Our Influences on Others by Wilson Bickford

Each school year, I have the opportunity to work with several hundred kids in a "Visiting Artist" program, which is set up by the local arts council. My county is the largest in the state so I cover quite an area and frequent many different schools.

Very recently, I was scheduled for 4 consecutive days to conduct an oil painting lesson with 5th & 6th graders. There would be 100+ kids over the entire session. Upon my arrival on the second day, I was taken aside by a couple of the school staff and informed that "Billy" ( not his actual name ) would be in attendance that day. I was told that ART was his favorite subject and they thought this would be a good experience for him. They also disclosed "Billy has been having some problems and is seeing a counselor because he has been contemplating suicide lately." Being a father and grandfather myself, I was stunned! I thought, "What in the world would make a 10 or 11 year old boy think such a thing?"

The class went on as planned and each child had a nice little oil painting to take home to Mom & Dad. As is always the case at these workshops, the kids were in awe of getting to work with a "real" artist and were very attentive and well-behaved. We genuinely had a great time.
I gave them all a "pat on the back" and some high praise as they were leaving. I also gave a little extra encouragement to Billy.
The next day, I had a different group of students, but Billy's counselor came in to tell me how much Billy had enjoyed his lesson and was inspired by it all. She said that his true outlet was in Art so she was sure our little class had a positive impact on him.

That really got me to thinking. Although we don't always readily realize it, every single one of us influences and impacts upon each other's lives every day. I am able to touch people with my Art, but it can be something as simple as a heartfelt "Thank you" or "I heard you weren't feeling well, but I hope you're feeling better." It doesn't take too much sometimes to brighten someone's day.

Billy was thrilled to get to meet a "real" artist and I hope that our short time together helped to erase some of the negativity in his life. I have no idea of his circumstances or background, but I sincerely hope that I helped to steer him in a more positive direction. Art can do that and I'm so glad (and fortunate) to be a part of it. It's very likely that I may never see or hear of Billy again, but he has impacted on my life as well. It has been a few weeks now and I still think of him and hope he's feeling better about himself.
Who knows?,......... maybe another artist was born that day. I hope so!


I Want to be a Sellout by Mike Rooney

Thats right, you heard me correctly. I want to be a sellout! Let me explain.

I'm Mike Rooney, a plein air painter, living on the coast of NC. I have about a dozen galleries representing me in NC and Cape Cod, and I also teach workshops and make instructional DVD's sold at Jerrys Artarama. This is the first of many monthly contributions I'll be making to this blog. Sometimes it'll be instructional, sometimes it'll hopefully be inspirational, and sometimes it'll be editorial. But it'll always be about making art or the business of art. So here we go.....

I've been fulltime in the art biz now for about four years and I'm continually baffled by the apparent (to me anyway) misconceptions in it.

Take for instance the thought that an artist is a sellout if he gives thought to what the buying public might, or might not, buy. I hear the discussion come up everywhere i go among my peers And there are (in my opinion) two schools of thought, bandied about.

The first is that an artist has lost his soul if he is concerned with what people like or don't like when it comes to his art. He or she should only produce solely based on what he wants to paint, sculpt or whatever. Any compromise is taking you more and more into that bad place known as "selloutsville".

My opinion of this? Hogwash! Let's look at some facts and try to get a handle on reality here. I'm not saying there's no place for thought provoking, unpleasant to look at art, or that I don't get having "creative freedom" without financial constraints. It's just not my bag. I've got this nasty habit. It's called eating.

Seems to me ( oh, yeah....realize everything you've read up to this point, and from here on is not fact, but my opinion) that this camp is full of folks running around with berets on their head, hanging in cafes, smoking long cigarettes, espousing high falootin' (is that really a word, and is that how you spell it?) ideas about righting the wrongs of society through their art. They, and possibly their two collectors, think that art is lofty and idealistic, somehow above all the pettiness and evils of real everyday life. And like spoiled Hollywood celebrities, they fashion themselves as self-appointed change agents. When the reality is that if they didn't exist, the world would be no better, or no worse.
It's so easy to decry capitalism from elevated positions of wealth, gained solely by the very capitalism they despise. I'd think it would be easy to be elitist when you've got a huge bank account.

What was all that? Wow, that felt good getting all that out.

In my career as a professional artist (most of it in a down economy some say we haven't seen in decades) I've run into these folks, less the berets and long cigarettes, but with the same elitist mindset. Newsflash! The art business, in my case selling paintings, is just like any other. We are creating a product and people either want to buy it or they don't, plain and simple.

I guess in reality there are two groups of artists; those who want to "say" something with their art or right a social wrong with it, and those who want to paint AND make a living at it.

I've heard of artists that want to confront folks, make them uncomfortable when they're viewing the art, as if they'll change who they are by looking at something. Maplethorpe comes to mind with his sculpture of Jesus submerged in urine, that got so much attention when he tried to get public funding for his "art". Another newsflash! The public doesn't want to pay for depictions of their religious icons being desecrated. Imagine that. And I don't know for sure what he did after that, but I know his name never comes up these days in conversations about successful artists.

Then there are those content to do their craft and make a living at it, The old masters and the millions of artists like you and I.

My background was the sign business. It's amazing how similar the sign business is to the art biz. You find customers who need what you are painting. I'd go ask for people to part with their hard earned money for what I could do for them. I couldn't charge an arm and a leg because I was a sign painter. It wasn't any loftier a profession than the plumber I was lettering the truck for.

I had to produce so many signs every week to pay the bills. They had to look good and do what they were supposed to do. Things are no different today! Paintings of bloody train wrecks don't sell. Sculptures of Jesus in urine shock but they don't sell on a regular basis. There's a reason for that. If considering why they don't sell makes us a sellout then count me in. The electric company doesn't care what my ideology is. They just know its the end of the month and I owe them.

By the way, if you do a little research into the financial status of those who say you're a sellout if you paint what people buy, you'll find they don't need their art to pay the bills. I don't know about Soho in New York City, bohemian capital of the world, but around here they either have wealthy husbands, mom and dad are paying for art school, or they have a full-time job somewhere.

So, i guess what I'm saying is I want to be a sellout! Sell everything I've got, pay my bills, and paint some more. Because a bad day painting for a living is better than a good day saying "do you want fries with that burger".

To help me pay the electric company (LOL) come check me out at:

also feel free to comment below and get a dialogue going on this subject.


On Being an Artist by Valerie (Valry) Drake

My thoughts have been wandering on the subject of being an artist. The idea of calling myself an "artist" is difficult. The majority of my income is derived from my day job. So what qualifies me to claim this title? Or am I being overly ostentatious?

Am I an artist solely because I produce art? Possibly it has more to do with the fact that I consistently produce art. I practice. There is seldom a week that I do not produce some art. If I go more than a couple of days without drawing or painting then I start to dream of paintbrushes and the texture of paint, the feel of the paintbrush sweeping across canvas, the smell of oil paint, and intense colors dancing in dizzying panoramic displays of splashing and blending and swirling. These dreams drive me to stay awake late the next night, often way past midnight even knowing that I must work the next day, possessed by the compulsion, the visceral need, to apply paint to canvas.

One of my basic beliefs about art is that anyone can learn to be an artist, at least to some extent. Each person has a given amount of artistic talent, some more, some less. I will never be a Monet or Picasso. I do not have that much raw talent. However, I am very focused on developing the talent which I do have. I am serious about learning art and I put a lot of time and effort into the learning process. Beside my bed is a book on facial anatomy for the artist (and a pencil and sketchpad), in my car is a book on composition (and a portable watercolor set) and by the sofa (along with my box of colored pencils and my drawing board) is a book on color theory. I regularly study art history, different styles of work, biographies of artists, and I go to art museums and galleries to examine major works in person. In other words, I work at it.

As I progress and learn more about art I become aware of my obligation to help others. That which I have learned I turned around and started teaching. If I have a skill then it is incumbent on me to share that skill. From having a friend's child come to the house and showing her the correct way to handle a paintbrush to teaching classes at venues such as the local Jerry's. I do not believe I have the right to be selfish or exclusionist. I have felt the sting of approaching artists and having them express their scorn of me and my efforts. Some years ago I told a man whom I respected about my dreams of becoming an artist and he offhandedly told me that it was useless for me to pursue the idea. There was even a teacher who rolled his eyes when I tried to express an idea that excited me. From experiences such as these I have learned to be more sensitive to other artists who are at different places in their creative life. I will do what I can to support and encourage every artist or "want to be" artist.

Finally, I take the world of art seriously. I respect the work of other artists, even artists who have a different viewpoint than I do. Graffiti art, tattoo art, temporary installations, guerrilla art, and countless others, all have their place in the creative world. New artists and established artists, people who just bought their first canvas and tube of paint to the local pottery artist whose work is on display in the Smithsonian and has created a White House Christmas ornament, the digital artist and the cartoonist and the quilter - each and every one, if they consider themselves an "artist" is my colleague and I owe them respect.

So I name myself an artist and I strive to live up to my standards. I am proud of creating art. I am proud of the way my art has improved and of the skills I am learning. I am proud that I have an ideal of what I mean by the word "artist". And I am proud to share that title with you.

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