Road warrior living, by the numbers

Do all plein air artists work in this frenzied way? Only if they want to make a living.

Full stop, by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
I received a number of reader responses to my recent post, How long did Van Gogh take to complete a painting? They came by email, because Blogger’s comment feature is a little wonky right now. Some comments are going through, but if you have trouble, just email me here.
“Are these events increasing the market for art?” wrote S, who is a statistician in real life. That’s a question I can’t answer, because it’s too small a market niche for the government to monitor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies only 11,000 people in the category of Individual Fine Artist. (I’m not sure it’s true, since I know at least 11,000 artists personally.)
Headlamps, by Carol L. Douglas (available, and a favorite painting of the artist).
That compares to a global art market in the $60 billion range, depending on whom you ask. This is concentrated in the US, and 70% are paintings, almost all by dead people. Researchers are understandably more interested in that lucrative aftermarket than in the art that is being created now.
I can only note that there are more plein air events every year, which is a sign that they work.
Lobster pound at Tenant’s Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas (available through the Kelpie Gallery).
“You lump all plein air painters into this frenzied bunch,” wrote C. “Perhaps your view is informed by the competitive way you’ve decided to paint. I find it hard to believe that everyone works this way. Or is it only the non-professionals like me who take it slow?”
Professional plein air painters work in this circuit, and I’m typical, I think. None of the other 49 painters at Adirondack Plein Air, for example, had any problems completing a finished, lovely work in the two hours allotted for our Quick-Draw. I’ve observed that artists tend to produce around one-two paintings a day at these events, depending on the size. That puts them square in the 3-5 hour range per painting.
They cost so much because there’s a lot of other work and expense involved, and because the longer the artist’s sales record, the more his or her work is worth. In comparison, nobody ever asks how long their Nike Lebron Xsneakers took to make. It was probably just a few minutes.
Bahama Palm, by Carol L. Douglas (available). So far I haven’t been able to successfully monetize my southern journeys. That would extend the season.
“Do you like being able to do a mix of plein air and studio work?” asked S. “How many months in a year are dedicated to plein air events? Or is this the wrong metric?”
In fact, it’s an important question, one we ask ourselves at the end of every season. What is a sustainable level for plein air events?
Studio painting is the normal place to finish commissions or larger, more involved work. Currently, I’m doing events only from June through September, but I hope to spread them out more across the year. However, the farther I travel, the higher my expenses become.
The answer is highly individual, and it changes over time. In fact, I was planning to have coffee with Stephan Giannini this morning to discuss this exact question, but I forgot I’m supposed to be in Buffalo. We’ll take it up again in October, which is the next time we’ll both be home.

Going by the numbers

We should all immediately switch to Instagram. But as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability on the internet. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.
Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yesterday I had my left foot operated on, giving me a matched pair of incisions and some hope for less pain going into the summer.

My mind is muddled, so I’d hoped to reprise an old post. To that end, I consulted my stats for this blog. Blogger tells me what my top posts are (although this blog has been on three different platforms over the years). A few years ago, the most popular posts were The One Thing Every Painter Should Know and a recipe for scallops from my friends Berna and Harry.
Plastic bags, dethroned by art history.
Since I last checked, art history has steamrolled over them. The top view-catcher is this post about Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc. It’s eleven years old, it violates the modern dictums of length and language, it’s complex, and it continues to get readers. In fact, there are a number of art history posts on that top ten list, including The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow and Ingres and Napoleon.
Measured week-to-week, however, art history is a slow starter. Those posts usually have the lowest immediate readership, even when they have much to say.
Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, 1806, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, courtesy, Musée de l’Armée, Paris
After more than a decade of blogging, I still see no discernible pattern for what will be popular in a post. That’s liberating. It means I can write about whatever I care about, rather than pitching content to some ‘expert’ idea of the public’s low taste.
A surveytells us that new galleries are opening more slowly than they did a decade ago. This is part of a general decline in entrepreneurship in the United States. It’s no surprise to those of us who worry about our battered small town Main Streets, but there’s good news in that same report.
It surveyed a group of high-net-worth individuals about their collecting habits. These are people with more than $1 million but less than $5 million in assets. The vast majority (89%) spent $50,000 a year or less on art and objects. That suggests they aren’t buying from tony Manhattan galleries, but from low- and mid-tier galleries. In other words, they’re buying works by people like you and me, in places like S. Thomaston, Camden and Ogunquit.
The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1567, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy Oskar Reinhart Foundation
Meanwhile, the online market for art and collectables continues to grow, but at a slower pace. That makes sense as a market matures, and it’s nothing to worry about. More than half of online art buyers said they will buy more art online in 2018 than they did last year, according to the Online Art Trade Report.
Instagram has dethroned Facebook as the preferred means of online promotion. In 2016, galleries used the two platforms almost equally. Now only 31% of respondents prefer Facebook to the 62% who liked Instagram. Instagram is also the favored platform for collectors under 35, 79% of whom said they discover new artists on Instagram and 82% of whom said they use it to keep up with artists they like.
Going by the numbers, we should all immediately switch to Instagram. But just as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability in sales. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.

It’s about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Niagara Falls, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas

I’ve been stopped at the border by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before. A group of us went on pilgrimage to Toronto to see Group of Sevenpaintings. On the way back, Jennifer proved to be of special interest. She cooled her heels so we all cooled our heels.

Leaving the Bahamas, I didn’t realize the banana I’d tucked in my backpack needed to be declared. While the customs official searched my carry-on bags and ticked me off about the fines for smuggling, my other bag—the one with the dangerous contraband—sailed right through.
Just kidding. I’m a very law-abiding citizen.
Detentions at the border may not be up, but news stories about them certainly are. It’s another case of journalistic innumeracy. When people talk about “fake news,” it’s because they no longer trust what media tells them, and this is because reporters frequently don’t ask the salient questions: How good are the numbers? How biased is the source? How significant is the deviation?
Not all border crossings are swank. This is the approach to Top of the World Border Crossing between Alaska and the Yukon. You need to check the hours before you show up.
When I was twenty, I could tuck a dime into my bikini and stroll across the Rainbow Bridge. (This is a real place, BTW, and not a metaphor for pet mortality.) I’ve crossed the US-Canadian border countless times since then. My body has loosened and border security has tightened in equal measure.
But my experiences are anecdotal evidence. To make a valid argument from them, they need to be supported by fact. Since 2009, we’ve needed a passport or equivalent to cross the US-Canada border. That’s a fact that supports my impressions.
All educated people know that a coin toss always has a 50% chance of coming up tails. However, after a string of bad tosses, our guts tell us that our luck has to change soon, that it’s time for the coin to fall our way.
It’s the job of our civilized, reasonable, educated minds to remind our unruly hearts that probability is immutable. However, casino gambling is a $70 billion/year industry in America. That’s a sign that we don’t do a very good job of thinking rationally.
Bahamians are tea-drinkers. My first cup of real coffee in a week, in suburban Boston.
At times, our lack of factual literacy has public-policy repercussions. For example, in 1996, we passed the Church Arson Prevention Act and created the National Church Arson Task Force in response to a wave of black church fires. But as Michael Fumento said at the time, this was a false crisis based on bad data supplied by an advocacy group.
As sentient citizens, we have a moral duty to seek truth. No tools are unbiased, so use some from either side. Better yet, use them from the other side, a trick a lobbyist friend once suggested to me. On the left, there is FiveThirtyEight, on the right, the Heritage Foundation. Read them both, and everything in between. Or, at least read something, and do it with a skeptical mind.