This is the coming together of events, conversations, ideas or people, where a recurring theme seems to be pointing you in a certain direction. For me this has been happening for the last few weeks with conversations, snatches of thoughts and ideas and finally a sort of casual invitation. The likelihood of a new co-operation with some other like-minded artists is on the cards. Something, I’ve thought about in passing for some time. We all are aware that we’re not the edgy, conceptual or ground-breaking artists that the arts admin folk are really very interested in. We’re working or hobby artists, producing work that is recognisable and reasonably technically skilled but, and here is the rub, popular.
Personally, in the nearly 20 years I’ve been taking commissions for portraits of people, animals, houses and the occasional boat, I’ve never been without at least one or more commissions in hand at any time. I think that’s an amazing feat, of which I’m very proud. OK,in the early days I did work for peanuts and even now, years on, although my prices did go up to a reasonable amount, I did take a step back with prices when I moved to a new place in order to give myself a chance to get my first few local clients and get myself established. My prices won’t rocket back up, but gradually I hope to get to a point where people will appreciate my work enough to pay that bit more – that’s what comes from getting better at what you do, surely? However, I’ve never said I could make a living just at doing this. There have to be other sources of income from sales of prints and cards, from teaching and from, in the future with any luck, some writing about art techniques and tips.
All of this for me is not desperate as I’m now on a pension (yes, I think someone made a mistake on my birth certificate but what can you do?) and with the mortgage paid off and only one very independent and switched-on grown-up daughter, the need for money is not as urgent as it once was. Of course, living month to month on a pension is not ideal and we’ll never be rich, but we have enough to get by as long as we don’t want expensive foreign holidays, new furniture and designer clothes. That’s fine. We don’t, but we would like to occasionally afford a trip to see our daughter in Canada, and to be able to visit my family and our friends in Yorkshire, and to be able to maintain the house and garden and run a small car without getting into trouble. We have modest aims but when you compare our lives with some current lives across the world we are rich beyond the wildest of dreams, and we appreciate that. We live in a wonderful place, have reasonable health and enjoy a social life with good friends. So for me the painting is something that fulfills a need so I just can’t stop doing and, when I’m not too pressurised, it’s something I really, really love to do.
We come back to that word “popular”. It was Jack Vettriano’s stumbling block that has kept him out of the top national galleries he might have wished to be invited into despite being one of the biggest sellers and most recognised of contemporary artists. The establishment thought him popular and that means “of the people” – low-brow and commonplace. It is a shame that such snobbery pervades the art world still (and always has I suppose). My fellow artists and I will enjoy painting together, learning from and inspiring each other. We’ll be happy to sell our work, teach and inspire others when we can and make affordable art that local people and tourists alike will enjoy. However we won’t get into the higher end galleries because we are not making unintelligible collections that need a statement to go with them in order to justify their laughably high prices. Some of it may stand the test of time but much of this new art where ideas are more important than skill may turn out to be the Emperor’s New Clothes. I do remember a favourite story about a group of final year art students who were given a grant and offered complete freedom in how they spent it to put on an end of year show. All the local dignitaries were invited by the college to come along and give gravitas to the event and when the door of the exhibition hall was flung wide, only a chair stood in the empty room. On the chair was a note saying – “Thanks for the funding, we’ve gone to the seaside for the weekend”. I liked that attitude as it’s a kind of double bluff about “what is art”. They had an idea and that’s what they were asked for.
You might say that this attitude to contemporary practice proves we are not serious about our art, but I would disagree. We are serious about learning and improving our techniques, communicating something through our art and leaving something as a sort of legacy of who we were and what was important to us. So we could carry on working in a solitary way, but how much more fun is it to enjoy meeting and socialising with people you like and admire, who inspire you to do more and aim higher. Isn’t that why humans have always formed groups?