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 April 2008 - Who's Responsible

I often hear both young and established artists complaining about how unjust the art world seems to be. They say things like: “I have good work and I can’t get into galleries”, “Everybody sells well, and my work just sits there”, “I never get invited to the big exhibitions, yet I look at the catalogues and some of the work is amateur, at best” or “When I look at the art magazine articles, I can’t believe how bad some of the work is, and yet I’ve never had an article written about me.” The complaints are endless. We all know major art figures who are making thousands, even millions, of dollars with their mediocre paintings, prints, cups, tee-shirts and placemats. Is that fair?

 Well, quite frankly, I’m not convinced that “fairness” has anything to do with it. So is it good looks and a winning smile, pure luck, marketing skills or a good agent? I really don’t think they have anything to do with it either.

 It may actually have more to do with the person staring at the computer screen right now. I guess that would be you.

 I tell my students, “You win in your own universe.” It is a verity (for me, anyway) that has evolved from my own life experience. I touched on this in an earlier newsletter (see “The Intangibles”, May 2007), but now I’d like to go into it in a little more depth.

 I firmly believe that for every good painting there is a buyer out there looking to purchase it. The problem is getting them together in the same place at the same time. I have had situations where a painting sat unsold in a gallery for six to nine months, with no interest by any of their clients. So I’d swap that painting out, put it in another gallery, and, bingo, it would sell within a day or two. This has happened a couple of dozen times, at least (too often to be coincidental).

 Some would say, “What luck!” However, I’m convinced I made the right decision at the right time. Maybe you’re skeptical.

 Try this. Throughout your life you have made trillions of decisions, including crossing your legs, batting your eyes, eating a Popsicle and on and on and on. Well, all those decisions have led you to be sitting where you are right now reading this newsletter. That’s pretty hard to disprove, because that’s where you are and that’s what you’re doing. Now let’s say the ceiling above you cracks, and a piece of plaster falls, hits you on the head and puts you in the hospital with a concussion. There are those who would say, “What terrible luck!” or “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” That’s the spin our culture puts on everything, and that’s what we are all brought up to believe. But you know that all the decisions of your life led you to be sitting there when that piece of plaster smacked you on the head. We don’t want to be responsible for the bad things that happen to us. We only want responsibility for the good things.


There are basically three types of people:


A) Those that know that their actions affect their life situation. They are in control. They take complete responsibility for outcomes of their actions, be they good or bad.

B) Those that are at complete affect to life. It’s all luck, kismet, quixotic or preordained, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

C) Those that take full credit when things are going good. They strut around with their chests puffed out and their thumbs in their suspenders. And when things go wrong, they moan and complain, “How can God, nature, life, the force (whatever) do this to me”?


I’m partial to the (A) people, but I can respect the (B) people because at least they are consistent. It’s the (C) people I have a problem with. You can’t have your cake and eat it too! Either you are responsible, or you’re not.

 This pretty much shoots down the “luck” theory. When you go to that casino and put your nickel in the “one armed bandit” and win, you can take total responsibility for the fact that you chose to be there, at that moment, when it paid off. You should also take total responsibility for it sucking down your coin and returning nothing when it doesn’t pay off.

 If this is true, then the bad news is “It’s all up to you.” But the good news is “It’s all up to you.” Understanding this is both daunting and liberating. If the choices that you have made regarding your artwork and art career aren’t producing the desired results, then all you have to do is make different choices. For example, if you don’t like who’s getting articles in the magazines – DON’T PURCHASE THE MAGAZINES! (I only subscribe to American Art Review, because I like looking at all the paintings by the dead guys). Don’t buy in to other people’s stories. Your success is not dependent on what is happening out there. Affirm your success to yourself, make better choices and win in your own universe.

 Paint on!