I absolutely love Quora – the question & answer site is indeed a place to share knowledge like it proclaims and it truly helps me better understand the world everyday. Anyway, if you are an artist and are on Quora, do follow Michelle Gaugy. She is a an amazing fountain of knowledge in an otherwise tight-lipped, closed-door art world. Not just art, I love reading Michelle’s views on life and relationships in general. An art gallery owner, art consultant, artist and author, this is one spunky 70-year old who knows what she’s talking about.
Anyway, I really liked this question and loved Michelle Gaugy’s insightful response because it has crossed my mind a few times and I know some of my artist friends who have the same concern – Should I put my art on the Internet? Not just visual artists but one of my contemporary dancer friends didn’t want to put any of her unique, thought-provoking dance performances on YouTube for fear of being copied. Is this approach really valid in the age of everyday Internet sensations where everything has the potential to go viral? Read on as Michelle Gaugy lays all your doubts to rest.
Q: Should an undiscovered artist with a unique style post their paintings on the Internet, or reserve them for gallery eyes only?
You are unknown, you have a unique style – but only a few paintings. If you post your works on the Internet you get noticed, but other more prolific artists can steal your style and get the recognition. Is it better to restrict your artwork from public view and only distribute them to potential galleries?
A: Darryl, your question – and your attitude – sounds plaintive. However, your difficulties are much larger than what your question proposes. But let’s go for the actual stated question first.
I think that perhaps you misunderstand what art is. This is very common these days, because in the last two hundred plus years, due to a combination of prominent philosophical writings and historical circumstances, art has moved from its original role as a vehicle of communication, to its present, narrow and rather narcissistic position of a display of self-expression. This is what leads artists to isolation, starvation, a belief in their ego-driven uniqueness and all kinds of other things which are ultimately self-defeating.
Art is not remotely about what an individual artist accomplishes, and an artist who believes their art is unique is mistaken. Artists create mirrors in which people find aspects of themselves, and in aggregate, in which societies can be known. They are a significant part of the vast river of human development and self-knowledge.
Pick any artist throughout history, and you will be able to readily track the ways in which their work stood on the shoulders of previous artists. Even the ones we credit – particularly in modern and contemporary times – as being most original, had clear and visible sources from other artists. The Impressionists borrowed heavily from Japanese ukiyo-e prints, with which Monet’s home is filled. Picasso was a notorious “borrower”, and there are huge numbers of his compositions that are (ahem!) very, very similar to those of other artists. No artist creates from whole cloth.
And indeed, if an artist is more than about 10% out of the mainstream of art, their work is very unlikely to find success in the marketplace. We, of course, do not know your work, Darryl, but radical originality is not a particular virtue, or an advantage. The people who love and purchase art – even the cognoscenti on the leading edge – still need to have a visual connection to what preceded. They need to see your place in the procession. This means, in point of fact, that your work – if it is to succeed, cannot be too different, although an original voice is highly prized and necessary, of course. This is one of the many tightropes artists walk. and it can be a difficult one.
Your other difficulty, although you do not appear to know it, is that you only have seven works. This implies that either your circumstances prohibit you from spending much time painting, which is what you state – or, that your art requires a lot of time to make. Or both. My guess is both. These are equivalent problems if you wish to be a professional artist. It’s simply not a part-time endeavor. And one of the things an artist needs to learn is how to work as quickly as possible. A professional artist who wishes to make a good living at their work will generally need to produce a minimum of 3 works per week.
This problem of yours also creates a pragmatic answer to your question. I know of no gallery who would consider working with an artist who has only seven artworks, and who works so slowly. Economically, they cannot afford to. Their walls are very, very expensive. They must be assured that when they sell an artwork, the artist can quickly replace it. And generally, a beginning inventory of 20 or so pieces would be normal. So as a practical matter, you don’t have an option but the internet.
Therefore, Darryl, adjust your personal conceptions to the reality of the art world. This is not like your previous experiences of product development. This world is a creative free-for-all and everyone thrives in that environment. And the looser they are, generally speaking, the better their art tends to be. Tight and fearful psyches don’t often come up with great and glorious art. I don’t want to condescend to you, but you need to just loosen up and put that art out there. No art is even alive unless it is seen and in relationship with the world. Breathe deeply and go!