I posted a tiny little sign on my Studio door the other day that read, “Serious art for Serious buyers.” Really?! …I had to post that on my door?
Ever since I did, I’ve wondered not only why I did that, but what it means. I haven’t really come up with any good answers other than the smart ass ones like, “don’t bother coming in if you’re just going to turn around and walk out without saying ‘hello,'” or, “if you don’t buy something you’re obviously not serious about art.” That’s not it.
The more likely explanation has to do with how I think about art and only secondarily about those who buy it. And more specifically, how I think about my art. Why do I go down to that studio every day and spend hours working on a painting that very few people are likely to see? and even fewer are likely to buy?! Why do I do that? I hear me asking myself, “Are you serious?!” — laboring daily over something whose net return is largely imaginary and whose social value barely exists. And then I hear myself answer, “yes.” But serious about what? What is so important that I devote huge chunks of time, thought, and effort to something that yields no apparent service or return? If I were trying to make a living at this, I’d starve. And if I needed a stage, an audience, and applause I’d bomb! So, if it isn’t about the money and it isn’t about applause…what makes it “serious” for me?
Again, all the answers come up prosaic…like, “it keeps me sane by giving me something to do,” or, “it’s cheaper than a psychiatrist,” or, “I’m just getting even with my 3rd grade teacher”…(the one who told me casually & thoughtlessly but not maliciously, ‘Larry, you’ll never be an artist.’ She may have been right.) However true these cliches may be, they’re irrelevant and anything but serious.
How serious can it be if I can’t even say what I’m talking about?! How culturally or parentally conditioned are we that everything has to be serious anyway? I think then of one of my favorite books, A Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. One of the things he says is that “what you cannot conceive in your awareness you will stumble over in your path.” Aha! If he’s right, and since I cannot conceive of what it means to be serious, I’ll probably stumble over it in my studio!
When I think about it that way, there are a number of things I’ve stumbled over in doing my art. One of them is that I can’t do ‘pretty,’ which, practically, means I don’t do decorative work. Another thing I’ve stumbled on is that I don’t like and can’t bear to do slap-dash sloppy. And being conventional has no interest for me. What that means is I don’t know how to do what an average consumer wants, someone looking to decorate their apartment, make it more attractive or homey, or to find something to catch their fancy. Those are all things I cannot paint.
Then there’s the stumbling block of meaning. I can’t paint just to paint. Whatever I do has to mean something to me, I have to care about what I’m doing. I don’t paint for production. I need to be engaged with and enlarged by what I see when I make a painting. And of course when your art becomes the language through which you try to show what you see, to find a form for what matters, you want to believe that it could be seen and matter to someone else as well. In other words, you want to be taken seriously. And that’s a problem….(for another time, maybe.)