What Makes A Painting Work Art Blog
by art_composition , June 22, 2010—12:22 AM
Painting people is a pleasure, and art lovers usually enjoy paintings with humans portrayed in them. After completing a recent watercolor of two children exploring a sea star and barnacle bedecked rock at low tide, I gave some thought to portraits, figure painting, and the market.
There is definitely a market for portraits of celebrities, and portraits by master painters from the past can command large figures when they come on the market. Surely the Mona Lisa is one of the world__™s most cherished and visited paintings, and one cannot imagine any circumstances that the Louvre would let go of it__"thus placing it in the category of ___priceless___.
However, I think in the more ordinary world of art marketing, the successful portraitist works largely on commission. People want the portraits of significant persons in their lives, corporations want portraits of their executives, and political entities want portraits of their leaders. While absolutely no marketing research, simply casual observation, goes into this statement, it seems to me the exception is the portrait that signifies something beyond the individual. For example, people may be drawn to a portrait of a Civil War soldier, a fatigued firefighter, a weathered cowboy, a rakish pirate, a costumed ballerina, or some other man, woman, or child whose portrait spoke to their dreams and values. Sometimes, too, a painting that was commissioned to be simply a likeness of an individual touches upon some universal truth or emotion. John Singer Sargent__™s ___Madame X___ is one such work.
In a landscape, a cityscape, a seascape, or an interior scene, human figures__"utter strangers to the viewer__"can be the touch that gives the work a vitality that brings out the urge to posses the work. In my seascape here I had first observed the rock with its scattering of starfish and thought of painting the rugged rock with the life clinging too it. The interaction of the boys with the sea starts adds a livelier element to the scene.
Often a scene with multiple figures has a wonderful tension and draws emotional connections that create a dialog of sorts, in spite of distance of time and place, between the painter and the viewer. Compare detached clusters of people in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat and the lively relationships within The Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. And so you ask each artist the whats and whys of interactions. Of course, each tells you to go back to the painting and find your answers. If you found an unknown work at an art fair, gallery, or on-line market that gave you a similar urge to know the personalities within, there__™s a good chance you__™d want to buy it and continue the dialog, isn__™t there?
Perhaps the marketability question comes to whether the work, portrait or figure, goes beyond being ___a likeness of someone I don__™t know___ much like the mystery people in an old photo album, and makes us feel that we know or want to know the person(s) or experiences therein.