Why Are Paintings Worth So Much?

This is a question that I puzzle over every time I see a news story about a new art auction record. It might be more understandable if the subject was historically significant. A painting can be significant; if it’s by a historically significant artist or perhaps shows a historical event, in which case it belongs in a museum. Paintings were at one time like photographs or posters. Kings and Queens had their portraits painted but the objects they held might have some great meaning, like the last kingdoms they had conquered or become rulers of. Many paintings are similar because the ‘common’ people wanted to emulate their royalty so they made sure what they were holding had meaning.

Does symbolism and history increase the value of the painting itself? I don’t think so. Historical significance might make some people think that the value is increased but the main thing is the painting itself. The time and skill involved in producing the painting imparts value. So what makes a Van Gogh worth 60 million and a Titian worth 20 million? These prices are increasing by leaps and bounds. My argument is that the painting has little or nothing to do with the price paid at auction. The materials used may impart some value to it but more important is the time it took to produce and the talent of the artist. Over time the painting may become rare; for example if many of the artists’ works disappear. Rarity can enhance value so long as the artist is popular.

So if A and B are bidding on a painting that A thinks is outrageously valuable, A bids some outlandishly high price perhaps because they think B won’t pay that much. B also thinks the painting is outrageously valuable and subsequently bids higher than A. The painting is now worth more than it was; actually it may now be worth more than either A or B have bid due to the possibility that C may be out there with deeper pockets. C may have never thought about the painting until A and B decided it was worth so much. Does either A, B or C have any reason to think that the painting is so valuable?

I have a hard time imagining that any of this could impart a value equivalent to a house or a medium sized office building. I think that a painting or any other art work is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it. If someone thinks that a painting is worth 60 million and they have that much in their pocket, then more power to them. The artist no longer cares because he or she is likely long gone and so will never benefit from a price paid at auction.

A case in point. A painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold recently at auction for $110.5 million. I won’t try to argue the paintings merits. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t really mean anything. I guess I should be happy that anyone is willing to pay anything at all for a painting.

Why you should forget about improving your art.

This post came about as a result of a discussion. I was trying for years to make my painting style more impressionistic. I abandoned this effort when I realised that it was never going to happen and why bother. I was asked who I was trying to make my painting more impressionistic for. Well for me of course but why. I started thinking about the definition of ‘improve’. I wanted my work to be more impressionistic but to what end. I certainly admire some impressionists. Monet and Degas for example. I decided that I admire them because their work elicits an illusion of reality and yet is still impressionistic. So it’s not the impressionistic quality so much as the realistic illusion that I admire.

I believe that I should continue to improve my work, but that really means to increase its realistic illusion. I don’t know exactly how to do that but I’m working on it. So the on-line discussion was exactly how I should try to improve my art. If ‘improve’ meant more impressionistic then I’ve abandoned that. If however ‘improve’ means more realistic then I’m still on track, even though I don’t really know the exact direction. My original title ‘Why you should try to improve your art’ got average reviews at best. ‘Why you should forget about improving your art’ is much more controversial. My style is developed enough that I’m not going to try to change it but I will continue to try to make it more realistic.

How to Explain Acrylic Paint to Your Mom

I find the title of this Blog funny. I got it from a content generator which I’m using for Blog ideas. Many suggestions aren’t very useful but occasionally one jumps out at me. Explaining technology to your parents can be difficult. My parents were pretty savvy so I didn’t need to do this very often. My daughters don’t need to explain things to me very often either however I don’t own a cell phone so to my daughters I’m OLD.

Oil media’s development is credited to Jan Van Eyck around the year 1410. Da Vinci was experimenting with oils which was a new media at the time and he used it to paint the Mona Lisa. Oils and Acrylics are essentially identical in the context of pigments suspended in a drying media. Oils and Acrylics can use the same pigments and often do. Acrylics being new, use more NEW pigments.

The consistency of acrylics or oils is a little like cake batter. The pigments would be equated to spices, chocolate chips and raisins in the batter. My brother-in-law compares baking to mixing mortar. Actually it’s quite similar. The acrylics would then be like the flour mixture in the cake. The cake sets with heat in the oven; acrylics set by drying. Oils also set by drying but the process is much slower. So painting is a little bit like baking a cake but without the sugar rush. I’m not trying to be sexist by associating your mom with baking but I think it’s more likely she is a baker than a brick layer.

What Makes A Good Painting?

At first I thought that a good photo and a good painting subject were one and the same but for me there is something different about a painting. With a photo it’s the subject and the lighting. That’s true with a painting too but there is more; with a painting I try to look for a subject that I can interpret rather than try to produce a photo realistic rendition. Water is a great subject because there is so much detail in the reflections and they are so abstract. Right now I’m getting lost in logs in my present painting so I’m making the details up as I go along. I try to stay focused on what the logs really look like but I get lost in them so I make mistakes and end up incorporating the mistakes into the finished product. So people might look at the finished work and think “My god he made that up. What a great artist”; If they only knew. I suspect many artists work this way. Of course a master actually can make it up. I watched one of my teachers do a painting in about 4 hours without a picture to refer to. He just made it up as he went along and it was beautiful.

I like to paint a subject with some foreground so that I can add detail to it. I’ve learned that detail does not make the painting look real but a little bit of detail in the right spot can make the whole painting look real. I pick spots in the foreground very early when I’m laying out the painting, where I will add detail. I now consider a painting good when it has an abundance of reality illusion.

I consider this one of my best. Although I’m not actually happy with it and I can’t honestly say that I like it, the painting surprises me each time I look at it because parts of it have an illusion of reality that I never planned for.



I’m thinking of and looking up ways to promote my Website and Blog. Most of the ideas that I find I just don’t want to or can’t do, or they just don’t make sense. I’m not presently in a position to sell my work, I’ve said that before and some may be wondering why. I’ve been diagnosed with MS and am on disability as a result. The contract with the Insurance Company handling my disability makes selling my work difficult. Not that my paintings would sell well or at all if I were in a position to market them.

Promotion and sale of my paintings is difficult for me. I suspect this is true for many artists; it’s certainly true for my daughter and I. Luckily I’ve been working with coding Websites for some years now and I find it fun, I suspect it’s much more of a chore for most. I try to make these posts useful but I suspect they are often not, nevertheless it is fun to do and I get to write about the trials and tribulation I face as an artist. My hope is that this will help my daughter but I think that she is much more in tune with the art world than I will ever be so it’s lucky that I don’t need to paint to eat.


So looking up ways to promote my Website is interesting because I’m not willing to put out any money or write about anything but art. I certainly haven’t found a magic bullet yet for promotion. Too often I’m confronted with having to put out some money or supply some information that I’m unwilling to provide. Here are a couple of interesting sites that have promotional ideas that I didn’t know;



So many opinions but using bold and italic text really isn’t difficult, and it might help. I haven’t read anywhere that it’s a bad thing. At worst it might just be ignored if done too much. I suspect that you need to make sure that the correct tags are used. Whatever text application you are using might not do this, so check the HTML. Applications associated with a blog site probably work OK but I’m not so sure about word processing or page layout applications.

You might have heard about pinging, this is just a way to alert search engines about new posts. WordPress does this automatically. It is possible that overuse of pinging could brand your site as spam. Deep Linking is perhaps a little different so rather than try to explain it hear is a Deep Link to my site. You don’t need to go there but just providing the link might improve my Websites rank.



The Struggling Artist

Do you need to struggle to be an artist? I don’t believe you do. To be an artist you might struggle but I believe anyone can become an artist and struggling isn’t necessary. Some people may have challenges and that may give them a very different view of reality and some difficulty reaching their goals. If they subsequently become an artist then any challenges they have will likely show up in their work and that might make the work very special. I don’t use the term ‘special’ in any derogatory way. Van Gogh was just bat-shit-crazy, Michelangelo wasn’t much better and da Vinci was paranoid in the extreme. We remember artists as struggling but maybe those are just the artists that show up in history. I’m under no illusions that any of my work will ever be considered special, it’s lucky that I enjoy painting.

Oils and Acrylics

Here is a quote from a Website, I suspect it’s a poor translation;

“Oil painting is often regarded as an artwork of greatest value. Acrylic oil painting on canvas is a gem of an artwork and one can download such a template over the net. Needless to mention, such a canvas is a proud possession in the drawing room.”

First I don’t know what an acrylic oil painting is. I agree that oils are often given greater value than acrylics but I don’t understand why. Acrylics allowed an artist to squeeze paint directly from the tube onto the painting and it would still dry. This was almost de rigueur in acrylic paintings 50 years ago. I use acrylics because they don’t smell. For the most part all the techniques I learned for oils work with acrylics. I feel that it’s not the medium that I use but rather my control of it that matters.

Acrylics have many advantages over oils. They dry faster and that is both a problem and an advantage. Acrylics are likely more archival in some ways but there is quite a bit of controversy about that, so at present the jury is out. There are more pigments available with acrylics since oils still use mostly traditional ones and there are quite a few new very good pigments. Acrylics don’t produce cracks like oil paint but be aware that they don’t harden like oil so they can be a little sticky.

I’ve found a lot of good information about paint on this site: https://www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/acrylic_paintings.html
Some of this information imparts a rather pessimistic view of acrylics. I don’t believe it’s as bad as that and new conservancy methods will be developed. In any event I really don’t care what happens to my paintings 400 years from now. I paint because I enjoy it, but it’s worthwhile knowing more about the medium if only to impress buyers.

This particular painting uses Quinacridone Magenta for the flowers. It was the first time I used that colour so I named it after the pigment. I had no idea what to name it. Perhaps Forest Flowers would have been better but by the time I’m finished a painting if a name hasn’t presented itself I’m too tired of it to pay much attention.

How to Sell Art to a Skeptic

I was having a little difficulty coming up with something to write about. I came across a site that recommended a Content Generator. There are lots of them https://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator . Most of the ideas are not particularly relevant and they don’t really generate content but they do offer headline ideas. This one sparked my interest “How to sell art to a skeptic”. I’m not in a position to sell my paintings but I was in sales for many years so here is my opinion.

A painting has no use of any kind that I can think of, but we have a painted door on our garage, it’s a regular size door for human entry. It’s a lovely door painted by my daughter and many people have noticed and commented on it. However sales isn’t really about selling usefulness, the general idea is to sell the sizzle not the stake. This doesn’t mean that a salesperson sells useless things, it’s about how they sell useful things. I believe art is about how it makes you feel not about what it is. It’s nice to know how archival the painting is, but what many people will want to know is how it might make them feel every morning when they wake up. How will the painting improve their home? How will it improve how others think about their home? Art isn’t about the bottom line, it’s about how it makes us feel. I’m sure there are people thinking about the investment and the rush of buying at an auction but I don’t believe that is why THEY will buy the painting; it’s about how they or someone close feels when they look at the painting. The wonderful thing about art is it crosses boundaries. People whom I’ve thought were emotionless slugs have proven me completely wrong when talking about art.

It’s very hard for me to sell my own work. My paintings have very little value for me once they are done, so if I were selling my work I would find someone else to sell it for me. If I look at a painting that I did years ago I think I see it somewhat as others do. I can critique it and come to some conclusion about how good it is. I’m encouraged when I’m surprised with the result.

With regard to skeptics it depends on what they are skeptical about. If it’s the price the best place for a skeptic is an auction. If it’s what the painting means, a skeptic’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. If the art doesn’t mean anything to them then why are they considering the purchase at all? I think the best way to sell art to a skeptic is to take it away. Argue against the purchase. If you fail you have made yourself a sale. If you win you will have made yourself a name as an honest artist and that might count for more sales in the future.

Think, Plan, Do and Reflect

I am reading an article and interview about Ward Schell. I like big canvases too but this is a little crazy. It’s the background for a diorama. There are two things in the article that jump out at me. The first is ‘think, plan, do and reflect’. I believe I have the ‘think, plan, do’ part covered, it’s ‘reflect’ that snags me. I can reflect for a very long time and it’s often not helpful. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. This is where his other statement applies, stop (or at least consider stopping) when the work is 80% done. I’ve often found that I estimate that I have another weeks work to do on a painting (remember that I am slow) but two days later I am finished. Finished means that I can’t see anything else to do on the painting or I don’t think that doing more will add anything. Deciding when a painting is finished has been a problem for me for many years. If I sit and ‘reflect’ for an hour or so and I can’t see anything to add, change or enhance that will add to the painting, then I am finished.

Stopping at 80% is important. I don’t interpret this to mean leaving a painting unfinished, I could continue work on a painting until it is almost photorealistic but that is not what I want. I think the painting should still look like a painting but generate an illusion of reality. Many artists overwork their paintings. If a painting portrays the scene adequately then it is finished. Perhaps this advice should say ‘Reflect at 80%’.


Why Paint?

I was watching a documentary about the Barnes collection, I’m intrigued that he arranged his collection based on what he liked in a room filled with other things in the collection, rather than by year or style. The Frick collection is arranged similarly. This says more about the collector than the artist but perhaps they saw meaning in the art that I don’t. He obviously loved art in all its forms. I paint because I enjoy painting. I also find it very frustrating but ultimately enjoy it. Some art critics talk at great length about the meaning of a given piece of art, who did it and when. My art has no underlying meaning that I’m aware of. I just liked the scene and wanted to paint it, it’s interesting to experiment with the best way to render the scene, and it’s interesting when it starts to appear real.

Nina Simone said in an interview that an artist’s job is to reflect the times. If you feel strongly about ‘the times’ then I don’t think that’s wrong, I just don’t feel that way. Many art critics seem to feel that good art must say something about the human condition, and they will go to great lengths to describe what they think an artist is trying to say and what ‘the human condition’ is exactly. I simply like or am intrigued by what I see so I want to paint it. Luckily I don’t have to paint to eat because I would surely starve. As a graphic designer I have used my artistic capabilities to eat but I’ve always kept my painting separate. I wonder how Barns and Frick would have done if they were struggling artists?

So why paint? I paint because I can and I enjoy it. When the painting is done I’m flattered if someone likes it. Since I’m going for the reality illusion it’s gratifying if it starts to look real. I’m interested in just how detailed or impressionistic my painting can be and still create an illusion of reality.