Standing alongside a roomful of my paintings, watching the public wander their way around, it has become more and more clear to me that people’s enjoyment of a painting is multi-factorial, and the significance of those different factors varies between each person.
There is no doubt that some are very straightforward - they judge what they see in the most direct of terms - “Do I like the image? Are the colours and composition pleasant to look at?”
Few people consider buying a painting if they judge the answer to either of these to be ‘No’ (although I have observed that spouses will stand back and set aside their own opinions if their partner is keen.)
Then there is the quality of the work - in the execution of the painting and in its’ presentation. A good quality frame may be at least as important as whether or not I have succeeded in capturing the essence of the subject.
Everyone has their own taste in colour and style. These preferences are expressed in the way we dress and in how we furnish and decorate our homes. And of course any new artwork has to be suitable to ‘go’ with what already exists to create the space where it will hang.
Then, there should be something to say about the picture, or about something the picture says to the viewer, and this is where the artist’s ‘story’ is important.
An artist has to present themselves as a ‘brand’, and in our world today, that brand has to include details of the personal profile of the artist, so that the work can be categorised as being of a particular genre as represented by an artist of that profile?
Western White Men (wwm) like me, dominated the world, including the art world, for so long that rightly there is still a post-modern post-colonial trend to explore and appreciate art that comes from sources which in the past would have found it very difficult to gain exposure. Any comment from (wwm) me on this is likely to come across as patronising. Suffice to say that I have spent many many hours in my corporate life promoting cultural change under the wholly inadequate banner of ‘equalities’; my personal mindset is very liberal and I strongly believe that it was - and still is - very wrong for artists to have to fight harder for appreciation because of their personal profile.
Over the last 100 years (I know ‘cos I have lived through most of it!), in the post-religious and increasingly democratic world, artists have had a great impact representing and stimulating the changes going on across society. Each wave of change has been accompanied or promoted by an ‘avant-garde’ art movement (‘avant-garde’ literally means ‘ahead of the crowd’). Fantastically talented artists - Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock ….. who could each have earned a comfortable life producing extremely well painted traditional pieces, risked all by concentrating their effort on works which were not ‘safe’, which did not conform to the then-contemporary forms praised by the critics.
The irony today is that the current contemporary forms praised by critics include experimental uniqueness, the more bizarre the better, and the equal but opposite backlash to that would be to revert to chocolate-box traditionalism, and who would want to go there? One alternative is the ‘marketing’ notion, that an artist needs their own brand, backed by their own story, to stand out.
It has taken me some time for this realisation to dawn - my attitude was that the picture should stand or fall on its own merit: why does it matter whether it was painted with a knife or a 6” brush or a chisel? Why does it matter if the artist comes from Pontypool, is left-handed or mad?
Part of the answer is about perspective or viewpoint. Again, I initially understood these phrases only to relate to the presentation of the picture - Does it have depth? Where was the artist standing? How about playing with different viewpoints of the same subject in the same piece?
But of course these issues also relate to the artist.
What I put in a painting is the fruit of my brain, so it is from my ‘point of view’. What I present has been channeled and filtered through my personal set of experiences and values and so my work can justifiably be presented as coming from a right-handed man (wwm) raised in Edinburgh and living in Pontypool painting with a brush or occasionally the palette knife.
What does that add to the decision making going on the minds of the viewers of my pictures?
Each person’s mind is of course their own unique filtering system, but somewhere in there is the ‘trend’ factor ….. How important is it for your home to look like the glossy magazine? Do you want your home to be similar to your Granny’s, or are you looking to make your personal space a unique reflection of your own identity?
My conclusion on this theme is that any artist who attempts to produce work that will sell into a mass market is unlikely to show much of a personality of their own. I am not one of those.
Of course I enjoy it when my work is appreciated, but my work is something that comes from me. If others enjoy seeing it, that is a bonus, it is not the dominant factor in guiding my painting.