Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

It’s pretty obvious I’ve been away from this blog for a while. In fact, I’ve been away for a while  in general.  My quest: to explore all of life’s possibilities, a large number of which seem to present during the summer.

This summer I’ve made trips to Lake George to teach a writing workshop, toSaranacLaketo cover a plein air festival—and again to step into the life of a full-time plein air painter. I came back to my freelance writing  job for a few weeks and then promptly took work as Locations Manager to a feature film shooting inConnecticut. None of these jobs have regular hours. They all bleed into each other, and into every corner of my personal life. In future posts I will explore/explain what I learn on these individual journeys, but for today I want to share a poem that keeps resonating in my head, because it completely nails my own personal life M.O.

It was more than a year ago I heard this poem read at a reading inNorth Easton,Massachusetts. The poet, Craig Fredericks, gave a wonderful reading that night, opening by saying, “there is an ancient Hebrew Law, rediscovered with the dead sea scrolls, that prohibits ‘saying anything stupid on the Sabbath.’ With that in mind…” Read more

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Plein Air painting conjures images of lazy summer afternoons where Frenchman long now passed on once stood in a field or beside a stream, painting masterpieces that would last beyond their lifetimes.

Impressionism was literally born from the plein air experience, as the artist worked quickly to capture the impressions of an outdoor setting through a few hours of changing light. And change it does, moment by moment.

Last week I followed a large group of exceptionally talented painters (about 87 of them) from around the country (and one from Russia) who made the pilgrimage to upstate New York for a 5-day plein air festival, high  in Adirondack Mountains. Read more

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I’d like to share with you one of the best kept secrets on the East Coast: the Middle-Aged Movie Maven (on Facebook), who will clue you in to what’s really worth that hefty ticket price these days.

Written by my sister, Nancy, who has long been my own personal movie critic, this new Facebook  page will give you a heads up on what to see—because I guarantee, she sees it first. Nancy sees most movies on the day (or at least the weekend) they are released. I often work in the movie business (which I’ll save for another post), and just as often, I miss something that’s already left theatres. When I do go, she’s my trusty guidepost. Read more

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Did you think we  were going to talk about writing about watercolor painting? If it happens, it will only be by accident, as the real purpose of this post is to bring painting skills into a less concrete realm—the written word. Like a watercolor, prose or poetry can be delicate or dark, softly shadowed or brightly highlighted. It can define small details with great precision, or suggest large landscapes with subtle washes of color. Read more

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New York City’s most cultured denizen is now slithering along downtown visiting the hottest cultural venues–the one’s so many of us are missing. The Bronx Zoo Cobra that was rumored to have escaped yesterday is really just enjoying some R&R in the formerly–and to many still–Greatest City on Earth.

He’s been tweeting his observations from the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museums, he’s toured the Empire State Building and visited Wall Street. Follow the new NYC tour guide through the underbelly of  the city to see what really makes it great: ART and CULTURE.

This cobra ain’t never leavin New York!

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Few things are more entrepreneurial than working in the arts, and yet most artists would be horrified to call themselves entrepreneurs, or even worse, business people. 

But business it is, and as well all know, business has been bad these past few years. And while every sector of business and industry has taken a hit, the arts, as usual, take a bigger hit than most. Retailers of all kinds have taken to discounting to clear inventory, despite evidence that continued price reductions in any field are hard to recover from.

Case in Point:  Last Fall, a major upscale women’s clothing retailer opened a new store near my home. It was a smart move, since the surrounding towns are populated by women who have bought from this line both online and through catalog sales. But aside from a stunted economy, it’s been a hard winter. The weather has often prevented people from going out at all, and the store’s sales reflect that. The parking lot is rarely full and the window boasts increasingly deeper discounts on already discounted items, representing cuts of 70-80% off original prices. What happens now? When new merchandise comes in, the locals wait for it to go on sale, not just once, but until reaches the rock bottom price they have now decided it is worth. What’s more, the original prices are now viewed as “overpricing.”

For artists, there is the added problem that the arts are perceived as a luxury—one of the first things to go when money gets tight. And while discounting may help a retailer trying to clear merchandise, as a strategy for artists, it can be disastrous.


Branding allows your public/audience to recognize you and your art, and to set a current value for it. (It’s very clear in music, where artists like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga had to create personas with new names to finally succeed).

Artists hate the concept of branding, and well they should. In a perfect world, they would be free to create without the weight of public perception bearing down on them. Major artists sometimes have the luxury of leaving this work to art managers and gallery owners who take on the full time job of marketing artworks and branding artists. The vast majority of artists, however, will have to take on some, if not all of the work of presenting themselves to the world at large.  Many do it successfully. (See my previous posts about Adirondack photographer Carl Heilman, II, and iconic musician Kenny Loggins for insights into how successful artists market their work through changing environments.)

 So, even though you may know nothing at all about marketing, if you plan to sell any of your art, you will have to develop an image that people will recognize in a few seconds as someone whose work they value. Yes, this is branding.

What is Your Art Worth?

Which brings us to pricing your work: How valuable is your art? This is a highly flexible concept, and how you approach it is crucial to your survival as an artist. It distresses me to see so many previously successful artists dropping their prices across the board, as this sends the wrong message to art buyers. It reinforces the belief that art is a luxury, and when it gets too expensive, patrons stop buying it or they buy it for less. In short, it devalues your work and the work of others as well.

The challenge to pricing is that nobody really knows what it should be. Some landscape artists follow a basic rule of a price per square inch for their work, while others look at the complexity of the project and the cost of materials. These are all good ways for you to do initial assessments of the value of your work, but for  a successful strategy that will survive the ups and downs of a long career, you need to think through the basis of your pricing structure thoroughly to preserve both your image and your income as an artist.

7  Steps to Help You Set Your Pricing

1)  Look at your entire portfolio as it stands now. Evaluate the quality of your work, and how it has grown and developed. Later work should not necessarily be priced higher, as it may be experimental, or just less popular, although your growth as an artist will be recognized and appreciated by critics and collectors.

2)  Take everything into account. Some works take longer, or cost more to produce. You need to recapture costs for time and expenses, or you won’t last long as an artist. Track the time and costs on each painting, sculpture, etc. Break down shared costs, like the cost of a kiln, paints, studio space, gas to and from your studio, to shows, etc. Create a master list of all the costs associated with your art (down to every pencil and a cost or percentage of the utilities at your studio or home) and then assign a time-associated general cost for doing your art. The easiest way is to start with a 1-day cost. Then calculate what part of a day, or how many days this piece takes you.

3)  Assign an overhead cost. For example, say a still-life takes you a half-day in the studio, while a plein air painting takes a full day out of the studio plus a half day of touch-ups. A portrait requires a 3-hour study, a day in the studio, plus a half day in touch-ups. Do the math based on your 1-day general cost, and assign an overhead cost for your work. This represents the barest minimum you can accept without taking a loss.

4)  Add creative value to your work. The overhead cost would be about the same whether a 3-year old did it, or a seasoned 30-year artist. What makes your art valuable are the choices you make: subject, lighting, palette, medium, size, level of detail, etc. Creative value is a very subjective measure, and one you should talk over with other people familiar with your work. In the end, you want to arrive at a solid scale to measure by. Keep track of how much you value each work creatively and why. Look again at the whole grouping and how you placed the value, and then make adjustments. And it’s worth noting that the better your marketing campaign, the higher the value you can place on the creativity of your work. 

5)  Assess the technique. A simple, brilliantly executed painting will fetch more than a complex, poorly executed one. Again, this is subjective, but you really know when you have outdone yourself, and when you’ve just done your usual great job (anything less you should not even consider selling, as this will damage your brand). 

6)  Stratify your pricing structure. Set a basic A, B, C structure of categories for your work that reflects all of the features above.

Your “A” list is your top portfolio, which gets you more work, more showings, and more buyers. These prices should never be compromised or reduced; in fact, these are generally works that are sold for higher prices through galleries and at auctions.  Instead, pull a work that isn’t selling and look at ways of marketing up to achieve the price you have set.

Your “B” list is where the majority of your income as an artist rests. These are the proven techniques and pieces that buyers have loved in the past. Be careful to preserve the prices you set here, as once you drop them, you make previous buyers feel like they should have waited. If a buyer wants to pay less for an art work, then it is best to redirect them to a similar piece that has a slightly lower value. This way they will feel that they got a bargain, but they also got a valuable work of art.

Your “C” list represents untested or experimental work, or older pieces that have value but may not represent the full extent of your current technique. These can be discounted, as long as the discount is explained through careful marketing. 

7)  Consider your marketing vehicles.  You have to build into the price the cost of marketing, even if you’re doing it yourself. Most artists mistakenly assume that if they sell a work themselves, they are saving the 40-50% commission they often pay to a gallery, but over time, you are spending this money (and maybe more) in self-advertising, maintaining a website, doing demonstrations, and manning booths at festivals and open-air shows. And most importantly, you are taking time away from creating your artwork. On the other hand, a lesser investment of time or money will generally yield fewer sales.

Whether you pay a commission to a gallery, a fee to a marketing site or a collective, or do your marketing entirely on your own, you have to designate a retail price (what the customer pays) that represents ALL of the above costs. Ideally, this price is one that can cross-over all the categories, so you can show your top pieces at a gallery, sell your B-list on your own website, and even make some cash selling your C-list at fairs and festivals.

A Basic Formula  For Selling Art for Profit: 

Overhead Costs + Creative Value + Technique  = Base Price

Double this to get your Retail Price. 

Anything less, and you will drive yourself out of business.

The Other Side of Pricing: Know Your Marketplace

One of the most important factors in setting good prices is an understanding of what the market will bear.

For dead-on  insights into what drives the erratic instincts of buyers, I  recommend a very interesting article published last week online at Inc. Magazine, by blogger Charlie Gilkey, who writes the Productive Flourishing newsletter (with invaluable advice for creative entrepreneurs). 

The article,  called “The ABCs of Pricing,” offers  simple advice that is particularly important for the retailing of art (including photography, sculpture, pottery, and fine arts, and includes a  tight summary of three principles of price setting in a fluctuating market place: anchors, bumps and charms.

These principles, along with those I have already outlined, will guide you in designing pricing strategies that work for your career over the long run.

   © 2011 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

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AND NOW, the Top 5…Movies that make a powerful visual impact

Each of these picks was helmed by one of a small cadre of truly artistic directors who work their medium in creative and skilled ways to produce unique visions on screen. Some were hits, some not, but they can all be found still at Amazon.com. You may have different ideas, and I’d love to hear them, possibly for a new post.

Here’s my countdown from #5:


5)  The Cell, 2000

Tarsem Singh, Director. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio

A psychological thriller in a class by itself, so well executed and so intelligently thought out, that it elevates itself beyond the subject matter. The scenes are extraordinarily detailed and have movement that takes them from one into the next, borrowing from surrealism, cubism, and impressionism to evoke the disturbed subconscious of a killer.

Psychotherapist Catherine Deane (Lopez) has a special ability to bond with very troubled patients using a special technology that allows her to visit them in their own minds. When a serial killer (D’Onofrio) is caught with one of his victims still hidden alive somewhere, Catherine ventures into his demented world to find the answers. There they mingle in a sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrifying world shared by the killer’s childhood self, who needs to protect her from the demon he has become.

This film enters the realm of the imagination, marrying symbolism to the subject matter in a way that keeps the story moving and very clearly connects reality with dark fantasy. Artists who use symbolism too often get mesmerized by the complexity of their own thinking, rendering the artwork confusing and inaccessible to an outside audience. By drawing heavily on references to conceptual and contemporary art (ranging from Escher and Dali to H.R. Giger, a sculptor and painter who contributed to the visual effects of Alien), the film creates an extraordinarily unique plane where the story can play out between realities, and anything can happen. The stills from the film present a showcase worthy of any gallery opening, but the film has a movement beyond the stills that you won’t want to miss. Dark though it is, it’s also mesmerizing.

The Cell is a fantastic example of how to use symbolism, metaphor, color, and the full range of a painter’s palette to enhance a very grounded story. The biggest surprise is how you can come to empathize with the demon, whose motivations become clear and understandable, and how the director leads you back out of the dark fantasy world to resolve the real-world crisis.

Watch the Trailer.

4)  Three Days of the Condor, 1975

Sydney Pollack, Director.  Starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, and Cliff Robertson.

I think every visual artist (photographer, filmmaker, painter) should see this beautiful film by Sydney Pollack, a masterful filmmaker who died last year. He made many hugely successful movies with major stars, including The Way We Were, Tootsie, Absence of Malice, and Out of Africa (among many others), all of which are well worth watching, but this film stands out as a visual and storytelling masterpiece.

What Sydney Pollack does best―and perhaps better than any other director―is establish a tone for a film, which he carries through visually, in the music, in the dialogue, and the overall pacing of the piece. The tone of Three Days of the Condor is pensive, brooding, lonely, and a little sad—an interesting counterpoint for a political thriller. Pollack personalizes the mortal conflict in bittersweet detail, showing characters who are alone even in a crowd. Nobody is safe.

If you don’t know the story, Redford plays Joe Turner, aka “Condor” a researcher for the CIA who comes back from lunch to find his coworkers all murdered. Out on the street, he calls in to Langley HQ where his section chief wants to “bring him in.” A string of hits set Turner up as both the target and the assailant, and drive him underground to clear his mind and figure out who his enemies—and his friends, are. He takes Kathy Hale (Dunaway),  hostage on the street and has her drive him to her apartment in Brooklyn, where he begins to piece together the puzzle. In one of the most poignant scenes, Turner examines the photos Kathy takes professionally:

Turner:   Lonely photographs.

Kathy:    So?

Turner:     You’re funny.  You take pictures of empty streets, and trees with no leaves on them.

Kathy:    It’s winter.

Turner:   Not quite winter.  They look like…November—not autumn, not winter, in-between. I like them.

The colors of the film are muted and drab, deeply shadowed so that nothing seems completely visible—or completely invisible. Each character stands alone. Most of the scenes in the film have two characters, sometimes three, suggesting that the big problems of the world often come down to the actions of just a few people. Pollack is also interested in making observations about the futility and emptiness of what was then the Cold War—a standoff in anticipation of the real thing. A world of mistrust separates us all from each other. Watch for a particularly stark and underplayed moment near the end of the film between Turner and his potential assassin, played by Max von Sydow.

Here’s an interesting clip of an old interview where Pollack talks about how the film evolved, and how it was received by audiences and critics. If you haven’t seen Three Days of the Condor, or seen it recently, then make sure to watch it again soon!

Watch the Trailer.

3)  An Unfinished Life, 2005 

Lasse Hallström, Director.  Starring Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas.

…An amazing closing shot that just perfectly sums up so many of the scenes in the film.

So we’ve got another film starring Robert Redford—not because I am a particular fan (although I am), but I think he often chooses films with strong visual sensibilities, by directors with similar vision. This film is by one of my favorite directors, Lasse Hallström, who gives extraordinary attention to color, composition, and movement in every frame. As an artist, you must watch the film with the Swedish director’s commentary turned on, as he explains how he chose the absolutely lyrical shots taken from deep in the

Hallström also directed other visually appealing films, including Ciderhouse Rules, Casanova, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, as well as two films I especially recommend: Chocolat, and The Shipping News (a visually stark film that completely captures the harsh life on the Nova Scotia coast).

Hallström seems to choose a palate for each of his films and approaches them as a painter would, which is why you should really get a bunch of them from the library or video store and do a weekend marathon. Casanova, the most commercial and to my mind, least appealing of his films, still captures the rich golds, ambers and red of the venetian sunset in every frame, and the wardrobe and interiors are extremely vibrant as well. The Shipping News is rendered in grays with blue and green overtones, often like sepia, and for Chocolat, he manages to make you salivate, even in frames that don’t have food in them, by carrying over the rich browns, tans and white of the confectionary store.

But for real mastery, his work reaches a high point with An Unfinished Life, which is rendered as a moving landscape film that tells a compelling story about the people who inhabit (or come and go) this unforgiving countryside. In particular, there are long shots of the gravesite of (Einer Gilkyson) Redford’s son, and a shot taken of the dilapidated ranch house from various angles. Hallström explains that for one shot taken from the barn he actually added by CG the silhouettes of two cats in the frame watching Einer in the yard. For more background on the film, visit this interview with the director for Box Office Mojo by Scott Holleran.

Watch the Trailer.

2)   Where the Heart Is, 1990

John Boorman, Director. Starring Dabney Coleman, Uma Thurman, Crispin Glover, Suzi Amis, Christopher Plummer

Forget the Natalie Portman movie about the girl who gives birth in Walmart, this one-of-a-kind film of the same name is an absolutely unique story by rogue writer/director John Boorman about the fall of society through decadence and the rescue of the human soul through—you guessed it, ART.

Funny, strange, and very entertaining. the story starts off with Dabney Coleman as the wealthy NY City real estate developer who specialized in demolition of historical sites. His three spoiled kids have all been following their muses on Daddy’s largesse for too long, and so he cuts them off from the family gravy train and drops them off at the historical site rescued from his wrecking ball by protesters. They are given $750 each and encouraged to use their considerable educations and wits to make a living.

When they finally adjust to the notion of becoming self-sustaining, they tackle the task through the filters of their substantial creative abilities in a myriad of unusual ways Dad never planned on. They agree to bring boarders into help their plight. Brother Jimmy brings home his Wall Street buddy, while sister Daphne (Thurman) brings home a magical well past his prime, who now lives in a box. Chloe (Amis) invites her friend who is at work on his first fashion collection.

But it is Chloe’s own art project that ties all of the stories together as she gets to work on photographs for a calendar, using housemates covered in body paint against tromp l’oeil backgrounds for each of the portraits. The result is a stunning visual experience that many followers of the movie (myself included) have tried to find in the real world.

"Chloe's Calendar, September" from Where the Heart Is, artist Timna Wollards

Chloe's "September" - and again, the primitive influence of Rousseau

Unfortunately, as a non-Hollywood film, product marketing was not figured into the distribution strategy, and the much sought-after calendar was never made available. Real-life artist Timna Woollards has kept a very low profile, but parts of the calendar can be viewed from the blog, Pandora’s Parlor.

As Dad’s empire crumbles under the weight the stalled demolition, and Wall Street takes the first of several big tumbles, the people with the money (including Dad and his banker) are all turned out and are taken in by the creatives, who stand behind their artworks.

Boorman is known for producing a number of major films, including Deliverance, writing another dozen or so, and directing almost as many. Where the Heart Is is certainly one of the lesser-known of his films that has become a cult classic over the years since it was made.

As a writer/director, he often made allegorical films that were rich with symbolism and cultural epiphanies, such as 1985’s The Emerald Forest (which I just picked up at Staples for $4.99). He seems fascinated with the ways man destroys the world around him, and pondering what will save us. In Where The Heart Is, he offers the belief that human survival comes from nurturing creativity in the middle of urban blight―as civilization dies, art lights the future.

Unfortunately, the Trailer is not available, and the only place I have seen this film for sale is on Amazon.com


And now….here’s my vote for #1:

1)   Joe Versus the Volcano

This allegorical movie is wonderful for so many reasons—it will also be included in future lists for writers and composers. But for now, we’re focusing on the visual elements, of which there are many delights. It actually reads like a giant picture book. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Doubt), the shots are very carefully and artistically composed as a photo montage about the meaning of life. You can see Edward Hopper in many of the early shots, and the later sequences take on simplistic, primitive elements of Henri Rousseau (like Boat in the Storm) with large blocks of vibrant, solid color.  Much of the last third of the film is populated by beautifully lyrical shots of the moon, the boat, the ocean, in illustrations reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish (see also a previous post), which Shanley uses very effectively to remind us he is telling a bedtime story…

Schooled film directors are taught to use paintings and photographs to develop their initial storyboards of how their film will look, so you can probably find a lot more paintings in this movie.

Then there’s the script—always fun, and full of the sharp, quirky dialogue Shanley is so well known for (he got more serious as he got older).

So now that we have the artists and writers on board (a writer’s pun), you can make it a family movie night because of the brilliant cast. This was the first pairing of Tom Hanks at his young, charming best as Joe Banks (where you see the beginnings of films like Castaway) with Meg Ryan and Meg Ryan and Meg Ryan as three entirely different characters. Their famous chemistry is immediately evident. There’s also a small boatload (sorry, can’t help myself) of fun character shots with Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda, Nathan Lane, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Robert Stack and Ossie Davis. This movie is far more entertaining than I remembered, and surprisingly inspiring. 

Here, Joe starts to learn about the small moments in life:

Patricia (Meg Ryan):  Do you know where Joe Banks is?

Waponi Chief (Abe Vigoda):  Maybe he run away. Maybe he don’t wanna jump in the big Wu.

Movie Message:  When life really looks bleak, it’s time to take a giant leap into the unknown.

And here you can view the Hollywood Trailer, which manages to capture not one of the many marvelous shots from this movie!  Shows you what Hollywood can do with great material. See it anyway, twice!!


   © 2011 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

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