Blue Heron in flight

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Raging Bull

I am in my fourth decade of selling art. I started out as a painter and quickly running out of my own canvases, started collecting and selling way back in the 1970's. I rarely sell contemporary artists, my gallery specializing in impressionist paintings from 1890 to 1940. In fact the only contemporary artist I have carried for years is Carol Lindenmulder. I love her work and she understands the game. A talented colorist, we get each other. I wish that I was more successful with her, she is really good. And deserves better. Wish I could provide her better exposure.

One of the reasons I don't sell contemporary is that as a fairly empathetic type, I feel bad when I can't sell somebody's work, for one reason or another. There is some emotional baggage involved when you are dealing with the creative work of a fellow human being and you also don't want to "let anybody down." It is a big responsibility.

Flash forward to today. I have judged art shows for many years, both alone and with other judges. People have told me that I am a great judge because I have strong opinions and am not afraid to critique. I offer any entrant an honest appraisal of their work from my own perspective.

We had three openings in Fallbrook today, the fifteenth year of the Galaxy of Glass show at the Art Center, the neat Shoe Show at Brandon Gallery and the show I judged for the second year in a row, Rich Stergulz's Small Works show at the Pinnell Gallery.

Tonight all hell broke loose.

Let me just say at the outset that I know my faults better than most anyone, excepting my spouse of course. I recognize my conceit, abrasiveness, arrogance, self absorption, all of those things as well as anybody.

I was explaining my own prejudices to some of the assembled artists this afternoon prior to the awards and critique. Art is subjective and I wanted to include and clue them in to my thought processes and value system. I said that I favored well crafted works, with good composition, that exhibited good underlying drawing skills.  I usually favor these types of pieces over what I call the happy accident type artworks, where fortune and kismet intersect in a zen flash of minimalism to produce a nice final outcome. I like graphic art but sometimes the conceptual seems to interfere with an artist's sensitivity and ability to be "in touch" with a subject.

Now I had dinner with Dixon last night, an artist and teacher that I have judged with at least three times prior and he thinks that I am all wet, his example being Picasso's ability to capture so much feeling in a certain line or gesture drawing. There are certainly other approaches, I happen to be comfortable with mine. I trust my eye, it has kept me in business for many years.

Anyway I brought up an example to the artists from last year, when a painter who happens to be a good friend of mine took a minor bit of umbrage when I told her that she was right on the cusp of a prize but I gave it to a more well developed work. This woman is so good that she can draw circles around 99% of her competition but  it is almost too easy for her and I wanted her to push herself a little harder.

The next thing I know, an enraged woman is wagging a finger in my face tonight saying I had no right to slander her friend or talk about another artist's work, especially one who was not in this years show. I had run across this woman before, and lets just say we have never hit it off.

I told her that she had misunderstood me, which she had, and people were looking at her in amazement, since she was making quite a scene. I let her know that her friend was also a friend of mine and a woman whose work I not only respected enormously, but had also purchased, but it didn't make a dent in her harangue.

She said that I had told the artist in question last year that it was a painting show, not a drawing show, which I never said. I asked her where this came from and she said that someone had told her and I cautioned her that it was ridiculous to respond to hearsay. I remember that last year this same unpleasant woman, accused me of picking favorites and underhandedness prior to that show, for complimenting one of the artist's work within earshot of her. Egads, the fix was in, I liked somebody's work. Conspiracy.

Contemporary artists get very touchy. These people obviously take this stuff very seriously. The next thing I know the artist that I had supposedly slandered was at the show asking if we had a problem? I said of course not and I hope and do believe that she believed me. There are certainly a whole room of witnesses that can back me up as to what I said and did not say. I think that she was a little embarrased at the depth of her defender's venom.

You can try your best in this life and some people are just not going to like you. And vice versa. If I judge again next year, I am bringing a bulletproof vest and flak jacket.

I am happy to say that the balance of the evening went very well. The award winners were pleased and people seemed genuinely well disposed to the critiques and the constructive spirit in which they were offered. But I can also honestly say that tonight's events reinforce why I much prefer working with dead artists.


Sanoguy said...

One of the things I have learned about this art show business is that judging is subjective and you can't take it personal. Knowing you, Blue Heron, I am sure you gave the people an honest appraisal of their work. As the artist, you have to take in the criticism, use the parts of that criticism that seem right and let the rest roll off your back. Try to use what you have heard to make your next piece a little better. And remember, the judge is only another person who generally is also trying to do their best.

MC. said...

Good grief! Artists (and their surrogates) should take into account that when they lay their work on the line ... beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If this makes one uncomfortable, unable to take the heat, then get the hell out of the kitchen. There are a multitude of artists standing outside the gallery, peering in, dying to be in the show. As Mike wrote, "let it roll off your back." And God forbid one should STFU, open the ears and possibly learn from a crtitique.

Anonymous said...

I suppose Fallbrook is like anywhere else in terms of veniality and pettiness, both being in abundant supply here. There is one difference though. In the "big city" there is a mighty tower of galleries with ultra snooty galleries at the top. Fallbrook doesn't have this sort of tower, it is more like a ranch compound with things being more or less equal between galleries. Thus, some of our partly capable artistes are able to imagine they are at the top, since there is no "top" to look down on them. I think this may increase the vitriol level, at least it seems that way after having been harangued by some of our more arrogant mediocrities.

Anonymous said...

" You Dick!"
Deli artist.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog
Robert, you should know by now that there will always be one artist who cannot accept criticism and just doesn't get it. All serious artists are very emotional about their art and most have gone through the pain of submitting art to be juried, only to be rejected by a judge whose ideas about art is alien to theirs. And it is a fact that some jurors are prejudice to certain styles of art or tend to be persuaded by friends in shows. But this is what makes shows-shows and it ain't never gonna change.
It took me years to understand the French Impressionist paintings. I always thought the more the detail meant the better the artist.
I think most great artist learn to draw very tight renderings before they learn to paint looser paintings. It shows in the broad strokes they use. You cannot paint a great painting from bad composition.
When it comes to art you've never been short on opinions or held back your feelings. Maybe you are immune to artist complaining since all your artist are dead!