Saturday, October 24, 2009

Artist vs. Painter: Which?

There's a story floating around my artist group. The facts aren't as relevant as the content. Not sure if it happened at a workshop or during a class or in art school. 

A student approached the Master and asked how to be an artist. The Master thought for a moment,  then replied that it was the wrong question. First the student had to decide if they wanted to be an artist or a painter. The student asked, "What's the difference?"

A Painter develops her craft to an exceptional level then paints pictures that sell to collectors for high prices and makes a lot of money. The student said, " Hey that's what I want! But what's an artist?"

An Artist develops her craft to an exceptional level then explores her creativity using that craft, perhaps pushing the boundaries of the Art of Painting and enriching the whole of humanity.

The student said, "That sounds good too! What's the catch?"

The Artist is poor because she paints what interests her and what facilitates her growth. The Painter makes money because she caters to a collector base painting whatever the collectors want/however they want.

I can find lots of examples to corroborate this worldview, from DaVinci to Van Gogh, Sargent to Cezanne. Stepping outside the world of painting we can find examples in music with the concept of "selling out", or in performing arts with poor theatre people vs. very wealthy action movie stars.  But I'm not sure the worldview is accurate, though it's tempting to believe the evidence. If one digs a little deeper the clear distinctions become blurred.

Take Van Gogh for example: This was a guy who painted what he wanted, the way he wanted, with little commercial success in his lifetime. Shortly after his death his painting was found to have value and now it has exceptional value - both monetarily and culturally. But history tells us Van Gogh was beginning to be appreciated in his lifetime, with some early critical notice from Paris - then he offed himself. If Vincent had stuck around longer he might have enjoyed some commercial success (gasp), as Monet did. 

There's another example: for half his life Claude Monet was poor, miserably poor, rent dodging poor, sponging off wealthy friends poor, burning canvas for heat poor.  Then later he was rich. So wealthy in fact he could buy views from local landowners in order to paint them, rich enough to divert a river to create his own personal water gardens. Rich enough to hobnob with celebrity politicians. 

After an opening last week a bunch of artists and spouses went out to dinner. We were talking about web sites, and one husband said while designing his wife's website he considered adding a couch at the bottom. A couch whose color a browser could change - just to see if the paintings on the site matched.

My own worldview on this Painter vs. Artist isn't so either/or. It is a question I've given serious thought to, and come to a few conclusions. I think it's a question every "artist/painter" has to face at some point.  It's a question that once answered gets every artist up in the morning to do the work.

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About Me

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Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.