What does your T-Shirt say?
Or better yet, what do you say?
What do you say to those people who come up to you while you are painting outdoors in a park, or a city sidewalk and they stop to ask you a question?
Do you pretend like those headphones you have on, is actually playing music and you can’t hear anything? Maybe you pretend like you don’t speak the language?
I’ve seen some artists painting outdoors that have shirts on that have a long list written on the back to help guide and direct the viewer. Some of the sayings are, “yes, my aunt paints too”, or “yes, I have seen that guy on TV”. Whatever the saying it’s all pretty much geared in one general direction. “Don’t Bother Me”, or better yet, “Don’t bother me with your stupid questions”.
This is something that a studio artist doesn’t really have to worry about except on those “open studio” Fridays. You are in your studio, no one there to ask questions about what and why you are doing. Not only do plein air artists have to deal with weather, insects, the changing light, but all the time they have that “other” element coming into play… the people.
How you deal with this other plein air element reflects on the entire genre, whether you want it to or not.
In my artists statement, well one of them at least, it states something like… “it is the love of the art, the land and the people that has moved this indoor painter outside…” You see, I am a people person, I love people. People of all sorts with all their little eccentricities and the likes. It’s one of those things that helps make this life of mine interesting, (along with this the beautiful world we live in, It’s really much nicer than the indoors. Maybe not always as comfortable, okay rarely in my area, but still.)
No one asked if we wanted to be the ambassadors for all artists in the world, but getting out there amongst the public, we are kind of setting ourselves up for this, and as you know, one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch… or so their perception. Like it or not you are the rep that carries the entire plein air nation in your hands. Don’t blow it for the rest of us.
No, I’m not saying you need to be a goof ball and let them paint on your painting, giving them your brush and taking a picture of them with your canvas, or sit down and have a 20 minute chat about the arts and how it effects healthcare. Just a little common courtesy with a friendly nod and thank you. Most times this would suffice, and if that doesn’t work maybe a “would love to talk more, but I’ve got to catch the light before it goes away”, or hand them your card and let them know you are “on the clock” but can visit later.
An artist is in a strange and awkward occupation. It is a rare soul that actually realizes that you are actually working. Most think that studio and plein air artists are playing or just having fun. We are hit up for more fundraising donations than any occupation I know of. Isn’t it also a wonder that people think they can come up to you in the middle of work and just start chatting. Try doing that to a policeman while they are hard at work. (I know, this I have tried and they really don’t think it’s funny) Almost any other occupation interaction during office hours is just not done.
But it’s not their fault, it’s our occupation, it’s like the athlete who gets booed or heckled, or musicians who sometimes have to play behind chicken wire for safety’s sake, it goes with the territory. It’s like most people with a talent, that talent is undervalued and taken for granted. This my dear friend is in fact a subject in itself for another day, but just keep this in mind… we are different! So put on your goofy beret, and polish up your “Sriracha” sandles, we have a reputation to uphold, but don’t cast us as arrogant snobs who are too good to talk to the common man’
If you paint outdoors, and I hope you do, at least once. When you are out there, keep the public in mind, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I don’t throw out a welcome mat for them, that would be just another thing to carry, but I don’t try to cut myself off from the crowd. Sure it sometimes gets in the way of painting, but then so does insects, the sun, and rain. Putting up an umbrella or spraying insect repellent will not ruin things for other artists.
What about me? Well sometimes I don’t have time to visit with passerby’s, but I’m never rude, sometimes quirky, okay always quirky and I make the best of it.
We do have that image to uphold.
What would my T-shirt say? How about “Fruit of the Loom”?
Note: originally published by R. Gregory Summers Oct 25, 2013