Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Eyes Have It

Last week a friend of mine told me that she had shown my book, Portraits From My Father's Chair, to some friends. She said that for the most part they loved my portraits, but one woman had something interesting to say. She said that the eyes were too intense and disturbing, and that she could never live with one of my portraits. She said that the portraits in which the subject is in profile or is looking downward or away were ok with her. My friend then asked me if I would consider making more portraits with averted eyes (to maybe make them more desireable and salable). I politely said, no, that's not how or why I make my art, to make others more comfortable. I know my friend was trying to be helpful, but I could feel the locomotive smoke start to steam out of my ears...
I don't know if I will ever make a living with my art. If I had to start changing what I do to please others, I think I would just die. My art is my voice. I had to squelch my voice for a good part of my life and I finally learned that choking things down and people pleasing makes me ill. (I have always loved this Kathe Kollowitz quote:
What if just one woman were to tell the truth about her life? The whole world would fall apart.)
I have a difficult time doing commissioned portraits. I'd much rather make a portrait of someone because I want to, and if someone buys it, great - that's icing on the cake. But to have to make someone look happy, or make their portrait match their couch, or to have to ignore their double chin...oh, God...just shoot me now.
The only way I can describe how reactive my innards get on this topic is to picture someone trying to stuff a fire breathing dragon into a dog kennel. (I'm being just a tad defensive...
Hey, I know, I could sell little paper dark glasses to go with each portrait!)
How do all of you out there deal with this sort of thing? How do you deal with commissions? Where do you draw the line so that you can keep your voice and you do not feel like you are whoring yourself away with your art?
Ok, so here's a selection of my portraits with downcast or sidelong glancing eyes, just to be nice.
Hillary with Judgement, 2004
pastel on Rives BFK, 22" x 30". For Sale.
Jay in His May Green Kitchen, 2005
pastel and colored pencil on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection of Jay York
Jenna at Twilight, 2005
pastel on Rives BFK, 30" x 22". For Sale.
Kevin with Columbian Ancestors, 2004
pastel and oil on Rives BFK, 22" x 30". For Sale.
California Senior Citizen, 1987
pastel, oil, charcoal and pencil on Rives BFK, 30" x 22"
private collection
Annie as Gertrude Stein's Sly Younger Sister, 2005
pastel on Rives BFK, 22" x 30". For Sale.
Graham with Bear Claw Necklace, 1999
pastel on Rives BFK, 15" x 22". For Sale.


Anonymous said...

I so related to this entry! :-) Sometimes people forget why we do what we do ... we create because it is simply our calling. Commission work is so tricky & when people try to control our creative direction, things don't work. I have been doing a lot of commissions recently, and the best pieces are the ones with the the least amount of input from the buyer. I am getting better about being upfront & telling people how I see things. It feels good to speak my mind & have people trust my artistic instincts ... afterall, WE are the artists.

Your portraits are amazing & powerful & so true with the eyes in ANY which way! LOVE 'EM! :-)

And I so enjoy following your art journey through you blog. I don't always comment, but I do read! :-)

martha miller said...

Hi Elizabeth

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I feel somewhat paralyzed when I have alot of requests from the buyer. But then I think, what's the matter with me? Isn't this really just a form of collaboration? I do like collaborative projects...
It feels different, though.
Thanks for keeping up with my "art journey" - I pop in on your site daily, too! Fun.