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Too Much Chocolate Makes You Fat

by Carolyn Henderson on 10/25/2011 9:37:00 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her  freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.


To say that we live in an isolated corner of a forgotten state gives the implication that there is even more of a vibrant art scene here than there is.


My Little Hometown, 30 miles from our rural farm, like many little and mid-sized burghs throughout the nation, natters on about its “art community,” and the brochures and the websites and the press releases are tireless in their assertion that we are a center for bustling and thriving Art Action Now!


If you’re real quiet and have got a good set of binoculars, you might even stumble upon a real, live, working artist out in the bush somewhere. (There are quite a few, incidentally, but they’re quietly working while the city fathers around them jabber.)


In real life, however, where real people live, we’re not a mini-Santa Fe, NM, or Scottsdale, AZ.


You know how Bugs Bunny was always missing the road to Albuquerque and winding up in some remote backwater with Yosemite Sam?


THAT place has more of an art scene than Our Little Town.


But I never realized that this was actually a good thing until I returned, quite recently, from a visit to an arts community that lives up to its name, with a respectable, quantifiable number of artists and galleries and year-round art walks and studios and all that stuff.


By gum, there was a lot of art flowing through this town, which was a town, not a very big one, but fortuitously placed in an area where lots of tourists like to congregate.


And you know something else about all that art?


Most of it was bad.


Without getting into arguments with people about art quality and whether or not we can ever call any piece of art “good” or “bad,” (for the record: yes, we can), much of the work produced by the many artists milling around this village was of amateur quality – you’ve seen it; you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been to a community college first-year student art show, then you’ve seen what the galleries in this community – most of them artist co-ops – had to offer.


In reading through the artist statements of the gallery and co-op participants, I stumbled upon a theme: very, very few of them had shown their work outside of their personalized bustling art community. They didn’t see a need to, because there were so many apparent opportunities right at their feet.


This is typical of what I read, over and over and over:


“Since 2001, I have exhibited a total of 18 pieces in the City Ice-Cream Shoppe’s annual Cool Art Flavor show. I studied under the amazing and fabulous Prudence Artista (who has taught a number of the locals, it seems) and the crowning achievement of my art career was to be juried into the Best of the Bunch Co-op Gallery. My art speaks deeply to the inner being of all the people who see it.”


In 10 years, this artist publicly exhibited 18 pieces in one venue, for an average of 1.8 pieces per year.


“Maybe she means 18 pieces per year,” one counters.


Does it read that way to you?


But okay, let’s grant her the 18 pieces, maybe the same 18 pieces that she shows in one small, local show at a restaurant per year, and let’s move on to studying under Prudence.


I saw Prudence’s work – it was in another co-op – and my first thought was, “This person’s got potential.” Not potential to teach right now, mind you, but potential to move forward in her art under a decent teacher.


And the crowning achievement: jurying into the Best of the Bunch Gallery.


This sounds like a good point to stop until next week, when we’ll discuss how too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a good thing, and how frustration, lack of apparent opportunity, rejection, and running headlong into brick walls are experiences that you don’t want to miss.


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Topics: advice for artists | art appreciation | art criticism | Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews | originality | painting 

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Megan Seagren
I'm looking forward to your follow-up article on this subject, Carolyn. I've been invited to join a co-op gallery and also been asked to teach, but in the case of the former, I feel that it would take away from my painting time without returning enough value to compensate. In the case of the latter, I feel that I need to further develop my own art first. Maybe you can help me stay on track. BTW, what are the hallmarks of a "decent" teacher?

Carolyn Henderson
Megan: I hear you -- there are a lot of good, and not so good, options out there that take up painting time, and part of running your art business is ensuring that you have time to do the primary thing: produce your art.

You are wise to think about the teaching as well -- it is important to be on top of your game and reasonably confident in your abilities before you instruct others. We have met many people who started teaching early and have been doing so for years and years, and yet, because they are a teacher, they are reluctant to admit that they still need to be taught (we all do, in some way or another), and they block themselves from moving forward.

A decent teacher? One who knows his or her stuff and is able to communicate it. We've all heard of the Einsteins out there who mutter and mumble their way through lectures, and get impatient with the dummies underneath them who don't grasp what their saying. So maybe they're really good at what they do, but they're not effective teachers.

At the same point, there are warm, fuzzy, embracing, feelgood people who aren't very good at what they're supposed to be teaching. You'll leave these classes feeling good about yourself, but not necessarily forward in the topic.

Betty Pieper
This is a smart analysis of something that seems obvious, but when we read on, it is anything but. Carolyn addresses the 'elephant in the room' as well - the fact that most of us are not color-blind to "good" and "bad" work even if it seems intolerant of us to express the conviction. Being in the right place almost all of the time is another fact of life seldom mentioned. How many people who "do" art do very well in places where tourists are fixtures and conversely how much good art gets passed by simply because it is away from the right time, place, and context? Although I like to hear artists, especially those who are facile, experienced and successful, hold forth on what makes for "good" and "bad" (clumbsy) art, I doubt it will ever penetrate people buying hype and image, or just the urge to buy because they are relaxed and have money and opportunity at the same minute that they want to secure a reminder of a good place and time.

George De Chiara
Dang, I thought you were going to tell us how to eat chocolate and NOT get fat! Looking forward to the next installment on this and comparing notes to some of the "art" towns we've visited over the years. Things are very familiar so far.

Carol Schmauder
Because I am overweight (I'm being kind to myself today and not saying I am fat) and I eat too much chocolate, I was drawn to this article, Carolyn. I am now anxiously awaiting the follow-up. I come from one of those communities you mention in this article.

tom weinkle

Right about now, I think the Yankees could use you as a DH. Or the Dolphins as an Offense...and Defense. You hit a homerun, threw a touchdown....You have exposed a harsh truth in an elegantly humorous way.



I use to teach art full time,and now I do it part time so I can have more time for my own art. You will have a few students that really do want to learn and are willing to do what it takes. A large number, who want to call themselves artists, because that is what they do, will never do the work or time that it takes. You will notice that people with bad art will always compliment each other and stay in their own groups. The good students are rewarding and worth your time.

Kathy Chin
Sorry we missed your visit to Our Little Town Carolyn...when were you here? I'm really glad that you saw the teacher's potential...I'll let her know!!!

Obviously I'm kidding, but seriously, I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't always pick out the "good" art from the "bad." I'm trying to learn, but am not always successful. As a fairly new photographer, I can now pick out the better photo images from the maybe-not-as-good, but as far as the traditional artwork in our gallery, I'm not as confident.

So if I buy an oil from an artist in "Big or Little Town" that most of the pros would hate, but I like it, are we both keeping bad art alive through our ignorance? Or is it necessarily bad art? I guess I'm still confused by some of the awful things I've seen that are touted as "awe-inspiring" by the "super-duper" somehow connected artist of the minute who tries to convince everyone that the emperor really is wearing clothes.

BTW, how did you know about that brick wall?

Oh my goodness! I know exactly what you mean. I actually live near Scottsdale, Az and I vacation in a Small Town with a HUGE art scene. The Small Town art is all very bad and they are so proud of it! It's quite shocking to see the difference from the galleries in Scottsdale and the galleries in Small Town. I'm glad to see that this thing goes on in other places and my Small Town is not so very strange.

Brian Sherwin
I suppose everything depends on the motivations of the artist -- and how the artist defines success for himself or herself. Some artists may be content exhibiting over a dozen times at a mom and pop art gallery. They may have no desire to exhibit at 'serious' art galleies... Hell, they may choose not to be a master at what they do. They may desire to create 'bad' paintings.

Have any of you ever came across the Museum of Bad Art? Believe it or not -- some artists want to be included in the collection. Again, it all falls on the motivations of the artist. What he or she wants out of art... and out of an art community.

As for small town art scenes -- I'd rather see a small town with a 'bad' art scene than one that has no art scene to speak of. That is just my opinion.

Just some food for thought.

It does seem to me that the bell curve on art quality is applicable just about everywhere, from small communities through to the larger art centers. You find the typical range in just about every location, with some really 'bad' art and some truly good art at the extremes, with a whole lot of average art in between.
I look forward to the next installment of this post.

Brian, I think these artists just don't know what good art looks like. It isn't so much that it is ugly, it's just poorly executed with poor quality materials. I saw a booth with what looked like beautiful blown glass but when I got close it was cheaply painted soda bottles! But you are right, a Huge art scene of poor art is better than no art scene at all. These artists get a great deal of happiness creating- they just shouldn't sell it.

tom weinkle
I like what Brian said, and I think Kathy raises an interesting issue.

Of course as artists, we hope the viewer wants to collect our work..whatever stage we are at along the quality curve. As artists, even the weakest USUALLY strive to be better. When someone wants to buy a piece of my work, or just responds positively, it makes me work harder and feel good about my journey.

To Kathy's point, I think we should buy what we like and not worry about quality...unless you are trying to invest in art. If investing, there are many more issues then just quality to think about.

What I got from Carolyn's essay is that sometimes other artist's work can get in the way of our own success through their own levels of access, exposure, location, etc., and it isn't always because the art is of greater quality. I always try to be happy for their successes. And keep working on my more strategic ways. We can learn something from everyone, and it doesn't mean that we should mimic what we don't believe in.

Okay, so why DID you put that title up there?

And maybe you were planning it for the next installment, but here's another thing--- At our last visit to Small Town near the Big Art Center, one thing that caught my attention was pricing in Small Town.
The further the painting hung down on the totem pole of quality, the higer the price. $10,000 paintings (and boisterously labled as such) hanging in obscure hotel hallways, how great is that? And they apparently didn't need security to keep thieves at bay. I wonder why :)


Carol Schmauder
KC: We recently took my father on a trip into northern Montana. We ate at a restaurant in a very tiny town that had artwork hung on the walls with ridiculously high prices for the quality of work. I asked the server if these were well known artists (I had never heard of any of them) and she said they are well known in the area. I seriously wonder where anyone in that small place would ever get the money to buy such expensive art. It certainly gave me pause to wonder.

Brian Sherwin
Morgen -- I see your point. I'm sure we have all seen Jackson Pollock inspired paintings with huge price tags... that show that the artist clearly has little to no understanding of what exactly Pollock was doing -- or that he was doing it well. But hey -- if the artist ends up selling a few pieces I'm not going to hold it against them. :)

Sharon Weaver
I recently visited a small resort town that had a few co-op "opportunities." Besides art the store was an antique store, jewelry shop, card store, used clothing store, etc. In fact I would have a hard time thinking of something they didn't sell. The lady behind the counter told my friend to make sure and include prints and cards in addition to the art. "You know, things people will buy." Apparently art wasn't a big money maker.....Think I will pass on that opportunity.

Jana Botkin
I live in one of those small Art Towns and have learned that the Big Boys and Girls are exhibiting and selling in places like Scottsdale, NOT here! They used to participate locally, but the customers just are not plentiful nor wealthy enough to support them.

The next tier, the Medium Boys and Girls, are working our butts off, diversifying, accepting private students, accepting commissions, learning how to do new things, chasing it. And, we are making it too.

And, too much of almost anything makes you fat. Can't wait to see how this all ties together with chocolate! (preferably dark)

Doris Nickerson
I look forward to your further comments. Anyway, if it sells in a small town that's a big moment for the artist -- be it a beginner or a long established artist. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - in this case the buyer.

Brian Sherwin
Doris -- I agree. I know an artist who exhibited works priced at $800 a pop in Chicago. Not one piece was sold. She took the same work to a smaller community in Illinois -- and two ended up being sold in less than a week. Her art was 'good' enough for Chicago... but she ended up making profit in a Small Town.

We can't always assume that art collectors only live in larger cities... nor can we assume that people in smaller communities can't afford to buy art. Some can -- and obviously do.

Brian Sherwin
There has also been a trend of wealthy retirees moving to smaller communities in recent years. It will be interesting to see if that will impact the market for art in smaller areas. I know that when I helped with a gallery years ago the average buyer was between 50 and 70 years old. I assume that some of those individuals may have been retired and enjoying the fruit of their labor.


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