This post is by guest author, Jack White. This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. This author's views are entirely his own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc
Almost twenty-two years ago I took Mikki, my mate, to the Hawaiian Islands. The six-week trip allowed us to spend seven days on each island. Maui was the last on our list. Like most people, we drove to Hana, then took the STRICTLY FORBIDDEN back road around the perimeter of Maui. About twenty miles past Hana, we stopped at a site the locals call Lover's Leap. The cliff falls straight down for 350 feet. Legend has it that two young lovers held hands and dove head first onto the rocks below because they couldn’t get married.
While we were standing on top of the cliff, I placed my hand in the middle of Mikki’s back. Holding her at the edge I said, “I have two questions to ask. One, let’s spend the rest of our lives together and live where people go on vacation. And two, I’d like to teach you to paint.” Then, I gave her a little nudge. It’s amazing how quickly she said yes to both.
I already knew she would need to be taught to work in oils; the biggest question was what to paint. I always say paint what you know. If you paint subject matter you don’t know, those who do will immediately see your mistakes.
I was not surprised when Mikki said, “I’d love to paint horses. I’ve owned and raised horses since I was a little girl. Plus, I’ve done a lot of equine anatomy illustrations.” I thought she was on to something since I was raised on a working ranch and felt I could help.
We set about traveling and taking photos of horses. Through one of my collectors, we managed to get press passes to the Kentucky Derby. We spent a week on the backside with the owners, jockeys and trainers. Mikki filled a sketchbook with drawings of the trainers, horses, owners and jockeys. They all signed her drawings.
We went to the Three Day Rolex Event and, I hazard to admit, the Maryland Gold Cup steeplechase, sitting at the finish line in Jack Kent Cooke’s private box. At the time he was the owner of the Washington Redskins. Being a Cowboy fan, that was a tough task, but we got a lot of great shots of the steeplechasers.
We visited horse farms and ranches all across the country. I think Mikki will agree the highlight of horse chasing came in Minot, ND. Two brothers, Frank and Leo saw the wild mustangs in the Teddy Roosevelt National Park being captured and sold for soap or dog food. They pooled their money and purchased a dozen wild mustangs. They’ve continued to buy and raise their herd. Their horses can trace by their DNA back to those given up by Sitting Bull when he surrendered. Today their horses, called the Nakota Horse, are the state horse of ND. The interesting thing about their horses is they have five lumbar vertebrae like the original Spanish Barb the Spanish brought over. Regular horses have six lumbar vertebrae. Remember, we have only had horses in North America for a few hundred years. The Indians got their horses in the late 1600s after the New Mexico Pueblo Revolt.
The day we got to the ranch, Leo met us with a greeting. “We have a surprise for you. We just got a new stallion and we want you to see him released. Our stallion pasture has 28 studs and it will be interesting to see them work through the pecking order.” We followed them with the new stallion in the horse trailer to the stud pasture. As soon as they stopped, the other stallions began kicking the trailer and going crazy. The new stallion was released and was immediately challenged by a lesser horse. One by one the entire 28 came by to test the new stud. The new horse was very strong, managing to rise above several. Off at a distance was an older stallion with several scars from battle. He waited until the end, slowly walked to the new stud, flicked his tail, lowered his ears and grunted. The new stallion broke and ran. The pecking order had been established.
We became an authority on horses and breeds with thousands of reference images, when an act of God caused Mikki to try her current voice. With the change, her career soared.
I think there are pecking orders in most aspects of life. In small towns, it’s the county judge or sheriff at the top. In other small communities it’s the minister, teacher or winning coach. In the art world the academia wants to impose a pecking order on those of us who have not endured art school. The sad part is so many of you reading this have fallen victim to allowing others to place you where they think you belong.
It’s done with titles. You are a student, beginning artist, emerging artist (reminds me of a bug) and horrors of horrors you are self-taught. By your acceptance that you are just a student, beginner, or an emerging artist you are playing into the pecking order as sure as if you were a stallion on Frank and Leos ranch.
I have heavy disdain for those who place labels on artists. A term I totally despise is Starving Artists. Or people who name their gallery, The Starving Artist Gallery. Trust me on this. No one wants to buy from a starving artist. They want us to be successful. Likewise why would anyone want to buy from a student, beginner, and emerging or self-taught artist? Somehow those four negative terms make it sound like the student, beginner, emerging and self-taught artist would have less to offer than a ‘real artist’.
Being an artist has nothing to do with how much you earn or what level of skill you express. Being an artist is a mindset. It’s time you stopped letting the so-called experts put you down. Refuse to be placed in a slot by people who don’t know you or the passion in your heart. From now on shout to all you see, “I’m an artist.”
Pecking orders work in the animal kingdom, but I refuse to bow to any but my Lord. I am totally self-taught and have accomplished as much as all but a few academic art scholars. I was an artist the day I declared I was going to learn to paint. I’ve been an artist almost 42 years, but I’m also a student who strives to continue to learn. I believe everyone who makes art has the God given right to be called an ARTIST.
It’s never enough just to produce artwork; we must also market what we make. I learned early in my career that how much people are willing to pay is based on their perception of the value of my art. A few weeks ago a Vincent Van Gogh oil sold for over one hundred million dollars. The same art his brother, Theo, couldn’t generate any interest in. Theo finally sold two small paintings during Van Gogh’s lifetime. What makes that Van Gogh worth millions of dollars today when at the time it was painted the work had no perceived value? The answer is simple. Today there is an illusion that his work is that of a genius. When he was alive, he was thought to be a mentally disturbed man. Today, though marketing and slight of hand he has advanced to the top of the pecking order. The same depressed and depraved man is now considered a nova, well ahead of his era.
Nothing has changed; his art has not been reworked. But shrewd art dealers began to build an aura around Van Gogh, placing his work at the high end of the pecking order. Brushstrokes in his day that looked like loose scribbles are now considered the work of a brilliant craftsman. The better the illusion, the more value the art is perceived to be worth. Most galleries today fail to sell the illusion; rather they try to sell the art.
Art has dream value. The value is conjured up in the mind of the buyer. If the buyer thinks the art will gain in value he is willing to spend. Using terms like starving, student, beginner and emerging doesn’t help you increase the value of your art. You have to build the dream, letting the buyer know you are an artist. Let’s face it, those at the high end of art marketing developed a pecking order for the value of art. As individual artists we must also build our own pecking order to establish the value of our work. As long as you see yourself at the bottom you can never get out of that hole. Eliminate your label and begin enjoying the status of being an artist. You are an artist, so you may as well enjoy the position.
The pecking order begins with the medium we select. How much money you earn may have a lot more to do with the medium you use, rather than the style or quality of your work. Art has an established pecking order of worth. The public perceives that oils on canvas have more value than watercolors on paper. Somewhere in the annals of the art world a pecking order came into place - perhaps by clever art dealers or gifted oil painters. The following will elate some of you and the rest will think I’m nuts. However, when you take time to research my pecking order, you will be forced to concur. I didn’t make the rules. After many years in the art business, I have simply uncovered the set of laws.
Oils on hardboard, linen and cotton canvas bring the same and are at the top. Today’s cotton will last as long as linen. The old masters didn’t have fine cotton canvas so they were forced to use linen. I seldom use linen because it tends to sag. I do use linen to mount on hardboard for portraits. I use an archival adhesive to mount the linen.
Acrylics: On canvas, cotton, linen and hardboard bring the same and are number two in perceived value. Some acrylic artists do great, but they would do even better if they worked in oils.
Acrylics: On paper and if it’s under glass you have lowered your selling price. You are back to glare and cost of shipping. UPS and FedEx hate shipping glass. Galleries hate dealing with shipping glass.
Watercolor: Not under glass. Easy to ship and has no glaring glass. Watercolor canvas and Aqua Board are the best for selling watercolors through art galleries. Also works well for outdoor shows where glare can be a concern.
Watercolor: Under glass. Galleries don’t like this medium because of shipping and glare. Even with non-glare glass there is some distortion. Watercolor under glass seems to do better in the New England states.
Pastels: Shipping and glare on the glass is what lowers pastels in the pecking order. There is also the fear factor, if the glass breaks will the pastels smear? They probably won’t but the art buying public has the illusion the art won’t survive a crash. Those who don’t paint with pastels spread the rumor the art would be destroyed if the glass broke.
Egg Tempera and Gouache: These two are not understood by the art buying public. The public tends to see these as mediums for illustrators. Unfortunate, because there is some amazing work done in these mediums.
Colored Crayon: Unfortunately the public associates these drawings with children’s crayon sticks. You are fighting a negative from the beginning.
Colored Pencil: This seems to be a step above the black and white art.
Silverpoint*: The buying public doesn’t know much about this medium either. This is mostly an art school medium. You have to spend too much time educating your client.
Pen and Ink*: I see some great work, but selling is tough.
Pencil*: Only a few rare pencil drawings reach a nice price. Some of those are a mixture of graphite and soft lead pencils with the fine detail in hard lead. The same quality of work in oils would bring several times more money.
*All three of these mediums deal with glass and glare. Remember, shipping glass can be a nightmare; galleries don’t like to crate and try to get insurance.
I have a few final words on art medium and their pecking orders. A Vincent Van Gogh oil sells for $100 million, his watercolors for $5 million while his charcoal drawing goes for under a million, a fraction of the other mediums. Case closed.
Jack White has the title Official Texas State Artist and recently Governor Rick Perry appointed him an Admiral in the Texas Navy. Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You can contact Jack at email@example.com.