Wednesday, March 11, 2009

celebrity artists

A few years back I was at Jenkins Showler Gallery in White Rock and came across the work of Toller Cranston. Toller Cranston? The Olympic medal-winning figure skater? Sure enough it was the same guy, painting and selling his colourful, stylized art for prices I can only dream about. It got me thinking about the celebrity-turned-artist phenomenon and what a huge boon it could be to galleries. Why promote and risk time and money on gifted but untested artists whose submissions they have to turn away on a daily basis, when celebrities at all ends of the talent spectrum can trot their work in and it will fly off the walls?

Not long after that I was listening to singer/songwriter Jann Arden being interviewed on the radio and she started talking about her Calgary restaurant and how she'd done a few paintings to decorate the place and how well they were selling. I got hopping mad and wanted to blast her for ignoring her so-called responsibility to real visual artists who hadn't yet made it and who might need a place to hang and sell their work. (Too bad it wasn't a call-in show but I'd probably have been too cowardly to call anyway. :) It was probably one of those days when I'd received a gallery rejection. In any case, it was a serious moment of sour grapes on my part. The truth is, I've never actually seen her work and she's probably quite talented!

It happened again a couple of days ago while looking at best-selling author Jon Katz's blog. He mentioned how a Vermont gallery would be selling his evocative photographs of farm life in upstate New York:

March 9, 2009 - A few years ago, I would never have imagined that a classy art gallery would want to show and sell my photos. Now, it has happened, a big step for me, and an affirmation of the creative community of encouragement that was one of the ideas behind Bedlam Farm.

I'm not proud to admit it, but I blew my cool. It has been a bit of a bad run for me lately: a long winter, backfiring hormones, very little inspiration, too many family/community responsibilities and very high levels of distractibility. In other words, bad attitude on overdrive and very little work produced. Note to self: never answer the phone or write emails when the fight or flight (in my case, fight or fight) instinct kicks in. Oops. I wrote an email to Jon Katz, who did not accept my whining graciously. He called me on it and forced me to think about my attitude. Eventually I started thinking about my son, Adam, the actor-writer-artist. He's good at all these things. What if he becomes a success at one, then wants to explore one of the others? Would I begrudge him that opportunity just because he'd already been a success elsewhere? Maybe I should just leave the judging up to the 'consumer' and stick to painting.

Taking it one step further, I realized that there are bona fide visual artists amongst the ranks of celebrities in other fields, Joni Mitchell being one. And if you think about it, she could be the world's most amazing painter but since she won acclaim, icon status even, for her work as a musician first, she will always be a painter second, no matter that she was a painter before she was a musician. How fair is that? Well, I for one am not going to cry in my beer about poor old Joni's fate, but it definitely puts a different spin on things.

Attitude restored, I'm just happy that in spite of economic juggling I get to paint, period, rather than spend the rest of my life at the front of a classroom or behind a desk. How lucky am I?


Blogger Caroline said...

Whew - glad you resolved that one!


11/3/09 2:00 p.m.  
Blogger Ian Lidster said...

I don't know what Jann Arden's artistic talent is like, but I have a fetish for both her voice and her looks. And anyone who lived in Port Hardy for a spell and then escaped to functionality is worthy of much respect.

11/3/09 4:31 p.m.  
Blogger Ellen said...

Viggo Mortensen, Dennis Hopper, Morley Safer...all dabble in art, Robert De Niro's DAD whose paintings are more valuable because of his son. They may get exhibition space but not necessarily any lasting credibility if they aren't any good. It works the other way as well (although certainly not as often). I wonder if Julian Schnabel would have gotten a chance at directing if he wasn't a star on the NY art scene. And look how he turned out as a director? amazing talent.

Crossing over in other art forms can really just end up in embarrassment too. Remember William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy's folk album? Never mind, it's a shmaltzy classic and I totally want to get my hands on a copy of one.

11/3/09 9:41 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Caroline: "Accepted" might be a better word for it. I'm all zen now.

Ian: Now that's MY kind of perspective on the issue. Thanks for the grin.

Ellen: I knew you'd come through with some more examples. And what about the similar issue of nepotism, especially children who ride on their parent's coattails. (As for William Shatner, what's not to love? I would so buy anything he did.)

11/3/09 9:55 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O boy, you should (really not) enter my mind when I get going on similar issues! Bottom line - I have one choice only : get on with my own thing.
Love the bird chat!!!

11/3/09 11:30 p.m.  
Blogger Ilva said...

This post made me happy Andrea, both because of your honesty and the way you turned around in the end! It reminds me of my own ways...The world is a wide place and there's definitely a space for you and your work in it. And others too.

12/3/09 3:14 a.m.  
Blogger Caroline said...

Accepted is a great word for it - glad the zen has got you!

12/3/09 5:26 a.m.  
Blogger Jaimie said...

I too get annoyed when celebrities cash in on their fame to sell bad art.
I think Peter Falk is talented though

12/3/09 5:56 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Laura: Wise idea!

Ilva: I'm learning to work through things slowly, let them simmer awhile, before I post anything rash. I almost did!

Carloine: Today anyway! :)

Jaimie: Wow -- I am impressed. Peter Falk does some nice work!

12/3/09 9:40 a.m.  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

I so know what you mean. I'm not exactly in my artistic happy place right now either and that can make it difficult to be happy for the successes of people and artwork that I actually like, much less bad art that's only accepted because its creator is a celebrity already. I'm so glad you were able to work through it though, and I continually strive to do the same.

12/3/09 9:54 a.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Yes, the adulation of non-talent is sometimes askew, but the gifted artists(visual and other) seem able to continue producing,if not selling.
Is this the fault of galleries, needing to put bread on their own tables? Or, maybe, some slick ad. men?

And if anyone's dishing out "celebrity" freebies I'll take Anthony Quinn off your hands. The man or the art. Except that he's now dead and I don't do the necro!

12/3/09 5:52 p.m.  
Blogger Deborah Ross said...

I agree with you. It is so aggravating to see anyone's art selling instead of our own, really. I mean, let's be honest. And now, with the economy strangling everyone, it's even harder on all of us whose income depends on individual sales. But I'm going to keep producing, hoping it will all have a place to go, soon. Yeah, Joni Mitchell is first rate.

13/3/09 2:24 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Angels: It is a process, isn't it? At least it was warmer out today! That gives me hope...

Dinah: Yes, I believe it's a societal problem more than anything caused by individuals. Our values have soemhow gotten all screwed up. (And phew about the necro! :)

Deb: I keep thinking that I need to work small and affordable -- but is that the best route?

13/3/09 3:34 p.m.  
Blogger Barbara said...

oh how I could relate to your post! I attended an opening for works by Leonard Cohen a few months ago and couldn't help but feel a little depressed to see the prices he was fetching for prints of extremely simple line sketches (10 x what I ask for original works created with painstaking attention to meaning and detail). It's been recommended to me to work small and affordable too, but I dunno ...

14/3/09 1:09 a.m.  
Blogger Kikipotamus said...

Lucky indeed. I also have a rule not to fire off emails while in a 'complexed state,' as my Jungian shaman called it.

15/3/09 3:16 p.m.  
Blogger Melody said...

Awesome post! One of the best I've read.......ever....honestly.

16/3/09 4:43 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Barbara: I feel like I shouldn't need to feel restricted by economics either.

Kiki: 'Complexed state' -- good phrase. I need to borrow it!

Melody: Thanks you! It was one of those 'write this RIGHT NOW or you'll never get the inspiration back' type.

16/3/09 4:50 p.m.  
Blogger Costescu said...

Lol, some days are just better than others and this weather is totally is not helping not to mention the economy ;)

Lol love Deborah's comment & totally agree! It is hard to see other's art selling instead of our own!

16/3/09 5:47 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Costescu: I love to see other's art selling as long as mine is, too! :)

17/3/09 2:52 p.m.  

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