generally good. Or perhaps the painting itself is inside-out, and the human is, or should be, an example of good in a world of evil.

Fruit of Knowledge
Fruit of Knowledge proposes an alternate interpretation of the events in the Garden of Eden—not a Fall, but a Choice. Instead of forbidding an action, God—depicted as a sun stamped with the Mesopotamian “dingir” (“deity”) sign—offers his creations a choice between two fruits. The fruit from the Tree of Life, a pomegranate, is a symbol of immortality in many ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, on the other hand, is far more complicated, a microcosm of possibility. The serpent is not a tempter but a guide, explaining to Eve the choice between immortality and the ability to make one’s own decisions.

The Sheep
The Sheep shows a scene of betrayal inside an artery. Red blood cells bring oxygen to the white blood cells, who are expected to shepherd the red cells. Instead, the white cells use their shepherd’s crooks to cruelly spear the red cells. But does the blame lie with the cruel shepherds, or the foolish sheep? The depiction of oxygen as dollar-like green rectangles ties the arterial scene to the real world, where people consent to the use of common resources in ways that end up hurting all. Humans habitually ask the question, “Why bite the hand that feeds you?” while ignoring the more relevant problem: Why feed the mouth that bites you?

The Message
The Message shows a crop circle, a geometric pattern found on farms across the world and considered by some to be a message from aliens. But the aliens are nowhere in sight. Instead, farmers are shown tending their fields, creating the crop circle, and even maintaining and piloting flying saucers. It appears, then, that the eponymous “message” does not come from aliens, but from humans. Is the message unimportant, then? Or should we view the message of the crop circle as a lesson, not from outside Earth, but from inside us?

The Immortals
The Immortals uses imagery from ancient Babylon to contrast notions of eternal life. The clock labeled with cuneiform numerals embodies the concept of time, which rules over the lives of the people in both halves of the painting, though they interpret it in very different ways.

On the left, people espouse a cyclical notion of time and life. A tree grows from the earth and bears orange fruit, which sustains humans, who reproduce and multiply. The humans, in turn, sustain crocodiles, who prey upon them. Eventually, when both humans and crocodiles die, they return to the earth, nourishing the roots of the tree and beginning the cycle anew.

On the right side of the painting, however, the green of nature gives way to a bleak and desolate brown. These people do not live lives of serenity, but are forced to work to serve a king. Instead of accepting his place as a mortal element of an eternal cycle, the king attempts to cheat death by forcing others to build monuments to his glory, so that he will be remembered after he dies. Despite his legion of servants, however, the king is not satisfied. While the person on the left, being devoured by a crocodile, wears a look of calm acceptance, the king knows no such peace. Though he commands that his statue be made with a look of arrogance, pride, and power, his true face shows only terror. Who, then, is truly immortal—the king, or the crocodile’s dinner?

Kadmos Slaying the Serpent
Kadmos Slaying the Serpent depicts an event from Greek mythology, wherein Kadmos slays a serpent guarding a well and goes on to found the city of Thebes.

Greeks saw the serpent as a symbol of autochthony, the notion of something arising directly from the earth. This principle was associated with female deities, which many ancient cultures link to both the earth and serpents, as well as to water (the well). Kadmos’s triumph over the serpent, then, can be seen as an allegory of male-dominated Greek society effacing an older, more egalitarian Minoan society. Kadmos’s association with the alphabet—according to legend, he brought it to Greece from Phoenicia—ties this painting to Spheres and to Leonard Shlain’s books.

Kadmos represents a different worldview from the serpent. He is shown as a man in Greek costume, wearing sandals and standing on a manmade pillar. The serpent, on the other hand, is depicted as the Minoan snake goddess, standing barefoot upon the earth. She guards water, while he wields fire. The serpent is shown with stalks of wheat, but the stalks on the side of Kadmos are those of arrows, an instrument not of sustenance but of death. The moon—with an eye-shaped assemblage of craters—shines on the serpent, but the sun—showing a hand made of sunspots—shines on Kadmos, its hand contrasting with the moon’s eye as a symbol of aggressive dominance rather than passive observation.

Face of Abraham
The ironically-titled Face of Abraham contrasts the worldview of traditional pagan, animist, and tribal religions with that of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traditional religions are closely associated with nature, their gods often tied to specific locales, their ceremonies taking place in natural settings, especially groves of trees. The god of Israel, on the other hand, stands apart from nature. Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad each have their most meaningful religious experiences in the desert, a place of desolation and emptiness. At the bottom of the painting, the pagans judge piety by the actions of their adherents—orthopraxy—while the Semitic-derived faiths attempt to gauge inner belief, or orthodoxy. Surrounding the center circle, the thyrsus used in the rites of Dionysus parallels the reed pen, concrete action contrasting with the abstract written word. Inside the circle, tribal religions are represented by physical forms and faces—Zeus, Thor, Śiva, Horus, an Olmec colossal head, and symbolic humans. On the other side is only text. The painting is called Face of Abraham, but Abraham has no face.

Tangential compares cyclical and linear notions of time. On the right, the Western calendar advances sequentially, from a traditional beginning (4004 BC) to an unknown ending. On the left, the Maya calendar has neither beginning nor end, moving eternally through the same fifty-two-year cycle. In the middle, the blade, a symbol used worldwide in the religious rites of fierce gods, stands in opposition to the chalice used in the ceremonies of more benign deities. At the top of the picture, the circular line of cyclical time meets the straight line of linear time. Their slopes are identical at a single point—in mathematical parlance, they are tangential. But which one truly depicts reality, and which one fantasy? Which is germane, and which—in the everyday, non-mathematical sense—is tangential?

Mathematics is known as the universal language. Axiomatic disputes this view, showing bees creating a system of mathematics different from the human one.

The bees have their own version of the famous plaque on the Pioneer probes. Instead of two humans, male and female, it shows three bees: queen, drone, and worker. Moving around the circle, the bees explain their numerical symbols and mathematical operators, show their equivalent of a human number line, and end by displaying various equations that exemplify their mathematical ideas—base six, of course, in place of the human base ten.

Throughout the system, the bees use three where humans would use two. Where human mathematics has two types of number—positive and negative—interacting according to consistent but arbitrary rules, bee mathematics has three types of number, complying with rules that are equally arbitrary but no less internally consistent. The bees’ numbers interact like the three elements of a human game—rock, paper, and scissors.

Ultimately, Axiomatic tries to explore how notions of dualism influence human perception of the universe, even when humans try to ignore them.

The Champion: Between the Darkness and the Light
My first painting with a subtitle.

The Champion depicts a knight standing between the darkness and the light. But while the light is the sun, the darkness is the knight’s own shadow. His position between the darkness and the light is itself creating the darkness. People sitting on the adjacent wall cheer for the knight as he defends them—but while he is unharmed, each of them is seriously injured. Does their champion’s vigilance truly benefit them, or is he more of a problem than a solution?

The Tribunal
The Tribunal shows a trio of monkeys, based on the Three Wise Monkeys of East Asian folklore. They sit on a judicial bench surrounded by judicial paraphernalia: a gavel and scales. The left monkey sees no evil, but holds up a sign showing a guillotine, visually depicting the threat of harsh judgment. The middle monkey hears no evil, but his own tongue is forked. The right monkey speaks no evil, but his mind is polluted, and a devil sits in his brain. The tribunal affects a merciful attitude, claiming not to see, hear, or speak of the evil done by others. Meanwhile, what they truly fail to see, hear, and speak of is their own hypocrisy and harsh judgments against others.

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