Friday, February 18, 2011

Into the Sunset

The time had come to make one of those decisions that changes one's life. They're always hard and sometimes sad, but necessary.

I decided it was time to give up the dream of making art as a business.

The art business never did make enough money for us to live on; in fact, we lost a LOT of money over the years. A sale here and a sale there just doesn't do it. After a couple of decades (literally), with one of those decades being full-time as an artist during this never-ending economic depression, it's time to stop the money leak. I've reached my "stop-loss": the gambler's term for the maximun amount one is willing to lose in the pursuit of riches.

I've gotten a lot of advice over the years from artists who say they're surviving just fine, although their income may have gone down somewhat over these last few years. Some of the advice was conflicting: "Keep your prices low until you get better established" vs. "You really otta double your prices."

In fact, I've taken a lot of the advice I've gotten, and ya know what? NONE of it made any difference, one way or the other!

The recession (or depression, as I call it) affected many artists badly; for me, however, sales dropped even before the housing bust. I saw sales decline when gasoline prices rose in the mid-2000's, supposedly because of the worldwide demand for oil, especially from emerging economies such as China's, and from every storm that blew through the Gulf of Mexico. It cost more for people to get around, so they stopped traveling to art shows or galleries. Those who still drove their cars just weren't buying.

On top of that, the galleries I used to be in had their own ideas about what I should paint -- paint BIG (something I never felt I was good at), and paint Tuscany scenes (Gallery A) or local desert scenes (Gallery B). There were a few sales, but now we have closets stuffed with large paintings. And no interested galleries.

In addition, buyers in California and Arizona -- even in the art mecca of Scottsdale -- want non-Southwest, impressionistic/expressionistic/abstract works that match the sofa or "tie the room together." In fact, I'm still amazed at how many people re-decorate their homes and save the art-buying for last. It's easier to switch out paint and furniture color than it is to find art that's truly meaningful to the buyer, regardless of the colors in the art. But then, maybe that just demonstrates the low priority people place on art.

I'm left with quite a mixture of emotions: sadness, anger, bitterness, disappointment, frustration. I know I can always re-enter the art market if/when things change. But I'm not counting on anything like that happening in my lifetime. For now, painting is a hobby that I'll work at when I can. I'll take my time, work when the mood strikes me, and produce works that are as close to perfect as I can make them, given the skills I have at that time. If I happen to sell any paintings, great; if not, well, the pieces will look wonderful on our own walls.

Meanwhile, I'm still a part-time instructor at the local community college, and I've applied for a full-time biology instructor position that recently opened. And I'm looking for a Plan C in case the college loses the funds to pay my wages and I become unemployed. Plan A (the art business) is finished.

So for now, I'm heading off into the sunset. If you happen to be one of my buyers, I say: thanks so much for fueling the dream. But the paint brushes and supplies have been put aside for now, and I'll revise my Website (which I still plan to keep online) to become a portfolio of my favorite paintings rather than a selling site.

Yo voy a Dios.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flickering Flames

The Wiffee and I are fans of the CBS program, Sunday Morning. On today's program, they featured a story about Herb Albert (of Tijuana Brass fame) and his wiffee, singer Lani Hall.

They live on six acres in Malibu, CA, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Herb paints, sculpts, suppports music programs (as in the Harlem School of the Arts, or whatever the exact name is) and pretty much does whatever he wants. Hey -- they can afford it! He and Lani recorded an album together and will soon be touring the country in concert.

In many ways, Herb's life is quite similar to the life I envisioned when I began dreaming of an art career -- originally as a fine-arts photographer, then as a full-time painter. I never figured on achieving the fame or wealth that Herb has, but I thought we'd be able to live on my modest income and to reside wherever we wanted to -- not in Malibu, necessarily, but perhaps in the hi desert of CA or the Sonoran desert of southern AZ. (Well, OK, we do live in the CA hi desert, but this is hardly our dream home!)

That dream has been rapidly fading or, should I say, that flame is flickering madly, in danger of going out.

For years, I attended grad school, doing experients in microbiology that left me little time for anything else. Then I entered the working world where I worked full-time, commuted for hours on California's freeways, and worked on my art as much as possible. In between jobs, I worked full-time on art: days, nights, weekends, holidays. Then, in the last ten years, I considered my full-time job to be: professional artist, with the same hours I worked as the "between-jobs" artist.

And ya know -- I'm tired!

Sales have been mixed, but over the last few years during the recession, sales have been very low. I can't even speculate on when, or if, things will ever go back to "normal" -- whatever that is. Some of the other landscape artists I admire are struggling, too.

Now, mind you -- surviving, or even thriving -- financially as an artist is certainly possible. I know artists in that category, too. But most of their artwork has a noticable contemporary twist: VERY colorful, impressionistic/expressionistic and often not showing the grand views that I love. One rarely finds the type of art I enjoy at art festivals.

Even supposedly traditional art havens like Santa Fe and Scottsdale feature little of this style of painting. I must be part of a dinosaur generation that's becoming extinct.

I do, on occasion, see/hear rumors that the avant garde styles are becoming tiresome with buyers and that realism is making a comeback. Maybe so -- but not in MY part of the world, it ain't!

But we'll see. I haven't given up on the dream just yet. But the flame keeps flickering in the dusty winds of the hi desert.

Herb Albert -- my hat's off to you.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Little Neoclassical

This is a painting I finished recently. It's based on a piece by 18th century French neoclassical painter Hubert Robert, who painted ancient Roman ruins overgrown with vegetation with the people of his time working, dancing and playing among the remains of antiquity.

One of my favorite paintings of all time is entitled "The Bathing Pool." My artwork is based on it, except I made it a moonlight scene.

I've considered painting more scenes like this, but it's one of those areas that I go back and forth about. sort of like doing dinosaur paintings: should I or shouldn't I? To sell, or to do it just for the fun of it?

Honestly, I can't decide. It's really too busy to do much painting right now, but it's something I can certainly think about!