Archive for January, 2016

The Old Meathouse, Spring Valley Station

                         The Old Meathouse, Spring Valley Station

Why Realism?

This is the 2014 Artists Keynote Address by Frederick Ross on the theme “Building on the Classics”. On reading through this I thought it is so pertinent and enlightening given the STATE of the ARTS today, that I will forward his whole address, in small chunks, over the next several blogs. It poses some very interesting questions.

(Fred Ross is currently Chairman of the Art Renewal Center, and has been published or interviewed in the American Arts Quarterly, the California Art Club, Forbes Magazine, Artnews, New Jersey Monthly, the Victorian Society in America, and the Classical Realist Journal. He has been a featured speaker at Sotheby’s, the Dahesh Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and University of Memphis. He holds a Master’s in Art Education from Columbia University, and along with his wife Sherry owns one of the foremost collections of 19th Century European paintings.)

“Thinking about this theme, I’ve concluded that nothing could be more appropriate than to ask and answer this question: Why Realism?

There are, finally, today many organizations that believe in the value and importance of realism, both classical and contemporary; but Why Realism?

Why, after a century of denigration, repression and near annihilation, when the accepted beliefs taught in nearly every high school, college and university for the last hundred years, has been that realism is unoriginal? After all, all realists do is just copy from nature. Realism they say is unsophisticated. Most people can tell what is going on in realistic painting or sculpture. It’s so easy to understand. It’s uncreative; only creating forms and ideas not found in nature show real originality.

So the question of the day for society, and for realist artists, the question for the month, year, and really for the rest of their lives, is: Why Realism?

My answer is direct, simple and should be self-evident: The visual fine arts of drawing, painting and sculpture are best understood first last and always as a language; a visual language. It was developed and preserved first and foremost as a means of communication very much like spoken and written languages. And like language it is successful if communication takes place and it is unsuccessful if it does not. This answer simultaneously defines the term “Fine Art.” So fine art is a way that human beings can communicate. And how can one truly communicate except by a language that is understood by those who are listening?

And if communication is the goal then our language must have a vocabulary and a grammar which is shared by the teller and listener alike.

If you think about it, the earliest forms of written languages used simple drawings of real objects to represent those objects. That makes the origins of written language overlap in a nearly identical way to the origins of fine art.

Without a common language there is no communication and no understanding, and that holds true as well for fine art. It also must communicate in a similar way to spoken and written languages which have the uniquely human purpose of describing the world in which we live, and how we feel about every aspect of life and living. As a language it is like all of the hundreds of the spoken and written languages, that are capable of expressing the enormous limitless scope of human thoughts, ideas, beliefs, values and especially our feelings, passions, dreams, and fantasies; all the varied and infinite stories of humanity.”

So Why Realism indeed…………..

(to be continued………)


bad art

Even Picasso, who was a brilliant drawer but catered to this madness, had bitter-sweet thoughts about the path he had chosen, and felt embittered and betrayed by the vacillations of art trends, and lamented the dangers to the integrity of the artist. Picasso’s quote in Giovanni Papino’s “Libro Nero” 1952:

“In Art today, the mass of the people no longer seek consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessence, seek only what is new, strange, exotic, extravagant and scandalous; and I, since Cubism, and even before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities that have passed through my head; and the less they understood them, the more they admired them, with the result that today I am celebrated and rich.

But when I am alone, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the sense of the great masters of old, such as the Titans, the Rembrandts, the Goyas and many others.

Now these were great painters; I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and who has exhausted to the best of his ability all the imbecilities, the cupidities and the vanities of my contemporaries.

Yes – mine is a bitter confession, and more painful than it may appear; but it has the merit of being sincere”.

So true in 1952, even more so sixty+ years later.



Mile Long Jetty, Derby, 1948

The Original Mile Long Jetty at Derby, Western Australia, in 1948.

This greeted us as Immigrants and was our first sight of Australia. We did wonder what the rest of our new country would look like!

The painting was reconstructed from my father’s movie of the event. It should have some Historic Significance as no images exist of the original world famous jetty which burnt down – in the ’60s I think?

My family has always been Proud to call Australia Home, and we consider ourselves to be very fortunate to live in such a wonderful country.

Robbie Burns' Birthday

This Monday the 25th, we celebrate the birthday of one of Scotland’s favourite sons – Robbie Burns.

I think many of us have a drop of Scottish blood in us, or wish we did. As the Scottish saying goes “There are only two kinds of people in this world – ones that are Scottish, and ones who want to be!”

One of my favourite Robbie Burns’ lines, on the background of my painting “The Shadows of Glencoe”, 70 x 50cm, watercolour on Arches archival paper.

art sticker

As discussed in my previous posts, artists can be taken advantage of in many ways.

Even regional and public galleries are guilty of this by not promoting their artists as they should.

Saying this I am not referring to major state and federally funded public galleries as these operate mostly along the lines of Art Museums – showcasing art through the ages, and seldom exhibiting living practising artists other than the famous.

I’m referring to the smaller regional and city public galleries which seem to act as if they are art museums themselves, treating their exhibiting ‘living’ artists and their artworks as if they are gallery specimens.

Many of these galleries won’t allow sales, readable signage (has to be discreet!), marketing or any form of commercialism as if the artists’ well-being and income are the least of their concerns.

If then they undertook wonderful promotion that would be something, but the opposite is usually true. Once the initial artworks are hung most of these galleries seem to think their work is done. Visitors rattle around in silent spaces, attendants hidden behind computers, having to help themselves to catalogues or brochures (if they can find them!) Promotion is usually limited to the Exhibition Openings, seldom the artists, whereas commercial galleries constantly promote the artists and artworks. It is small wonder many artists resort to public funding, grants and sponsorship in order to live and pursue their art practice. They need to be very determined!

What these public galleries seem to overlook is, that without the obliging artists looking for exposure of their artworks, there would be no art for the walls. No art for the walls means no art gallery, and no art gallery means no jobs, for these art administrators, who often treat their artists abysmally. The cause of this is primarily because these administrators live off ‘the public purse’.

Artists should start to insist that they are paid at the very least some sort of a retainer for ‘free’ decorating these gallery walls, sometimes for months on end. Their work is tied up with no hope for sales despite a huge outlay of time, for framing, of advertising such as brochures and posters, and opening night expenses. Many of these galleries also insist on a percentage commission on any sales that ‘happen to fall out of the sky’.

Commercial galleries, on the other hand, work hard to make their galleries viable business propositions, encouraging exhibitions and helping towards, if not covering, much of those costs. They promote and market their artists, encouraging sales. Their percentage commissions are worth every cent.

The rather foolish argument often presented by the public galleries is that they cannot encroach on the commercial galleries’ territories. But this is just an excuse for inadequacy. The two could easily complement each other without denying artists an income.

Artists should not work for free!!

This is true also with the art game. People go for the cheapest or trendiest option, then either wonder why they are getting rubbish, or perhaps even worse, they don’t realise that what they are getting is rubbish. Trouble is, other people notice and it reflects poorly on them. “Pay peanuts, get monkeys” or “monkey see, monkey do”.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “If you follow fashion, you’d better be quick”.

The other side of it, is having some professional pride and not giving into demands to sell yourself cheap, or following the latest fashions in art just for the sake of keeping up with the ‘others’. If you value your own skill and expertise, and someone else doesn’t, let that be their problem, not yours.…

art sticker

In last week’s post (7/1/2016), I wrote a little about artists allowing themselves to be USED as ‘FREE’ wall decorators and I just want to add a few more points to this discussion.

Artists need to be mindful of the fact that these days anything ‘free’ seems to be devalued in people’s minds, and possibly is deemed worthless. The thinking goes………..that if the artist is prepared to hang their ‘stuff’ on the walls for free, this probably means that the artist is either (or all) desperate, a ‘beginner’, not very professional, the artwork can’t be all that good, why should they pay money for the art piece, and so on. So screwing artists for  free wall decorating is the way to go. Always exact some form of payment, monetary or ‘in kind’, and monitor their promises and display labels to your agreed satisfaction. You are doing them the favour!

Also you can be a ‘beginner’ in the art field, but don’t allow yourself to be tagged as a ‘hobby’ artist. Once that impression is formed by your viewers, the perception can be very hard to undo. Resist the temptation to humble yourself to the point of being self-effacing and shrugging off compliments. If compliments embarrass you, accept people’s responses to your art, simply and graciously, and then move the conversation on with some comment, perhaps about why the artwork has so resonated with them.

Think of yourself instead as an ‘emerging’ artist, no matter how high or low your ambitions are at the time. Set the groundwork from the beginning. Who knows what heights you may eventually ‘emerge’ to? Remember you are the face behind your artwork. People will remember you, your name and the persona you project………and very vaguely your art pieces. They will only recall that they love your ‘stuff’.

Think of it this way………..ask any member of the public to name an artist, and they will be able to rattle off at least a few famous ones; ask them to name one of their artworks, and they will stumble to name even one.

YOU are the FACE of your ART!!

(to be continued………….)


When travelling I am often amazed at the delights that can be found if we take the trouble to get off the main highways. I have a compulsion to check out each and every back road, farm road, and interesting signage to ‘somewhere’………always on the lookout for potential painting subjects that grab my attention. Just another corner………who knows what lies beyond the bend? I came across this little beauty, on a hot, hot day, in the back paddock of a cattle station – complete with termites happily building their mounds in its shade.

Life, as a painter, can be interesting and intriguing too, if we bother to hesitate in our busy lives, and instead of doing what we have always done, just deviate off the path a little. Who knows what we might discover? What gems we might produce? We can always backtrack onto our preferred course if things don’t pan out. At least we won’t die ‘not knowing’.

art sticker

Artists refusing to allow themselves to become ‘free’ wall decorators is one of my hopes for 2016 and beyond.

For too long artists have been lured, with the promise of exposure and potential sales, into displaying their artworks, ‘gratis’, on the walls of cafes, restaurants, reception areas, airport lounges, in fact any building with spacious wall areas – public or private – on the pretext these places are doing them a favour; when, in reality, these places are looking for an inexpensive option to making their premises look attractive.

The artists are told that they can display a card detailing their name, artwork name, and price (but, of course, not too obtrusive for the premise’s general décor), and management will endeavour to do their best to promote and sell the artworks.

The actual circumstances are far different to the desired ideal exposure hoped for by the artists.

The artworks are hung over the dining/coffee tables, the receptionist’s desk, chairs or couches against the walls, sporting tags so small you have to be a very determined patron to hang over the obstacles to squiz at the tiny writing in sometimes darkened rooms. The artist’s brochures and business cards are lost or covered by their own brochures, serviettes, straws or magazines.

And all this FREE……..not even a cup of coffee offered?

Artists need to become assertive – not something artists are good at, hence their being taken advantage of – and at least strike some mutual payment agreement.

This does not necessarily have to be monetary. It could be a free weekly cup of coffee, a monthly dinner, a percentage off your bill, etc. No other profession, in fact nobody, but nobody, offers their services to these business places for free………so why should an artist?

I know that many business places do now buy or rent their décor art……..but why not from the artists themselves?

Next time you are approached for a free hanging, don’t hang yourself!

(to be continued……..)

Mitchell Art Quote

One of my own favourite quotes……..there’s really nothing more to add.

All of an artist’s life is reflected in a painting………the attitudes, philosophies and life experiences………everything that matters…….growing, evolving, and maturing  until end days.