Thoughts about Selling a Painting to a Stranger

(Somewhat a reprise from my other blog)

Yesterday, I went to the opening of the little art show at the Rio Grande County Museum. I was filled with trepidation. I showed up about 11:30 and was immediately met by a huge (masked) smile from Louise who runs the museum. She was in the gift shop, behind the counter, taking money from a young woman who turned to look at me. 

“That’s the artist,” said Louise. I had to go meet and greet. I’m a friendly shy person, that first of all, and as for being an artist? Someday I’ll get to the bottom (or I won’t) of how I feel about that. Anyway it’s complicated. The young woman told me she had just bought a Christmas tree ornament I’d painted. 

“Which one?” I asked her
“This one. It’s the Valley, right? The river?”

These are tiny. Basically 2 x 3 inches

“Yeah. And Mt. Blanca.” 

“I love it,” she said. “I love all your work. Do you do bigger paintings or just those medium sized?” She gestured toward “my” room.
“I have bigger paintings, but I hurt my shoulder and didn’t think I could hang them. I did last year.” 
“Fair enough,” she said. I thanked her and went on to see the show, feeling embarrassed and a little weird. I have never interacted with a buyer before, not one I didn’t know.

I found my artist colleagues that I haven’t seen since last year and chatted for a bit then walked around to see the show which is very beautiful. The wandering and chatting went on for a while, and while I was engaged in a conversation with a colleague’s voluble husband, I noticed another colleague with the young couple (who’d bought the ornament) in “my” room. She was actively engaging with them and my work. I saw her tell them to take a business card. I saw her lead them around the room — as if she were a docent! — looking at all my paintings. The husband came up to me and said something that I should be able to remember, but don’t. Essentially could he get a deal on one of the paintings, the one in the featured image. I said, “Sure. I really want to sell it.”

“What kind of deal? And why do you want to sell it?”

“I’ve had it for a while. I’m just ready to look at something else. Let me go see what I’m asking for it, OK?”

“Sure.” I understood it was going to be a gift for his wife for Christmas. I came back, gestured with a number, and we made the deal. I’m sure his wife knew. Meanwhile my colleague’s voluble husband engaged with the wife. I boxed up the painting and stuck in a pack of Christmas cards that she’d told me earlier that she liked. They were very excited to have my painting and he paid me more than I asked. Afterward they told me all the things they liked about the painting and I just felt weird. I invited them to come back to the museum on December 11 when I’ll do my reading. I hope they do. 

I realized through all this that I might be a painter, but as a professional artist, I’m not very experienced. I have to keep at this show thing until I’m as good at it as the colleague who helped me. It’s not the first painting I’ve ever sold, but it was the first one in that way, in that scenario, to someone who didn’t know me at all. It felt very different and validating that, yeah, I’m doing this.

Later I was talking with a friend about the experience. How does one talk about one’s own art? I know that people analyze paintings and want to know about techniques. I know there are philosophies and theories of art. I understand the major art “movements” — if not what they all represented, I know that they existed. I know many people — both painters and appreciators — approach paintings with a theory of something, a theory of colors or shapes, all kinds of things. When one of my colleagues looked at my paintings yesterday, she mentioned, “There is a lot of white.” I know that comment meant something to her. To me it didn’t. I just said “Yeah” because it is true. Paintings of snow are going to be white. So what is painting for me? What am I trying to “say”? Achieve? I don’t even want to go there. I just want to paint.

Last night I had kind of an epiphany about me and my artist’s novel, Martin of Gfenn. Martin is an artist and a leper. He has to fight against time and the community Commander’s lack of comprehension to paint the walls of the newly built (1244?) chapel of the leper community where he lives. He argues on behalf of painting the walls of the chapel, the importance of painting for communicating the message in scripture. Finally, he just paints (draws) an important element around the east window of the chapel and, seeing it, the Commander understands. From then the only thing Martin has to fight is the encroachment of the disease.

So here I am. As I talked to my colleagues yesterday — most of whom are at least my age — it hit me. It’s always been that for me; paint IN SPITE OF — because of — life.

“I hate logical plans. I have a horror of set phrases that instead of explaining reality tame it in order to use it in a way that is no use to anyone. I don’t approve of definitions or labels. Labels should go on suitcases, nowhere else. Myself, I should find it false and dangerous to start from some clear, well-defined complete idea and then put it into practice. I must be ignorant of what I shall be doing and I can find the resources I need only when I am plunged into obscurity and ignorance. The child is in darkness at the moment he is formed in his mother’s womb.” Federico Fellini

19 thoughts on “Thoughts about Selling a Painting to a Stranger

  1. Congrats and many good sales! Don’t care too much about what customers say and what you think you should say. We all should have an agent who takes care of that so we can concentrate on painting. Selling them is a different profession. I am not good in selling my own work either though I am making my living by selling since decades. Sometimes when I sell a good painting I feel like selling my children. The same time I lost quite a few paintings because I didn’t care.

    • Thank you. That’s exactly what I needed to read/hear today.

      I’m grateful to my colleague who did the sales work for me. It’s kind of funny since I paint realistic landscapes, when someone asks me for some information about the painting I sometimes want to say, “Can’t you see? It’s a mountain!” But then I think, “Wow. Maybe I really failed and the person can’t tell it’s a mountain.” Then I think, “These are paintings, not words. If they were words, I’d have written them.” I guess that’s where the idea of the temperamental artist came from! 😀

      • And then I think that as painters we think very differently about which of our works are good or not (at least in terms of objects to be sold). Before my most successful exhibition, the gallery owner came to me “to browse a little more”. Most of what he took into the exhibition was sold. With me several were ready sorted out to be thrown away.

        Selection of images, sales, invitations, media work, story telling … all this is important work that belongs in the hands of a professional.

        And when it comes to the opinion of visitors, it’s never more than small talk. At an exhibition, a guy wanted to explain to me for ages that I was a misogynist. He can see that from my pictures because he is a hobbyist dealing with psychology.

        • You’re right. The people yesterday bought a painting I didn’t want. Then, the first thing that young woman asked me was if I had bigger paintings. That’s a real thing and I get it. People want to fill their walls with something that makes a statement. A professional (gallery?) would be hanging them and selling them. I wouldn’t be struggling to store them safely in my little house. Plus, they are expensive — too expensive for most of the people who are going to go to that show. But — if I can wrestle it into my car, the big crane painting is going on Tuesday. Hopefully I’ll have some help because it’s not just big; it’s heavy. I love painting big paintings, but until I figure out an economical way to get the painting surface, I’m limited to 91.44 x 60.96 cm or so.

          Your paintings might inspire people to attempt psychological interpretation. I think it’s one thing to inflict that on a painting, and quite another to inflict it on the artist. Last year one of my colleagues said to me, “Well, Martha, I guess you ARE a painter after all.”

          I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, “Artemisia” but there’s a beautiful line where her father and she are looking at a Caravaggio painting. She starts analyzing it and her father says, “Shhh. We say too much in front of a painting.”

  2. you are a very talented artist, and it’s hard to be an artist of any sort as well as a talented self-promoter. i used to do entertainment publicity and have no problem touting the value and worth of anyone who’s work i believe in, but as for myself, i am left silent and often downplay any suggestion of personal talent. why i could probably never pull of being a published author if i had to be my own publicist. i’d say not to worry about what potential buyers or just observers have to say., even if it feels a bit weird. it’s truly not personal, just them asking or saying out loud what they may be saying inside and not always logical, diplomatic, or even thoughtful. congrats on your sale.

  3. Congrats on getting through the opening.
    Also, hooray for the Martha art appreciators. Most people aren’t collectors, they just buy what they like. I suspect you don’t have to do a sales job on anyone. For the new owner, it is such a treat to meet the artist.

  4. Congratulations! Sounds like a win for all involved, selling that painting.

    I think all of us who create – whether paintings, music, books, etc. – feel like imposters. Surely others will discover we’re no good, just pretenders? I remember a meeting right after I published my book. It was with museum people. I had no idea why they wanted to meet with me. When they told me they loved my book, gushing about various parts, I thought they were just being nice because, well, I didn’t believe in myself. When they asked me to give a presentation at the museum, I began to believe them. When people lined up to buy autographed copies after the presentation, I believed a little more.

    Believe it when people tell you they love your work! Who cares why? It’s beautiful and I, for one, can totally see why people love it. You’ve created joy for yourself in the creation of each painting, and they’re gaining joy in the possession of it. Good stuff, all around!

    • I really loved the happiness on those two young people’s faces when they had my painting. I was stunned by the help I got from my painting colleague. It was an amazing experience. Thank you, Rebecca ❤

      The imposter thing? Yeah. It's that and it's having taken so much shit from my mom for being an artist. It's like something I'm kind of ashamed to do. BUT I've resolved to get over that because it's insane.

  5. I’m so happy and proud of you! What an amazing experience. You once convinced me that I was a writer. In my mind I couldn’t be so; I hadn’t published anything. The journey of self-discovery and finding the only outlet in which my soul could fly free was my rebirth. It’s as if your paintings, through the words of the buyer and those enjoying your art, said, “Welcome to the rest of your life, Martha.” Humility is a beautiful gift 🤍

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