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.
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.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS