Saturday, November 28, 2015

Playing to the masses

July 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Art Politics

Yesterday I was painting out on a public pier/park that juts out into the San Diego harbor. Generally I only see a few local regulars, a few homeless people and occasional tourists – most times I have the place to myself with a commanding view of the harbor I can paint without distractions. Yesterday a couple of teens and an older gentleman stopped and complimented my painting. Usually I’ll give a perfunctory thanks and then my body language says “I’m really trying to concentrate here – please leave now!” But
I let their compliment sink in this time. For a minute I was famous!

Earlier in the day I stumbled upon a link to a 2007 Washington Post article called the Pearls Before Breakfast, where the Washington Post experimented with having one of our nation’s greatest classical musicians, Joshua Bell, play in a subway station during a D.C. rush hour to see what would happen. If you haven’t yet read this article and seen the accompanying videos it is well worth the visit.

It gave me pause to consider how beauty is pushed aside in the rush to get ahead, that so many people miss out on the nurturing soul sustenance the arts and nature offers. So, I need to be grateful that at least few people who rarely see art will take a few seconds to consider both the beauty of the harbor and my painting. Is it provincial to even consider painted beauty as a valid pursuit of art in these post-modern days? Is my little premier coup paintings of tugboats and container shipping paraphernalia hopelessly romantic banal kitch? Are there enough people left in the world who care about the actual craft and artistry of painting, who can appreciate the underlying construction of a painting in formal terms and not just the outward narrative, subject matter or how it fits in with some school of art thinking?

Playing to the masses is tricky, what they do know and appreciate about art tends to be sappy beyond belief. They may appreciate you but will they slow down enough from their busy lives enough to tell, did they really hear you and most importantly leave a buck or two in your case? The true art lovers, the gallery goers, the collectors may know a lot about painting but they have an abundance of art to choose from and in all likelihood won’t be passing by my pier anytime soon. No regrets, I can just play as best I can and be thankful for the chance to do this.
Here’s some more info about the Joshua Bell article

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5 Responses to “Playing to the masses”
  1. Wm. Dubin says:

    I hope you whern’t surprised by what happend in DC… more surprising is the fact that some people stopped to look at your painting! Having painted at the G Street Pier, I have some expierence with your location… to bad you haven’t put up the painting.

    • Larry says:

      not surprised but it was sad none the less. I’ll post a link to my website at some point when these new harbor paintings have germinated a bit more. By the way I am painting further south than the D st pier you mentioned – down by the Coronado Bridge, next to the Pacific Tug Company by Cesar Chavez Parkway – great pier that goes way out into the harbor.

  2. laraine says:

    It’s nice to see Joshua Bell’s video again. Your thoughts remind me of Mark Twain. He said, “My works are like water. The works of the great masters are like wine. But everyone drinks water.” Sometimes work that has a large audience is the greater accomplishment. Really appreciate your opinions and essays on painting.

  3. When I was in Buenos Aires I spent much of the time working on a painting commission. I was in Plaza Guemes, a beautiful public square in Palermo Viejo, surrounded by open air cafes, old buildings and new high rises. At one end is a huge old chuch. While I was painting large crowds would gather around. I spent perhaps 1/3 of my time conversing with people. My Spanish is limited, but many spoke passable English. One young teenage girl spoke flawless English, and when she learned that I spoke some Japanese we conversed in that language too.

    I see engaging with people as necessary research, to help get the flavor of a place by seeing it through other eyes. This is even more true when you are already intimately familiar with your subject. Of course in the States painting is often met with incredulity, sometimes even hostility. Being open to people’s inquiries and curiosity can help change that. And you never know when someone might be interested in buying the painting on your easel.

    • Larry says:

      some good points William. Large crowds gathering around me while I painted would take some getting used to – I’m not sure I could handle that. I can relate to what you are saying about the research and flavor of the place from other people but often times I think it’s my painting that might help people to see their familiar turf in a new manner – as a worthy subject. I painted a little house next to an auto body shop awhile ago – the people who lived and worked there (all spanish speaking) all came out to see my painting of their house. My spanish sucks but it was clear I made their day by making art from their home.

      Often times talking to people while painting outside is the only face to face conversation I get during the day other than my wife. However as much as I enjoy talking to someone who is genuinely interested in the painting it rarely helps the painting along. Talking while painting usually breaks my concentration as I lack the gift of being able to multi-task. But the trade off is that I do get to meet some interesting people.

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