Thursday, April 17, 2008

Advice from an art dealer


Dreamless Sleep, Robert Dale Williams
Collection of DK Anderson
I am an art dealer. When I walk around my home I come face to face with paintings I have purchased from my own artists over the years, some of which I now could probably not afford. Painting is my obsession. Ever since the first auction I attended in my youth where I tried unsuccessfully to buy a painting of a paratrooper jumping out of a plane. What as a dealer am I looking for in an artist? First I want to own the art. It must to be the art I would hang on my own wall and would want to buy if I came across it in a gallery. Every dealer has their preference mine is for art from the Nineteenth century and contemporary works that possess the same craft and humanity to be found in works by such artists as Bouguereau and Fredrick Leighton.

In order to succeed in the art world however an artist also needs to connect with his audience. They need to understand why they bought the painting so when their friends come over to visit they can confidently explain why their art is worth owning and they are not Philistines.

I make a point of having my artists tell their stories in my magazine World Provenance. If you are promoting your own work you must find a way to do this. Rehearse your story and have it ready at all times.

The work I like and deal in tends to have a strong presence, it does not sit back and fade into a room, it is forceful and everyone notices it. This makes it especially important for people to understand the artist. The more character your work has, the more explanation you should give the buyer. I find that artists often think they must paint soft or easy paintings to be successful, but this is not true. You just need to connect to your audience.
DK Anderson

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Robert should find his own voice, painting like Odd Nerdrum is a dead end if you ask me.

Robert Dale Williams said...

Well, "anonymous", it is so bold of you to say -- brave, too, to hide your name. I've already addressed comments like this on my website... When students studied with masters like Rembrandt and Rubens, it was to their advantage that their work echoed traits of the master – it was expected by prospective patrons. In the case of the former, the master actually let his pupils become Rembrandt, adding some final touches before signing his name to paintings from his workshop. Today, students can work for Jeff Koons and have a hand in the creation of oversized toy dogs, and the like. If that student goes on to make his own oversized toy dogs, however, they had better have some kind of “original stamp” put onto them.
The mechanism of art has made this much clear; if you admire the Old Masters, refine your technique, and paint sentimental kitsch, you have taken the proverbial pistol of art, put it to your temple, and pulled the trigger.
Everything I value equates to sin in the art world, and that has been made abundantly clear to me through rejections, and the critical mechanism of the art scene itself. Hatred for kitsch is obvious through the critical trampling of anything remotely sentimental – a recent ARTnews magazine cover article was as much a condemnation of Andrew Wyeth as it was an acknowledgment of his talent. “He has never developed as an artist,” Robert Storr says in an excerpt from the article. “He looks like a painter of high seriousness, with all of the trappings of Old Master painting.” However, I see contradictions in what is preached by art educators the world over. How can it be that a kitsch painter is seen as disgusting or perverted if he or she uses their craft to depict defecation or urination when Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal that had actually been pissed on, and the result was a “tremendous breakthrough” for art? I believe this “breakthrough” was also the final separation of the dignified painter and the philosopher that has become the artist.
How different the Old Masters are from the sneering sarcasm of modernism. How different Rembrandt was from the self righteous educators of today who pry the enthusiasm from ambitious young draughtsman with demands for originality and “out of the box” thinking. How different the world has become when the power has gone from the individual viewer to the critics and curators, leaving the painter vulnerable to their whims and taste. Yet, how the same mankind is, with his longing for the sensual and the eternal. How the same his experience of love, beauty, and death is. The art mechanism would have us believe that because the use of paint can change, life experience has changed. Our connection with the sentimental in every other creative form but the “visual arts” shows me that that is not the case. Until artists and critics can shrug off their own deaths with a sense of emotionally disconnected irony, I will continue to see their mantra as manufactured lunacy.

Robert Dale Williams said...

Furthermore... I am accustomed to such absent-minded comments, but they somehow never cease to anger me. Indeed, it is this sort of thinking that has ruined painting for over 100 years. Imagine the silliness of saying in 1890, "...painting like Bouguereau is a dead end if you ask me."

And, incidentally, my paintings ARE my own voice. Some of my paintings may be similar to Odd Nerdrum's, but they are also similar to Goya, Caravaggio, and numerous Baroque painters as well. I feel no shame whatsoever for my work. If someone with contemporary eyes cannot see beyond comparisons with a contemporary painter, the weakness is in their sphere of reference, not mine.

robert dale williams said...

I have two more points to make before I forever excuse myself from blogging forums, where, no doubt, pointless arguments like this one await me every day. Point one is that Mr. "anoymous" likened my work to Odd Nerdrum's -- thank you! Are you aware of how difficult it is to paint as he does? I suppose only someone who has studied with him, as I have, really knows for sure. And, second, Mr. "anonymous" didn't acknowledge that I was among the painters that the article writer, Mr. DK Anderson, was writing of so passionately. If my career of "painting like Odd Nerdrum" is indeed such a "dead end", why is it inspiring such passionate prose from an art dealer? Why then does my CV contain exhibitions and collections worldwide? Tell me, Mr. "anonymous", where the "dead end" part of my career is to begin?

RichardTScott said...

Dear Anonymous,

Though I encourage an open dialogue on Art Babel - and that includes ideas with which I disagree (as that's the point of dialogue), communication cannot happen without mutual respect.

Your comment is not constructive, and by its flippant nature, relegates itself to the elitist post-modern institution which suppresses free expression. The suppression of expression can only be described as fascist in a political sense, and this is opposed to our goals here at Art Babel.

So, we would be glad to hold a productive discussion with you or anyone on this subject. Often debates can even be heated but remain respectful, and this expected. But anonymity does not allow such a discourse and this, coupled with your tone, dictate the invalidity of this statement.

I hope in the future you will participate in an open and mature discourse.

To Robert,

I do hope you will continue to participate in our dialogue, and not be discouraged by the virulence of the ignorant and those who fear to identify themselves. People often say things in anonymity which they would never utter in person - often because they know they are being childish. From the beginning 'anonymous' has admitted his fallacy simply by not claiming his statement. He won't stand behind it, so it's obvious that he knows it has no legs to stand on.

Please know that the majority of us at Art Babel respect your opinion and look forward to reading more of it, regardless of whether or not we agree.

It's absolutely necessary in our age of difficulty to not polarize, but to come together in open discourse, especially in politics, international policy, economics, and ecological concern. It befuddles me that so many "post-modern" artists who politically support an open dialogue with nations such as Iran and North Korea, suppress and dismiss open dialogue in the arts. Why should it be any different in the arts than in politics?

It is our opportunity and responsibility as artists to lead the way of culture in this regard.
And hopefully, with your help Robert, we here at Art Babel can forge the path.

jeff f said...

As I am reading this I find that on one hand I agree with the anon's statement somewhat, I think they are saying that it's good to be like the person you study with for a time, and then it's good to try and find your own way of working, thinking. The way this person said it is not very constructive.

If you look at the students of Rembrandt to many do paint like him.

Is this bad, I don't think so but not many ever surpassed him nor able to find there own voice whatever that is, maybe its the idea of transcending the master or leaving behind enough of the masters mannerisms that you learn.
After all a lot painters from the 19 century painted a lot of bad paintings and they all came out of the same school as Bouguereau, so this can only be explained by the intellectual ability of the artist to move beyond mere copying.

Gerrad Dou comes to mind as one who really created his own style and his work matured and is very different from Rembrandt's.

I am perplexed by this whole kitsch thing. It is a bit strange in that it seems to be a way of responding to the POMO crowd who wont give you the time of day anyway. Not sure about that but I guess it's more of me not understanding the idea about this.


I think the problem for me is not the technique but the subject matter in some ways the idea people in skins doing strange things is not interesting to look at after a while, and I do as I said admire the work, technique and so on, but in the end I just don't understand why this theme keeps propping up.
But hay that's a personal taste thing which is subjective and not the point.

Robert you seem pretty angry, not sure if it's worth it to get so pissed off and defensive. Your in the world of art and I doubt that everyone is going to have your point of view. Not everyone is going to like it. Even people who do will be asking questions and I think being able to have a discourse on the work and Nerdrum is better than a diatribe.

But hey what do I know, I never studied with Nerdrum and only studied with Frank Mason, Robert Hale.

jeff f said...

"painting like Bouguereau is a dead end if you ask me."

For some it was.

You know there are a lot of contradictions going on here.

For one thing Robert you use anger which seem to sound like rants instead of rational discourse.

I understand your anger but it's not helping the argument.

The other thing is who cares about Duchamp and post-modernism.

The pomo crowd will never accept a Bouguereau or a Nerdrum.

I have been reading Nerdurm's ideas on kitsch and it seems to me to be defined by Clement Greenberg's definition of kitsch in relation to painting. This does not seem to be a good idea to me as it has a lot of negative associations that are just to hard to shake.

So in essence by calling oneself a 'Kitsch Painter' your letting the modern and post-modern critics define you. Just some food for thought.

This is from a forum called Rational Painting and it was written by Jacob Collins I find it very insightful, I hope he does not mind me using it:

"The line of avante garde critics running from Fry-Greenberg-Schjeldahl has made it perfectly clear that traditionalism is apostasy. That might be the most fundamental premise for the twentieth century high art culture. Remember that Greenberg, the don of the postwar art world, kicked off his spectacularly influential career with his kitsch article. The modern vs. kitsch polarity he forged became bedrock for the artworld. Any challenge to that anti-traditionalism doctrine has generally meant excommunication.

By calling their traditionally oriented realistic oil paintings kitch, these artists are giving themselves license to paint in their own manner while still accepting the core premise of modernism; that traditionalism is kitsch. It seems like a peculiar way of avoiding excommunication."

RichardTScott said...

Well, you might be interested to know that Nerdrum studied with Joseph Beuys. I think he is quite aware of these contradictions, however, it seems to me that he has posed his work as kitsch more for publicity - quite effectively I must say.

And I certainly can't blame him, especially at the beginning of his career as he worked through such a great amount of resistance to his work. To some degree, he had to play the game... and in the 20th and 21st centuries the game is about branding.

But because of this, he and others have laid a groundwork upon which we can have viable careers as artists.

Thanks for your constructive comments.

jeff f said...

I knew Nerdrum studied with Beuys.
That is a context to his methodology.
I also think that his age and the time have something to do with it as well.

I know some realest painters from that period, I studied with one.
They don't have this issue or at least they just painted through the late 50's, 60' and 70's had their group of supporters and fought the good fight as they say. All of this without calling themselves kitsch painters.

Maybe it's because they are American and the mind set was not steeped in the post war cynicism that Europe had for a good 15 to 20 years after WW2. Beuys was steeped in it, it defined him. It took 2 generations to get away from it.

We are not them, and I don't think realism is all kitsch nor do I define what I do as kitsch.
However letting the pomo crowd define your work is a slippery slope I feel.

I see a lot of great painters now doing well without all of this hyper boil. Jacob Collins is one and his attitude, with his leaning towards the Enlightenment as a philosophical base, or so it seems, is a more positive way to approach it I think.

Also the post-modern theorist are in opposition to the Enlightenment, so this is a good base to start from. That is to look at the philosophers who are coming from this mode of thinking.

This is my thought on this, makes sense as it comes up with more rational arguments and kitsch as genre is not needed and so on.

Below is an interesting piece from the NY times on this subject. I don't agree with this man but at least he's making helping me understand this stuff, and I have read a fair amount of post-modern dribble to know.

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/french-theory-in-america-part-two/index.html

Sorry to leave you with another quote but this is a good one:

Stephen Jay Gould:

"Only two possible escapes can save us from the organized mayhem of our dark potentialities-the side of human nature that has given us crusades, witch hunts, enslavements, and holocausts. Moral decency provides one necessary ingredient, but not nearly enough. The second foundation must come from the rational side of our mentality. For, unless we rigorously use human reason . . . we will lose out to the frightening forces of irrationality, romanticism, uncompromising "true" belief, and the apparent resulting inevitability of mob action . . . Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism-and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency."

jeff f said...

Sorry I mean Humanism which came out of the Enlightenment.

The problem I have with Nerdrum is that he does seem cynical at times, and yet in others the work has this great beauty which strips it away.

It's the manifesto, all this kitsch and irony, which is what the pomo world is kind of about.

Robert Dale Williams said...

I appreciate your comments, Richard. Emotions get the better of me at times, and I embarrass myself to a degree, as I did in my responses to the anonymous comment. I like to believe that I am far better at making pictures than arguing about them – that is why I am so shy about contributing to such forums (however much my ranting above may appear to prove otherwise). Poor as I am at writing, I shall do my best to address what has become the central subject following an article that mentions neither “kitsch” nor “Odd Nerdrum”…

There appears to be a lot of confusion about “kitsch” painting and what it means when a painter chooses to call their own work “kitsch”. I can see why it appears to surrender to postmodernist thinking or, at the minimum, consent to it.

Obviously, Modernism has conquered the spectrum of art. If you produce well crafted sentimental pictures with timeless qualities, you are making “bad art”. You are producing what is referred to as “kitsch” by the dominating powers in the art world – the critics and curators. That is, you are making something that is neither new nor original. You aren’t connecting with your time, or appearing to think ahead of it. I think it is sad to see so many talented people continue to insist that they are making “art” or “fine art” while the established powers continue to push them down. Talent yields no power in the art game, only critical rhetoric. Few people would choose to stay in a professional field where everything they produce is universally labeled “bad”, especially when what they produce requires so much skill. How horrible is it to think that what would have you celebrated 100 years ago now only brings you mockery? Painters have a decision to make; pack away equipment and stop working, or paint sentimental pictures with enough modern references or irony to make sure they are properly “modern” or “contemporary”.

I’m not completely blind – I’ve seen the articles in magazines like “American Artist” and “International Artist”. It’s truly wonderful to see pages dedicated to open air landscape painting and fine portraiture. It’s more wonderful to hear that figurative works are selling. Beyond the colorful magazine racks is the sad truth; there are no temples being built to house this work. The temples of art are for the real kings of the Art World… the likes of Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons and Richard Serra. Can “kitsch” get anyone to the top? Well, there’s money to be made, for sure – look at Thomas Kincade, or even Odd Nerdrum. But, again, there are no blueprints for a museum housing either painter. Will this change in the future? Will modernism die and turn on itself? Maybe.

Kitsch painters work with no false hopes of recognition or appreciation by critics and curators in the art world. It appears that they are consenting to modern art discourse by calling what they produce “kitsch”, but with all sincerity they are doing so because they abhor the art world and all it stands for. That is, your talent will only get you as far as the critics will let you. The argument then becomes, “but kitsch painters are showing among artists in the art world all the time… they are still following ‘art rules’!” But, let’s not forget that before modern art was hanging on gallery walls, Geromes and Bouguereaus were.

“Anonymous” was right to a great degree, and I owe him (or her) an apology for overlooking the truth of their statement. Painting “like Odd Nerdrum” is a dead end in the art world -- Odd Nerdrum himself has met dead ends in the art world all his life. If art made any sense, and upheld any standards of quality or sincerity, he would be heralded among the world’s greatest living painters. Instead, he is by and large a joke to modernist critics.

Why? It is because art is about adhering to the times, not about quality or sincerity. The painters who thought that painting in the manner of Bouguereau was a dead end probably weren’t talented enough to clean their teacher’s brushes. But, at least they were thinking properly for their time – they probably went on to become great artists.

Jan-Ove Tuv has written the best articles on kitsch painting discourse; www.janovetuv.com.

RichardTScott said...

Well, I would hardly classify Thomas Kinkaid (a corporate hack) in the same playing field with Odd Nerdrum.

Kinkaid is just as bad in the Kitsch world as he is in the Art world.

But, I'd like to refer you to a few things Robert Henri said in The Art Spirit:

"Don't worry about your originality. You couldn't get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do." (Robert Henri)

"You are an artist living in modern times, you cannot escape modern times, you are responding to modern times. Whatever you create is by definition, modern art." Robert Henri (This one I paraphrased)

If you haven't already, you should definitely read The Art Spirit. Out of the probably 20,000 books I've read in my lifetime, it's one of the most brilliant.

jeff f said...

"You are an artist living in modern times, you cannot escape modern times, you are responding to modern times. Whatever you create is by definition, modern art." Robert Henri (This one I paraphrased)"

This is what Graydon Parrish and Jacob Collins say as well, and these two are doing very well.

Graydon is very out spoken on this subject of modernity and the power of the critic in the contemporary art world.

For instance if you go to the The National Portrait Gallery's web site and look for the competition page you will find that it is being judged by everyone but a portrait painter. Why is this? One of the jurors is no less than Peter Schjeldahl, are they kidding?

The other one that is odd is this painter,Kerry James Marshall. His paintings look like rubbish to me.
He does not even paint in any representational or realistic way what so ever. He can't draw, he can't paint and yet the fate of all who enter this competition will rest on his shoulders and biases.
This is an outrage and a joke.
I don't paint portraits, but that's not the point. The point is this is the result of modernism and post-modernism and it's a very thinly vailed sign of the contempt that they have for traditional work.

http://www.portraitcompetition.si.edu/about/jurors.html