“Wildflowers, Rabbit Ears Pass”
Oil on Canvas
In Robert Genn’s October 24, 2006 newsletter, he talks about his preview of the book The Starbucks Experience, Five Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary by psychologist Joseph Michelli. In the newsletter, he talks about five principles of success, discussed by Michelli:
1. Make it your own
2. Everything matters
3. Surprise and delight
4. Embrace resistance
5. Leave your mark
When I first read this, I glanced over the principles and decided they were a little bit touchy feely and typical of the “feel good” stuff you find in your average how-to-make-your-business-successful book.
Then I took a second look and thought a little bit more about how these principles apply to my art career. I think it was a good way to bring together some thoughts about how and why I approach my art the way I do, and where I see myself going. I’m usually a bit nebulous about my painting – I hate writing artist statements and defining my work – so every once in a while I think it’s a good exercise to sit down and put some of my thoughts about art into words.
1. Make it your own.
This is one of my top priorities as I develop as an artist. Developing a personal style is something that evolves from spending countless hours alone in the studio. I value the critiques of my peers, and can’t put into words how much I’ve learned from the handful of workshops I’ve taken, but nothing has been more valuable than the hours I’ve spent alone in the studio developing my own voice. When I’m at the easel and something isn’t working, it takes some serious problem solving to figure out how to fix it. Combine my personal responses to every moment of difficulty while painting, and the result is my own personal style.
Nothing bugs me more than to walk into a gallery and to see a painting that was obviously done by someone who studied with a particular artist. I make a conscious decision to take a limited number of workshops and classes, and those that I do take are with artists who have a reputation for teaching principles and basics rather than technique. This allows me to learn within the parameters of my own style, and make sure that my paintings are and will always be my own.
2. Everything Matters
I agree – everything matters. When I drop off my paintings at a gallery, quality and consistency matter. Framing matters. Quantity matters. What a client sees hanging on the wall of the gallery influences their overall impression of me as an artist worth collecting. In working with the gallery, responsiveness and professionalism matter, and dependability above all. If I have a good working relationship with the gallery, it will reinforce their commitment to sell my work.
I could go on and on about the all of the things that matter. I’m only one person and sometimes I’m just going to have to prioritize the bigger things over the smaller things, but it’s still good to remember that everything matters. Because selling art is more than a collector falling in love with a painting – people’s opinions are influenced by more than what they see, and everything matters when it comes to presenting collectors with a package that will inspire them to open their pocketbook and buy.
3. Surprise and Delight
This one is tough for me. I paint because I’ve loved art as long as I can remember, but I’m at a point where I’m transitioning to making art my career, and at this stage I view art as work. Making and selling art is soon going to be my job, and I’m devoted to approaching my art business with the same amount of energy, discipline, and professionalism with which I approach my current day job. I think that this commitment has been responsible for the success I have experienced in this, my first year selling my artwork. But sometimes the stress of producing can suck some of the joy out of the creative process.
This principle serves as a reminder to me that I’m choosing to make art my job because I’m passionate about it. One of my goals should be maintain that passion when I get bogged down with deadlines and requests. My love for art needs to be the heart of this business if I am going to be successful in the long run.
4. Embrace Resistance
This is a tough one for everyone, because it’s human nature to respond to criticism with defensiveness. My husband is my toughest critic, and every time he makes a negative comment about a painting, I immediately respond with all the reasons he’s wrong. But every time I complete a painting, I set it up on a shelf in my family room where I can soak it up for a few days, and I never fail to see his point of view eventually. Often, the specific criticism he makes isn’t the root of the actual problem, but when I take the time to figure out what’s causing his response I can almost always use it to make a better painting.
It’s hard to admit when I’m wrong, especially when it comes to my art. I take it personally when it comes to my paintings, and it’s hard to separate hurt feelings from the truth when I’m evaluating criticism. But it’s important to embrace resistance, at least to the point of setting aside time for evaluation. Sometimes resistance is worthless, but sometimes it’s a valuable means of improvement. If you don’t stop to embrace it, you miss the opportunity that lies within.
5. Leave Your Mark
I’m a representational painter, so I don’t have any deep statement to describe what my work is about, and I’m never asked to explain what it all means. Sometimes I feel like I must not be a “real” artist, since I don’t have to put subtitles below my paintings explaining my vision and concept. But my landscapes are my personal response to the world around me, and it’s very important to me that I use my paintings to share that vision with an audience.
I see a lot of beauty in the natural world that I think the average person misses. When a particular scene takes my breath away, I would venture to say that 90% of people respond with “What?” when I say, “Wow – look at that!” The purpose of my art is to take that scene and put it in the face of someone who otherwise might not notice. It’s amazing how something that might escape a person’s notice when they’re driving down the highway can cause them to pause when they’re walking through an art gallery. I’m a bit of a tree hugger, and I just hope my landscapes can remind people that there are places out there that are worth saving.