Have you ever wondered why artwork is so expensive? It turns out that there are several valid reasons for this…To learn more, read on. I get asked variations on this question or overhear it in others’ conversations about purchasing artwork. While I sometimes inwardly bristle inwardly when hearing such remarks, because I am an artist who knows the inside story about how hard and expensive it is to make original artwork, I also want to give others the benefit of the doubt. I realize that others who do not have an art background may not be aware of the reasons why artwork has become so expensive, and in that spirit I am writing this blog post, to help them become more educated about the creative process.
What is the definition of art in our Modern times?
In our modern society of today where speed of execution seems to be often valued above quality, I think fine art is no longer viewed as a viable occupation, as it once was during the renaissance era when artists had a clear path to be trained by master artists and to be paid by wealthy patrons for their commissioned works. Instead, fine art has largely been replaced by applied art forms, such as graphic design, cinematography, animation, photography, fashion design, interior design, etc. However, I think that most artists have to support themselves by taking professions in the applied arts or pursuing some other occupation altogether to support their creative pursuits. Even in public schools, art is often seen as an “extra” subject, not quite as worthy of learning as other science, math, or technology-based courses, such as science, mathematics, engineering, etc. I also think that this attitude of art as “extra” may influence others’ perception of the value of art, not just in monetary terms, but also in terms of its capacity to enrich society and the next generation.
The Rareness of Art as a Profession
On the other hand, the somewhat recent learning model of the STEAM curriculum in the educational system is a promising development, in which educators and hopefully students, are learning about the interconnectedness of art amongst other disciplines, and therefore, its usefulness to society. There are however a minority of artists who are able to pursue their passion as entrepreneurs by selling their art or making a living through online teaching. But to return to the original point, why is the artwork a costly commodity, I am turning my attention to an article I read recently online entitled, Why is Artwork So Expensive? (The Top Ten Reasons),https://www.thecoldwire.com/why-are-paintings-so-expensive/, author unknown.
Why does artwork cost so much?
So, on to a few reasons why that artwork that you looked at in the art gallery or online via an art website was so darned expensive! According to the author of, Why is artwork so expensive? They state that because the artwork is one of a kind, it cannot be reproduced, even by the artist themselves because each brush stroke is unique.
Art is Original and Making it, is Expensive
Another reason to note the cost of the artwork is the cost of art supplies. As a working artist and teacher, I know that quality art supplies can be really expensive, whether I buy them at Michaels or an online art supplier. For example, my favorite medium of choice, which is working with oil paints, is the most expensive one of all, with lots of equipment, such as canvases, brushes, paints, palettes, paint mediums, easels, etc. Working from experience, I have learned that trying to save money by using cheap paint or other art supplies is often not worthwhile. Instead, it just makes my work that much harder. When I am doing custom art or making art for sale, I get the best possible art supplies that I can afford, and so I have to charge clients and customers more to make a return on my investment. I am committed to making my clients a quality product that will last.
However, if I am just experimenting in my sketchbook with ideas, I will sometimes use cheaper products. But again, using better quality supplies is usually a more enjoyable art experience for me. Often, I work with cheaper brushes the hairs fall out and need to be replaced much sooner. And I have spent a lot of time picking out stray brush hairs from canvases or trying to work with cheap soft pastels that will not “stick” to the pastel paper. In this instance, paying additional money for quality soft pastels, such as Rembrandts, is worth it over saving a few dollars with cheaper brands, such as off-label art products like Artist’s Loft. Or, I used the wrong kind of paper for watercolor or ink, and it ended up buckling or pilling my watercolor or ink drawing. All this to say, sometimes saving money is not worth it, and that is just one of the reasons why art is so expensive. As artists, we have to charge more to get a return for our investment, just like any other professional craftsperson, such as a contractor, interior designer, fashion designer, etc. That’s it for today, but next week I will review a few other reasons for the high cost of the artwork. On the subject of artwork, I am featuring some highlights from my Inktober challenge for 2022 that I worked on last fall. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!
Mixed media Explained: Part 2, Types of Mixed Media
Hello friends, family, and fans,
This week I am continuing to elaborate on the theme of mixed media art, and I will be highlighting specific types of mixed media art, such as sculpture, assemblage, and torn paper collage. Last week I covered a broad definition of mixed media art, and I also explored the historical roots of this art form, through the artwork of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. They began making cubist collage works in 1912, with a variety of materials including canvas and rope. (Source: Eapen, Boaz. 15 Inspiring Mixed Media Art Portfolios that You Must See, retrieved from November 12, 2019, pixpa.com.)
The following is a list of some frequently used types of mixed media art:
Sculpture: A sculpture can be made with a variety of materials; therefore, it can be classified as mixed media art. Some materials which can be used to create sculpture include wood, glass, wire, metal, or readymade objects, etc. To begin, you can start by making a base for your sculpture and then, incorporate other media to the piece such as paint. (Source: ibid.) While writing this blog post, I found a fascinating sculptor through an internet search, who specializes in fantastical animals with a surreal twist, named, Ellen Jewett. To see her work, go to my modern met website at https://mymodernmet.com/surreal-animal-sculptures-ellen-jewett/.
Collage: A collage can be defined as a base, or a surface such as wood, paper, stone, or anything which is adhered to another material such as paper or fabric. (Source: ibid.) You can use a variety of materials in a collage such as newspaper cuttings, photographs, ink, paint, magazine cuttings, fabric, etc. The artist, Romare Bearden (1911-1988), specialized in creating collages based on the African American narrative, using imagery from magazines, such as Look, Life, and Ebony. (Source: Romare Bearden Biography, (1911-1918), retrieved from, https://www.biography.com/artist/romare-bearden
Assemblage: A close cousin to collage, assemblage has three-dimensional characteristics, which are composed in a new way to create a narrative. Readymade objects, such as children’s toys or items from the great outdoors, such as leaves or flowers can provide valuable fodder for this type of art. For instance, the artist, Joseph Cornell, (1903-1972) made assemblage boxes out of shadow boxes, photos, “Victorian bric-a-brac”, etc. He collected these items in junk shops throughout New York City and re-imagined these items to create artwork that expressed nostalgia. (Source: Wikipedia, Joseph Cornell, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Cornell.)
With all of these options, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin your next project. As for myself, I like to look for supplies that are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. One good starting point for a mixed media project could be using paper as a surface or substrate. I have used Crescent cold press illustration board for my latest mixed media projects, which is a combination of cardboard and “100% cotton rag cold-press surface”. (Source: https://www.cheapjoes.com/crescent-no-310-illustration-boards.html#:) My self-portrait pieces were made with a combination of wet and dry media such as acrylic paint, gouache, oil paint, and soft pastels to add texture and interest. There are many other ways to use paper as well in different types of mixed media projects such as torn paper collage, and printmaking, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities are endless!
For example, below is a list of ways in which you can use paper in a mixed media project:
Printmaking: There are many types of printmaking such as linoleum block prints, silk-screen prints, and Gelli-plate printing. To make prints, you will need a surface on which you place or carve an image and then transfer it to your paper through various means. For instance, in linoleum block printing you can transfer your image on the block to the paper by applying ink to your design, and then pressing the block onto your paper to make a print. The supplies you will need may vary depending on what type of printmaking you choose to work with. To learn more, you can go to https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking. (Source: The Beginner’s Guide to Making Mixed Media Art, 20 September 2018, retrieved from format.com).
The sky is the limit as far as what you can do here, although it’s a good idea to find out what the journal is made out of and what media it accepts, before attempting to paint in it. I recently obtained a Strathmore mixed media art journal from Amazon. It’s made of Bristol paper with a vellum finish. It’s designed to work well with dry media such as pencil, charcoal, and pastel. Or it can be used with pen and ink, marker, or college papers.
I’m hoping to use this journal to start some new projects from the Skillshare art classes I am taking online. Today, I tried my hand at the torn paper collage technique, and I used the tutorial by Jeanne Oliver provided in her book, The Painted Art Journal, which I highly recommend! My artwork was based on a family photo of my grandmother, Gladys Carter. Starting with a tracing of a sketch, I transferred the image to mixed media paper, using carbon paper and a pen. Then, I used a variety of different media here, with soft pastel, watercolor pencil, water, and torn papers affixed to the mixed media paper substrate. I’m hoping to post photos of this portrait project in next week’s blog post, I ran out of time today and had to go to work this afternoon. It’s a work in progress, and getting outside of my comfort zone to mix up all these different media types! That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading.
Have you ever gone to an art gallery and observed a work of art that was labeled mixed media, and wondered what it meant? I know I have, and I have wondered, how might I incorporate these mediums in my artwork? This question was the catalyst for starting my new art series, Constructed Realities, which combines a variety of mediums including, gouache, soft pastel, acrylic, pencil, and oil paint with a cold press illustration board as a substrate. In some ways, my art is a mixture of mixed media and traditional techniques; because I use realism for the style, but I also combine it with a variety of media, rather than working on one media, such as in oil painting, as has been the traditional practice for painting.
Today, I am focusing on describing mixed media art, in terms of a broad definition, and more specifically to explain what I mean when I label my own art, mixed media. And now, I’d like to offer a brief definition of mixed media art. Mixed media is a type of art that doesn’t limit people who have limited experience with art skills such as drawing. (Source: Eapen, Boaz. 15 Inspiring Mixed Media Art Portfolios that You Must See, retrieved from November 12, 2019, www.pixpa.com.) Instead, it is an art form that is accessible to anyone, even beginners. (Source: ibid) However, one caveat is that after you decide what type of mixed media art you want to focus on, you will need to develop some familiarity with specific processes and specific media, (Source: ibid), such as watercolor interact with other media.
Did you know that mixed media art has been around for about 100 years? I didn’t until I started researching this subject in more detail. Some historical examples of mixed media art include the artwork of the cubist artists, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, his cohort. About 1912, they began to incorporate collages into their artwork. (Source: ibid) In addition, “Surrealists, abstract expressionists, pop artists and brit artists” followed suit, and added mixed media to their repertoire of art-making. (Source: ibid)
In recent years, there has been an explosion of mixed media artwork on the internet on websites such as Youtube and Cloth Paper Scissors, (which also had a periodical format with artwork featuring a variety of artists), and in art technique books, by authors/artists such as, Pam Carriker, Mixed Media Portraits (2015) and Jean Oliver, The Painted Journal (2018). These artists have used a combination of wet and dry media, charcoal and paint, and or gesso, in their portraits. On youtube, you can find art journaling technique video demonstrations by artists such as Dina Wakely and one of my favorite artists and teachers, Julie Fan Fei Balzer. It’s a fun and free way to learn new art techniques from the comfort of your own home, which is really important these days, since so many colleges and art centers are closed, due to the pandemic.
I started out my mixed media art journey by working in a sketchbook to conquer my fears about mixed media, and it gave me the courage to explore mixed media in this new series. There is little to lose if you don’t like the artwork, and you can simply turn the page, rather than worry about ruining an expensive art canvas. Creating artwork with mixed media techniques is also helpful if you find yourself caught in the dreaded state of mind called the artist’s block, where you know you want to create something but feel stale in your chosen medium and want to learn something new and feel excited about making art again. My favorite website for looking up art tutorials is youtube. If you have a specific artist you are looking for, you can search for them, such as Pam Carriker, who has many instructional videos. And to learn more about art journals, visit: https://mymodernmet.com/art-journal-ideas/, to read the article, “How to Combine Drawing and Writing into Deeply Personal Art Journals”, by Sarah Barnes, October 11, 2017. Thanks for stopping by!
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I haven’t been painting much lately. This is a challenge because, without artwork to illustrate my blog posts with, I don’t know what to write about. Over the past few weeks, I have considered writing about art business related topics. However, since I have been having some doubts about whether I want my art to be made mainly for pleasure, such as a hobby or for profit, based on a business model. In fact, I sometimes feel that making art for profit, sometimes steals the joy of creating, and it often involves a host of other tasks I don’t enjoy such as marketing and bookkeeping, which also takes away the limited time I have to make artwork. To resolve this problem, I am going to return to an earlier topic which I had enjoyed writing about and that is, artists I admire. In this case, I will focus my discussion upon the life of John Singer Sargent, and his subsequent reinvention as a painter around 1900, in which he shifted his focus from creating oil portraits of high society figures to creating watercolors of people and places he visited in Europe.
Re-Invention of the Self: A pop culture staple
All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, and imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people. —Ursula K. Le Guin
The topic of reinvention is important to me because I am in the process of trying to separate others ideas of what they think I should be doing with my life, and my own conflicts between pursuing art, and what role I want it to play in my life. Is it a profession, a hobby or something in between? Along the way, I have also been sidetracked with other pursuits such as pursuing more practical lines of work, such as graphic design and social work, and even, art entrepreneurship. This is a process that began in 2005 when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree to the present moment.
That is why reading about Sargent’s journey to aesthetic reinvention, in the article, “Examining Sargent’s Shift from Oils to Watercolors”, by Judith H. Dubrinsky, of the New York Times, caught my eye and inspired me to write about him. I took classes in both graphic design and social work and after much ambivalence and indecision, decided ultimately that they were not interesting enough for me to complete a degree and change my career direction. It seems that I always return to making art no matter what other avenues for employment, volunteering or education that I have pursued. As I have been introspecting about this process of shedding layers of false selves, my truer self-seems to be emerging, and I am finding fulfillment in finally getting to pursue my dream of teaching art. Meanwhile, I am working part-time as a receptionist, who provides stable income and a sense of security, when art sales are low or the teaching contracts are not long-term, as is the case with my new contractual position at Buckingham’s Choice. The topic of reinvention, however, is not just limited to the past, as in the case of Sargent. Instead, it can still be observed in more current times.
For example, in popular culture, a good case in point of the re-invented self is found in the 2009 movie, Julie and Julia, a biopic about the life of the renowned chef, Julia Child, which is intermingled with the life one of her fans, Julie Powell who aspires to be a cook, but struggles with finishing things, like her novel. Powell gets inspired by Child’s book, The Art of French cooking, and takes on the challenge of cooking all of Child’s recipes from the book, and blogging about her adventures and mishaps during this journey. In addition, the writer, Georgina Del Vecho, in an article, Can You ReallyReinvent Yourself? States that, “Countless teen movies revolve around the plotline of a transformation—“The Princess Diaries,” “Grease,” “She’s All That” and “Clueless,” to name a few—which, even if the transformed character ends up realizing they’ve forsaken their morals in pursuit of popularity/fame/a man, still suggest that changing your appearance or other aspects about yourself can help you reach your goal.” (Source: Del Vecho, Georgina. “Can You Really ReinventYourself?”The Chronicle: The Independent NewsOrganization at Duke University, 09/13/2007, https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/09/can-you-really-reinvent-yourself, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
Another example of transformation, which is popular today, is the notion of changing your profession and seeking to find a dream job, such as leaving the corporate world to start your own business, especially during the retirement years. (Source: Freedman, Marc. “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention.” The Harvard Business Review, January 1, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/01/the-dangerous-myth-of-reinvention), accessed on November 15, 2018.)
These examples, however, opens up the question, such as, do these types of transformations really change who you are as a person, or not? I’m particularly interested in this questions and the journey of reinventing myself because I have been making some significant changes in my own life. For years I have wanted to teach art, but haven’t known how to go about it. For example, I have faced many roadblocks to getting qualified to teach after I obtained my baccalaureate degree in art. Despite taking the standardized teaching certification test, called the Praxis 1 test many times, I could not pass it. This test is required to obtain teacher certification in the state of Maryland, and it allows you to apply for teaching jobs in the public school system.
After that, I was rejected to four graduate degree art programs, which is a required qualification if you want to teach art on the college level. It seemed that all doors for teaching art had been effectively closed. I have driven down many detours and pursued lots of classes and volunteering, most of which not related to art, but seemed more “practical.” Making time for art and thinking about how I wanted it to be a part of my life got sidelined. For years, I simply focused on survival and paying my bills, which was important because I had student loans to pay off. However, after my father died in 2011, it was a catalyst to motivate me to find a way to make art a part of my life again. Initially, this began by taking art classes with Rebecca Pearl, a local Thurmont, MD artist, and teacher. Later, it grew to include a sideline as a pet portrait painter and exhibiting my artwork in local art shows. Recently, I have begun teaching art classes in an enrichment art class at the retirement community in Adamstown, Md, called Buckingham’s Choice, and I have applied for a position as an enrichment art teacher at Frederick Community College in the Institute for Learning in Retirement. However, this journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work against my inner resistance to change, even good change, and fears of the unknown, to get to this new destination in my life. But, upon reflection, I’m realizing that perhaps the biggest failure of all, would be not to pursue one’s hopes, dreams or ambitions and settle for the unresolved life, which is characterized by “what might have been,” or “if only.”
John Singer Sargent: Artistic Scope and Reinvention
I tend to associate Sargent with oil paintings of well-known entities such as Theodore Roosevelt and the robber baron John D. Rockefeller. But, little did I know that he had much more range and ability in the arts than I can imagine. In fact, sometime around 1900, Sargent abandoned his oil paints and picked up watercolor paints instead. (Source: ibid) According to the author, Dubrinsky, he abandoned painting portraits of high society figures and instead focused on painting “gardens, exotic locales, and people at leisure, at work and at rest, often on his travels in Europe and the Middle East. Experimenting with unusual compositions and new techniques, he reinvented himself aesthetically.” (Source: ibid)
Furthermore, later in life, he painted a series of murals for the Boston Public Library, with the theme of the Triumph of Religion. According to the Boston Public Library, Sargent, depicted several themes in his murals, including “early Egyptian beliefs, Judaism and Christianity”, in his murals, located in the McKim building of the Boston Public Library. (Source: “Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Collections Online, Mural Cycles at the Central Library in Copley Square”: Boston Public Library, https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:sq87dv033, accessed on November 15, 2018, and The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
He obtained his artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. (Source: ibid) Furthermore, some of his artistic influences included: the artists: Goya, Velasquez, and other contemporary Impressionist painters, and he quickly put into practice the lessons he learned from these masters. (Source: ibid)
What Made John Singer Sargent’s Work Exceptional?
According to the website, The Art Story.org, John Singer Sargent was a celebrated portrait artist who specialized in painting pictures of the elite members of society, such as the oil magnate J.D. Rockefeller, and the presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, in locations such as Paris, London and New York. (Source: The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
What distinguished him from other artists was the way that he revolutionized portrait painting by utilizing impressionistic brushwork and nontraditional compositions to “capture his sitters’ character and even reputation.” (Source: ibid) And sometimes his models did not like the completed painting and even refused to buy it, perhaps because it revealed uncomfortable truths? (Source: ibid) The portrait, Madame X, painted early in his career is a prime example of this tendency. (Source: ibid)
Sargent’s Range of Artistic Projects: Watercolors and Murals
However, he did not limit himself to portraiture; instead, he also painted outdoors with his colleague, Claude Monet”. (Source: ibid) In addition, Sargent also created murals which were commissioned by government officials in the US and in the UK later in his career. (Source: ibid) He was a talented young painter and he created a “spectacular array of exciting and masterful paintings while only in his twenties.”(Source: ibid)
Scandal in Paris Salon of 1884: Madame X Painting
Despite these accomplishments, in 1884 at the Paris Salon, his portrait, Madame X, created a stir amongst the leaders of the Paris art establishment, who found its depiction of the American ex-patriot, Virginia Gateau, too blatantly sexual, in her low cut black dress which showed a shocking amount of her skin for the 19th century time period and standards of the day. (Source: Baker, Harriet. “The Story Behind John Singer Sargent’s RA ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.” The Royal Academy, 13 February 2015, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/john-singer-sargent-carnation-lily-lily-rose, accused on November 15, 2018.
After his debacle in Paris, Sargent moved to England “and spent summer seasons in an artist’s colony in Broadway, Worcestershire”. (Source: ibid) At this location, he painted the stunning and timeless painting, Carnation Lily, LilyRose, which epitomized the innocence of childhood, and helped to bring him back into the arms of the art establishment. (Source: ibid) Sargent’s inspiration for this double portrait came from a variety of sources such as artwork by the English Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists who painted en plein air. (Source: ibid) However, his initial inspiration for this painting can be traced back to “an evening boating trip along the Thames at Pangbourne in 1885, when he saw Chinese lanterns hanging from trees.” (Source: ibid) He began working on Carnation Lily, Lily Rose during a visit with Francis David Millet. (Source: ibid) The two girls who posed for the portrait were Polly and Dorothy, who were daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard. (Source: ibid)
Closing Thoughts: Why I feel a kinship with Sargent
In conclusion, I feel I can relate to Sargent’s life story in a small way, such as his search to find success, his failures, and his desire to reinvent himself in his middle age. In a similar way, I am at a crossroads in my life and looking for ways to reinvent my life via teaching art. I’m also shedding old selves, perhaps influenced or invented by others or myself. I’m trying to be completely honest with myself about what I really want to do with my life and what I want my contribution to society to be. I am not even sure I want to be an artist-entrepreneur anymore, and I am re-examining what it means for me to be an artist. For now, I am finding that teaching others to draw and paint is incredibly rewarding, and it seems to be part of that answer. I admire Sargent’s courage to break free from his comfort zone, and perhaps from the expectations of others about what he should paint. I hope that I can grab onto some of that courage.
Readers, Please Note: The paintings I am posting to accompany this blog post include not only a portrait that Sargent completed, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, but also some other master artworks
which I have copied and which I intend to make part of an art history blog series. Thanks for reading! Next month I plan to write about the artist Eastman Johnson. Have a wonderful day!