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 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

35 Comments

  1. Jason, this is so well written, expressed in a way that caused me to pause and consider my own relationship with art.

    College was a time of confusion and flailing around, looking for direction. At one school, counselors weren’t assigned until a major had been chosen, and out of total frustration I said, “Fine, then I am an art major!”

    I felt an immediate sense of relief, as if I had finally come home.

    Now I have been earning my living as a full time artist since 1993, in spite of spending 5 years at 4 schools and getting a 2 year degree. (Art wasn’t taught well in the late ’70s and early ’80s.) I can imagine doing other things, but life would be a drudgery.

    1. I went to the school of Visual Arts in NYC from 1979-1984. I can honestly say that it was the greatest experience of my life and is responsible for me knowing so much about art history as well as studio art. It also gave me a chance to study with May Stevens, Judy Pfaff, Barry Le VA, work in a studio surrounded by other passionate students, go to Keith Harings first show at the Tony Shafrazi gallery, not to mention seeing his chalkboard drawings spring up anonymous ly on the subway walls before anyone knew his name. Not to mention the music, film, dancing at clubs… I can’t imagine being me without having had these amazing life changing experiences. Really sorry you missed it but it was an iconic time to be a young artist.

  2. Such synchronicity! I love everything you have shared here. I had a thought today that there is really nothing else I would rather do than immerse myself in art….making it, talking about it, sharing it! I have come to view my art journey as autobiorgraphy, so I love your comment about not separating the artist from the art. I have especially looked at the series I have created and what was happening in my life, and an autobiograpical story emerged. Over the years, art has been my healing work and my connection to others, especially during periods of time when I was isolated and less mobile due to surgery and complications. I do an art newsletter for artists and galleries in my “neck of the woods” to encourage collaboration, sharing, and promotion of art. I cannot think of anything I would rather do or be than an artist. I am self taught…my husband went to art school and basically told me the same thing Jackson told you…good, it would have ruined you. Thank you and much appreciation for all you share here! P.S. I will add my website, but I am deconstructing it soon as it no longer is the best reflection of my work today.

  3. Bravo! Thank you for sharing. I totally get why Harry would spend an hour on the phone with a kid, and I am completely unable to explain it. I’m hoping for one of those conversations this weekend – in person, in Texas – and I’ll have stories to tell after I meet my poet-guru. Because I’m lazy, I want to shamelessly self-promote and recommend my blog post where I talk about my own relationship(s) with art – sometimes parent, sometimes lover, sometimes hunter of elusive prey, meaning to flay the beast. ::shrug:: it’s what I do.

  4. This reached a tired, painting Witch, recovering in Queen Toad’s bed reading and wondering.. about my art work, about the intrigues and involvement and complexities of our shared communities. Thank you. The Queen will arise and put on her stained painting smock, did I mention I sat on my pallette last week as I stood back to get a better perspective? This makes my lifetime journey with it’s detours and obligations worth it ALL! Kay

  5. Great article! For me, art comes in so many forms. I’ve been an artist my whole life, as I started drawing and writing at a very early age. Then, when I first saw the horse, that was it. I’ve been practicing the art of horsemanship for over 40 years, now. While I understand why Mr. Jackson might say that art history study is a waste of time, I’m having the time of my life earning my B.A. in Visual Art at Harvard Extension. I’m learning a tremendous amount about art theory, history, and global culture. And the on-campus experience is transforming. The professors, libraries, and museums are beyond words. You become immersed in a body of knowledge that makes you wish you had more lifetimes to get through all of it. I recommend it to anyone who is passionate about art, wants to boost their confidence, and is ready to work their heart out. I also have a two-year degree from the Denver Botanical Gardens in Botanical Illustration, and that program is stellar, as well. When I graduate from Harvard Extension in 2020, I’m going to miss that experience immensely, but will be fully prepared to move on to the production and marketing part of my career with a great sense of joy and purpose.

  6. Thank you for putting into words the feelings I have to recover as the excitement of a show is over. I tend to judge my art during a show by responses and sales, but afterwards I try to take time to just enjoy my own art and to visit other shows to get my feet back on the ground. It is a privilege to read your thoughts.

  7. Jason, you state ‘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.‘ yet you elsewhere advise artists to limit themselves to a narrow style.

    1. Thanks Alan – I freely acknowledge the seeming contradiction, but I stand by my advice that creating a consistent body of work is essential for an artist who desires commercial success. I would point to my article at https://reddotblog.com/artists-are-you-consistent-a-gallery-owners-perspective/ for a deeper explanation of my thoughts.

      That’s not to say that artists can’t explore different subjects and styles, nor does it mean that their work can’t evolve over time (it should!), but if your desire is to create a following for your work and cultivate collectors, consistency is key. If commercial success isn’t a priority, consistency becomes less important.

      1. Very well said! Thank you Jason.
        I’m an artist, studied and continue studying art. Art is my life. I’m blessed being who I am.

        I love your posts, just finished reading your amazing book. What you’re doing is priceless. Please continue, dont stop.

  8. Jason, I appreciate your personal reflections on art, and artists you have met. Your thoughts are insightful and encouraging…a helpful buffer between my necessary time on my computer, running the business side of selling art, and getting out of my chair to pick up my brush and create! Your appreciation for the different ways we see art, study art, enjoy the company of other artists, and (most importantly) make art resonates with me, and is a good catalyst for getting to work, to create something new! Thank you!!

  9. Well said Jason. As a full-time artist myself I get to surround myself with art. Sometimes, I forget it’s not all about the sale. This was a good reminder just about now. Thank you for your insightful article.

  10. Thank you for sharing this rich history, one born out of love and interest, not necessity. I grew up with parents who were both artists. They were charter members of an art group in their town in the 1950s that is still going today. So I had a rich background already by the time I went to college. Oh LORD. I took an art history course, thinking it would add to my knowledge and love of it. I thought to myself that if this had been my first exposure to art, I would never have continued. All memorization of dates, artists and works. Incredible travesty really. Anyway, what you wrote reminded me of that!

  11. Thank you, Jason. This is my favorite post thus far. You have echoed my sentiments exactly. In the newsletters I send out to my “followers”, I always refer to them as art lovers, not as collectors. And I often speak of the value they bring to the art world, the impact they have, and how they shape the world for the better with their involvement in the arts. I also speak, as you have done, as one art lover to another. I recently wrote this to my art lovers. “You can’t begin to imagine how life-giving and affirming your role is, no matter how you choose to support the arts. I maintain great hope, even in these dark times, because I feel you watching, waiting, relating, sharing what we artists do.” For me, it’s about the connection, the relationship we have. Some have supported me with sales, others with attendance and spreading the word, others with a hug at an art festival. It’s all good, be it bread on my table or nourishment for my soul.

  12. Jason-thank you for sharing your journey into and through creativity. I am one (one of many) of the reasons (not in the egocentric way you might at first presume) Harry Jackson spoke to that stranger (you) for an hour. I have been following you and admiring your dedication for many years and have shared your website and blog with many artist colleagues. Had he not help start your fire, you would not be the mentor and teacher you are today. Thank you for following your passion and my deep appreciation to Mr Jackson!

  13. I earn my living as a full time professional Artist after working in various other industries. My Art is my Life – My Life is my Art… My passion for creating my Artwork gives me tremendous energy! Recognition is oxygen for me & I have been receiving international recognition recently…

  14. In my experience Art has always welcomed me as a “friend” and I appreciate the inner conversations that occur. It is so part of who we are I wonder if it itself reflects love.
    Thank you for sharing this letter of love to art.

  15. Jason-
    You already know my bio story. Oe of my first “pieces” was a “red lipstick” creation on the inside of a wicker clothes hamper. 6 decades later, cleaning out my Dad’s house, there was the wicker hamper with numerous coats of thick paint and showing through as a pale trace of orange – was my drawing.
    Transforming materials into something else has been ongoing.
    Art is how I am alive.
    After retiring from public arts education, I knew that the time I had left would be spent as an artist and very soon came across the “book”. That has made the difference by filling in the large missing “business” piece.
    Art is why I am alive.
    Mine is a very inquisitive mind and I have been rewarded with answers to questions about ancient geometry that I can trace throughout all art history to the present time. Just this week, another “window” was thrown open. “I never saw that!” was the audible response at 11:00 at night.
    Art is a life-long love affair. Ask my wife and she will probably tell you she lives with a mistress.
    But art is what makes me, me. And so far, just about everyone seems pleased with how I’m turning out.

    The article is so spot on. Artists cross our paths and everything changes. Great Art makes me cry. I saw the Cimabue Crucifix at the Met with my daughter and I stood there and wept. The flood had taken so much away and yet- what remained was precious and defiant. Art remained. In Chicago I got a chance to see “Studio of the South”, and Gauguin’s last painting of Vincent’s chair with a sunflower on it, And I sobbed in my motorcycle jacket and made quite a spectacle. this list can go on. That’s what art does. Takes away your breath, dis-arms you and strips away pretense leaving you with something precious and pure.

  16. Very inspiring story, Jason, thank you for sharing! Like you, my father painted as well.I don’t remember
    when, I fell in love with art. It was just always there in my life at a very early age.

  17. Jason – Have you read Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World”? This is a life-changing book about the inner gift of art and the current marketplace.

  18. Jason, it’s refreshing to hear you digress a little from the business structure of art marketing to express your love for art! Although you somehow manage to stay personal and warm in your approach in guiding artists – this post was an added breath of fresh air! 

Inspirational!

  19. Thank you for your article! I am new to your blogpost and look forward to receiving your inspiring thoughts in my inbox! As a fine art nature photographer I am in search of art in nature every time I step into the outdoors and the beautiful environment it provides me. With my camera lens I discover and learn something new on every occasion. I feel connected and in awe of all living things I can capture with my lens. This is my art and I am so very grateful to have found it.
    I look forward to learning more from you.
    In Gratitude,
    Jane

  20. Awesome .. You made Art itself the canvas.. Brush strokes of emotion and memory striking out from within you can only be the medium. The final result is Brilliant no less, And the image restores a somewhat overgrown discombobulated garden of beauty to its original splendor. Stagnate ponds trickle once more and dormant stunted saplings scattered somewhat discarded sit stale no more ,,, breaking free from the strangular vines of society they now thrive and bloom leaving only the impeding outcome of wonder and Beauty.. Thank you for stimulating the very fibre of motion that has sat like a bulb dormant to the roots.. That is what i see when i look into the picture you just painted

  21. Thank you for sharing your journey with art and indeed through art. As a child I was always drawn to the landscape. Growing up on a farm in Ireland I saw being outside in the landscape as freedom. Through a combination of life ,a change from teaching Home Economics for 20 years to painting fulltime and a love for walking I have to realise that painting is a kind of meditation. I have also come to understand that what I thought was freedom as a child is a heightened sense of being….being present to the now. My paintings reflect a triangular dynamic unfolding between myself, the moment and the work itself as it reveals itself to me when painting en plein air out in the Irish landscape.Combining the wisdom harvested from all areas of my life I now understand why I paint and that I paint my way of seeing .Making the choice to become a fulltime self taught artist has its sacrifices and its reward. I hope that it can bring joy and connection to the art lover while also contribute to the conversation on wellbeing,consciousness and the artist’s mark. Anastasia O Donoghue Healy

  22. Thanks so much Jason,
    I really appreciate your expression of your love of Art and Artists!!! Especially the feelings evoked by art created a very long time ago. And how a piece of art can completely change the atmosphere in a home! All art has energy, the energy of the artist and if it is great art it’s own soul that is timeless!!!
    Sincerely,
    Santana

Leave a Reply

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