Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Part II: My conversation with Maurice: marketing and audience

Continuing the conversation with Dr. Maurice Sevigny, from where I left off:

Marketing and art

Edgar: Okay, you touched on marketing, so let’s talk about that.

Maurice: Sure.

E: You said, that because you had supplemental income, you feel less constrained than somebody that feels strictly dependent on the market… [Dependence on the market] creates a conflict…

M: Sure.

E: … that I guess many of us are dealing with. Some of us are quite comfortable with the idea of making art which is strictly for the pleasure of some audience. So, there’s a question of the relationship between the artist and the audience.
Let me give you some background on myself: I have a [perspective] in that area. I started out in theatre, the performing arts, and there, the feedback from the audience is instantaneous, immediate. Recently, I submitted for a show for the Dinnerware, and I went to the opening and kind of went (frowning), “There’s no applause here!”

M: Yeah… (laughter)

E: So, I have a very different perspective on it than most visual artists would. But there is a relationship, intentional or not, between an artist and an audience. And I, personally, would dispute anyone who says, “I only make art for myself.” I think they’re just hiding something [from themselves].

M: Well, everybody’s got an ego. And you either stroke it yourself – and you know what that’s called (ahem)… “denying.”

Picasso is a good example of someone who continually reinvented him self. Because you can get stuck in a rut of fame or a market that’s accessible, and you can only go so far. And we all know artists like that.

E: Yeah.

M: But the luxury I have currently is that I can afford to make lots of mistakes, because time’s not money to me, so I don’t ever just think, “What’s going to sell?” And that’s good, especially the last six months– ‘cause nothing’s selling. (laughter) On the other hand, I think I am more aware of the commercial market as well, because of the rent on the studio. ‘Cause I was like, “Well, let’s at least break even. Instead of being an expensive hobby.” Especially with all the technology—which is expensive—... rent, and all your stuff. So, for a while I was saying, “Okay, everybody’s working big, and everybody’s working abstract for the most part. I’m going to work small and be affordable. And I’m going to work with techniques that allow me to work fast, and because I can be efficient, I don’t have to put two, three thousand dollars on each of my paintings to compensate for my time. So, finding a niche market is helpful but that’s not (unintelligible) ,’cause you know, sometimes I think about market forces, sometimes I don’t.

Artist and audience

You make images, and you get feedback from audiences, because we have open houses.

People come through and say, “Oh, what colors! You’re a colorist.”

“Yeah? What was your first clue?”

And what does that mean? [That] Most people are afraid of color, especially exaggerated color, because it’s one of the variables that starts to make things less recognizable to some people. So when you abstract, what you’re doing is taking shape or line or color or texture in a new way, sensing it in a new way.

I work with a couple things, one, I work with technology as underpainting and two I don’t limit myself to one medium. It always looks a bit different to the average person, but their attention to my work is sometimes captured a little longer than somebody else’s.

Some people come through your place pretty quick. Some want to look at each painting. And the way in which people go around, some are ‘flies’ and some are ‘ants’ and they march around in circles. Some people come up and look at something and study one thing and leave. So, it’s kind of fun to watch audience, and how they take in information.

And then their questions. (unintelligible) You’ve got wannabe artists, who wanna know how you do it. They want to come in and steal some secrets. You got people who collect—

E: …Maybe they want to come in and learn.

M: Maybe they do!

E: [I say,] In self-defense.

M: A lot of them do want to learn. And most of them want to get inspired, because you get a rush. You see something and think “I won’t buy that, but I think I could do something like that.” And run back to the studio and try it out. So, when you think [about] markets: When are you going to be an art teacher? When are you going to be an artist? When are you going to hold back information? When are you going to give away trade secrets?

The dialog that results from [the thought of] “audience” is very interesting, because it’s not one audience. There are as many different audiences as there are people. There are different degrees of sophistication. Your questions are different than the average beginner, looking for a couple of paintings for their lavender bedroom.

[Edgar's note: I'll be posting the final portion of our conversation, in which Dr. Sevigny discusses artistic integrity, in a few days.]


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Edgar,

Another fascinating interview. I don't think artists can actually "steal" from one another. Well of course they can borrow techniques, but even the best forgers give themselves away in some fashion. As artists we learn from everyone and everything. I really appreciate your work on these exciting interviews. I feel I am learning a lot from them. Tonight I'll probably go to an opening at our major gallery here. Ideas will go into my brain and come out in my work -- but they will translate as mine I hope.

Super talk. So exciting. It would be wonderful to be beyond the need for money, but then I think
painting for an audience is no bad thing.

Everyone who blogs is painting for the world.

Take care,

Love your blog,


Edgar said...

I tend to agree with you -- when artists are behaving at their best. Being inspired by another artist is no more theft than we "steal life" from our mothers at birth... we take what we see, learn from it, and respond in a new and unavoidably different way. We all must have context, and a point to start from. After that, the journey is pretty much our own. How many artist's creative trajectories were changed by walking through the 1914 Armory show?

That said, there is a downside to 'derivative' work: it can be a form of plagiarism. Here is where attitude makes all the difference: either we are in a world of limited ideas, and if we share ours, they are diminished by that sharing, or we are in an expanding world of ideas, and each idea immediately becomes a thing of the past, replaced by two new ideas that invite us to respond to, and renew them.

Karen said...

If we think about making art as a way of learning, growing, gaining intelligence and sensitivity, where the art object is a by-product of this learning, then we're in that world of expanding ideas. Here there is no fear of sharing, because we know there are so many more ideas to discover, and each must find his own (possibly with guidance).

If we think about making art as making some 'thing', some object, some commodity, then we're in a self-limited world where, indeed, sharing our ideas means diminishing our storehouse of them. This kind of gives me the creeps...people who hold back for fear of giving their secrets away. How good could they be? And what a withering and uninspired way to think about art.

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Edgar,

When I was a public relations consultant and writer my colleagues kept their ideas "close to their chests" as they say. They were always
terrified that if they spoke about a job they were working on, someone would steal it right out from under them. You cannot steal someone's art ideas. Look at all the people who paint lemons, or apples, and every single painting is different.

I choose to think that the world of creativity is constantly expanding.
That said I think I'm still stuck in about 1930 with my work, but I am enjoying myself.

Take care,


Edgar said...

Karen—I think your distinction is key to the paradox: It's hard to keep your sense that art is a process by which we grow, when you are obliged to finish a piece for the sake of income. If you must sell your work to survive, and it is of more value when it is uncommon, protecting it from imitation is directly linked to your potential level of success.

The question is, how do we keep the sense of openness and sharing, if we are competing for limited dollars in the market?

Barbara—True enough, if we are using each other as a springboard for our own experimentation, the exchange is not competitive. But some artists are unscrupulous imitators, so protectiveness can be justified by hard experience (like that old joke, "A Republican is a Democrat who's been mugged.")

Some of the question of attitude centers around one's ability to trust other artists with our thoughts and techniques: and trust should be earned before it is given, right?

Here's another question: We're all willing to pay an accomplished professional for a workshop to teach us new techniques... aren't her techniques valuable between the workshops as well as during?

Karen said...

I think that if one must protect or hide what makes his or her work uncommon, then what makes it uncommon must be a 'gimmick' of sorts (some 'thing' to be gotten hold of). Imitators can certainly copy this, but their work will be empty.

If what makes it uncommon is his or her sensitivity to and intelligence about the art, then these things need no protecting because they're internal, they can't be stolen because we can only develop them within ourselves.

So how do we see art this way and compete for the limited dollars? I don't know...I guess deep-down I still have this misguided and idealistic notion that the truth of a piece will always show. (?)

Edgar said...

Karen— I like your comment, and I'd like to believe that is the way the world works. But isn't art history filled with innovators that didn't get full credit for their art inventions?

Didn't the old masters regularly cover unfinished works so as to keep their techniques secret (and avoid premature criticism?)

Maybe, as Melinda has said, there is nothing more to be invented, so we're in true postmodernism... but every individual now struggles to differentiate himself from all the other individuals, so it looks a lot like the same discussion.

Marian Fortunati said...

My art teacher, Johanna Spinks, is constantly talking about her mentor, Everette Raymond Kinstler. She says she feels like she has an obligation to paint well and to teach others so that she can honor the gifts that he has shared with her.

Marian Fortunati said...

Oh and I forgot... I've heard many, many other artist who look through art magazines and study the work of their favorite artist... even cut out the pages with plates of the work they like so they can see how they used color, or line or composition...
I don't think that's a bad thing... They will always be themselves but they see value in other's work and want to learn from them.

Edgar said...

Marian—Spinks, as a teacher, is taking a different role than 'artist' at least for class time -- and presumably being paid for the service. I'm sure she'd very generous with her knowledge, but isn't what she does different from watching a peer work, when the muse is on them, and their focus is creating something, and not teaching you?

And I agree with you, scrapbooking from magazines is a perfectly natural way of preserving memories of visual cues we want to retain. I don't think Maurice was suggesting it was wrong, but was describing the way students process their beliefs about art, building an esthetic edifice. (In the next section of the interview, he describes the role of that edifice in the arts community.)

But, discussing it as he does raises the interesting proposition: What if we sought out teachers that didn't paint the way we liked paintings, or collected images of things that were very different from our core tastes? What would our art grow to be, then?

I met a student in art school who told me, he wasn't in school because he loved art, but because he wanted to love more art. I always figured that made him smarter than me.

Joan Breckwoldt said...

Wow, what an interview. Thank you Edgar for posting this, I found it very interesting. I have some marketing background, I was a graphic designer for a short time. I had to sell my designs to the client . . . it was pretty easy which makes me think (after reading your interview) that my clients were not very sophisticated in an art sense. Lucky me!
Also, I sold two landscapes a couple of weeks ago to a woman at my son's school. Every time she sees me she goes on and on about how much joy she gets when she looks at my paintings, she's hung one by her bed and she sees it first thing every morning. To me there is a large measure of success in that - I made something that gives someone lots of joy. I've given away paintings that bring lots of joy too, so there's that to factor into a very difficult thing to define: success. Though it's different for each of us. Thanks for a thought provoking post, I'll be back!

Edgar said...

Joan— So nice of you to stop by. I really like what Maurice said about art being successful if the work "rewards a person for stopping to consider it."

After all, if what we do every day is important (because we give up a day of our lives to do it), then giving up a part of that day to look at art better have a payoff.

It sounds like your audiences are getting that payoff. You: Success!