June 20, 2013


995_crimson night

About 10 years ago I had an art show in Santa Fe. The gallery decided to take an ad out in Art News magazine to publicize the show. I thought long and hard about which painting I wanted in the ad as I knew that the whole show was riding on the this single image. If people liked it they would visit the gallery on line or in person and possibly purchase my art.

The first day the ad came out, a couple from Austin, Texas called the gallery and said they were interested in purchasing the painting. The magazine had barely come out and already someone was trying to buy my painting. This felt like an omen. I just knew the show was going to sell out. I presumed this painting was for sure sold. If it wasn’t it would be when the next people called who wanted to buy it.  They asked for a slight discount on price and I told the gallery absolutely not. Why should I discount something that was clearly going to be in such high demand? I figured they would buy it anyway and were just bluffing…

Well they weren’t.  Not only did they not purchase the painting but nobody else did either. I couldn’t believe it. Surely there was someone else out there who wanted it.  But there wasn’t. It was the best painting in the show. It was my favorite one.

The whole show turned out to be kind of a dud. I sold a few things but not that particular red painting.

It hung around in the racks of the gallery for months and months after the show. No one wanted it. Eventually the gallery sent it back to me.

When a painting is made and sent out into the world there are such high hopes for it. It is a little like a child you have raised and hope will go out into the world and do great things. Not that you don’t miss that child when they are gone but you don’t especially want them to come back home and permanently move in with you. The red painting did just that. It lived in the back of my painting racks constantly reminding me of it’s lack of appeal every time I saw it.

I grew tired of it and one day, about 3-4 years later, decided to paint something on top of this old red painting. In the end, a dud, ugly painting is always worth at least what the wood panel underneath cost you. In this case about $120.  I made an entirely new painting. This time it was mostly yellow. When I finished, I was crossing out the old name on the back of the painting and putting in the new one when I realized that this particular painting was being sent again to Santa Fe for another show just like it’s ugly stepsister had been about 4 years before.

This show went better and I sold more paintings. The gallery director and I were talking some weeks later and she was telling me where all the people were from who bought the paintings. It is always interesting to find out where these paintings will spend their lives. When she told me a couple from Austin, Texas had bought the yellow one it just sounded so familiar…I checked my database and yes, of course, it was them. This same couple, unbeknowst to them, had bought not only the new yellow one but also had taken home the red painting buried underneath that only they had wanted from years before.

I am not sure of the moral of this story. There are things to be learned from it although I am not entirely sure what…I know it is a small miracle that occasionally the right person comes along and wants what you make. It feels magically predestined sometimes. I also see how my own ego originally got in the way of a sale.

But mostly I see how the paintings lack of public appeal affected mine. I really liked the painting in the beginning. In the end, I am slightly embarrassed to say, I let what others think about my work change how I thought about it.

It leaves me wondering…  Why Is it so easy to let the value of what we make be determined by what others think about it?

Nicholas Wilton

Hi! I’m
Nicholas Wilton
the founder of Art2Life.

With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.

Join me and artists from all over the world in our Free Art2Life Artists Facebook Group or learn more here about Art2Life.

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