What Is a Picture Worth?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I guess what that is supposed to mean is that a picture has the ability to communicate a message directly to the viewer so effectively that it would take a thousand words to communicate that same message. This, however, to me seems to present a problem for artists whose work has to be explained. If the purpose of a painting is to serve as a means of communication, to convey a message, and if it has to take words, another means of communication, a thousand words, to convey that message, hasn’t then that painting failed in its purpose as a medium of visual communication?

At times, due to language barriers, words fail to communicate ideas. It is very interesting, however, that we use pictures when the message is important enough yet needs to be conveyed in another language, even multiple languages. Traffic signs, for example, utilize picture symbols to instantly convey important information. Indeed, many symbols in ancient languages even began as pictures. The words actually looked like the things they were trying to describe.

Perhaps though, some artists, rather than trying to convey a clear message, are trying to raise questions, to make the viewer think. Perhaps their visual language is from a different time period or culture so that their symbols need translation in order for certain viewers to understand. Or maybe the message is so sophisticated and intellectually above the viewer that the artist needs to use words in order to explain in simpler terms to those of us that just don’t get it. I’m usually intimidated this way when viewing abstract art. I will never ask: “what is that?” in order not to appear dumb.

Maybe there is no message at all though. Maybe the artist dribbled or splashed colors together randomly until he achieved something he liked. Maybe the real thrill for him is to stand back and listen to how others interpret what he has done, to hear them attribute genius and greatness to it, to read complicated messages that he never intended to convey into it, to identify and be moved with what he has done to the point of paying large sums of money for it. To hear all the words that the buyer would say to justify to their friends their purchase. I guess then, in that case, that picture would be worth a thousand words. Whatever words anyone wanted to attribute to it.

Hudson’s Outsider Artist Earl Swanigan

Recently The Daily Freeman published an interview with artist Earl Swanigan who has a studio located at 316 Warren Street Hudson, NY. This humble unassuming man, described as an “outsider artist”, mainly because of his simplistic and humorous style of painting on recycled materials, has become a visible feature of the city and has managed to find his way into the hearts and homes of many weekend visitors to Hudson. His popularity is steadily increasing and he even markets a line of tee shirts with his images emblazoned on them. You can check out his amazing story by following this link. http://www.dailyfreeman.com/articles/2013/02/15/life/doc511d7f405a604388015099.txt

Are You an Amateur or a Professional?

Amateur (French amateur “lover of”, from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, “lover”)

So, aiming at accuracy, an amateur is a person that pursues a craft such as music or art for the love of it. A professional is someone who does it for money.

Unfortunately, amateurism can be seen in both a negative and positive light. On one hand, since amateurs often do not have formal training, some amateur work may be considered sub-par. On the other hand, an amateur may be in a position to approach a subject with an open mind, creatively stretching forward in new directions, unencumbered by formal training. The lack of desire for financial reward can also be seen as a sign of commitment to an activity. I have personally seen some strikingly beautiful artwork done by amateurs given away as gifts. I have also seen some horrible “con art” produced by professionals sold for large sums of money.

This is not to say that all amateur art is good, while all professionally made art is bad. The question is, does the value of the work produced solely depend on whether or not the artist has entered the world of consumerism and profit? Amateurs are serious about the work they do, they break taboos by loving their work and will continue to do it whether they make money at it or not. That being the case, is it just possible that the negative view of the term has arisen because amateurs threaten the professional industry by providing free services?

Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel were amateur scientists who never held a position in their field of study. William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci were considered amateur artists in their fields of study. I have heard it said that your artwork is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. If that is true what would that mean for Vincent Van Gogh who did not sell one painting in his lifetime? Many of his paintings were given as gifts, their value not appreciated until after he died.

So, whether you consider yourself an amateur or a professional artist should not determine the value of your work. The two types of artists simply paint in different circumstances. Professionals have managed to attract a following of individuals willing to purchase their work to the extent that they are able to leave their bread and butter employment and make a living from sales. They have crossed the line from purely painting for the love of it to figuring out how to market themselves to make it into a profitable business. But in my opinion the greatest professional artists are those that have not forgotten the reason they started to paint. They are professionals that paint with the passion of an amateur. I like how Leonardo da Vinci expressed it:

“A painter who has no doubts about his own ability will attain very little. When his work exceeds his judgment, the  artist learns nothing. But when his judgment is superior to his work, he will never cease to improve, unless his love of money interferes or retards his progress.”

So, pick up your brush and paint. Paint with passion and power. Paint because you love to paint, because there is nothing else you would rather do. If someone sees what you see and feels what you feel in your work and wants to buy it, be thankful. But don’t let that alter your motivation. Be professional but paint like an amateur.