For many of us today, it is hard to escape from the often catastrophic impact of mankind : cities teeming with anonymous crowds jostling through brutal architecture. Too many noisy and dirty cars.
Constant reminders of our destruction of the natural world: fires, floods.
Landscape painting can offer a counterpoint that is both a reminder of and an escape from that relentless awfulness, to let the viewer see an alternative and to gain some uplift, a boost to the soul.
The ‘pastoral idyll’ is not meaningless escapism. We are surrounded by and constantly reminded of the ecological destruction caused by mankind’s relentless march of progress.
The landscape is the living reflection of the human - environmental relationship, shaped throughout history by the successive interactions between people and their environment. As the numbers of people everywhere continue to grow their impact is becoming ever more obvious.
Our awareness of this reality is also growing.
Of course ‘the first merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eye’ (Delacroix, c.1894), and for many, the purpose of a painting needs to be no more than that.
Art is at the core of culture. What I paint flows from my personal experiences of the world, my personality, my concerns. And your reaction to a painting is similarly shaped by your understanding of what is going on around you. This is ‘culture’. We live in, move around, and are imbued by what is going on around us, and the landscape is the dynamic setting for all that.
Often the artist’s quest is to capture the light - the nuances of shadow, fleeting changes of clouds. Turner, Constable and so many others took the observation of clouds as a serious step in their artistic training. Today we know that the atmosphere we breathe, the air in which those clouds are formed is not some infinite heavenly pool but is the sink for the waste from our factory chimneys. We understand the impact of methane emissions, CfCs, carbon dioxide and all the rest, so when we escape to the hills and enjoy those immense views, the whole sky is actually a huge manifestation of the demand for more food, more goods, more travel from more and more people.
Of course I seek to create paintings are going to meet the challenge to be a ‘feast for the eye’, and I seriously hope that viewers will enjoy gazing at them. Cezanne lived and worked for a large part of his life in the same locality in southern France and painted views over the same areas over and over again across many years. Even then (late 19th century) the relentless spread of the urban sprawl was obvious to him. Many of the paintings of that time could not be recreated today as the pastoral scene has been replaced by buildings.
In 1953 two men won immortality by being the first to stand on the summit of Everest. Today there are queues. The question that is posed by every landscape painting is “Where is that?” But as that painting is a snapshot of the interaction between mankind and nature at that point in time, maybe the question should be : ”When was that?”
As the impact of our destruction of nature makes it increasingly difficult to find any view that does not include the direct results of economic activity - roads, forestry, sheep, drought - every landscape painting offers something more than is immediatly apparent, it is of its time. Just like the artists are of their time, and the viewers are of theirs.
Landscape is at the core of culture, where the natural world is fashioned by the economic activity of people.
Pontsticil 2 - 24” x 18” oil on canvas.
The rural idyll? - NO! - all of the components of this scene are manifestations of economic activity - sheep farming clears the natural growth on the hills. Forestry plantations create monocultures. Roads carve their way through. Past industries leave their marks. Beef farming is a massive global problem not least because of the impact of methane emissions on the atmosphere. The Reservoirs are created to supply the connurbations (and the water contains micro particles of plastic) ….
This is an image of the dynamics of the cultural / economic landscape of Wales.
Stories abound of huge price-tags following great art. The question arises - ‘How do I get some of that?’
So this is a comment on that scenario from the artist’s point of view.
I follow all sorts of sources on news in the art world as I like to see what is going on. I also visit a lot of places where artists are trying to sell their work and I think I am in a reasonable position to compare and contrast - what is ‘it’ that makes this painting worth millions, while that one doesn’t sell at all?
The intrinsic quality of the painting itself is a kind of ‘entry-level’ standard - it must look like the real thing. But there are literally thousands of such paintings available from online galleries, some on eBay for $1, and (as with so much) some that look to be of high quality produced in China, and some that are seriously good available from Art Fairs ….. but it is highly doubtful if any of those will command significant prices at any time in the future.
The artist’s NAME is the ‘brand’.
And some names command big money - Banksy, on a trip to New York, put little sketches up for sale for a few dollars, knowing that the lucky buyers - if they wanted to cash in - could sell them for a lot more.
One of my subjects at university was economics, albeit at the most basic level, but I can recall various graphs which set out the principles of pricing, called supply and demand curves. As I recall, if you start with a level field of various very similar products, manufactured to similar standards of quality and having similar standards of functionality, why is it that people will pay more for some than for others?
- It is all about consumer confidence in the brand.
The car market is the easiest example today - there are cars made in far-away countries which probably use many of the same component parts as the so-called ‘western’ makes, and which certainly have as many if not more bells and whistles than those competitors, and yet we will only pay a fraction of the price for them ….. because we have more confidence in our chosen brand.
Of course an art investment has an even longer life than a new car - if you sink a load of your money into a painting, when do you expect any kind of return?
But here we have to jump, because cars and paintings are - for most people - entirely different markets, with different factors influencing the buying decision.
Most people buy their art firstly because they like the work and can envisage it decorating their place for years ahead, and so for them, any potential growth in value is almost a bonus …. except (back to the car story) - we like to feel good about the vehicle sitting outside the house / we like to feel good about the painting on the wall.
It’s a funny business keeping up appearances, but we all do it.
And with the art on your wall, you will feel better if you can tell your guests something about it, which will include something about the artist.
But back to the subject of investment in art - there are firms which specialise in providing ‘investment art’. Much of their material is detailed info about the artist, setting out the story as to why this person’s work is likely to grow in value in the years ahead - this is designed to give the buyers those stories to drop in to the folks who admire the piece on the wall.
Many of the examples, the success stories that those organisations use, relate to people who bought a painting (or other artwork) before the artist hit the big time, and show that what was bought for hundreds now sells for thousands.
As an aside here, this is where I show some anger - why do people pay more for a fairly ordinary piece of art because it is painted by someone who once was a famous rock star / football player / ….. ? - and I answer my own question, just because the new owner can say ’ Oh yes, that was painted by …x.’
Another angle - wandering around galleries, I noticed that many include a note of the birth year of any living artist. It took a while, but eventually I realised that this is more about my supply and demand curves - once a person is dead, they will not produce any more art and so it is possible that demand will outstrip supply and hence the price will rise!
My observation on that theory is that it is also possible that the person’s name and brand will die with them, and the painting will be worthless. Just look into junk shops or flea markets and you will always find some art which somebody once paid for.
There are, of course, some likely winners - remember the old story - ‘the rich get richer’?
If you can afford to buy something by someone who is already established as a ‘star’ (painter, not guitarist!), it is likely that their work will appreciate - but - the warning - investments can go down - fashion in this market is just as fickle as any other. Will the ‘cutting edge’ artists of today be more popular in 20 years time?
Works by someone in demand today might not last. Just look at what was top of the pops thirty years ago.
So - two ways to go about it - (1) Go to the absolute limit of what you can afford and buy an original artwork by someone who is clearly in demand, or (2) choose a painting that you really really like and enjoy it while you can.
On buying artwork …..
The whole business of buying a picture is distinctly different to that of choosing furniture, curtains or any other aspect of decorating your home (or ‘interior design’ if that is where you are!)
Because there is an ever-present underlying belief that somehow that picture on the wall will, one day, be worth a fortune.
In the back of our minds is the tale of the cafe owner in the south of France who accepted pictures in payment for the tab of his regular client, Vincent van Gogh.
I suspect that there are probably quite a number of us artists who work at producing art with the same faint hope niggling away - one day this painting will be recognised for its true worth.
Even though we all know, when we are cold and business-like, that these hopes and beliefs are very improbable, millions of people still buy lottery tickets when they know the chances of winning are 14 million to one against.
There is a pleasure about holding that ticket until the draw is finished, hoping that maybe this will be my week, and that same pleasure can add to our enjoyment of an original painting that we have chosen.
This is clearly not true of the big department stores’ sections labelled “Art” where there are factory-produced prints of nice pictures being sold in between the curtains and the wallpaper. This stuff will have absolutely no value as soon as you take it out of the shop - but, to be fair, I grew up with Monet’s poppy fields on the wall - a valueless print, but still a good representation of a Monet.
We ‘spend’ money on carpets, furniture and curtains, but we ‘invest’ in art, and we probably spend a lot more on those other aspects than we invest in the art. But we buy a new car much more often than we change the artwork on the walls (some of us buy a new HOUSE more often than we change the artwork), so choosing wisely is important.
In one of my exhibitions, a lady came in and said she was looking to buy a large oil painting … I tried to remain calm and professional and suggested she take a look around. She did that, then returned to gaze at one, and called me over. We chatted about it, me trying hard not to be the second-hand car salesman, but she was a definite prospect, until….. “No, it won’t go with my carpet.”
It has taken me some time to come round to the realisation that she was right and that leads to Rule 1 in this Guide - the artwork on your walls has to fit with the look you are creating in the room.
I believe that you must enjoy looking at the piece. If it is going to be with you for years and years, you must gain pleasure from gazing at it.
From my point of view, of someone creating and selling art, this is the cold business rationale for why some art sells while some doesn’t.
But - as I say above, the art market is not cold and rational - there is the ‘lottery ticket’ idea which flows from fashion - some artists are ‘hot’.
There are thousands of people producing original art creating a market which offers original work of good quality covering every imaginable subject. The technical quality of most of that is excellent, and yet - some sells for £100, some for £10,000.
There is an enormous iceberg-shaped distribution graph, with thousands of us striving away at the bottom, selling work for whatever someone is willing to pay for it. At the other end, there are those whose every scribble is snapped up and auctioned for huge sums.
The middle zone of this distribution is busy and competitive, Curators and Gallerists use their skill to judge what will be hot and gamble their careers on choosing which artists, or which styles will sell next year.
Many artists are critical of the role these people play, but I respect them - if they are to survive, or thrive, in their business, they have to have a track record of success. Even though they rely on the commission they make on every sale, their view is (generally) longer-term - they want you to come back and develop as a ‘collector’, which you will not do if they sell you rubbish.
But - this does mean there is a tendency to be followers rather than leaders. They can see what styles are popular, what is selling at the Art Fairs they attend. This might be a good thing from your point of view - less risk?
I have two paintings dating from the 19th century which I have held onto for many many years. I have taken them for valuation at least twice, in different cities, many years apart, and they are worth nothing.
The simple fact is that I derive pleasure from looking at them - these are not ‘investments’. Nobody has heard of the artist, s/he is not listed in any reference books.
And that is the point - an ‘investment’ in art is actually based on the name of the artist.
There are thousands of us who are ‘emerging’, but what marks out the few, the very few, who will not only emerge but will be known far beyond our lifetime?
If you find the answer to that, then those are the ones to buy as investments!
A little watercolour: Beacons Sunrise
And the other end of the day