Clarion Call by Alan Banks

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Clarion Call

by Alan Banks

The great Spanish painter, Joaquin Sorolla once said, "The only way to be happy in life is to be a painter." Having been in pursuit of the painting profession from the earliest years of my childhood to the present, I realize that these words ring true. Yet questions arise for many on how to go about it, whom to study with, and where to go to get started. In 1880, there was no pondering the issue; the answers were clearly to be found in Paris. Paris of the 19th century represented all that an aspiring artist could wish for. The great Salon offered a showcase for one's art to an eager public and peers. The potential of official recognition from government purchase could bring further rewards. All provided an irresistible urge to remain in close proximity to where the latest news or exhibition could easily be seen. As the prominence of "The City of Lights" diminished during the great wars, so declined the central gathering place for the artist and his or her public.

The resulting vacuum in the decades that followed have produced some interesting offshoots: the omnipotent gallery, newspaper critics, an art school system, and the National Endowment of the Arts, each exalting a new kind of artist: a radical of the New, who freely admits to not having real talent, but feels he has something to say. Great! Let's hear it! The vocabulary is unique, but the art of the matter is not evident. Art is not rhetoric. It is wholly visual and better left to its real purpose: to edify and elevate the senses with beauty and truth, produced by exacting standards.

The art school system that I and most of my colleagues have experienced confirm the atelier system as the only viable option to achieve completeness as a painter. The R. H. Ives Gammell legacy provides future generations with a firm understanding of the complex fundamentals of seeing and understanding how to record nature, essential building blocks for anyone who hopes to gain competency as an artist. Robert Hunter and Richard Lack , students of Gammell, are the first generation of the original Boston School to carry the torch forward. The tradition has now grown to 10 ateliers/studio schools worldwide.

Today's painters and sculptors face a major challenge. It is not whether they will get representation from a gallery, notice in reviews or receive much needed grant assistance. The challenge is getting back into public view. For example, when the salon refusals were a bit more than he could handle, Manet struggled for an alternative. His answer was to build his own pavilion and charge admission for public viewing. (Of course, he could afford it!) Another case in point is Monet and the Impressionists, who were far less financially endowed. They barely pulled off their first group show, but by the eighth exhibition, everyone knew them.

Most artists are well aware of what fine painting or sculpture is. It is a gift that does not require intellectual discourse or pontification. In spite of the enormous pressure by media types to assail what art is or should be, today's traditional painter is regaining control. No magic wand from a New York gallery in support of the New movement will prevent this inevitable shift back to traditional art.

Think about it: You, the artist, represent the supply side of traditional art that soon will be courted. (Of course, you may be on the chopping block to the tune of 40 to 50 percent when you rely on dealer representation). By taking on the responsibility of developing your own market and selling your own work, you retain the dealer's share of the retail price. The art market is by no means saturated, and the encouraging truth is that selling art isn't as complex as it may seem.

Those who learn to take care of their own interests usually surpass the achievements of those who turn their business affairs over to others. The greatest attribute you need is confidence, belief in your work and the need to promote it, and knowledge that the best promotional effort is a carefully planned, long-term program, based on developing sincere collectors who will stay on as your reputation matures and expands.

The challenge is getting back into public view.

Artists must use their creative genius to take the reins of leadership to realize their own destinies. A transformation is under way for the classically trained artist. A clarion call has sounded and is being heard. As this century draws to a close, more artists, unimpressed with the shock of the New, are getting their act together. Portrait painting may have led the way to this renewal during the late 1970's, but today's artists of the West have chosen auctions as a way to band together and effectively make their own futures

When it comes to planning public shows, more artist-financed group endeavors (avoiding high commission fees) are essential. Artists of modest means may be able to negotiate with finer hotels to set aside a room for displaying their paintings. This was the practice in France before galleries became gods of taste. On one such occasion, a French hotel became the center of attention due to the artists who resided there, including Gérôme and Millet . Napoleon III, hearing of the hotel's notoriety, stopped by one Sunday to purchase some pictures.

Giverny, a group of impressionist artists in the French city of that name, is another example of a colony that became famous. On an even smaller level of interaction was the "Sunday Open House" or late evening dinners that John Singer Sargent hosted at his studio. Sargent was an astute businessman and one of the century's great artists. He, along with Henry Tuke , and four other painters hosted a club that met on a regular basis with the stipulation that each painter must bring a guest to the occasion. It proved a good way to network informally.

Regular Sunday open houses were also an important activity at the studios of successful artists in America, England and France at this time. Both intimate shows like those held at the turn of the century in Giverny and Boston and larger regional shows could be organized today in partnership with any city eager to be the next host of leading artists and their work.

...more artists, unimpressed with the shock of the New, are getting their act together.

Today there are new technologies to aid the artist in his or her promotional endeavors. Videotapes are a way of effectively presenting an artist's work and can be used to record shows for comparison and other purposes. They are a cost-effective way to present an artist or studio, record an artist's works in progress or document the ownership of particular works. Videos are excellent promotional aids because they command the interest of the viewer. Don't forget the convenience of fax and computers for long distance communication.

Fortunately, these new technologies can enable artists of like minds to organize important exhibitions and catalogue their works.

The destiny of great art rests in the hands of its creators; to take hold of the future by working together today. It is up to you, the artist, to make it happen.

Where there is no vision,
the people perish...

Proverbs 29:18

Copyright: Clarion Call, by Allan Banks, Vol. I, Issue 1, Copyright 1994 by the Classical Realism Journal. Reproduced courtesy of the Classical Realism Journal and the American Society of Classical Realism.