Paula’s last post touches on what I think is an irresolvable paradox in art.
In one way, it’s crucial that we artists are paid for our efforts; it’s part of a general sense of self-respect and validates a lifetime of hard work.
But on the other hand, the value we create in art is not only separate from the monetary system, it runs counter to it. Money bears absolutely no intrinsic worth, while what we value in art is built into – is inseparable from – the object itself. Money’s countability is perhaps its most prominent quality, while a moment of aesthetic beauty is open and variable, often subject to contradictory interpretations.
In fact, I would even venture that part of our power as artists is our alienation (or freedom) from the dominant culture, from capitalism, from the powers that be. The glory of an aesthetic moment is a transcendence of the worldly, the mundane, the everyday.
To be perfectly clear: I am not advocating evading worldly success as an artist. But I think the paradox is a thorny one that cannot be neatly resolved.
This is a painting of my brother, who is a poet and knows all this intuitively.
How does an artist determine success? Sales? Critical acclaim? Or is it something deeper.
Americans are taught to believe that success is measured in monetary terms. If finance is the scale by which we measure, my exhibit was not a great success. I sold a painting during the show and one before the exhibit opened. A disappointment surely, but much better than not selling.
I received a fair amount of media coverage. There was a nice mention in the Providence Journal with a photograph of one of my favorite paintings, Summer Shadows. There was a wonderful quote in the Providence Business News – they called my paintings psychotropic – a word never before used to describe my work. I also had coverage in the RISD XYZ alumni online news and lots of great feedback from friends and colleagues.
Weeds in Snow at the Bert Gallery
And yet, the aftermath of an exhibit is always a letdown, a depression seeking missile that follows me around for weeks. Until I come up for air, breathe deeply and realize I am proud of my paintings. I spent 4 years making those paintings and each and everyone represents a part of me. I paint for myself, as so many others do. If I never achieve painting stardom, so be it.
When I am in my studio in front of my paintings, I am both content and challenged, happy and energized. I work for myself and I work to make both myself and my paintings better. If at the end of the day, things are indeed better, then I have succeeded.