Plein air pros and cons
Ahhhh, another lovely day in Pleinairtown. Beautiful sunrise, I actually got up to see it this time, the temperature is a balmy 75 but will hit the high nineties by noon, I'm in yet another zip code for the second week in a row participating in yet another plein air event, the thing that I love to do.... and something is bugging me. I'm searching for the pestering thing like it's a mosquito in my room at night. What is there at all to fuss about? The Pleinevents have been very good to me in so many ways over the years. I've probably done 50 or 60 at least since 2001. There are so many good things about them, especially if you are just starting out. First, it's a great way to get noticed by the galleries and the magazines. B) You get to make and paint with friends from around the country (a very big bonus for me). ©) You learn lots of new things by seeing what others do, get inspiration and ideas. π) Pick up galleries and workshops, meet wonderful host families. Nueve) Paint in places that you might have thought of but would never just do on your own and ∆ƒ#x!) the opportunity to win fabulous prizes, sell art and gather collectors. These are all great things, without a doubt, the highlight of my life has been stumbling down this path.
It's a cool life but it's a tough one. In order to live this life, you have to become one with the unknown, undaunted by the way the money comes in or doesn't, embrace the non-linear remuneration of art-life and not equate sales figures with how you are doing as an artist. If I average out the shows for the quarter, it messes with my head. X out in frames, travel, shipping, panels, paint and brushes and X+1 back in. Though on average at the end of the year, I get by because of the sales from paintings left with galleries, the workshops and the freelance job doing pedicures for the elderly. But that's not really what bugs me.
I do wonder sometimes if the whole plein air show thing hasn't done a little bit of a disservice to the perception of the craft of art and in my case, my perception of my own craft. While I have seen some very positive responses to paintings created strictly outdoors and, let me just say this, being in a show like Easton or Laguna, who host their shows in really nice art museums, is a total boon to how the art is viewed. But when there is the inevitable quickdraw and a bunch of us are lining the streets painting stuff because we have two hours to do it, well, we are just painting stuff. It feels like it should be deeper.
My biggest bitch is that by putting a lot of my eggs in this traveling art basket, I have delayed my own personal development as an artist. Rather than putting more time into creating well thought out "master works", I'm spending most of my time masterpainting with 8x10s and 9x12s. Don't get me wrong, I've already said how much I like masterpainting. All of the time spent on the little ones will pay off for sure. It's just time to focus more on the body of work than to run around from show to show trying to crack a sale.
One solution would be to have a painting event where a small group of select artists spend two weeks or so working on really refined work, the first week is studies and sketches and the second would be devoted to the craft of picture making. A month would be better but unrealistic. As a professional artist, I am at the place where I should spend my time not on short term gain but on the long term goal of being a really good (or dare to dream... great) artist. Might be because I'm going to turn the big double nickles here soon. I'll still do some to see buddies, paint someplace cool or maybe turn a buck. The events are great for getting established but the real polish happens solo.