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.

 

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

28 Comments

  1. It is great to hear about how art impacts and how being surrounded by it brings a fascination and then love for it, including the artists that make it. I also grew up with a dad that painted, showed us how to paint, encouraged learning about art and it’s history and helped us appreciate the art in museums and galleries. As for “falling in love” with art – its inescapable and so this love is shared and sometimes we don’t even know when it happened. Sometimes I feel I loved it before I was born and love it more each day. Thank you Jason for reminding us to write love letters to art – it feels good.

  2. Great article, thanks for this. I run my own art business, and yet each day I try to keep my love alive for creating. Not for the market but for me, because I have an idea I want to express in paint. It really is a language. It’s easy to start thinking about the business end all the time, but that can begin to kill the passion, so each day I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m not doing this because I think it’s a great way to make money, but because I love painting, it’s a big part of who I am and it’s a privilege to share my work with others.

    From one lucky guy to another, carry on!

  3. Nice letter Jason. My view towards art is two-fold: 1) art for art’s sake, because we Have to make it, to fit into the context of all art history and because making it is a rush and 2) the business of art. I work to keep the business from contaminating the aesthetics, from influencing the decision making process with pragmatic considerations, from being concerned with “what sells”. Whenever I find I am slowing down, the thrill of exploration isn’t as strong, it’s time to distance myself from any ‘business of art’ considerations and start a new piece…. put existing in-progress works on the back burner and work. Each piece talks to me so it’s time to focus on just that.

  4. Beautifully written love note. Thank you for taking time to contemplate and put your thoughts into words. We could all benefit from a similar pause and reflection. I have no idea when I fell in love with art, one of my first memories is pondering a reflection of light on the ceiling in my bedroom when I was supposed to be taking a nap. Another is sitting in the sandbox in the backyard, stopping my sifting and molding to notice the play of sunlight on the hairs on my leg. I have always loved color and never understood the “rules” of color design and combination…where do those ever show up in nature? My best understanding of world history came from my college art history classes, I’m so grateful they were required!

  5. Leonardo de Vinci inspired my first artistic desires, I was 4 years old. The competitive art world I saw growing up frightened me for many years. After college, and after a career as a designer/ goldsmith, my confidence to embrace the art world , and specifically to paint, took hold. My greatest meditations occur on location while studying a landscape, feeling the environment and conveying my love of place ,while painting.
    I enlarge small studies in the studio, and relive what captured my attention in the first place.
    Falling in Love daily with sights, sounds, smells is a privilege. Having the skills to express is a gift for every practicing artist.

  6. Hallo Jason. Thank you for the article. My life is becoming more about art. I even dream about how to make art. Loos your head and do art.
    I have been reading your articles and all the subjects has been very interesting.
    Muchas Gracias for your work.

  7. Thanks Jason. I really enjoyed this essay. I remember you wrote something similar to this topic a few years ago, which I enjoyed just as much. I too “live art”. I make it, I read about it and the artists who create it. I visit museums and galleries wherever I travel. My undergraduate degree was In art with a strong course load in Art History. I appreciate all genres of art and have been lucky enough to visit many great museums throughout the world.

    My MA was in Library Science, with an emphasis on art librarianship. As a result, I had a wonderful career as an art librarian at the main library in San Francisco. Now retired, I can devote myself completely to creating art. I am very lucky.

  8. Hi Jason, Great article. When I was 16 years old I was given a paint by number set. That was it. I have painted, worked 30 years in the jewelry trade and am currently making bronze pieces. Thanks for taking time to share your love of art.

  9. I am a very long-time hobby artist hoping to transition into a professional one. Art has always been my urge and if I step away from it for a while I become restless and dissatisfied. Art excites me and makes the adrenaline flow. It also relaxes me, releasing me after a hard day at ‘work’. (The day job) What other activity can both excite and relax? I don’t know of one.

  10. When I was a very young girl, I discovered blank spots in my parents encyclopedia sets. My crude drawings were found on the inside of the covers and any page there was space for something else. I think that’s where it all began, with a pencil in my hand. My little sister followed suit. I don’t remember getting in trouble for it, either. I’ve graduated to art paper, canvas, and boards which I “deface” with pastels, charcoal, oils, and acrylics. When my own children came along, I provided them with plenty of butcher paper to draw and color to their hearts’ content. I had their drawings hanging all over the house.

  11. Bravo. I needed this. Most of the times, while busy doing everything else, making art, exhibiting, promoting, selling, cleaning, paying bills, etc.. I do forget that this is a “Business of Passion”. Sometimes we do need to “Stop To Smell The Roses”. Thanks

  12. I totally relate. I love art too. It’s my life.
    Same for gallery going – I can’t travel without taking in as many galleries as the day and my stamina can handle.
    It’s my companion when I’m lonely; and my psychiatrist when I need to get things out of my system.
    It’s a joy now (after a career of more mundane work) to be creating day by day.
    A beautiful letter, Jason.

  13. Jason, wonderful love letter to art. It really makes me stop and think about my own journey. I never realized as a young child, teenager and just into adulthood, what I did would be considered art. Many things like paint-by-number as a child, coloring and drawing … these were the seeds of my love. Drawing the posters for pep rally, large paper run-through for the football team, etc. … many of my high school friends knew I was an artist, but I did not. I just did it because it needed to be done. And, then college for only two quarters, secretarial school! Ha! But it served me well… I started drawing sketches from my high school friends’ school photos… just because I needed to draw. Wow… needed to sketch and draw! Who knew! And, that was 52 years ago. Art came to me as my first child was born 48 years ago in the larger way. Taking lessons, learning my Mother had painted when I was a baby, doing art, reading art books, etc. It is who I am. I am an artist, and also like you, a lover of all kinds of art because it is a window into the world and those times when “that” piece of art was done! And, I was told very early on, “one day you will not read technique books as much as you will love reading books about the artists’ lives!” So true! Love galleries and museums… and totally enjoy your passion and your enjoyment of helping us, the artists! I have visited your gallery, though a few years ago. Thanks Jason.

  14. What a great article, I cannot wait to visit your galleries someday. I visit art museums and galleries wherever I go. Sometimes I’m surprised I still find time to paint. And there are times when I am intimidated by the great art I see. Then I take a day or two and absorb it all in and continue in my studio. Jason you are an inspiration.

  15. For me this has been one of your best posts that I’ve read so far. What you post on is great, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been learning so much about the business aspect of Art, but this post really moved me to the core. I also have a deep love of art and it’s been such an integral part of my life…all my life. Right now with our lives in orchestrated chaos due to moving, I haven’t been able to paint, and there is an emptiness and longing that goes along with it. Maybe that’s what your blog touched in me. It also made me think of my mom, the person who started me down this path when I was little. She inspired me to draw and paint, with her own drawings, while telling stories about them as she created a picture. Now she is 83, and this time I was the one who inspired her to pick up a brush three years ago and start painting again after 50 years away from it. I know I won’t have her long, but the love of art is something we share together and talk about, and these moments are precious. Maybe that’s why I was moved by your post. It really doesn’t matter except that art has played a huge part in my life, in so many ways. That’s the part you can’t put a price tag on. That’s the part that makes it deeply personal. Thank you for posting this.

  16. Your blog today really resonated with me. I have been encouraged as an artist all my life, and have also studied everything I could get my hands on about art throughout the recorded ages, and have been fascinated by the beauty portrayed by us mere mortals! I just received an email today that really blew me away. (It actually went to my husband as they both work for the same organization. Copied below:

    Hi … recently while in France we toured a town called Beaune and visited the Hospices de Beaune (a hospital). We viewed a piece of artwork “The Last Judgement” that was commissioned in 1443 and painted by the artist Rogier van der Weyden. It was placed so the patients who were going to die could make a spiritual decision. The museum’s guide told us the artwork was hidden in an attic from the Nazis and forgotten. It has since been restored and displayed, it’s huge! Once I saw this masterpiece (and I looked at it for quite a long time) I thought of your painting. I was able to buy a print and bring it home. It will be framed and hung next to your masterpiece, they were meant to be together. God is going to use them in a big way! Our new home will be ready this spring/early summer and I will make sure to send an invite for a viewing and a meal … Blessings to you ~ Cathy

    Cathy included a photograph of the paintings by Rogier van der Weyde above my painting titled Risen. I was stunned. This is my reply to Cathy:

    Cathy,

    Phil forwarded your email to me this morning. I am just in tears and stunned! What a history has been woven by our awesome God, specifically here, over a span of almost 600 years! It is just really hard to even begin to wrap my mind around it. But He is the same God in and through everything, everywhere, throughout and beyond time. And, sometimes He reminds us how completely in control and ever-present He is. Thank you SO much. What a gift you have shared!

    Hopefully I guessed your email address correctly. I am forwarding this to Phil as well, so if it is incorrect he can send it on to you.

    Marji Plessinger

    Sometimes there are almost out of body experiences that transcend life as we know it in our mundane day to day lives, triggered by artistic expression(s)!

  17. I too can relate to your love of art. Growing up I was the daughter of a fighter pilot and we moved so much that I had never been to an art museum until I was 35 years old. My husband encouraged me to return to college for a degree and I took an art history class. And the field trip for that class was A trip to the Chicago Art Museum. When I walked in I finally realized that in some peoples’ eyes art was precious, worth saving. I always drew as a kid but I was not encouraged. After that art history class I began to take one class a semester as required for an art major. I was a homemaker, mother of 3. Finally, I realized that art was a means of communication. I found my voice. I graduated at 47 years old as a fine arts major. That was 25 years ago . I can paint when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry, depressed, and everything in between. I participate once a year in an open studio and I love to demonstrate To visitors what I do. I love to hear their remarks. I also love to encourage them to start wherever they are in their life. It’s worth it.

  18. Thank you for posting this, Jason. If I didn’t know it before, I know it now. This is why I have trusted you almost from the beginning- with the book, then the course which is still a work in progress and probably will be for as long as I breathe, to the webinars.
    Things that stood out. Your phone conversation. “Do you have a degree in art history?” “No.” “Good- learn art history because you want to not because some professor says you have to.” So you read biographies which are the stories.
    Art History IS the stories, of a motley bunch of misfits that just couldn’t let te dream die.
    My story quick. We’d reached a very difficult place of being abke to sustain ourselves. So we assessed our needs and the question of making art came up. “What if you were not able to make art?” And almost without hesitation I replied, “I would probably die.” It wasn’t figurative, nor romantic. When I said it, there was an internal resonance that was quite real and palpable. I can remember it to this day.
    I have been fortunate to be able to live and think art every day whether or not I touch media.
    Thanks again for your commitment to art and to those that dare to make it.

  19. Jason,
    I have been wanting to write and thank you for over a year now. You have such a wonderfully clear and true manner of writing in all the posts I have read. But this love letter hits home very deeply. Nearly half a century ago, I married Peter whom I had met while attending a small and newly established liberal arts college. Yes, he was an incredibly creative professor, but more importantly he was already an amazingly creative artist…and I knew that this was what I really loved about him. I felt in my heart that this was the destiny he would follow as he listened to those deep and spiritual messages which were always coming to him. This has proved to be the case, even in difficult times.
    My perspective is that art is truly about love and the relationship that unfolds between the viewer and the art as well as the artist. You are truly aware of this fact, and I do feel this is the basis of your success. Other factors do enter into the picture, but they are usually second to the primary fact of love.
    It may be love at first sight or it may be love which grows with exposure. Art inspires and blesses in ways far beyond verbal expression, and we have seen so many examples of this in our many years of sharing a love of Life through art and art related activities. We recently had a neighbor who had become a friend (in the past few years) tell us she loved a painting she had seen at one of Peter’s exhibitions over 20 years ago. In trying to see exactly which painting she was referring to, we searched our records to see what exhibit it might have been because we did not remember. She was sure there was a carousel horse in the painting and eventually gave us a drawing of what she remembered it looked like. Yes, we did realize which painting it was, although the horse was not a carousel animal. But the way Peter painted him, the horse did have that whimsical, colorful quality. The day before she mentioned this, we had entertained another client here at the studio, and that was one of the paintings she had admired. (I might add here that this woman also owned one of Peter’s paintings in which there were two smaller horses who appeared to be attached to carousel poles, but the poles were instead attached to floating Chippendale chairs.) So in talking to our friend and asking her if she really wanted to purchase the painting (no pushing), she simply said “of course” and asked me to please let the other client know that she could not have that particular painting. This is one of many love stories we could tell about the art business!
    Thanks again for sharing your blogs.
    Jill and Peter Stilton

  20. Very good…I read your letter to the end!
    Fortunately, I ‘came in’ with an awareness of art and for years I thought everyone had the same awareness. I was not born to parents of the arts or did I have any encouragement there, except ( I learned much later in my art life) that my father did win a drawing contest when in high school.
    My first recognized outward expression of art came when I won a drawing contest at a child’s birthday party at age 6. That small reward peeked my interest as I didn’t expect to win anything…and it brought art of all dimensions into focus ever since. I cannot imagine my life without art.

  21. It’s great to read about your passion for art Jason. I had a mother who loved to draw & taught me how exciting drawing can be. Then aged 9, an oil painting by numbers set given to me as a present was an absolute revelation. Art making has always been an exciting, enriching, compelling part of my life, for as long as I can remember. I began visiting galleries & exhibitions as an adult, and nowadays the fulfilment & challenges of the viewing experience feels very necessary to me.

  22. I loved reading this! So fresh!
    Art IS a language – and it’s somewhat strange to be surrounded by people who do not understand!
    What a wonderful feeling of inclusion when surrounded by your tribe of likemind !
    When my husband and I first met, he told me his name
    “I’ve been in love with Art all my life!” I exclaimed
    And it’s true
    Thank you
    I do love to get your emails full of information too
    You are a wonderful generous man

  23. I appreciate the article, Jason. I struggle often with existential “what’s the point of making art” questions that sap my motivation. Passion like this, even in brief prose, help me to open my mind further and even remember more of the passion that lead me to ever put pencil to paper in the first place.

  24. Loved this Jason, thank you for your perspective. The biggest thrill I get is when someone has an emotional response to my art, it can bring a tear to my eye. So it is good to know how you observe this phenomenon.
    My mother was always artistic, creative, but always stepped back and encouraged my drawing. So art must be in my DNA.
    Favorite memories are drawing on brown paper bags as the groceries came in, all sorts of paper scraps from Dad’s printing jobs, and then those wonderful English pan paint sets that had more colors every year – with gorgeous paintings on the front. I may have art in my DNA, but I think I have permanent alizarin crimson watercolor running through my veins.
    I am part gypsy, we have moved many times across ocean and countries, but more each year, the colors, expressiveness and freedom of my ancestry influences me. I have begun to exaggerate, abstract the scene more, and sling the brush about for more expressive strokes. I am in love with watercolor, and the more I do it, the more I love it.

  25. One of the most centered, well-grounded, humble statements about art and its place in our lives that I have ever had the pleasure and privilege of reading! As a lover of art since I was a little boy and a serious collector of originals since 1988, I found the genuineness and clarity that shines through Jason’s piece both refreshing and reaffirming. Although I am a collector of modest-means, I every so often have felt “guilty” about all the time, effort and money that I have devoted to building my collection, feeling that perhaps my energies and resources should have been more altruistically directed. But Jason has very eloquently reaffirmed for me something that I’ve always believed: that art plays a vital role in defining, expressing and sustaining the very essence of who we are as human beings; and its value in our lives should never be underestimated or understated. My wife and I rejoice in the fact that because of our collecting, the walls of five households (including our own) are brightened and enriched with eclectic collections of original art wherein we and our children and grandchildren can enjoy the very beauty and perspectives about which Jason writes. Bravo, Jason, and thank you!

  26. Art…It allows us to look at the world from a new and different perspective. To appreciate creation in a way that others might miss as we contemplate, “what colors are in that tree trunk and how would I paint it?”
    And the ability to draw an object, to really see it as it was created, to dissect it in our mind and then build it back up on paper.
    We’ve been given such a great gift from God, something to not be wasted.
    ***I’ve also wondered if others see colors as I see them!

  27. Thank you for such a wonderful article!
    I too am mostly an autodidactic artist, although I’ve taken some lessons at a nearby wonderful art center. … where I actually met my husband who is not only an instructor but also a fantastic artist.
    Art has always been a major part of my life, having been that kid who hid experimental drawings on the wall and then pushed my bed against it… now for the first time in my life I am pursuing it professionally. And darn if I had known you were eclectic when you were taking new work for your new gallery I probably would’ve submitted!!!!
    I especially appreciate your article in this day were academically they still want to prove that art is dead while teaching art, as my soon to graduate daughter with a test.
    Her professor is largely tried to dissuade her from following her own vision and now in her senior year she finally has professors who support her and it’s very exciting as an artist and her mother to watch her grow!!!
    I teach her “be gutsy and follow your heart., and she does.
    I’m not sure anybody will read this but it’s obvious that you’re touched the very tender place in many peoples hearts I have an ounce of the stories we all came here to share as a reflection of that .
    You are quite fortunate for the life you’ve lived with art being an open invitation .
    Best wishes for joy and happiness and continued expansion in the world of art !
    ~Cheryl

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *