Truth and Beauty

Thursday, May 24, 2018 1:00 PM

Do You Really Know Where You Are Going?I was recently asked why I bother to enter my work in art shows at different venues around the region since sales at those exhibitions are rare and I am currently represented by a very good art gallery with a good sales record. It was an interesting question. The easy answer was just that I wanted people to know who I am and what I do, so it''s advertising. But that answer just scratches the surface. Many of the venues I submit work to are institutions dedicated to education and promotion of art. The people who see my work there are more often other artists or students of art than potential buyers. I have both taken and taught workshops and classes at some of these institutions. Participation on all these levels is part of the life of an active artist.

It''s rarely possible to draw a straight line between many of the elements of an artist''s life and art sales. But I would argue that drawing a straight line between making art and making money is rarely possible and probably should not be.  Even commissions - the most direct connection between art and money - only come to accomplished artists and you can bet that those artists have always done and will always do a lot of non-commissioned art work.

Artists live an artist''s life. We know other artists. We look at and talk about each other''s work. We are usually alone in our studios but we often find ways to work together, though almost never collaboratively. We influence each other. We show our work together. We learn techniques from each other and learn about tools, sources of art supplies, new paint colors, great spots for plein air painting and sometimes we go on art-making journeys together. We have students who are trying to learn to do what we do, and the very act of teaching is instructive for the teacher. Most importantly, we encourage and support each other. All of this is food for the creative process and I cannot imagine working as an artist without it. A long time ago, before I took up painting, I was a scientist. In many ways, the life of a scientist is like the life of an artist. Scientists spend a lot of time in their own laboratories but they also work together, though they collaborate more often than artists do. They present their work together at conferences. They have students and learn a great deal from teaching. They learn techniques and tools from each other, and they encourage and support each other, although science critically includes a dimension of questioning and challenge of a type that wouldn''t make sense in art.  And in science as in art, there is no straight line between the work and financial reward. (Please understand that I am talking here about pure science which means investigating natural laws of the universe, not applied sciences like engineering or medicine. Those have a closer relationship between work and money. It''s not the same thing at all.) The practice of both art and science importantly involves investigation and discovery, whether it is the investigation of natural phenomena or of modes of aesthetic expression. For this reason, both artists and scientists cannot completely predict the end points of the journeys they begin. This unpredictability makes a direct link between art or science and monetary reward improbable. The product of art work is beauty, the product of science is truth. It is difficult to assign a monetary value to truth and beauty, but I don''t think we''d want to live without them.