What the Public Likes


The plein air painting

The longer we paint, the more important artistic aesthetics become. When we first start out on the adventure of applying pigment to surface, our goal is most often to create something recognizable. Once this is accomplished, we want something more. We want our audience to see and feel through our eyes and no longer be satisfied with a predictable representation. This often leads to the implementation of expressive techniques and unusual visual perspectives that may receive peer approval but then lose mass appeal with the public, leaving us confused.


The larger studio painting with the red-roofed building.

I am frequently reminded of this situation when I give a slide presentation of a body of pastel work at workshops. In this presentation, there are a series of three paintings depicting twilight in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon where I live. They were done for a poster project celebrating the Britt Music Festival, a local outdoor festival that is beautifully set on a hillside overlooking the valley. I requested access to the grounds for a few evenings to do a plein air painting. Wishing to please the selection committee, I did two larger, more detailed and refined renditions back in my studio. Armed with the three paintings, I presented them to the group. Even though I was happy with all of them (otherwise I wouldn’t have shown them), I had my favorite and was convinced they would select it. Much to my surprise, they selected another. When they commented on their reasoning, it came down to a recognizable building that had been added to the larger painting. It seems everyone loved that old local building.

My favorite was the looser plein air painting. It is interesting that whenever I poll the painters in the workshop as to their favorite, the plein air painting always wins. The poster was made, everyone was happy, and all three paintings found appreciative homes. However, whenever I see them, I am reminded that what we like as painters is not always the same as what the general public likes. They are often attracted to the story of a painting and we are drawn to the artistic expression. Of course, both can cohabitate within a successful painting and it is a bit of generalization but it is helpful when pondering why certain works sell and others win awards.


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3 thoughts on “What the Public Likes

  1. Marsha Savage

    Richard, thanks for the reminder about who likes which paintings! I have often found the exact thing you are talking about. The general public will like a little more "refined" painting, while myself and my artist friends do tend to like the more loose work such as the plein air pieces. This is a good reminder and I hope you don’t mind if I share it via my blog, marshasavage.blogspot.com which I probably won’t post until tomorrow. I will give credit to the Newsletter and you.

  2. Pete in St Catharines

    Richard, your work always dazzles me! Now, I’ve only been exposed to Pastel painting for about a year and a half, but your work stands head and shoulders above the rest!

    Your style reminds me of an illustrator, Bernie Fuchs. Your technique of medium application and colour usage is just gorgeous.

    I’d love to know who has influenced you and … what are the chances of seeing your earlier work, you know … just to see the evolution of your style.

    Thanx so much for all the info you offer through this ‘blog’ and the ‘Journal’ articles.