What Would You Pay for a Painting?

"No. 5" by Jackson Pollack - 1948
'No. 5' by Jackson Pollack is the highest selling painting to date. It sold for $140 million in 2006. Is this piece worth it? Depends on what the buyer is willing to pay.
I am in the design stages of a pirate themed painting – I will be posting the sketches soon. I also just completed a painting that won’t be displayed until after Christmas to avoid ruining the surprise for the receiver. In the meantime, I have been entertaining and educating myself on other artist’s ideas and opinions. Some discussions have been interesting to say the least.

For example, I recently was involved in a discussion in one of my art groups online about determining the value of a painting once you have completed it. This artist was clearly talented but he didn’t know how much to ask for when selling his work. Then he said something that made me jump into the discussion. He claimed that he saw artists who were asking thousands of dollars for their work and he felt those pieces were not hard to do and that because he could do a better job that his pieces should be worth even more. I rolled my eyes and began constructing my argument against his way of thinking.

So how do I value a painting? Well as I told this artist, the value is not based on level of difficulty – how would I even quantify that? I believe the value of a painting is determined by an assortment of factors including the medium, size, color, subject content, the amount of work involved, demand for the artist’s work, and others. There is simply no formula for artists to follow when assigning value to a painting. To illustrate my point to this person, I gave the example of two paintings of the same subject with different approaches. The subject is a coke can and the first is rendered in realism while the other is painted with an impressionist approach. I asked him that if the realist approach required more detail, does that mean it should be priced higher? There is no simple answer, but personally I would give the impressionist’s piece a higher price.

An Early Memory - Copyright Ryan Williams 2010
'An Early Memory' by Ryan Williams is selling for $550 framed. Is this a fair price? It all depends on what the artist feels the work is worth. For purchase information visit the gallery link.
The impressionist includes his own personal touch to this simple coke can while the realist is only painting everything that they see. If I wanted a painting of photographic quality then why not just take a photo of a coke can? I prefer to own art that contains a little bit of the artist’s soul in it. As for the price I would be willing to pay in this situation, well I would not pay much because the subject is so tame and uninteresting.With that said, when all is said and done, the artist has the right to throw out these considerations and slap an arbitrary price to their work. I prefer not to do such a thing. I price my pieces in a relatively affordable fashion because I feel that I need a reputation for successful work and a larger fan base before I can increase the value. In other words, the demand must be higher for me to raise the value. So there is no reason for me to slap thousands of dollars on my paintings when I know they will not sell for that price.

That is my point though – just because one painting is harder to execute does not make it worth more. I have seen many abstracts with a minimalist approach sell for thousands of dollars. This defies my logic because I don’t understand abstract to begin with, but in the art world nothing is logical and everything is spontaneous. This is the world I enjoy living in. You never know what you will see when you wake up each morning.

The Emotional Response of a Painting

It is amazing what a piece of art can do. Paintings are more then globs of pigment on canvas. They are windows into new worlds and ideas that lead our minds into new realms we never realized existed. A provocative subject can give us pause to think, a subject based in parody can spark a laugh, and for some of us, they can even provide healing powers. A young man who was in a hospital was able to cope with his disease by engaging in artistic projects. This happy story illustrates the powerful responses, both physical and emotional, a piece of art can garner.

What kind of response do you get when you look at a painting? Any response is better than nothing for an artist’s goal is to have their work remembered. A painting can convey emotion just from the colors used or the composition chosen. Earlier this year I tried to convey a feeling of self-reflection and even a little regret in the work “It’s Never too Late.” The point of the work was to ask the question “Is it ever too late to try what you never tried?” In the scene, the old man is sitting on a chair while holding a cello. He has a pensive and urgent expression as he loses himself in a sunset that is fading away outside. He is pondering whether he could still try to learn this difficult instrument at his older age. Surrounded by family photographs, we assume he has made good choices for himself and found happiness. The expression suggests however that he does have some regrets. What has he sacrificed to obtain his happiness? What has he missed out on?

"It's Never Too Late" - Ryan G. Williams
It's Never Too Late - by Ryan G. Williams Copyright 2010 Original and prints available at ryanwilliamsart.com

To convey these feelings I used symbolism. The main theme here is the eternal force of time. The old man is a victim of time and the choices he is forced to make because of it. There are two plants surrounding him in this setting. One is full of life and touching the sunlight while the other is in shade and withering as it approaches its last days. Time has worked its power here and the old man is surrounded by it. The large clock on the wall hovers over the old man as a reminder that life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. The old man is in his own epicenter of action and consequence. While the family photographs are behind him and represent the choices made and his path chosen, he is looking ahead into a sun that is setting and realizing the life he has lived all of these years is also starting to set. He has limited time to resolve these remaining desires that he has put off in his old age. Will he try to learn this instrument like he always wanted to? Is it ever too late?

The next time you are stuck on a painting take a moment to determine why you have an interest in the work. Is it the subject, color, or something else? Artists appreciate knowing that their work is creating a response.

Who Loves Pirate Art?

The Pirate - Endre Szabo
The Pirate - by Endre Szabo Prints availble at http://dart.fine-art.com
Who doesn’t love the stories of pirates? Thanks to the Disney folks, we all have a rose-colored vision of what piracy really was like in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The truth is that most pirates died after about 7 years on the sea while on the run. The most common cause of death was disease. Where did the disease come from? Well if you sleep in your own filth, while crammed together with dozens of other diseased men, you will soon find an early exit to your miserable life. What about food? Well often there was none and so cannibalism reared its ugly head. Yes to be a pirate in reality was a horrible life. So let’s stay with the romanticized fantasy shall we?

Pirate history has always appealed to me because I love the idea of complete freedom. You can sail for adventure anywhere at anytime and meet anyone. I also enjoy pirate-themed art and while there are not many artists who voyage into this genre, I do have a personal favorite that I wanted to make you aware of. His name is Donald Maitz and I find his work to be humorous and enchanting. On a technical level, Maitz is able to balance reality with a slight touch of the cartoonist. His characters are full of emotion and energy and you cannot help but stare at a face and start to feel a little bit of the drama or comedy coming out of the scene. The paintings are great story tellers and they follow that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. In his larger works the picture is more like one hundred thousand words. I love a narrative painting and Maitz is a talent with bringing comedy and action into his works. Most of you, though you may not have known his name, have seen at least one of his works. Maitz painted the famous portrait of Captain Henry Morgan which was adopted by the Morgan Rum company for the label on the bottle. “Got a little captain in ya?”

Captain Henry Morgan
The painting that became the most famous work for Donald Maitz. Captain Henry Morgan certainly has a little captain in him. Copyright 1998 Donald Maitz

Maitz has influenced me in the last few years. I have found that I too want to venture into narrative works. Stories are great on canvas and you can return to a painting many times and find something new that you may not have noticed earlier. In this way, the story continues to be told in increments which keeps the viewer interested. A still-life or landscape can be admired for its color and content, but weeks later can you accurately recall the position of the trees and mountains in your head? On the other hand, if you saw a painting of some characters interacting, chances are you could recall the position and expression of the characters because the painting is telling you a story. As the viewers, we are more likely to recall a painting’s story when there are people involved because we are social creatures and we relate to faces and social events. While you view a narrative painting, you are painting your own version in your mind – just like when you read a book. Most of Maitz’s paintings give me that mental paint brush. I love art that creates an emotional reaction when viewed and my reaction when I look at Maitz work is one of excitement and desire. I don’t necessarily desire to be a pirate, I’m just exited at the possibility of the freedom and I hope to experience that kind of freedom someday.

For more information on Donald Maitz, visit Donald Maitz Website

Now all this pirate talk has me motivated to start a new pirate project – stay tuned.