We’re all fauvists now

There’s no place for subtle in online art sales.
Headwaters of the Hudson, by Carol L. Douglas

If you look at pastel kits online, you’ll see a bias toward high-chroma colors, even though lower-saturation chalks are the workhorses of pastel painting. In part, that’s because all mixing results in lower chroma; pigments are impure and their overtones tend to cancel each other out. But more than that, pastel kits are sold to beginners. People who already have kits just buy individual chalks to fill in holes.

Bright colors are attractive; a kit with luscious reds, brilliant yellows, and tropical turquoises will turn our heads while the hardworking neutrals sit in the corner, ignored. Since pastel manufacturers are in business to sell their products, they give the people what they want.
Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas
The same thing happens with online painting sites. Although my Android phone has a 1440p display, the standard square image on Instagram scrolls by at 600×600 pixels. (Instagram stores at up to 1080 pixels, but doesn’t display at that size.) Compressed so severely, the best-looking images are the ones that have arresting composition, high contrast and lots of color.
Inside people’s homes, a very different trend continues. In 2015, when I painted my last house to sell, I used Benjamin Moore’s best-selling color, Revere Pewter. This is a warm, soft grey, and I ran it ruthlessly through that elegant 1928 interior. I wish I’d done it when I still lived there; it looked beautiful and the house sold fast.
Finger Lakes vineyard, by Carol L. Douglas. There are a lot of places in America with muted light.
Greys show no sign of abating. Benjamin Moore’s Color of the Year for 2019 is Metropolitan, a neutral that somehow manages to look like it contains every pigment mixed together. BM is marketing this palette as a neutral refuge from the noise of the modern world, with tag lines like, “The calibrated silence of layered grays helps a modern home find its soft side.” They are not alone. Other paint manufacturers are also exploring the world of greys words like “repose,” “sea salt,” “mindfulness,” or “passive.”
I’m not averse to this trend of neutral walls with eye-popping color within picture frames; it looks great and matches my own worldview. But it behooves us to remember that high-chroma is just a style thing, driven by our electronic toys. It’s not an eternal verity, and it might not be the best way to make our point. Is there room for the quiet, contemplative painting in such a media-driven world?
All flesh is as grass, by Carol L. Douglas
Yes. For one thing, the online market remains a small part of the overall art market—about $5 billion of a total market of around $63 billion. That means plenty of paintings are still sold in galleries.
But an interesting thing happened in the last cooling period for art sales, which was from 2015 to 2017. While traditional galleries and auction houses experienced retraction, online sellers did not.
I assume this is another sign of the bifurcation of the art market, between high-net-worth individuals trading pieces worth millions in the global market, and the small (under $10,000) galleries that represent the bulk of working artists. But sales aren’t tracked that way, so I’m only guessing.
The numbers for 2018 aren’t out yet, but in 2017, online sales represented 12% of the total art market. That’s too big a percentage to be ignored, and it’s steadily growing. We can’t ignore the screen-popping world of contemporary painting much longer.

What are your goals for 2019?

If you’re talking about more paintings than you’re making, you may have a work-habit problem.

Christmas Eve, by Carol L. Douglas

I’ve been texting back and forth with a few friends about our plans for the coming year. These all involve metrics: how many shows, how many social media hits, sales volume, number of students, on-line vs. bricks-and-mortar sales. Artistic goals seem to play no part in this. Yet, without them, what’s the point of being a painter?

I’m not much of a New Year’s resolution-maker. I give myself one task on January 1, and that’s to remove myself from all the junk mail lists I’ve gotten on in the past year. That’s less a resolution than a reminder, like having your annual physical on your birthday.

Christmas night, by Carol L. Douglas

I address the things I want to fix in my life when they first appear as a problem, not on an arbitrary date in Christmastide when I’m already feeling sluggish from too much holiday. So yesterday when someone asked me about my artistic resolutions for the coming year, I was unable to answer.

But to say I don’t have artistic goals would be wrong. They include doing more abstraction, more small studies, and more forays into the world of magical realism. But don’t hold me to them. By midsummer, I may have abandoned these ideas completely and be fascinated by Kleig lights and cougars.

Schoolbus, by Carol L. Douglas

If that’s you, too, don’t despair. That’s the artistic temperament in a nutshell.  When it works successfully, an artistic temperament is a great intellectual curiosity coupled with very disciplined work habits. A lot of people have that backwards: they see undisciplined work habits as a sign of being ‘artistic’, and don’t seem to notice the paucity of ideas in the work being churned out. Or not being churned out. If you’re talking about more paintings than you’re making, you may have a work-habit problem.

I particularly respect my old friend Cindy Zaglin in this respect. She’s survived cancer and Hurricane Sandy. Her answer to every bump in the road is to trudge over to her Brooklyn studio to make more art. If she was worried about sales numbers, or critical reception, she could never have gone down the artistic path she has. (She was sort of a realist when I met her many years ago.) Whatever the question, the answer for her has always been to sort it out by making more art.

Nautilus was my last ‘serious’ painting of 2018, and even here I couldn’t get the magical realism out of my mind.

I took last week off to spend time with my family. You’d think that with all that spare time, our house would be immaculate, but it’s the other way around. Without routine, it rapidly disintegrated into a mess. I myself was restless and fractious. By yesterday I was anxiously drawing in my sketchbook, eager to get back into the studio. And so today, between visits to my dentist to get a tooth fixed (ah, Christmas!) and my physical therapist to work on my back, I’ll do just that. The metrics and plans will just have to wait.