Oils on canvas, 30 cm x 40 cm.
My art exhibition is now over and I am pleased with the results - some sales and enough commissions to keep me busy for much of the year to come! Perhaps more important, in the long term, was that the reaction from visitors was very good. This is important because it encourages me to think that I am on the right track with regard to the type of work I am producing.
However, I have reservations with regard to the number of visitors that I was able to attract. I had about 130-150, which wasn't bad for a one-man exhibition in a small town. Some of my visitors either knew me personally or had a particular interest in art already, so it was not surprising that they enjoyed the exhibition. The particularly encouraging part was that I also had a number of very casual visitors, not particularly interested in art, but who reacted very favourably once inside. The discouraging part was that I did not have more of these casual visitors! I suspect that this was not to do with me personally, but rather that there is a general reaction from many members of the public which prejudges an art exhibition as likely to be boring!
A lot of contemporary art relies on its ability to shock, puzzle, bewilder and/or intrigue the spectator. But these effects are subject to the law of diminishing returns, which means that the increased search for the new and novel nevertheless has a decreased response from the viewer. This, I believe, has resulted in an alienation of the public. To some degree, the gap is filled by hobbyists and by those artists who are prepared to paint simply to suit popular tastes – primarily decorative landscapes. The difficulty with this, is that the quality of the work is often not high. Even if the painting is technically good, it is rarely intellectually challenging. The result is that the popular art going public tends to be confined to the artists themselves, their immediate friends and relations, and buyers who are simply looking for something decorative to hang on their walls.
I do believe that the way forward is a re-engagement with the familiar. By familiar I mean traditional media, oil and watercolour, etc, and traditional subjects, landscape, portraiture, etc. But a painting should not simply be a demonstration of painterly skill. Within this context, the role of the artist – I believe – is to make the viewer re-examine and re-evaluate the subject matter. The apparent familiarity is the tool which persuades the viewer to consider the artwork in the first place (instead of dismissing it out of hand, the “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like” syndrome). But it then needs to take the viewer further. Above all else, it needs to build the expectation that the viewer will find future work interesting – and worth the bother of going to see!