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The Nebulously Indefinable “World of Art”

by Carolyn Henderson on 12/16/2013 7:25:30 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.


These last two articles, we have been talking about Arrogant Artists, which one finds all over the place from our neighborhood to the international art associations, and how 1) arrogance and confidence are not the same thing and 2) arrogance does not necessarily translate into excellence. While an arrogant artist can be one of the Famous Few because he is, indeed, good, we -- as both members of and consumers in the nebulously indefinable world of art -- can inadvertently and unintentionally promote arrogance by continuing to fund it, one dollar at a time.


You may not realize this, but as a consumer of art products, a participant of shows, a purchaser of magazines, and a follower of famous names, you are an integral part of that nebulously indefinable world of art -- but not considered particularly important by the few who wield the power, prestige, influence, and money. As with any establishment, there are Inner Sanctums, and like most inner sanctums, they are closed to most people, even though there is the outside appearance that anyone -- given enough talent, gumption, and the American Dream -- can make it in.


But you do have something quite important that you do control -- your money -- and it is the one thing about you that matters to the Arrogant Artists at the top of the nebulously indefinable world of art. It is your purchases of their art, their books, their DVDs, their workshops, their magazines, their product lines, that keep them, monetarily, thriving.


Not all of the Famous Few are egotistically conceited -- there are good, humble, confident yet kind people everywhere, and some of them stay this way despite success: these are the ones it is worth supporting because they’re good in two ways -- in what they do, and how they live. Art does not operate within a vacuum, and if we are going to praise a person because of his genius in grasping and representing truth -- which is what art propounds to find -- then the nobler and more honorable his inner being, the more likely he is to truly capture truth in his art.


At some point, and when it goes on long enough, arrogance chips away at truth, and what is left -- the artist’s creation -- is a brittle shell giving the illusion of truth. Do you want to learn from a person like this?


And quite honestly, when an artist is so impressed by his ability to do what he does -- how likely is it that he will teach you to know what he knows? Arrogant people aren’t dumb.


Through the years, as I have written this column, I have “met” many of you through your comments and observations: you are good, honest, humble, kind people, some of whom lack confidence because you look at the nebulously indefinable world of art and feel that you must not be good, or you would be featured in a magazine, or the prize winner in a major show, or sought after by the tippy top galleries, or promoted and showered with accolades in the way that you see being done with others.


You may or may not be really good -- it should be your primary goal that you are -- but recognize that, in the nebulously indefinable world of art, not all of the top players are good. Premium level marketing and sterling connections are invaluable assets that you may not have.


But again, what you do have is your checkbook, or your debit card, or your fistful of cash, and you can choose to support good artists who are good people. What we fund is what we get more of, and what I would like to see more of are good people, with open minds and a willingness to help and encourage others, producing top quality products in their area of expertise.


Support these people. As for the others -- the ones who are excellent yet arrogant -- think twice, thrice, four times before continuing to fund that arrogance. Instead, invest your time, money, and attention on someone who is excellent yet kind, which could very well be you, by the way.


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Related Posts:

Your Alfred Hitchcock Moment

Arrogance versus Confidence

Topics: art and culture | art and psychology | art and society | Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews 

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Mary Paloma
Once again, you have touched my heart and my soul with your insight and understanding of human nature and particularly the longing for acceptance. Thank you. I will keep your words in mind as I continue to make my art to share with those who would see it.

Michael Cardosa
Hi Carolyn,

I loved this last piece on this subject, thank you!

I agree that people should not only vote with their feet but with their dollars as you mentioned here. I probably mentioned this before (but who's listening to me, one of the great unwashed (ok only figuratively)...) I don't buy, rent etc. movies, DVDs, whatever from "entitled" and "arrogant" artists of any stripe. They might be famous, they might be rich, they wouldn't even stop to think about the pittance I would contribute to their wealth and advancement but I do, and I won't. Now, if we all did that as you also suggest we might just change the world a little. (OK, maybe we'd make some of these people stop and think a little, don't go looking for world peace here!)

As to your comments about "you must not be good, or you would be featured in a magazine, or the prize winner in a major show, or sought after by the tippy top galleries, or promoted and showered with accolades in the way that you see being done with others" I know those things are out there for me, I just think that I might be hiding from them somehow! :)

Thanks again Carolyn, always enjoy your posts.


Hello Carolyn:

Thank you for another inspiring post. I have been reading your blog for a number of years now and I always enjoy your insights. There is an old saying it's not what you know it's who you know and your article brings that sentiment back to me. It's very easy to forget what it was that we set out to accomplish when we began to create our art. Your words help me to realize I'm still on the right track. I could never stop what I am doing and your blogs truly help to keep me on the right path. Thank you soo much Carolyn and I would like to wish you and yours the very best of the season.

Alan Rutherford

Colleen Taylor
Thank you for this Carolyn! If I had a dollar for each time I've experienced these type of artists, I'd have a nice stash of cash. I concur with the other comments above. Arrogance is definitely not an attractive trait! Thank you and a Merry Christmas to you and your family.

It's been said that the more you know the artist the less you will like the art.
Many of us admire and learn from countless artists past and present but what do we know of their values or lifestyles? Likely not much except what we read in the history books or during brief interactions with the living ' masters '.
The question might be; if we have learned and applied useful information or techniques from the 'masters' past or present and later find out their values, personalities or histories were in direct opposition to ours would we still value what we have learned? Would we discard it all and vow never to look at their art again or separate the work from the artist and continue to be inspired and motivated by their achievements and standard of work?.
The answer for most is probably somewhere in between. Personal experience will create a different impression and feelings from that of hearsay or gossip or reading a biography.

Carolyn Henderson
Mary -- Thank you for your kind words. Acceptance, like many human desires, is pretty much universal. It's important to realize that, while the emotions are universal, the "solutions" are not, and there are many, many people willing to take our money to provide what looks like the right answer, but isn't. We will be far happier if we take the time to learn and be wise, so that we are not fooled by others' sweet words.

Michael -- thank you for your good words. Please do not underestimate your "power" as a consumer -- it is twofold. Yes, if enough people do something, they make a difference. There is a reason why so many organizations assure us, "Your $5 gift is very valuable to us." It is. You -- are not. Your money, collectively with many others, is.

Two. Even if millions of people don't jump on the bandwagon with you, it does not undervalue what you, all on your own, do. You and I may not make a big, social impact with our various actions, but we definitely make a big impact on our own lives. If we make the right decision for no other reason that it is the right decision, then this is good. Much damage is caused by going against our beliefs and inclinations.

Alan -- you are most kind, and I am glad that what I write, helps. That matters to me, very much.

It is easy to confuse public accolade with being on the right track, and if this were truly true, then many public figures would almost be Messiahs. If the approving voices cause us to wander from our goal of improving our art, our lives, and the positive impact that we can make on the lives of others, then they have damaged, not helped, us.

Colleen -- there's a turning point, with arrogance and other unattractive attributes, when we realize that we're not the problem, the arrogant person is. It sounds like you have achieved riches in realizing the truth of this, even if you don't have that pile of dollars! A Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

Ivan -- excellent points. Our information about artists in the past is shaped by what we are told -- history is written by the winners, as they say. We really don't know much about the people in the deep past, and rely more on their work as opposed to their actions.

However, actions do matter. Arrogance and pride have a way of coming through, and more than once I've been struck by a certain piece by a certain way, then had that impression validated by something I learned about the artist, or writer, later.

Truth is truth, and the more mature we are, the more easily we discern it from anywhere. My main point is this: we are blasted by media information about this person or that, told that he or she is incredible and amazing and well worth following and supporting, and we must learn to separate that out. If a person is arrogant, I have no problem looking at his or her product and learning from it -- as I said, arrogant people frequently have justification for being that way because many, but not all, of them actually are good. But there are plenty of others who are just as good or better, and can manage to get through the day without making the people around them feel like little tiny wriggling worms. If I have money to spend or support to give, I would prefer to direct it toward them.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello Carolyn..

Interesting article. Thank you. You keep us on our toes.

It is funny --- I was just thinking this morning after looking thru a few art magazines and seeing ALL the beautiful works, some with such high quality work that I thought, never could I be as good as they. (The I start the compare thing again. Not suppose to do that.) Some of those artists I do know and they are wonderful and kind people/artists.

Then there are others whose work I thought, hmmm, guess I don't understand art at all because I was not as crazy about their work. But who am I too judge? And I do think, some of it is who they know or as you write...having "Sterling Connections"... to have all those accolades in art magazines?
Another question I often have is, why are the same artists in these magazines over and over and over again? Like there are not thousands upon thousands of artists throughout the U.S. or world?!
And sometimes that particular artist is not just in one magazine that month, but is also in a different magazine at the same time as the other.
How do they handle all that fame and success? Hopefully it doesn't swell their heads up and make them arrogant.

Don't know if any of them are arrogant. I truly think that most are not.

They say art is in the eye of the beholder, right? But, seeing that work I did not care for as much and did not seem up to the higher quality, made me feel even less because if they can get into those magazines, and etc....good grief won't I ever learn enough?!
I am off topic here I guess.......

I am not sure about the arrogance of any of those artists in the magazines or galleries, or wherever.
AND, I have only met one or two artists who had such arrogance. I honestly cannot think of any others right now who I would stamp with the mark of arrogance.

I do wish I had the kind of simple confidence some of those artists have. At least to make me feel better when needed.
Arrogance goes beyond simple confidence.
How do you measure confidence? That is a dumb question, huh?
Oh well. I am not sure I am writing what I mean to say.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Forgive all the spelling errors and misused words in my reply above.
I keep saying to myself that I am going to purchase that book you have out Carolyn. One of these days.

Robert Sloan
Like supports like.

Every one of the artists whom I've supported by purchasing their art, DVDs, magazines, lessons, has been someone I respected and liked. FandW Publications supports the less arrogant, craft-professional artists who want to see you enjoy your work and improve it whether you're professional or just a happy leisure painter.

Their works in any other century would be museum-worthy classic paintings and many no doubt will be celebrated as such. They're more likely to endure in those museums because they're concerned with materials toxicity and durability. They earn a good living - a middle to upper middle class living - in an economy that more and more resembles the Great Depression.

At the other end there's a very small elite of people who throw around museum-scale budgets for purchasing art. They have power, they enjoy using power, they like being able to make or break an artist's reputation with a word and decide who's admitted to their circle or not. Sometimes just one of them winds up creating an entire art movement with his personal tastes.

My purchasing choices are going to have a bigger impact than that 1 percent fellow. Because if he lost interest in his favorite artist, chances are that artist isn't going to starve or lose his career. He'll lose the tip-topmost part of it and maybe not get CEO scale money - but if he had any sense at all, he's got solid investments and can go on painting for those that love his work for the rest of his life without worrying about no longer being flavor of the week to an arrogant bankster.

Name recognition counts for a lot in terms of sales and the former flavor of the week is still well known enough that their work will sell enough they can live.

But on the human scale of those middle class and upper middle class artists who create good DVDs and courses and paintings or archival prints I want on my walls, I'm a little closer to them. I might correspond with them. I do connect in person. They know it went to a good home, they might get an email with that painting they loved while painting it in its new context. I'm a student with a favorite teacher and that is a special kind of friendship in itself, even though I still think of myself as retired and a leisure painter due to disability logistics.

When we support those good artists and good people, we're making their mortgage. They may not be losing their house but we may have made the bigger tube of Cadmium Red possible this month. They are friends and it's a personal connection. Buy art more than once from any artist and you have begun that relationship with someone who enriches your life at every turn... and does so for your kids and their kids and the people in the museum a century later.

You can feel it in the most nonobjective abstract, whether that painting brings up some kind of high-stakes neurotic rat-race jitters or makes you smile at the sheer exuberance of turquoise dancing. Nonobjective works especially are like cloud-watching, you'll see what you project into them. The best are designed to do so. But they carry a wordless message and mood, if every time you look for a camel in it you see instead an army of hold messages and bad news that's nothing personal, it's going to bring you down - and contribute to the exact social phenomenon it cries out against. It may decorate someone's lobby who wants to intimidate visitors yet appear classy and chic. Art sells to those who want to hear the message.

It's not hard to find the warm hearts among good artists. They're most likely to be there if you have a warm heart and look at their paintings. It comes through so clear.

Betty Pieper
Carolyn, You hit a well spring on this one. I liked it, too, but I think that my small dollars would not make not an iota of difference to any big name arrogant artist. I even wonder if the big guys make dvds or anything I could afford! What you have touched on, however,
is worth continuing to explore! How to withhold
power from any arrogant, ruthless or artificially created celebrities (frauds). Sometimes just massive turning away, demonstrations of indifference might work....and especially might have an effect on media where the dependence on mass infatuation is required.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello again Carolyn...

There are so many art magazines that I subscribe to, and in so doing, I feel certain that I am helping to support not only the publication of those magazines, but also the artists who are featured. (Again, if one of those artists is arrogant, I would not know.)

There are artists books that I have purchased and I appreciate all those books. A few of the artist authors of those books I know...and if I don't, it is out of respect for their knowledge that I have purchased the book.

It is hard for me to pass up a good book or magazine relating to art because there is always much to be learned from them. As long as I am able to do so, I will continue to purchase and support those art magazines and art books...and the artists within the pages.

One or two arrogant artists will not stop that purchasing. As I said, I would not know who they are anyway, and. . . When it comes down to it, their arrogance is their problem, not mine.

If I tasted their arrogance, I cannot honestly say that I would purchase their art work though. Who they are will come through that art.

Donald Fox
Interesting post. Don't have time to fully respond right now but you seem to be suggesting a bottom up form of art appreciation. If the artist doesn't share your core values then he or she can't ultimately be good - or am I misreading? More later.

Marian Fortunati
I think your advice is well used in every encounter with people.
If they are arrogant and don't treat others well... Who needs them.... or whatever they'd like you to purchase/fawn over/ etc.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Carolyn, you always give something valuable in your posts, and this mini-series is no exception, thank you for bringing up the issue.

I and another person have mentioned a supremely arrogant artist in the comments of the previous posts. I have cancelled a subscription as I didn't want to support that Supreme Arrogance. The artist didn't reveal much in their articles.

I do believe that an arrogant artist can be a very good artist -- but that their personality will be visible in their art, just as any artist's personality does get expressed in their art. So a less skilled artist with a wonderful personality can make art which speaks directly to the heart, while art by Arrogant Artists may be very skilled but lack that emotional connectivity.

Carolyn, I always enjoy your writing. But I don't agree. Hey, does that mean I'm arrogant? ;-)

Just because someone is arrogant, it doesn't mean they don't have something worthy to teach. On the contrary, I'm betting that they're good and it's simply that they know it. That's their problem. If I can learn something from them, I'll take that bad taste - but for only as long as necessary.

Brian Sherwin
The NY art community comes to mind when I read this. Having worked in some of those circles... I can tell you that arrogance is common. Oddly enough, it can become a marketing pitch -- NY galleries are really good at taking a conceited jerk and promoting him or her as a 'bad boy' or 'bad girl'. Ha. It worked for Pollock... just as it now works for Powhida.

You see a lot of that within the big time circles of the art world. For example, people still buy affordable trinkets offered by Damien Hirst even though he is a well-established, to be frank, A-hole. I guess people look past it if the artist is associated with status.

Another side of this is that we may assume that an artist is arrogant when in reality he or she is far from it. For example, if you try to talk to an artist during his or her opening and receive little response... is it because he or she is arrogant? OR is it because he or she just found out that someone is interested in buying a piece -- and is scrambling to get to that side of the room in order to help close the deal?

Sandy Askey-Adams
Gosh Carolyn...and Brian.

I must live in some kind of a dream world or in LaLa Land.
It is hard to accept that there are so many arrogant artists, but I am certainly realizing it because of this blog.
As I had said earlier, I only know of one, maybe two who I met a long time ago.

I guess since arrogance can be found in any kind of profession, so can it be in the arts. It is not what I like to see or hear about.
The public statement they make with their arrogance is not something that one would desire. The arts is suppose to stem from the depth of the soul, isn't it?.... and it just seems like there would be more of a gentleness of nature in artists. Or, maybe I am assuming too much and don't know anything at all.
I mean, where is the humility, the kindness and that attitude of gratitude?
I must sound naive.

Carolyn Henderson
Sandy - You say, "Who am I to judge?"

You're an artist, and you have a right to look at another artist's work, regardless of who or what he or she is, and critique it.

And no, you don't sound naive; you sound honest. Too much, our society blends the two together, but the little boy who observed that the Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes was the only one in the crowd who WASN'T naive.

Donald: Truth is truth, and it can be found anywhere, even behind the mask of arrogance. Whether or not a person shares my "core values" isn't the issue -- good learners and seekers find insight everywhere.

As a consumer, I choose where I spend my dollars, and if I want to learn something, I find it far easier -- and more palatable -- to learn from someone who is skilled and humble, as opposed to someone who is skilled but proud. I won't refrain from doing the latter, but at the same point, I won't throw myself at someone's feet along with my money.

It's interesting, but as years go by, I encounter big talkers on a regular basis, and increasingly I find that the thing they're best at, is big talking. It saves me time and effort to just not bother with them, having to sift through their talk and find the gems. It's more efficient to work with someone who doesn't get in the way, because they insist upon standing in the prominent spot, of what I can learn from them.

Marian: the irritable human in me agrees -- "You get plenty of worship and adoration. You don't need mine." Just my tiny, tinny little effort to maintain a sense of dignity in the value of the individual.

Charlotte: YES. It is the unseen things that are frequently the most powerful, and how a person looks at the world, and the people around him, does make a difference in the ultimate message of his art.

He can still be a master. He can still be great. But the essence of who he is will come through.

Michele: I'm glad that you put the smiley face, because in no way does honest disagreement ever mistake itself for arrogance!

I agree with you -- many times, arrogant people are very good at what they do, and they know it. And, like you, I am sometimes willing to take the time to cut through all the fluff in their manner and try to learn from them.

But when and if I can, I use whatever I have been given to support people who try to give thought to others as opposed to always focusing on themselves.

Brian: we live in a society that rewards cheekiness -- the more outrageous and outre a person is, the more we gravitate toward them. "They must be good," we say, "because they act this way."

Unfortunately, we tend to get what we pay for. As individual people, we can put our money into what we choose to support. In one way, it's a small thing, but in another way -- staying true to ourselves -- it is very big indeed.

Martha Slater
Oh, how I identify with today's blog! I have spent lots of money on workshops with the "big name artist/instructors" only to experience extreme disappointment when they work on their own pieces to sell at the end of the week, or to promote their own sales in other ways. My question is: how does one know the "arrogance" of the artist/instructor ahead of time? How does one know who is a true educator? How do I know who is going to help me? I'm now fairly leery of workshops altogether. Very sad, because I'd love to learn from some of them.

Martha Slater
Write another comment . . .

Robert Sloan
Martha, that makes sense. I think it helps to study their work, ask if you like their work, hang out on their blog and comment on it, get to know them. Are their comments to you and answered questions friendly and warm? Do they often teach just because it was on their mind? The warm-hearted are always giving away tidbits in their casual conversation. They're quick with a comment or an answered question outside the workshop context.

They might be working on their demo painting to sell. Most of the good ones sell their demo paintings too, in fact, it's a bit natural that sometimes they sell to workshop attendees. Buying art is personal, it's like falling in love.

But not all great artists are good teachers either. They're two different skills. If I was considering a workshop I would look at that person's articles and DVDS, consider how her teaching style fits my learning style. Did I get something out of watching the DVD and trying the exercises? How easy was it to understand what she was talking about? Were her examples good?

I usually do buy paintings from my teachers. If I spend a lot of time with an artist studying her DVDs or reading their articles, I'll get to know them and their style and ideas on life. Especially DVDs and articles will give some idea of teaching style. This is also personal. Everyone has their own learning style and learning curve too. I'd look for a workshop with the artists whom I've learned from and given relative prices of workshops, may well own a small piece of theirs before I could save up for a trip and getting on the workshop schedule.

It doesn't have to be a big one, but with teachers I find it really helps me to own a small piece of their work. Looking at the real thing shows me levels of awareness that I wouldn't get from looking at a camera image of it - the real effect of those color combinations and strokes is different in person. It's always been "omg this is so much more beautiful in person."

Most recently I bought a thundercloud skyscape from a teacher I loved who was selling off lots of smaller paintings in a sale at a time I got a bit of a monetary windfall. I've now stared at it for a year and love it even more. But she also gave away an entire instruction book online free to readers - Deborah Secor's free pastel book is as good as any of the ones I bought, it's excellent.

Generous artists will give of their time and effort teaching before you get to their paid workshop. In it what you get is their focused attention and time specifically directed to your individual needs. It's well worth it. You're also there in person to see what the camera can't give you. But their teaching skills don't go away when they're socializing and any casual question tends to bring out the teacher side and get a good, useful answer that's encouraging and exciting. Hanging out with them leaves me wanting to paint and to improve my painting.

If hanging out with them makes me feel daunted by tight markets and competitive attitudes, if I get the feeling that they're holding back trade secrets instead of explaining the craft, that'll show long before I'd consider taking a workshop.

I'm laughing because I think I would never buy an actual workshop just on the basis of someone's fame or how much money they earn. I might find myself disagreeing with a handful of elites that like their ideas and waste my time and money. There's a different social interaction between elite patron and elitist artist, one of shutting out everyone else, especially beginners and leisure artists.

Truth is, the better a leisure artist paints, the more likely they are to want to own great art by painters better than they are. I'd also look for warning signs of "Suffering for your Art" and other myths. I'd watch for put-downs of artwork and artists you might like a lot because they're too accessible. A competitive focus and an emphasis of "Top" this and "Best" that and "Top money" tends to lean arrogant. Especially the money bit because up in some levels the money is a status game and the folks buying are getting the stroke that they're smarter than the people who couldn't afford it and wouldn't want it.

Hey Carolyn, you've touched my painter's soul.
I've read your blogs and comments before, but not with enthusiasm...I must admit...but this one hits home. Wow! the successful, advertised, upper echelon artist can be a private, not revealing personality without comment or compliments to us rank and file artists, who, can put out some good work...not necessarily recognized by the art media, but many times superior in completion and open display of talent. I've met several "recognized and upper members" of national art associations on paint outs and received bland response to art conversation relative to their work or mine.

Martha Slater
Robert, thank you for your thoughtful response to my first blog comment. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your recommendations and your insight. I see that I need to spend more time getting to know the artist(s) I'm considering working with. I had never really understood the need to interact with them prior to signing up for a workshop. A whole new world for me.

I am gradually realizing that the dividing line between the "famous, fabulous, gifted, talented" artists out there and those of us who are doing pretty darned good work is not so great and that we need to see it in that way. We all have our talents and our messages.

I will continue to follow this link and know I will learn more as I go along.

Brian Sherwin
Robert -- You def make some interesting points about status. Honestly though, I like to think that most artists -- and art collectors, for that matter -- are not plagued by the need for status. I think most of us just really, really, really love art.

It just goes to show... the art world is HUGE -- worlds within worlds -- and we can pick and choose where we wish to journey. If, for example, the art community you are involved with feels as though it is draining you... take a step back. Reflect.


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