One of the major issues I have found along my journey (and new found employment at Pinot's Palette) is the threat of larger art-based corporations that offer wine-and-paint nights towards the local art community. Local artists have been considering these corporations as threats by discouraging buyers to purchase local artwork due to an increase in people preferring to create their own. I want to take a few minutes to share my perspective on these issues from both a local artist and employee of such a franchise to hopefully bring to light the missing pieces of logic that are being ignored while hosting such negative opinions.
Artists who are threatened by these larger corporations are typically most concerned about the possibility of these classes taking value away from their own work and the increase in lack of potential buyers. They would prefer that the community buy their own local artwork rather than create their own in what they might consider a “mediocre mimic class”. The problem with these types of opinions is that they reflect the success of the individuals who hold them and not the actual impact of these corporations on our community. A successful artist probably isn’t going to care right or left about these corporations as they are already successful, hold a name for themselves and have the security of a well-built reputation on their side. The individuals that are complaining, I’m willing to wager, are those who are still struggling to find that success.
As a relatively UNsuccessful local artist myself, I can understand the frustration of not being able to find potential buyers for my work in an area as limited as York County. In art school we are told that if you want to be successful you need to move to a bigger city, a bigger crowd, a more popular area. Basically, if you don’t go to New York, you are screwed. And even there it’s a bloody fight, every artist for themselves. But this stigma simply isn’t true. With resources like the internet and social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram, personal websites, etc., anyone has the ability to promote themselves in ways that they can succeed as long as they know how to use these tools properly. There are artists in the middle of the tundra in Alaska that make a hefty living creating their works and successfully selling world-wide. Sometimes the biggest tool that we have and most often forget about is ourselves.
Part of my education taught me that if you want to make it in the art world, you have to want it. You have to want it enough to do it every second of your free time and then some. Even if you aren’t selling your work, you should at least continue to be making it. You don’t get anywhere by doing nothing. AND you have to be willing to openly talk about your work while doing so. Selling a piece alone is only half the battle, the other half is selling yourself. Why should someone buy YOUR painting of this tree rather than the other paintings of trees… A tree is a tree is a tree... but why is your tree worth 500 dollars and why should I spend it from a buyers perspective? The idea is that if you can talk about your work, you are allowing potential buyers and viewers to better understand it. Why you made it, where the idea came from, is there a story behind it, what encouraged you to use certain color schemes, yada yada yada. If you give potential buyers the ability to better understand your work, you are creating more potential for them to buy it. As an Instructor at Pinot's Palette, we are encouraged to tell people about our personal work outside of the studio, hand out business cards, and use it as a networking opportunity. Working at Pinot's allows me to meet more people and gives me more opportunities to talk about what i'm doing. In fact, our owners actually help promote our personal work by keeping cards in the studio as well as posting about our personal successes on the Pinot's website to help us attract more viewers and increase our networking.
A lot of the struggle of finding buyers is getting them to understand the amount of work, thought and planning that goes into each piece that makes it worth the price. Very few people who have not actually painted themselves can fully comprehend just how many hours of work, and rework and materials can go into one piece that make hand-crafted art so expensive, and this factor alone is one of the major reasons artists flop when it comes to actually selling their work. The average blue collar buyer is going to consider how many hours of work you put into your piece in order to decide it’s worth. The dreaded "How long did this take you to make?" question is the most dubious question for an artist to answer when convincing a buyer to spend their money. Just as a construction worker clocks in and out every day, it is hard for buyers to see past a lifestyle they know and are familiar with. Time and materials. Unfortunately, artwork doesn’t work that way. As artists we don’t just have time and materials, we also have sentimental value which is decided entirely upon the artist and the importance of the piece. The goal is to convince buyers that the importance of the piece is worth the price tag you put on it. And you simply can’t do that without the ability to talk and write about your work.
You also have to be willing to put your foot through every door that opens for you. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. If a gallery is putting a call out for local artists to submit work for any theme that you can put a piece in, you submit it. This includes the pieces that you might not even be fond of. I have been surprised countless times how the pieces I don't like as much end up being my most popular and well liked by the public. If you have the opportunity to teach, you take it. If you have the opportunity to get involved with the community’s local art movements (and get over it, this includes these companies…), GET INVOLVED. TALK TO PEOPLE. SHUT UP AND DO IT. Networking is also a key factor in success. You have to be able and willing to talk about your work to whomever and whenever possible. The more people you can surround yourself with, the more people you can talk to, the more people that will know about what you are doing, the more people will think of you when they come across opportunities that you might benefit from. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool in the art world. The more seeds you plant, the more likely something will grow. It would be naive to assume that people and word of mouth are any exception to this rule.
So why are these companies so threatening to local artists? Because paint and wine companies like Pinot’s Palette allow the average Joe to paint a piece of their own rather than buying locally. Supporting local artists is an incredibly important movement in our communities as we all plead the starving artist excuse and dream big in a small world. The issue is understandable, however, poorly misdirected. This is the type of thinking that puts you in the gutter from the very beginning. In my very first day of drawing class at York College, my professor (Ry Fryar) made it very clear that drawing and painting were learned skills, not necessarily talents. It knocked our cocky freshman attitudes down a few notches and humbled us from the beginning of our education. This is now my favorite thing to tell people that come into Pinot's who don't feel very confident and could use the extra encouragement. It’s a known fact that painting is a skill that everyone has the ability to learn, just like any other skill or trade.
I like to remind people in my classes that although everyone is receiving the same set of instructions, we are all interpreting them in our own way on the canvas, thus what makes everyone's painting a unique and very individualized piece. However, artists need to STOP comparing these pieces that these classes promote and mass produce with the quality and uniqueness of their own work. The fact is, these people don’t go to these paint night sessions with the intention to denote local artists and their works. They go to these classes to get a little tipsy, maybe get a little messy, and mass produce a simple two hour painting that they create by mimicking line for line what the instructor teaches. Sure it boosts the confidence of those who have never created a painting (and what’s wrong with that?) but surely not everyone walks out of there thinking they are the next Van Gogh and will never walk into another gallery as long as they breathe. Seriously people, where did you learn to think like this? STOP. Don’t panic. Those people can only produce what is right in front of them. And they don’t all think they can do what you do just because of it. Not to mention, these corporations use structured paintings that are used repetitively throughout the whole country and are produced over and over again. It doesn’t make sense to feel threatened over a painting that hundreds of other people have already painted and to which the original is copyrighted to the company. What we create as local artists are pieces that are only produced once (typically) with much more time and quality work put into them that are uniquely your own and making it thus more valuable. There is only one of yours vs. the hundreds of people who have been instructed to paint the same damn tree painting. We are all totally missing the point and importance of what these corporations are actually doing here.
Corporations are EXACTLY what local artists need. Confused? Let me help. First there is networking. We already discussed that networking is a major part of being successful in today’s art world. So here is a corporation moving into our hometown that is bringing large groups of people together at a time… to PAINT. Because they are interested in PAINTING. What a coincidence, that happens to be what I do in my spare time :) Some classes may even have upwards of 40+ people at a time. How could any artist look at this as a bad thing? These companies are providing local artists like ourselves with the perfect opportunity to go talk to large groups of people who are already gathered together with the similar interest of PAINTING. We shouldn’t be boycotting or avoiding these classes. We should be diving head first into them and taking the opportunity to talk to people, walking through that open door and using it to our full advantage. These people are all potential buyers. ANY AND EVERY PERSON ON THIS PLANET COULD BE A POTENTIAL BUYER. And these corporations are doing half of the dirty work for us by getting them all together in one place with the same common interest. It is from my own personal experience of teaching over a hundred classes that when one individual stands out above the rest, everyone else in the class notices. "Wow, are you an artist? That's really good!" Imagine if you WERE an artist... you just opened the door for everyone in that class to know who you are and what you do. If these are the people who are interested in what we are trying to offer and potentially could buy our work in the future, we should be going and talking to these people, see what kinds of things they are actually interested in buying and finding ways to better ourselves as artists and give ourselves the opportunity to adhere to what people might ACTUALLY BUY. That’s not to say we should change our own interests and passions, but you can’t deny that seeing and learning what people are actually buying can’t HURT what you are trying to accomplish. Avoiding and rebelling against these classes is like not selling the masterpiece that could potentially boost you to the success you have been waiting for all of your life… because you don’t like the person who wants to buy it… for reasons that don’t really exist… because you are too stubborn to take the opportunities that are being handed to you on a silver platter.
One point of view I would like to revisit here is the idea that people typically don’t understand what all exactly goes into these works that we create which make them so valuable and difficult to sell. Most people want to look at a piece and price it based on the time and materials used to create it and throw sentimental value to the wind. Most people (or potential buyers) have never actually created a piece, don’t believe they have the skill set to do so and in turn don’t understand the complexity behind each pieces creation. Here in lies a new horizon that we seem to be refusing to acknowledge. These classes are providing people with the opportunity to learn and understand these concepts in regard to sentiment! When you create something, there is a little piece of you in every work that makes it difficult to part with that no one else could possibly relate to or understand unless they have created something themselves. Some of us are better at parting with our work than others. However, if you allow the average person, or rather the average BUYER, to create something themselves, they learn the concept of what it means to be proud of a piece, what it means to be attached to it and in turn, why sentimental value is in fact, so valuable. These classes are making it easier for people to relate to local artists and understand why we price our work the way we do. They can see what kinds of skills it requires first hand to create these pieces, how hard it might be for artists to part with and sell them and in turn makes it easier for us as local artists to find understanding buyers. There is no better teacher then experience, and these classes are pumping out large amounts of better understanding potential buyers. The problem lies within ourselves for not grasping diligently at the opportunity to go talk to these people.
There are also plenty of local artists who are against taking the classes because it is against what they were taught. As an educated artist with a degree under my belt, I struggled a lot with explaining to people why I DIDN’T want to go to a wine and paint class. Every time I was asked to go to one I would respond with an arrogant but blunt response; I’m not going to sit and paint line for line what someone else is doing in front of a room full of people all doing the same thing to create the same painting as everyone else. And then one day I stopped myself and reflected on this argument. As painful as it might seem at first to let go of my ego and play my own devil’s advocate, I put my “local educated artist” opinions to the side and dissected my problem.
The concept of mimicking someone else’s steps line for line and color for color is terribly aggravating for someone like myself. In school we are taught to choose our own path. Sure there are ways to start a painting that are preferred and taught in the system but ideally we are not taught line for line. We are taught concepts like to keep moving around the piece. Don’t get too stuck in one spot. Develop all of the areas of the piece equally. Find ways to use the same color palette throughout. Start big and work to smaller details, etc. This is very different from “Paint this shape first, paint this line next, mix these colors this way.” that you are presented with during one of these paint and wine classes. I don’t want to do what you say. I want to do what I want and I want you to show me the best way to do it, the typical rebellious artistic mindset. It is against every fiber of my being to want to do something like this and being a sponge of knowledge, I would rather pay for a class where I am learning a CONCEPT that I can apply to the rest of my work later on down the line.
What I was failing to remember was some of the most basic and important parts of my education: the history. The greatest of the renaissance painters had understudies that painted with them for many years before becoming greats themselves. A lot of what these understudies did was mimic and copy the work being created by their mentor step by step in order to learn and understand the figural form, how to properly treat a color palette and to use and place lighting. Copying and mimicking these greats is one of the many techniques used to learn at the time (and create new generations of greats). Surely these instructors for these wine and paint nights aren’t all Michelangelos or Raphaels, but it would be wrong to undermine the use of mimicking to learn. It’s simply different then what I was taught and just because something is different does not make it bad or wrong.
When I was presented with the opportunity to teach one of these classes, I had a serious change of heart. I realized that If the issue I was having was the way these classes were taught, why not just teach them myself? Regardless of the rules stated by the corporation on how these step by step processes are meant to be taught, there is still something worthwhile and educational that I myself can add to them. Simple things like pointing out the importance of complementary colors, how to use the intensity of a color to push and pull objects forward and the importance of laying out a composition are all concepts that can still be lightly brought about in these classes while still adhering to the rules and regulations of the corporation. It’s not about the paintings themselves, it’s who is teaching them and how. Although these are not meant to be legitimate art classes that would be taught through a college or art school, there are plenty of ways to educate people that are less threatening, simplified, and in this case, FUN.
So seriously, if you are a local artist (like myself) and find yourself holding a grudge at these large companies, it might not hurt to do a little reflective investigation of yourself and the companies you are criticizing. I cannot speak for all paint and wine night companies, but Pinot's Palette hires local artists, providing us with an opportunity to work in our own field which is a rare opportunity for art kids like myself. It is a franchise and still considered a small local business and is owned and operated by a local York county couple. So not only are you supporting local artists by coming to these events, but you are also supporting a small local business. I truly believe that local artists who find issue with companies, like Pinot's, are really suffering from an inability to take advantage of what these companies have to offer. We aren't taking your buyers, we are educating them and making them more appreciative of what you are offering. There is a reason why paint and wine night companies are becoming so successful. Instead of criticizing them, perhaps you should be taking notes. The problem is not the company itself. The problem is that local artists prefer to see them as a threat because it's easier then digging deeper and seeing how to take advantage of the opportunities they present.
I am a local artist, I love my job, I love the people who come into my studio, and I've got more networking opportunities as a local artist then the average bear. I bring art to the masses by simplifying it, making it understandable for everyone that comes my way, and I do it by throwing a damn party. I love what I do <3 Stop complaining about it and get involved.