A Love Letter to Art, Or What it All Means to Me

I am writing a different kind of post today.  I generally try to write practical and helpful posts around the business of art. I love to give tips that might help artists and galleries be  just a little more successful. Today though, I want to step back from the business and write a short love note to art itself. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I’ve had occasion recently to think a little bit about my relationship to art, and I feel it is important to share a few of my thoughts. Being in the business, I sometimes find myself taking the art itself for granted, thinking of it all in terms of dollars and cents. It’s good to pause now and again to remind myself what it’s all about.

I love art. I could probably equally say, “I live art.” I spend every day of my life thinking about art, working with art, and communicating with artists and art lovers. Other than a brief stint moving furniture as a teenager, I’ve spent every working day of my life in the art industry.

Growing up with an artist father, my earliest memory is not a sight or a sound, it’s a smell – the smell of oil paint. I remember watching my dad hard at work in the studio and seeing landscapes, still-lifes, and florals magically taking shape and form on his easel. I marveled (and still do) at his ability to transform a canvas and paint it into a window of the world.

As a teenager, I went to work at Legacy Gallery, the Scottsdale, AZ gallery where my father was showing his work. There, I started to learn the business. In the beginning, I was working in the background doing the shipping and receiving, cleaning, installing artwork, but what an eye-opening experience it was to see art coming into the gallery and then seeing collectors fall in love with it and buy it.

My true love for art came in my early twenties, however, and I think I can even point to the exact moment when my passion for art began. I was working in the Jackson Hole location of  Legacy Gallery when the artist Harry Jackson called. It was a slow day in the gallery, before the summer season had begun, and I happened to pick up the phone. I ended up having an hour-long conversation with Jackson, and it’s a conversation that changed my life.

Jackson was, at the time, a cantankerous old artist creating western sculpture from his studio in Cody, Wyoming. If you don’t know Jackson’s work, that will give you the wrong impression of him. While Jackson was creating Western artwork, he was doing so with the sensibilities of an artist who had come of age with the Abstract Expressionist scene of 1950’s New York. He was friends with De Kooning and Pollock and knew all of the artists that ran in those circles. He studied with Hans Hofmann and Rufino Tamayo.

I wish I could remember the whole conversation (I would kill for a recording of it), but there are a few things I do remember clearly.

Jackson asked me if I had a degree in art history. I told him I had taken art history classes but didn’t have a degree in it.

“Good,” he said, “waste of time.” He went on to tell me I should teach myself about art history (he suggested I start with the Abrams book about Harry Jacskon!).

“I’m a boot-strappin’ sonofabitch”  he said, “everything I know about art and art history I learned because I wanted to learn it, not because some professor told me I had to.”

He encouraged me to study it all, from ancient Greek and Roman art, all the way through the abstract expressionists (he didn’t seem to have too high an opinion of pop or postmodern art).

Jackson also explained some of his pieces to me, and even now, one of my favorite works of art of all time is his piece “Cosmos”.

To this day, I’m not sure why he would have spent an hour on the phone with a kid he had never even met (I did get to meet him once a few years later), but I’m grateful he did.

Cosmos by Harry Jackson | Photo: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Cosmos by Harry Jackson | Photo: Buffalo Bill Historical Center

 

From that day, I became a serious student of art, even though my study has always been autodidactic. I’ve read dozens (hundreds?) of biographies on a wide variety of artists – everyone from Gauguin to Warhol. I’ve spent years studying Ancient Greece  and Rome (not only their art, but also their literature and civilization). Once I started knowing the artists, my appetite to see their artwork became almost insatiable. I can’t travel without visiting museums and galleries.

Some of the deepest, most transcendent  experiences of my life have occurred as I’ve taken in great works of art. I’ve come to love the technical aspects of the art and the craft involved in creating it. Ever more, though, is my love of an artist’s ability to communicate with me.

AtlantaHighMuseumI remember wondering, as a child, if other people saw the world the same way I do. Is the red I see the same red you see? Well art has answered that question. Through art I can see that we all experience the world in different ways, and see different things. Art allows me to  see and understand the world from another perspective.

I am also amazed by the proximity artwork gives me to human history. I’ll often stand in front of a Greek statue and feel the electricity of knowing an artist, a fellow human, is reaching across time and space to talk to me. I’ll feel that same wonder as I stand in front of a Van Gogh and realize that those brush strokes, mere inches in front of me, were put there by the hand of  the great artist. How lucky I am to be able to experience the art!

A Few Things I’ve Learned About my Love for Art

As my love for art has grown, I’ve come to several conclusions about my appreciation for art. First, I’ve decided I don’t have to limit my love for art to one style or period. I can love realism, abstract, pop art and every other style without my love for any one of them diminishing because of the breadth of my interest. I can love Cowboy art and Contemporary and my head won’t explode.

I’ve also learned to enjoy the unexpected. It’s easy, when I’m visiting a museum, to focus only on those artists that I know something about – the big name artists. While I certainly love seeing the famous pieces, I also love visiting museum’s regional art collections, or seeing a show of contemporary work. I also love visiting various shows around the country to discover the art of currently-working artists. Sometimes I’m scouting work for the gallery, but often I try to stroll a show looking through the eyes of an art lover.

I’ve learned to love the transformative power of artwork. It’s a real kick to deliver artwork to a buyer’s home and see how that artwork dramatically changes the atmosphere of that home. It’s equally amazing to see how the home changes the art. There are times when it ends up not working at all, but there are also times when the combination is incredible and you can almost feel everyone’s breath taken away as the artwork finds its home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love how artists still have the ability to surprise, delight, and, sometimes, shock. As a civilization, we’ve been creating art for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years. You might think that we’ve seen it all. You’d be wrong. Though art is certainly an evolving on a continuum, the artist’s vision seems never to tire of innovation. Even subjects that have been well-covered over the millennia can appear fresh and new as an artist brings new perspective, insight and technique to bear on them.

Finally, I’ve learned that it’s impossible to separate the artist from the art, and for that reason, I love getting to know the artists. I  love reading about the great artists, but, even more, I love meeting living artists and seeing what they are doing. I love talking to them about their lives and work. I like to think that by doing so, I’m seeing art history take shape, and maybe, I even get to be a small part of it.

So, I guess I’m a pretty lucky guy. I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing art, or out discovering it, and I get to rub shoulders with some of the most fascinating people in the world. If I do my job well, I help keep it going and get to be a part of it. Life is amazing!

Now . . . back to work!

What Does Art Mean To You?

How did you fall in love with art? How has art impacted your life? Share your thoughts and feelings about art, and your feedback about this article in the comments below.

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

33 Comments

  1. Hello Jason,
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings about art.
    In reading your piece it stirred my own feelings and I too can say I Love Art.
    Art has kept my mind’s imagination alive and excited. I construct assemblages with found objects so I’m always looking at ‘stuff’ with the thought of how I might use it an art piece. At times I feel overwhelmed with all the stuff I’ve accumulated and all the artwork I intend to make and create. My artwork enables me to constantly experiment with new techniques, new materials and different applications.
    Several years ago I purchased a page in one of your catalogs, the piece pictured was called Ms Liberty…
    My love of Art always keeps me busy with something new to create and for that reason alone I Love Art.
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my Love for Art!
    David J. Skolsky
    SKOL Art

    1. Thank you or the invitation to think about this. I was a very lucky kid in this respect. Although we couldn’t afford many of the luxuries of the other neighborhood kids, somehow we were always going to concerts, museums and theater. I would also spend hours with our beloved 64 color pack of crayolas. Drawing and coloring, but sometimes I would just put the colors next to one another to see how they influenced each other. I loved that. I would also enthusiastically try to convince others to do it, too because it’s a delicious experience. 😊

  2. Great article! I am an artist in California, and I all I can say is I was born this way. At an early age I was drawing, muraling with crayolas on the walls, and expressing my feelings. I was influenced by other artists who took the time to develop a scene as opposed to the raw emotion I was expressing. Now, my love of art is a combination of both raw emotion, a cry to save our natural world and the planet, and the skill to paint the messages exploding inside of me. I do not have a degree in art, but rather 70 years of painting from the heart and a lot of experimentation.

  3. I loved that article. It still gave us advice on how important it is to tell your story when you are an artist. For me art has always been something I aspired to express. Even in pre school, all the kids are sitting at their desks except me. I’m at the easel in the back of the photo.

  4. Art means exploring new worlds, feeling kinship with the carved hand on a Petroglyph Rock struck by lightning (making it sacred), and discovering new paths in life. I love creating!

  5. I appreciate the time that Jason takes to give us helpful information about the art world and how we can benefit from his efforts. I am only now, at the age of 68, able to pursue doing what I’ve always wanted to do, that of trying to create my ideas of art. My sons are helping put together a website and I’m enjoying learning all the things needed to market myself.
    Jason is so thoughtful and kind to offer his services to all of us who are aspiring to be of worth to others.
    Thank you for your inspiration and guidance to us wannabes.

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding your love of art. You have led an amazing life! You are inspiring and so helpful to all artists who follow your comments and suggestions.

    I am an “emerging” acrylic artist, but a “fine arts” person in general. I spent the majority of my formative years studying music. I married very young and spent the majority of my life raising my family, while working full time in the executive administrative field. I love everything that I have experienced and accomplished in my life. I am currently in my mid 70’s.

    After I retired, and after my husband of many years passed away, I started taking sketch classes at The Art Institute of Chicago, and palette knife painting classes in our suburban area. This led to more acrylic painting classes, reading art history, and visiting museums and local art galleries whenever possible. Although my in-person painting classes are now on hold, we continue to meet once-a-week on Zoom. This is certainly not the same as in-person classes. I paint every day and continue to improve my painting skills. My instructor of the past five years, who is a wonderful artist in her own right, has helped me tremendously.

    I am currently included in a gallery exhibition at Blue Moon Gallery in Grayslake, Illinois and am slowly starting to get my name out in Chicago area. I don’t have to earn a living selling art so I can take my time and enjoy the gallery experiences along the way. Seeing my artwork up on a wall is very gratifying. A compliment goes a long way with me.

    Art has saved my retirement years, as my children are grown and living in various parts of the country. During this pandemic, being a painter has saved my sanity while being home 90% of the time. It is something that I look forward to each day.

    Hopefully, sometime within the next two years, I will travel to Arizona and New Mexico to visit many wonderful art galleries.

    Looking forward to 2021 … when we can all get back to a bit of normal in our lives!

  7. Bravo Jason. I also live art, am largely self-taught, and hope never to climb (or be tossed) out of this lovely rabbit hole. Would be nice to meet in person one of these days and share a cup of… whatever. I bet you have great stories! Maybe you will be a “Jackson” for some up and coming artist/entrepreneur. We carry that torch now, right?

  8. Jason, thank you for a wonderful essay! In my own life, there were moments like you experienced with Jackson, and I’m sure that they have occurred to every artist. On a second-grade field trip to the Albright-Know Art Gallery in Buffalo, I saw fingerprints in a Van Gogh painting and realized that painting with your fingers was a great idea!

    As an art student in college, I had a chance to work with the avant-garde composer John Cage. I mentioned to him that I was having difficulty communicating my ideas in my work and he stopped me abruptly. “The purpose of art is NOT to communicate with an audience! The purpose of art is to still and quiet the mind and make it receptive to divine influences.” I spent the rest of my life trying to achieve that.

  9. I use to think that the sale of my artwork was what defined my success as an artist. I suppose that society had imposed that upon me. I found that the sales were continuingly hollow to me. So now I am using the metric of creating what I want and challenging myself as an artist as my metric for success. The funny thing is I still am able to sell the artwork which now is a nice bi-product of making my artwork as I now don’t care if a piece sells. This Attitude releases a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. I have withdrawn my work from all commercial galleries and only show at a local nonprofit gallery (occasionally) and online. I am sure most artist would find this Paradigm shift impossible but I feel it has made me a better artist

  10. I adore Harry Jackson’s work!! And not only because I live in Wyoming 🙂 I discovered fiber art about 7 years ago when I retired; no formal training in art, but always working in stained glass and other mediums over the years. I just finished a commission piece of a Tennessee Walker; the greatest gift for me as an artist is knowing that my work has touched another person in. My little local gallery is my only sales outlet, which is enough as I continue to learn the magic of creating with fiber. Oils, acrylics, pottery, sculptures…all are inspiration for me.

  11. I love the Buffalo Bill Historic Center! I lived in Cody for two years and spent hours exploring the art and historical displays. I was fortunate enough to meet artist James Bama at one of his shows. He was a phenomenal realist.

    I had an art history class in college, but didn’t appreciate the content. I really enjoy you art history blogs….keep them coming.

  12. There is nothing cheesy about this article! You speak from the heart and your contagious passion is evident. You are the first gallery owner I know that actually takes time to acknowledge an artist and genuinely wants to help. The negative responses have been deflating. It is for that reason, I have formed an art group that organizes our own shows here in Calgary, Alberta and now on line.
    When we are inspired by someone that changes our course, it is a gift. It’s like the child who never forgets a wonderful teacher.
    I have following your blog and critique sessions recently and find an inspiring wealth of information. I thank you for leading the pack with your vision.
    Emily Little

  13. Jason, this may be my favorite post from you. You speak from and with an artist’s heart. It’s not surprising that you’re so successful at what you do. Your interest in others shows in everything you do. Thank you for all of it. Sheila Meserschmidt, Aloha Oregon.

  14. What a beautiful piece, Jason, and how it inspired such thoughtful comments. It’s a gift to hear how you as a gallerist and art lover came to know that you would spend your life in the company of art. It’s also amazing to see what an artist like Harry Jackson can teach us: That you make art from deep inside of your own experience. That substance is more important than style or genre. And that as one of your respondents reminded, practicing and being with art allows us to get in touch with our universal divine selves.

  15. I am an artist and a teacher of watercolors here in Arizona, this pandemic has taken a toll on my creative ability to paint and use this time for myself. I have no classes at this time, and so want to fill this time with making a really good connection with my divine purpose to create more spiritual works of art. I have started to just sit in my studio and wait for the inspired connect. I was sent two little fur beings (cats) that sit with me and make my process more enjoyable. Your post helped me a lot.

    1. Allura, your post resonates with me. Sitting and pondering, and knowing cats were sent to assist, has always been a positive factor in my art life. My website now points to my Amazon Author Profile, but some of my paintings (and some cats!) are visible on my Facebook social page Rlb Hartmann.

  16. You have given us a valuable and precious gift in this essay. In many ways, it’s as courageous as a brush with paint and a canvas. Perhaps it’s even more so.
    I now have in your words and text what I kind of expected from the first moments of our connection.
    I daresay you live art more deeply than many artists I know and yours is a valuable and accurate measurement.
    Thank you.

  17. At one point very early in my art career I was told the same thing about “taking Art History and getting a degree” instead of learning about art history by LOOKING at all kinds of art. I look back now and feel it was the best advice I could have received.

  18. I’m sorry to say I don’t always read your posts all the way through – I’m sure you offer excellent advise that I might use, but I’m moving moving moving until I’m in the studio, then I can be still and no computer there.

    But, I read this latest post from you with great interest. I have some deep feelings of gratitude and will express them to you when I have my thoughts fully organized.

    Initially, however, thank you very much,
    Kim

  19. Over the years of reading your blogs I have read other articles on this theme and have lived them all because you so eloquently put into words the passion I too have felt for art all of my life. Thank you for sharing this.

  20. This was truly uplifting. I’ve wondered if people see art the way that I do, and I believe it doesn’t really matter if they do. It is the art experience we each have that is makes art real. I love red and to me, red uplifts the mood in its surroundings. Your blog so eloquently points out that not everyone sees red the same way. The same with bold, vibrant color. One can even say art history is consumed differently by each individual such as those who want the why, to those who want the how. Or those who don’t really care, but still love art. Amazing, thought provoking blog. Thank you.

  21. Beautiful article Jason and I have always ‘sensed’ you are the embodiment of art
    by your saturated interest in and love for it! It’s ‘catching’ too as your own
    enthusiasm fires up mine – an interest to see more of ‘all’ artists, not just nose to
    the canvas re my own! We all do ‘see’ differently and therefore respond differently
    to what we see. I love art. My entire adult life has been involved in it in some way
    or other, mostly drawing and painting what I love! Like you, I feel so very, very,
    incredibly lucky to ‘live’ in the wonderful world of art. Although it may have its
    frustrations sometimes, it is what keeps me happy, healthy, smiling a busy !! Thank
    you for reminding me how fortunate I am and that art is to be loved, admired, hated,
    adored, laughed at, longed for etc., but in the end it would be a very sorry world without
    it !!

  22. Love of art is something that is satisfying and drives artists to constantly learn more. Your blog was spot on. Thanks for your writing and insights.

  23. Hi Jason,
    I’m a Mexican living in Southern California.
    I love Art, I love Art History. I do pointillism, pencil and metal embossing.
    I have learned by my own.
    I loved your article, all that you share within, I feel was all your life.
    Thank you for sharing, with the way you say it, very simple you can reach us.
    Veronica Chavez.

  24. Profound, vivid and moving and very spiritual essay from your enormous, generous “heart”—well, in truth, from YOU, Jason. Art IS communication, and communication brings individuals alive. Artists ARE a cut above in that they do bring life into this culture, and indeed create the culture. Art IS Life, and you truly live life artfully, with verve. Thank you for all your admiration, and for sharing what you see and experience with so many, many artists and individuals who appreciate art. I would like to share this post (by providing a link) with my artist and art-loving friends. It’s the perfect Christmas present.

  25. Thank you, Jason, for your wonderful, heartfelt post – what an inspiration! Art has always been a part of me, whether I was doing paint by numbers as a kid or a crafts, shell necklace and putting a nail through my finger (no stitches). Growing up and creating art was an important outlet, taking art history courses, doing workshops, teaching, always more to learn and to experiment on my own. During the pandemic, my studio was a great release (part of our house) and helped to preserve my sanity and to appreciate how much joy I derive from painting.

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