Popular Paintings

“Of your current five works: two should be commercial, one a showstopper, one experimental and one you really want to do.”

That was amongst advice for artists that I heard recently from a gallery owner.  Do I agree?

To some extent, yes.  We need to earn from our art, so commercial awareness is certainly valuable.  Showstoppers get our work noticed and experimental work enables us to learn and progress.  How sad it is to see an artist content with repeating their only style of work over and over, just because that is what sells.  As for a work that we really want to do, hopefully that fits in to one of the previous categories.

On the other hand, most of the big names in wildlife art give the same advice, “Don’t paint for the market.”  They have found that producing work that reflects your own voice, your own way of seeing, has a freshness that viewers respond to.  Too much commercial awareness leaves us in danger of forgetting our own individuality. 

Showstoppers too can be problematic.  I can’t speak for other artists but, from my own experience, can say that when I’ve set out to produce a showstopper that isn’t always what results.  Heading Home was a showstopper but was originally only supposed to be a pot-boiler to fill up a space in an exhibition.  I can’t always tell in advance how a painting will evolve – but I like the journey. 

So perhaps the original comment was over-simplifying the issues, but I agree with the gist.  Come to think of it, the phrase applies to my current projects as much as to my paintings.

What do you think?

About Jackie Garner

Wildlife artist.
This entry was posted in Business of Art, Wildlife Art and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Popular Paintings

  1. Jane Vernon says:

    Yes, if only one could predict the show-stoppers!

    It is easy to get trapped in the commercial work because, as you say, we do need to earn our livings somehow. I think the way I deal with the dilemma is cheating: my textiles work by and large carries the experimentation and showstoppers and the work I want to do in that I won’t compromise with it. I could use my textiles skills to make functional art that people want but I have no interest in doing so. Purely decorative textiles is always less marketable. On the other hand the motivation for my ceramics is to produce pieces that can be used everyday and that is certainly playing to the commercial.

    It’s an interesting train of thought. I’m sure my ceramics would benefit from more experimentation but as I’m always running to keep up with stock levels I never find the time for it.

    • Good idea to balance one style against the other. I’m with you on the difficulty of keeping up the stock rather than having time for experiments, though it would certainly be valuable.

  2. Interesting advice on how an artist should plan out their work!

  3. Paula Wilson says:

    Jackie, I think Heading Home is proof that you (by ‘you’ I mean anyone) shouldn’t paint for the market. Through that painting you’ve managed to comunicate your absolute joy in the moment, so there’s an integrity and soul to it. If you were painting a puppy or kitten, with one eye on the ‘people who like cute furry animals’ market, chances are the ‘spirit’ would be missing. As an art buyer as opposed to artist, personally I’d buy and truly appreciate the picture that speaks to me, even if it’s not what I’d normally choose.

    • You’re right, I did love watching the rockhoppers coming in from the sea. I’m glad you can see it in the painting, and I agree that integrity is vital in a creative work. If we don’t have integrity in our work there’s no point in creating anything.

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