Weekly Question No. 23 - Who do you do your best work for?

@CBG and I came up with the same question simultaneously.  Mine is too wordy.  CBG’s is more focused and succinct so I think we should answer CBG’s question which is:

 Do you do your best work when you paint for yourself or when you paint for someone else?  Whatever the answer, why do you think, for you, that is the case?

(Thanks, CBG.  :)  ) 


  • Assuming that painting 'for' someone else as in getting compensated as a professional artist?
    I am currently just beginning to entertain the idea of painting as a means of earning compensation - but that is what I want to do.

    Up to this point, painting for me has been a hobby, a relaxation, an inner search, painting what I wanted, when I wanted, and sometimes getting very frustrated that I couldn't do better. I know I need better discipline to paint more and continue to learn, not making the same mistakes over and over again.

    I do not yet have the confidence in my skills as an artist to put my work 'out there'. I have joined this forum and DMP to help improve my skills and 'learn the ropes' of the business.

    I imagine that if/when the opportunity of business arises, I would hope that I was chosen to do a painting based on the skill that the customer has viewed in my 'type' of work. I realize that some of the amazing work I see on this forum, particularly the ultra-realism in portraits and still life's is beyond my capabilities at this time. I most likely do not possess the self-discipline needed to work at that level of realism. 

    That said, I just came back from a small art gallery, and could not make a good connection with the art displayed there. I tried to look with an open mind, look for a level of skill or talent in search of inspiration for myself and left quite disappointed. I ask myself, 'what do people see or feel from this art'? 

    So why do I even pursue the dream of being a professional artist, meaning someone that earns compensation for his/her work? Because I enjoy the process and feeling I get when I paint. It is important to me that I continue to paint and it is also important to me that I be respected by my peers for my work. I think that matters more to me than the compensation - I think if you have that, then the rest will fall into a place that is right for me. 
  • edited May 8
    Thanks for your thoughts on this, @whunt

    I understand how you feel. When we first start out, the idea of painting "for" someone seems like an idea for the future. That's certainly how it was for me, too.

    And I can relate to your sense of disappointment on visiting commercial galleries these days. That happens to me a lot, too. But, then, even if I don't feel anything for the work, I look at the sales the artist on show has made, those red stickers, and I realize that other people must see something in the work. That can be a source of encouragement. Not everyone is going to like everything we do. But some will like some of it. 

    You obviously love painting and the work you've posted so far has a certain something that looks promising to me. So keep at it. I know it's all very confusing when we're just starting out. All we can do in the beginning is develop our skills and paint for ourselves because we love doing it. If others end up liking what we've done then that's a bonus and motivation to keep going.  :)
  • I think this is a hard question but I'll have a shot at addressing it.

    I don’t paint my best work for anyone in particular. I paint for anyone who cares to look at it -  myself,  family, friends, strangers. But they are not in mind when I start out on a painting. Whether a painting turns out to be among my best doesn’t depend on who I’m painting for.  I always try to do my best. I paint because I want people to be moved by my work. I have to admit, though,  that I also paint with an eye to sales at my next show. That also spurs me on to do the best work I can.

     I’m retired and on a fixed income. I want the money from sales because it means I don’t have to dip into my retirement fund to buy art materials. But I would continue painting even if I never sold another painting. It’s all I want to do. At my time of life, I don’t need much, and I could survive on my pension. So, it’s not really about the money. The real reason I like selling is because it tells me people appreciate my work. Artists, be they musicians, actors, writers, dancers, painters…,  want applause. It’s their lifeblood. And whilst friends and family may (or may not) give us honest feedback, one of the surest ways to know we are doing good is when strangers who we’ll never know pay money for our work. That sounds awful, I know, but it’s true for me. Luckily, that’s not the only way to get applause. Entering competitions and winning prizes is an even better way. Sales are a private business between a buyer and the artist and, sometimes, a gallery. No one else knows. But if you win a competition, it's on public record for all to see. That’s the best feeling, the best applause for an artist. It spurs you on to do even better and it looks great on your artist’s CV.

    But all of the above is sort of peripheral to the question posed which is about who I do my best work for. However,  that’s a question I cannot answer. Most, but not all, of my best work has been sold. My family and friends have some, but those paintings were not painted specifically for them. They were leftovers from my shows. But many of them are among my very best work and I’m glad they are where they are. It means I still get to see them.

    But, at the end of the day, if I had no family and friends to give paintings to, and if no one bought my work, I honestly believe I would continue to paint because I love doing it. So, I guess I do it for myself, and my best and my worst work were all done simply because I want to paint. Not selfishly for myself. But because I’m trying to show others the beauty of the natural world that moves me so forcefully and which I try to capture in the landscapes I paint. I want viewers to experience that. I want them to be moved, too. I want that much more than I want their money.

    And, if I’m honest, I paint because I want to be remembered. I accept that this life is the only life we get and that the only immortality that exists is in the minds of those still living. No one knows who their great, great, great, great … ancestors were. But everyone knows who Leonado and Vincent were. They live on in their work and in our minds. But we don’t have to be great like them. Just to grace a wall indefinitely, be it cave wall or living room wall,  is a sort of immortality. I’ve seen may wonderful paintings on walls by non-famous artists that have been treasured for generations, and which have moved me. I look at their work, feel a frisson of recognition, and wonder who those artists were. And I have concluded that they were like me. They wanted to show people the beauty of their world, or maybe the ugliness, and to be remembered. It all stems from emotions and feelings and the need to express these. That’s why I paint.  It’s not for any particular persons or the market. And I think that, when I paint to express my feelings, rather than for any particular person or group, that is when I do my best work. 

  • Thank you @tassieguy, appreciate your reply and positivity.

    It was an 'open house' at the gallery and there were 5 or 6 artists there to talk to in their studios. I was able to talk to 2 of them and found their stories interesting. While talking to them and looking at what they had created, I began to look at their art differently, like through their eyes and feeling some of what had inspired them. 

    One of them produced paintings and photographs that were very personal to her, she loved what she created and the process of creating them. Based on our short conversation about her art, she seemed very focused and serious about her work. I felt that her work was very 'child like' for the lack of a better term, extremely over-priced, and there didn't seem to be much effort in how her studio looked or how her art was displayed. 

    The other artist I spoke with painted and sculpted, modern art I suppose, but certainly a level of quality to her work was present. Clean lines, attention to detail, strong expression, displayed well, interesting stuff, just not something I personally liked, but respected her efforts. She was more driven to be a successful artist and seemed to have been relatively successful. She was pretty active in selling her work, getting grants, etc. 

    Sorry to ramble on off topic of the weekly question....:)

  • edited May 8
    Don't worry about getting off topic. It's that sort of topic.  :)

    I'll be very surprised if anyone says "I always do my best work for X and that's because Y".
  • CBGCBG -
    edited May 8

    I have not painted enough to contribute any answer of my own, but I note that among some of the best artists I have observed, painters, filmmakers, sculptors, and composers, the primary moving force was not so much what others want to see or hear but the vision or piece the artist is chasing and personally wants to see or hear.  In that sense, the greatness is more singular and integrated as a whole, since it is not pulled in different directions for non artistic considerations.  Some of the greatest art springs from a pre-existing desire of the artist to see, watch and hear what they eventually produce.  Some of the worst art or non-art is produced specifically for the taste of the masses, with only sales in mind, and even worse, produced by committee with demographic research, state imposed rules, or politics overshadowing it.

    Art can be produced with consumers in mind but when the artistic choices, the vision of the artist is compromised by second guessing it’s reception or approval by others, something about the work, and often the best that is in it, is lost.

    One might recall how perfect and wonderful John Williams soundtracks have been, and yes they are simultaneously artistically masterful and widely appreciated.  I submit,however, that although the man wrote music with a goal, every note and melody and theme was for himself, and by his own artistic judgement, what he thought and knew sounded good to him without a thought to the trained or untrained ear of anyone else.

    These considerations give rise to the question, and other experienced artists might have reflected and meditated upon their body of work and it’s quality, and whether they were in that mental space of producing for themselves or others when they made the pieces they judge are the best.
  • edited May 9
    Thanks, @CBG.

    I totally agree that painting can't be about what others want to see. I want them to see what I want them to see. That's why I do it. I can't imagine how we could be authentic by only painting what others want. To me that would be more like mere production than art. And while it's nice to earn some money for what we do, it can't just be about the money, about what people will buy, because, again, we'd be into mere production. John Williams was right to rely on his artistic judgement alone, and not on what he thought others might think or want. It's the artist who must be satisfied with the work, not others. But chances are, if he/she works hard at it, others will be pleased with the work, too. And that's great. Artists want applause.  But many live and work without it. I can't see how it's possible to approach a painting in any other way. We do our very best, say what we have to say, and, if we are happy with it, then that's our job done. The rest is out of our hands. 

    If I was worried only about whether people are going to like what I do, I'd never start a painting because I know all too well there will be some who won't like it. I don't care. What they do or don't like is none of my business. I just want to paint. 
  • Fascinating question! I can't write my answer as well as some of the others here, but I'll try my best.. :)

    I've done a few commissions for friends, but never for strangers just for money. I don't like the time pressure so even though I do my best it's not something I would look to do again. Alongside that I never ever want to do a painting just to sell. That would tarnish my hobby for me..

    I have done paintings for friends and family, but I feel my best work is either:

    1. For strangers that have touched me in some way and I want to paint them and send it to to them as a surprise gift. The idea of giving happiness and something people will enjoy keeping over the years is a powerful feeling. Don't underestimate how good it feels to make a difference in people's lives, especially if it's not for anything in return. It's a cruel world out there, and every little bit that helps people you value makes a difference!

    2. When I try to explore certain themes and express them in my paintings. This can be the beauty in landscapes (I'm especially drawn to mature trees), or expressing something of a person. I like people and women especially as I like being around them and cherish their femininity. Showing their vulnerability in paintings (but not in an exploitative or cruel way) brings out that urge to look after and care for them that I have (as well as others do).
  • GTOGTO -
    edited May 8
    I don’t think I’ve done my best work yet.  I hope I never get to that point.  I might quit painting if I found I could not improve upon it in some way.

    My motives for painting are varied, but it is certainly not for the money.  At the current rate that I paint and sell it amounts to about $8.50 USD an hour.  I could do better working at Starbucks.

    Every painting I do is intended for a competition.  So, yes, I am painting for an audience.  But I know that judge’s tastes vary so not every painting gets in and not every painting gets an award or sells.  I had one painting go through three separate exhibitions getting an award in one and finally selling in the third.  

    I do paint for myself though.  I have to feel something about what I have chosen to depict because I am committing myself to a month or so of work.  If I didn’t feel anything for it I would not be able to complete it.  I have actually turned down a commission piece because it was not something I felt for. (I actually didn’t turn it down. I just quoted the price so I that I figured they wouldn’t accept it. )

    I also appreciate when a painting is purchased and especially when it is purchased for a museum collection.  That gives me a sense of its value.  And I think that is important, especially for any artist starting out. It’s as objective a measure as I think you can get to a market that is very subjective.
  • edited May 9

    Thanks, @Richard_P and @GTO for your thoughtful responses.

    Richard_P, I think the need to express feelings about people, things and places is what has motivated the greatest artists through the ages to produce their finest work. So, your in good company there. 

    You said that “It’s a cruel world out there and every little bit that helps people you value makes a difference!”  That is so true. I’m sure you do make a difference when you give paintings to strangers you admire. It’s a wonderful thing to do.  :)

    GTO, I agree that unless we have some feeling for the subjects we paint it’s hard to imagine committing ourselves to the hard grind involved in producing our best work. I agree also about commissions. I don’t think I could do them. When I was on the farm a neighbor once asked me to paint a view of their farm and house. I turned it down because the view, while meaningful to them, just didn’t inspire me. The place was a visual mess. So, yes, I think you’re right, we have to feel something for the subject to produce our best work.

    And you're right about it not being for the money. I wouldn't like to have to try living on what I make from painting. But if it helps keep us in art supplies then that's something to be grateful for.  :)

  • edited May 9
    I have never painted for someone else. But I did two portrait classes a few years ago, and she made me think. Because she does commissions: like an architect, whoever commissions has something in mind, and you need to satisfy them as well as express your ability. If it's a portrait, then they see this person from a myriad of memory impressions - different expressions, different light highlighting aspects of their face structure and defining this person to them in a certain way. How do you match that in your short photoshoot or whatever? I would find that difficult. And it would also require that the type of portrait stylistically met their creative expectations and second guessing one or more other people is difficult. I struggle just to find the creative expression I like, let alone someone else.
  • edited May 9
    Yes, @Abstraction, putting myself out there as a commercial portrait painter and being at the mercy of clients' whims and preferences would suck the joy out of painting for me, too. I'd need to at least like or admire a person to paint them. In which case I'd probably do it for free like @Richard_P.

    Thanks for your response to this week's question.  :)
Sign In or Register to comment.