cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

Open Studios is an exciting and confusing time. I’ve now spent 3 days, with one more to go, talking to people about my work.

It’s exciting because, of course, it’s great when people connect with the work. Who wouldn’t like that? I have had some wonderful conversations with people about what I’m doing and why, and I’ve listened intently to all their comments.

But that makes it confusing too. Everyone has their own opinions about the work…which pieces are their favorites, which pieces are taking me down the wrong path, which are strong or weak, stupid or fascinating, compelling or trite, garish or gorgeous.

You want to know the strangest thing about it? I can hear opposing arguments about the same piece coming from two people who walked in the door together. Art is absolutely, first and foremost, a personal experience.

I noticed last weekend that many of the painters who visited liked a specific painting, but the non-artists liked a different painting–almost to a person–and didn’t even comment about the one that the painters liked. What does that mean?

And what should it mean to me, as the artist?

I realize my work won’t appeal to everyone, and I don’t need it to. I do what I do because that is the work that interests me the most, and it’s the work that is the most honest for me to do. It’s not necessarily the easiest work for me to do, but it is potentially the most compelling, if I can only realize that potential.

And I’ve gotten beyond trying to predict what people will like. I am constantly surprised. I put it out there, and the right audience for the work somehow materializes at some point in time.

People certainly don’t always like the ones that I like the best. I know I have quirky tastes, and sometimes my most difficult pieces are also my personal favorites. And, honestly, sometimes I don’t even like my work. (Am I allowed to admit that?!?)  I can feel a profound sense of unease when I finish a piece that went in an unpredictable direction. I sometimes see those in a new light months later when I realize that they were seminal pieces in the development of newer work.

And because no art blog entry should be without an image: here is one of those paintings about which I felt very uneasy when it was first completed, but now I am quite fond of it:

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, The Petulant One, Oil on Canvas

The Petulant One, Oil on Canvas, 24″ x 18″, 2010, Private Collection