Who is Qualified to Call Themselves an Artist

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Miles Laventhal’s “Fire in the Hole”

I just had an exhibit for two very talented artists who are also teachers. We had a huge turnout for the opening night reception and many people who missed the opening made appointments to view the work. It would have been quite gratifying except for the fact that none of this resulted in any sales! Not only that, some of the interactions between my Gallery Director and the visitors were less than encouraging. Let me explain…

I spent six years researching and putting my experiences as an artist and dealer down on paper to create the book, “What They Didn’t Teach You In Art School.” It is two books in one; the first covers the ‘Fears,’ ‘Myths’ and ‘Prejudices;’ the second book covers the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of becoming a more professional artist. This current experience bolsters my thoughts put down in the first book under ‘Prejudices’ in the chapter titled, “Hobbyists vs. Professionals.”

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Miles Laventhall’s “Lover’s Leap” (detail)

Did I mention that most of these artist/teacher’s students were extremely well-heeled retirees? Most all of them, however, would definitely fall under the category of hobbyists. Most professional artists who sell their art for a living are also collectors of other artist’s work when and as they can afford it. Years ago, when I lived in a large home, I live on a boat now, it was filled with fifty percent of my own work and the rest was adorned by other artist’s work.

The tragedy is, that instead of art classes teaching some retirees how hard it is to produce a truly fine work of art and imbuing them with a deep appreciation of what professional artists have to go through, it gives them an opportunity to fill up their home with art for only the cost of their lessons. I have visited some of their homes so I can speak from real-life experiences. In one such home there was not an inch of wall space that was not covered with work done by the owner. These people were good students, but they were no professionals.

Believe me, I have nothing against retirees taking up the brush, putting some of their work up in their home, giving some works to their children and donating others. What I really resent is that they are doing nothing to support artists who are struggling to make a living from their work. Have they gained no appreciation for what struggling professional artists have to go through? It seems, instead, that they are on one big ego trip. Like all they care about is bringing their friends over to show them their latest works, as if to prove to their friends and to themselves how good they are becoming as artists. They don’t take into account that their friends are never going to hurt their feelings by telling them what they really think.

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Carin Wagner’s “Shelter”

This is where you get to the big difference between hobbyists and professional artists. The hobbyists are on an ego trip and plaster their work all over their home to convince themselves and their friends that they are ‘real artists.’ Professionals are in the business of selling their art in order to make a living and support their families. They don’t have to have their art on view to convince themselves how good they are. If they were a professional artist they would have developed a healthy ego a long time ago to allow them to survive a career in art. Professionals have a deep abiding love for the arts…otherwise they would have never chosen it as a career. That true abiding love of art leads them to collect other artist’s work. They want to support their fellow artists. Look at the Impressionists. They were always swapping their art with one another.

No matter how many paintings that these hobbyists produce, until and unless they stick their necks out to actually start selling their work for prices that are substantial, then they can never be qualified to use the moniker ‘Artist.’

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Carin Wagner’s “Dead Trees Grow No Leaves II”

Now back to my current show and experience connected with it. Most of the visitors came to see the work of their teachers as if the work were hanging in a museum. They came and took pictures, studied the corresponding literature, and bios, but when my poor Gallery Director very politely pointed out to them that, since they loved their teacher’s work, that this might be a prime time to own one of their creations. Well, one women harshly and abruptly shot back that she was not here to buy, that she herself was an artist, as if that was an excuse not to purchase!!! She just doesn’t get it! Other experiences weren’t as abrasive, but still in all, everyone of these visitors used us as a museum without the entrance fee.

I am here to tell all my readers that I love it when people enjoy my gallery, but that is not why I got into the business of owning a gallery. I own a gallery to expose potential buyers to excellent works of ‘fine’ art at reasonable prices so that hopefully they will purchase them for their homes or offices. Otherwise, I would have opened a not-for-profit museum. The real tragedy is that I may have to rethink ever giving my valuable wall space to showing teacher/artists…no matter how talented they are. And that is truly a sad situation.