My good friend John just wrote and asked a question that related to the last post, “How does one tell when it’s time to start participating in paint-outs and other events?” Now that is a really good question. How does one know when they are ready to show? It’s very hard to be objective with ones own work. I can tell you that early on in my progress as a painter, I thought I was pretty darn good, thank you very much. It was only later that I realized that I just hadn’t learned to tell the difference between good and bad in my own work. Now I know for sure that there are a few bad paintings out there with my name on it because I just didn’t know I wasn’t ready. Makes me cringe a little.
There are two issues: the first is how do you know when you are ready and the second is, what’s the harm if you’re not? A good gauge for where you are in your journey is to look at the work of artists you admire, living or dead. The dead ones are better because you won’t be as influenced by the trends du jour.
Compare your work to theirs, look for differences in the level of drawing, composition, edge and color.
Or get someone you trust to tell you the truth, “Does this sweater make me look fat or does it look too ’80’s?” “Why, yes it does!” Don’t ask a spouse or a best friend, ask a fellow artist that you admire.
Ask a gallery owner…try to get an audience with a gallery that has good art in it, work that you wish you had done.
Be honest with yourself. Just because we’ve made a painting doesn’t mean it’s good. I go through this every day and I have to be really be straight forward with myself on the quality level.
Selling work is not a good barometer, for some reason people will buy bad art as readily, if not more so, as the good stuff. Go to Carmel and walk through some of the galleries, there’s work there that will curl your hair in a good way and there’s work there that will curl your hair in a bad way. And people will spend the same amount on either.
Enter juried competitions. If they are reputable and have good jurors, you’ll be able to tell by whether or not you are getting in.
And so what’s the harm if you aren’t ready? None really, it’s not like the gods will be angered and bring a pox on your town if you hang up an average painting. But I would always encourage the individual to wait a little longer than they think they should, spend a couple of years perfecting the craft, developing the voice. Do some plein air events, no matter your level. You can’t swing a stick and not hit one. Pay attention to what the better painters did. Even better, go to some of the better events like Laguna, Easton, Telluride, we have two good ones here in Orlando; Wekiva and Winter Park. You’d be amazed to see what accomplished painters can do. I’ve learned so much from doing them.
Think about how you want people to respond the first time they lay eyes on one of your paintings. Do you want them to say, “Oh geeez.” or “Wow, where did this person come from?”. Imagine where you will be in a couple of years with your art and envision looking back to where you are now and how you would feel about your work now… then. I haven’t tried it but it sounds like a good idea.