How do you stop anticipating what a mystery buyer might want and just follow your instincts? Do you even know what your instincts are?
Sometimes a question comes at you that just pulls you up short. During an art class I took a few years ago, I remember this happening. I was trying to plan a painting, and as usual, my head was completely empty of ideas. Yawning void. So, as I started noodling trying to come up with something, my instructor happened by and asked, “What shapes do you like?” Now, does that question sound as strange to you as it did to me? Is it because it seems like something: 1) you would ask a child of four, or 2) you have never thought about, or 3) because you never thought you could “like” a shape? All of the above?
As I stood there facing my instructor I realized I had absolutely no idea what shapes I liked. It was such a basic question I never even considered it — never even thought about what was worth exploring, playing with, making something with. It hit me that when I planned a painting, I would not even bother to check in with what I was drawn to, but would just speed right ahead to some assumption of what a nameless, faceless, future buyer might want on the wall. I have a feeling writers do this, as well, working on each chapter with the idea that some future reader is looking over their shoulder, and writing in response to that imaginary audience.
So I thought about my teacher’s shape question and have been thinking about it ever since, especially since his sudden, early death of a heart attack last year. Slowly I am getting a grip, seeing how much I like hard-edged shapes, rectangles, calligraphic marks, uneven circles, and sometimes, curves. No matter how often my daughter makes the suggestion, I am not painting any teapots or pots of daisies.
Looking back at the paintings I’ve sold, it’s the ones that I did out of excitement for the subject that were the ones others liked as well. The ones I tried to make just for commercial reasons seem to lack something crucial, some genuine spark, and people can sense it somehow.
I'm sharing a painting of mine with shapes I like with this post.
It’s 24 X 18, oil on canvas, available from Atelier Galleries, Charleston, SC.
Not famous, but oh well, fine with me.