This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
We get to choose to make things look better.
You can always tell when my husband makes the bed.
Half the pillows never make it there. If you’ve ever seen the British sit-com Coupling, you may recall the hilarious soliloquy on decorative pillows (referred to, by the character, as “fat clutter”, serving absolutely no purpose except to “look nice”). As a visually-conscious person, it drives me nuts to see uneven quilts, haphazard folding, and wrinkly pillowcases. And a spread that covers up the footboard means my brain doesn’t “see” the footboard, which is how I got the half-dozen bruises on my shins last month.
I end up remaking the bed almost every day. To save my sanity (and my shins!)
Because it looks better. Prettier.
And when it looks pretty, I feel better.
So, too, with our artwork, especially for artists who create realistic art in situ—landscapes, ocean scenes, and other true-to-life subjects. Many artists adjust the composition, making slight (or even major) adjustments to improve the layout, create balance (or dramatize it), adding or removing features that interfere with their goals.
I remember the first time I learned landscape artists do this. Lori Woodward was working on a new painting, and shared what adjustments she was making, and why. It’s common practice, she said, and actually, a skill, knowing what a view needs to make it really pop.
I was dumbfounded at the time. I thought the artist simply moved around until they found the “perfect view”. My first thought, as a non-painter, was, “Isn’t that cheating?!”
Around the same time, I overheard a conversation in a booth next to me at a show. A couple had fallen in love with a print showing a local village church. They were sure it was a view from Village A, where they’d first lived after they married.
The artist was one of those I-tell-it-straight people. “No, that’s Village B.” And nothing more. The couple went on to tell about their early years in that village, how the print brought back so many wonderful memories. They desperately wanted that print to be Village A. “Yeah, it looks a lot like Village A,” said the artist, “but it’s not.”
Disappointed, the couple left soon after.
What does awkwardly-made beds, and extra (or fewer) trees, and the wrong village have to do with making art? (Hint: It’s not about cheating!)
It’s about the story we choose to tell, and how we make our art reflect that story.
Even if I lived alone and never ever had visitors, I would still make my bed look pretty. It tells a story about how I see my home: Attractive. Interesting. Layered. Full of stories.
The extra quilt I bought from a good friend’s yard sale after her divorce, folded at the end of the bed. We now live on opposite coasts, but I think of her every time I see it. The colors and patterns I’ve chosen, not matchy-matchy, but catchy and eclectic, echoed over and over in the artwork on the walls, the lamps, the rug, the curtains. Points of interest that keep your eye’s focus moving and landing, moving and landing. And I know my husband likes it, too. (He said he loves to sit in any given room in our house, marveling at the interplay and composition of colors, textures, artifacts, artwork, all mementos of our life together, and a reflection of the person I am. Thank goodness!!)
I'm glad my DH sees this as attractive rather than a dust-collecting collection!
So, too, with other artists. Each work of art we create reflects the beauty we see, and what—and how--we want to share that with others. If we are here simply to record the view in front of us, then painting would have disappeared with the advent of photography. Instead, we were freed from the restrictions of simply recording “what is”, and expanded our art into the territory of “what if...?” (A lively goal for photographers, actually, too.)
When people see this colored pencil portrait of my son by my good friend Nicole Caulfield, they commented, "Couldn't she have left the wrinkles out of his shirt?!" To which she wisely replied, "That's who he is--eager to look grown-up, but not too eager to iron his shirt." True dat, and I absolutely love this piece.
But we all know that some of our first-time customers and collectors may struggle with that. How do we walk them past the hurdle of “It doesn’t REALLY look like that, does it?” Or convince them that Village B can evoke the same powerful, glowing memories of Village A? Or that a badly-made bed may indeed be just as comfortable as a nicely-staged bed, but won’t lift our heart like the latter?
We can tell our story.
We can encourage our visitors to tell their story.
We can help them connect the two, to focus on the emotional power our work carries, rather than the actual reality.
If I were that print artist, I would have encouraged that couple to tell me more about their life in Village A. How did they end up there? What were their favorite memories? What is it in the scene that reminded them of their time Village A? If they had forced the issue—made it all about it having to be Village A—I would continue to connect the dots for them. Connecting their experience, and their memories, to my artwork that awakened them. Affirming their own initial, emotional connection to my work:
“I enjoy making these scenes of our New England villages! And I love to feature their churches, because these were the heart of the community in those early days. Many people buy these for their homes, because of exactly what you’re saying. I remind them of a time gone by, an important time in their lives, a life that’s changed and grown. And yet, those memories, like those village churches, never really fade away.”
“Yes, you’re right, this scene is slightly different than you remember. It may be the church in Village B rather than Village A. But there are a lot of similarities, don’t you think? I’m delighted you saw ‘Village A’ because it’s one of my favorite places to paint, too!”
So, too, with landscapes. Rather than go down a dark road over whether a particular tree belongs there, or whether that grand tree in a grassy field is a scene in this county vs. “down that country road”, ask them about their thoughts when they saw the painting. Encourage them to tell the story about what brought them into your booth or studio (or your work in the show.) Talk about why a lone tree in a meadow inspired you to paint it.
Speak from your heart, with integrity. Listen when others are speaking from their heart.
Let them understand that the power in a great novel is not whether the book is entirely factual, but whether the story is a powerful one, the life lessons poignant, the insights are enlightening.
Just so with our artwork.
It’s not always about what’s factual and true.
It’s always about what matters—to them, and to you.
Sometimes the idea of starting a website seems like one more daunting task on your to do list, but it doesn't have to be. FASO websites are easy to setup, (even for non-techies), very easy to maintain and they also look great on desktops, tablets and mobile phones. So what are you waiting for, join our art community today! To sign up for a free, no obligation 30 day trial, click here.