[A rough idea of how I’m hoping “Desertmanhattan” will turn out, cannibalized from “Fred 44”. 4×8 feet, pencil, acrylic and ink on canvas. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
Over the last week, I’ve been dividing my time between finishing the book manuscript and getting started on Desertmanhattan.
My head is all over the place at the moment; I thought I should write down some of my thoughts, just to gain some clarity for myself:
1. I’ll be damn glad to have the book out of the way. It’s been a long, four-year road. I feel a combination of gloriously happy and elated, and utterly burned out from the whole thing.
2. While I was working on Desertmanhattan, the feeling that “This is what I ought to be doing; this what I was born to be doing,” kept swelling up inside me. And you know what? This totally terrified me. What if I gave up everything to do this, and suddenly nobody cared? Suddenly nobody wanted to buy my work, and I ended up penniless and ruined?
3. Paintings don’t scale. Even if I could sell the paintings for huge amounts of money [It seems a distinct possibility, after some of the back-channel conversations I’ve had with potential patrons of the enterprise], it would still mean working my butt off and making no more than an average, second-tier attorney. It doesn’t always seem to add up.
4. The artist doesn’t determine the price of the work. The re-sale value of a price determines the price of the work. If the perception exists that the work will be significantly more valuable in five or ten years, paintings are easy to sell. Without this perception, it’s damned hard to sell a painting, even if the potential customer falls in love with it.
5. An artist is about as good example of a “Global Microbrand” as you can get. I have a few artist friends out here in West Texas. On one hand, they totally get the idea. On the other hand, it’s an idea that seems to totally terrify them. It always struck me as funny how people want to be artists, yet they don’t want to be marketers. To me that’s like wanting to be a pro football player, yet not wanting to keep in shape. Nice work if you can get it.
6. “I don’t need a gallery; I have a blog.” I’ve been approached by a few gallery owners over the last couple of months about doing a show. So far the conversations have gone nowhere. So far I’ve yet to meet a gallery who can sell a painting better than my blog can. Gallerists talk a lot; they’re not quite so fond of putting down financial guarantees in writing.
7. The artist I admire the most, in terms of taking the internet-enabled “global microbrand” idea and running with it, is my good friend, John T. Unger. Four years of blogging later, and he can’t make his “Great Bowls of Fire” fast enough. Though a lot of the ideas he uses he first got from reading my blog, unlike me, he actually applied them and took them to the frickin’ sky. Well done, John.
We’ve been talking a lot over the last couple of months about this new art phase of mine. His advice has been invaluable.
8. Just as I was thinking about all this selling-art-online stuff, one of my Twitter followers, @corkymc turns me onto the blog of a very talented, young Australian artist, Hazel Dooney. Though she was already considered very successful for an artist under the age of 30, two years ago she decided to pack in the gallery system and just do her “dialogue” with her audience directly online. She’s got some strong views on the subject, which I approve of:
Inevitably, this leads to another question, also always the same: what’s the role of the gallery in this environment? And, as always, I argue that it doesn’t have one. Or as I put it in Art Is Moving: “It deserves to die. It’s an anachronism that’s outlived it’s usefulness. I think there is still a role for individual curators or even ‘show producers’ but they need to work in a more individualised, specialist way within a networked ‘virtual’ paradigm …”
To be more precise, I still see value in public exhibitions and installations but not produced, promoted or managed in the way they are today – the same way they have been for a hundred and fifty years – by dithering, technologically inept, socially aspirational and unadventurous commercial ‘bricks and mortar’ gallerists.
I’ll be watching what she has to say in the future with great interest, to be sure.
9. It took me a few years of blogging my cartoons, before I finally accepted the idea that my audience would always come mainly from reading my blog, and not from being published in the newspapers, magazines, books etc. Even though I have a book coming out in June, I still believe this is the case- just because I’m now an “author”, doesn’t mean the day-to-day reality has changed very much.
10. And now I’m realizing that if I want to sell paintings, I don’t need a gallery, I can just do it all online. Nor do I need critical approval from the art establishment- the media, the curators and the critics. I can just do it all myself, if that’s what I indeed do want. It’s a great feeling, sure, but it’s a new one. Taking its time to really sink in.
11. My paternal grandfather was a Scottish Highland “crofter”. He lived on a “croft” i.e. a very small holding of land, where he raised sheep and grew potatoes. I used to spend my summers there as a boy. We were very close.
Crofting is a good life, but not a very financially rewarding one. It’s very self-sufficient, though. The interesting thing for me looking back, is that crofters never did “just one thing”. Every day they had something else going on. One day it might be sheep. The next it might be a job working on the roads for the local council. I knew one crofter who drove the mail van. Another who ran the local post office. They would do their jobs, but after work they’d still have their sheep, cows and potatoes to attend to.
As my dad is fond of reminding me, I seem to have inherited the crofting mentality. I DON’T like waking up in the morning and doing the same thing every day. I LIKE having all these different balls in the air- cartooning, painting, consulting, writing, marketing, blogging etc. Sure, part of me would like nothing better than just “retiring to the desert and making paintings”, but another part of me likes all the running around in different directions. And all this running around DOES get tiring, I can tell you that. Sometimes I LOVE the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. Other times I utterly despise it.
12. Something in me is changing. I came out to live in the West Texas desert for a reason. I’m just beginning to find out what that reason may be. Sometimes I can clearly see what the reason is; other times it proves more elusive.
13. It’s a good life. It really is.