4.04.2011

Marketing Mondays: Bad Advice


.Image from the Internet

A recent Marketing Mondays asked you what advice you would give to your 20-year-old self. Your responses were helpful and uplifting. Now I'd like to flip that and ask:

What was the worst advice you've ever received?

As I mentioned in that previous post, a bogus piece of "advice" I got was  the one about the dealer being the artist's enemy. That same professor counseled me, "You can't show a painting off the stretcher. That makes it a wall hanging." (Really? Tell that to Sam Gilliam, Robert Morris, Amanda Ross-Ho and Arturo Herrera.)  And  this gem: "You have to decide whether you want to be a woman or an artist." Since he was no feminist, I'm not sure if he was telling me to paint like a man, think like a man, or become a man. Perhaps he meant that I should drink heavily and then commit suicide as a tortured middle-age painter? 

Actually, I think he was telling me not to be an artist.

I persevered, no thanks to this man's misogynistic misdirection. It took me a while to realize the the damage it did to me as a young artist trying to make my way--and longer still to understand that many art students were given similarly misguided counsel by countless others.

Let's shine a light on that stupidity, shall we? 

What was the worst advice you received as an art student? And as you've progressed in your career, what was the worst advice you received from colleagues, dealers or other art professionals. And how did you overcome it?

32 comments:

Hamlett said...

Once after he gave an artist's talk at the U of Iowa, Tony Fitzpatrick (who I really admire) said to a few of us, "You know, the best way to deal with dealers is to always act like you're about to punch 'em in the mouth." Now, I'm sure that totally works for Tony, but I haven't found an opportunity to pull that one out, but it does make for a great story for me to tell my students.

Scarlett said...

What a fun topic! As a student, I did some highly political art in content, very feminist narrative works. I remember a professor (male) telling me that doing so "ghetto-izes" the art and that I would be stuck with a label that very few would wish to be associated with! Many in education help a young artist find their own vision, but too many want the vision one to be a vision they have.

mariandioguardi.com said...

I think the worse advice I received was also the best .
"just give it up" was my teacher's response to the brightly painted still life I had presented for critique. Afterwards, I gave my teacher a little kiss on the cheek and thanked him. I told him if I had made him that upset, I must be onto something. He looked shocked.

beebe said...

When I was in grad school, I learned the phrase "What I'd like to see in your work. . . " was almost always followed with bad advice. Usually, the instructor then went on to tell me how they'd make my work if they could overlay their own aesthetic upon it. Bad advice and lazy teaching, too, as they couldn't be bothered to see where'd I'd come from and where I was hoping to go. Only a handful of teachers avoided the "I'd like to see" gambit and dug in. Good teachers, those.

Another related piece of bad advice, "You've 'mastered' x (drawing in my case and I've hardly mastered it) . . . so you should start making video now. Or sculpture. Or installation." Again, no effort to engage with the work, more work to dismiss and move in a direction they feel more comfortable talking about.

Jim Serrett said...

Interesting post, I have definitely seen a gender bias over the years in some galleries, mostly based around the fear that a female artist would not be as
committed to a career as a man. Probably what your gallery guy was implying. Funny how some twenty years later (form my experience), the top of the art mountain is well represented if not mainly female.

Worst advice, you must have a Masters Degree to be seen as a serious artist, and prints are hot, investing in printing.

Sharon said...

In 2007: Blogging is a waste of time.
As an undergrad: Stop thinking so much.

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

Wow, you did receive some bad advice! Good thing you didn't take it.
Toward the end of art school, one professor told me I should seriously consider pursuing design instead of fine art. At the time, I was somewhat offended and chose to ignore the "advice". However, it did make me question whether he had a good point. (I decided that he didn't.)

Joanne Mattera said...

Oh, such interesting comments:
. Hamlett, good to hear from you here on the blog. If we can take Tony's bad literal advice and turn it metaphorical, the idea of not being afraid of a dealer is a good one. We are the other side of their equation; we are colleagues and equals. (At least I hope that's what he meant!)
. Scarlett, the "ghetto" issue is one I've touched upon in the past with the way we identify ourselves or others identify us (via politics, gender, ethnicity, medium, etc.) Your comment makes me think it's time to revisit the topic.
. Marion, maybe we had the same teacher?
. Beebe, this is worth of inscription on a rockface somewhere: " 'What I'd like to see in your work. . . ' is almost always followed with bad advice."
. Jim: Yeah, the MFA issue. Some dealers say that it gives an artist the edge, but only AFTER issues ike quality of work, exhibition history, degree of professionalism and how well the artist and dealer hit it off. That's a pretty pricy edge for no guarantees, eh?
. Sharon: Ha!
. Stephanie: Your comment reminds us that sometimes it's better to ignore advice (bad or good) and follow our instincts.

Gwendolyn Plunkett said...

Joanne, In keeping with your theme of Bad Advice I came across this in my blog readings this morning. http://upliketoast.blogspot.com/2011/03/youtube-video-player.html

Don't know if it a letter like this from Sol to Eva exists. However, isn't this the kind of advice that would be more beneficial to any artist instead of the "bad advice" examples presented here?

Thanks for posting.

Joanne Mattera said...

Gwen,
Thanks for this link. Good advice is always welcome.

But there there is a place to identify the bad advice we have been given; it allows us to make comparisons between the good advice we have received (or given, a link to which is at the start of the blog post)and the unhelpful stuff that has been dispensed over the years. Art professors have a particular responsibility to guide young artists in a way that's as prductive as possible, as do experienced artists. We all need to understand that we are not alone in the bad advice we have been given over the years. It's instructive to see how we have overcome it.

Caleb Taylor said...

In a grad school critique, I was asked, "Whose work are you looking at?" After responding, both professors said, "Well your work doesn't look anything like their work....make your work look like their work." Not taking that advice was easy.

Firehead4 said...

I don't know if it's bad advice (since they are not wrong) or not, but if one more person tells me I should sell my work at an art fair or etsy, i'm going to go postal!
First, I LOVE art fairs but don't want to pay major $ to put my encaustic work in the sweltering sun and heat and second, I don't know if I'm comfortable shipping my work yet via etsy (i site I also love), nor do I want to compete with prices I may not agree with.
There have to be other ways to hustle my stuff!
karen
www.artforcoffeessake.blogspot.com

Sarah said...

I realize, reading this post, that I received my worst piece of advice yesterday! I was discussing with a friend (also in the arts) about a few disappointments with sales lately, and she said I should "lighten up" my work and "make it more viewer-friendly", that I should "find out what people like and do that". I admit I was a bit crushed by this until just now, when I realized it wasn't one of those painful-but-necessary critiques. It was just bad advice!

Bascha Mon said...

Well, as a prospective student I was told to "forget it" as a mother of 2 children I couldn't possibly be a serious artist.
Of course, I went on and became a serious artist.
But some years ago in the search for a NY gallery 2 dealers told me that if I didn't live in NYC they wouldn't even consider me. Now suggesting that one not have children and move to NY are both pretty bad advice. but, fortunately I had some wonderful teachers who gave me good advice. You didn't ask for it, but I will reveal one of the best:
from Rudolf Baranik, " You do need to be in school any longer; go to your own studio and paint, but be sure not to be too easily pleased with what you do." setting high standards for oneself, that I consider a sound piece of GOOD ADVICE.

lxv said...

I was a little "older" when I attempted art school at the senescent age of 25. This lasted less than one semester during which I had the unpleasant experience of watching a painting teacher kick his foot through a student's canvas by way of critique. Now, it's possible that I overvalue my own efforts, but I would never ever allow such a thing to happen to me. I quit for other reasons, but felt completely justified in turning my back on academe.

ALICIA FINSTERBUSCH said...

I had an art professor tell me to never sign my work... or if I did, that I needed to sign on the back. This was the way she liked to sign her work, but I think that should be up to the individual artist.

Kelly Marszycki said...

worst advice: just hearing the word "never" starts me off in that very particular direction, a kind of contrarien attitude -- so maybe the worst advice is the best? great question, interesting reading!

Jessica Mathews said...

Thanks Joanne, this is a fun topic but also incredibly useful for an emerging artist just finishing up with art school, like myself. I definitely can relate to many of the comments and am glad to see that they are under the category of 'bad' advice. In my first painting class I was on the receiving of a lot of it. In the end I guess I used bad advice for good motivation.

Eva said...

I could add a lot of bad advice to this conversation, but I would also like to take the opportunity to recognize someone who helped me. To add to Bascha Mon in particular - I also had Rudolf Baranik as a teacher. He was so supportive, so wise! - during a time when my other teacher at the League gave me every example of bad advice possible (Like "You... just ... can't... DO.... that"... I should have said "Just watch me!")

... Yes, that is something we shouldn't hear: You just can't do that. What I was trying to be was myself (in paint, of course). Turns out no one can really stop you... they just delay it.

marcos said...

When I was an 18 year old in beginning litho class, my professor was a master printer. He told great stories of the famous artists with whom he worked out on Long Island. One day, the professor carefully examined a stone I was inking-up then proclaimed " It needs a tannic etch right away". I ignored my beginner's sense that an etch on this lightly inked stone was not a smart move and followed directions. Of course, I proceeded to burn off my image. Right away, I understood that the bad advice was a good lesson. It's not that I always suspect of those with some knowledge and authority, but over the years, I've learned that it's not good to blindly defer to others.

LM Smith said...

Here's a good one: "Don't paint around the image; paint the background in first and then paint the image over it." Sounded like a Bob Ross TV painting lesson to me!

Aimee said...

In my second year at art school I was told that it was not enough to simply want to paint the figure, there had to be a concept behind it! and that there was no place for life models in a modern art school! oh, and that painting was dead! This was in a well established Scottish art school!!!!!

Philip Koch said...

Oh I am so happy to read Eva's and Basha Mon's comments about studying with Rudolf Baranik, an abstract painter who taught at the Art Students League of New York (and other schools). He was wise and had a fabulously good eye for design ideas. I had a number of good teachers, but his were the only comments I wrote down word for word.

As for bad advice, two artists (one famous, one not) told me I was wasting my time learning to draw from observation and painting deep spaced panoramic landscapes. Both of them made me more angry than anything else and curiously propelled me to paint better than I knew how "to prove them wrong." Of course looking back at it, I think it was really myself I had to prove it to.

Marilyn said...

After my first year at Queens College NYC grad school, while finally creating work that felt like it came authentically from my female self and vision,I was told by the all male grad "committee" that I was not a serious artist, that I should leave, that I should "go have babies and teach grade school." (!) I did eventually have a child, I did teach art to all ages, and I fiercely pursued my vision as an artist. It took years to realize how hard I had to fight to persevere.

Tom Bennett said...

A teacher I otherwise greatly admired and respected told me in my final semester of art school, "Don't go to grad school. You don't need that. Just get a job in a factory and paint."

Julia said...

Just weird, incredibly personal choices like, "I'm not gonna like any painting with blue in it (?!)" and "Text in a painting in any form never works."

To be fair, some good pieces of advice from the same advice-dispenser included, "Avoid designer colors" and "Take something simple and complicate it." Okay, that last one is kinda cryptic, but some days it makes a lot of sense. :)

Emily Rose said...

worst advice i ever got was from my ex-husband, he told me numerous times that art should be a hobby and that i needed to find a "real job" because art would never be fulfilling or pay the bills.

Mark Castator said...

I was told over and over that art is a bad investment. Maybe for a stock broker or banker or your average joe this is true. Best advice for artists: invest in what you know. If you are an artist start a serious collection early and keep building. Trade as much as possible and spend what you can. Always ask for an artist discount from a gallery and be ready to give one. It is a great investment in your bank account, in your work and always in your peace of mind.

Jennie Rosenbaum said...

I was told only recently to give up championing nude art, freedom of expression and condemning censorship, that I should concentrate on my own work and leave the bigger issues for others.
Well, not one week later I received a very prestigious panel invitation due to my cause! It's also brought me more traffic than anything else, and a number of loyal collectors.

Kristie Kosmides said...

Too much to mention. Great read! Thank you!

Sky said...

I was taken aback by a teacher in my first year of university who proclaimed one had to be suicidally depressed in order to paint anything with any gravitas. Then he proceeded to try to bring his students to that state of mind.

More recently, when I set to the task of making a will and facing the legal complexity of setting up an artist's estate, my mother suggested that it would be simpler for all if I just got rid of all my work, you know, left it curbside or burned it or something (apparently forgetting that an arson fire had destroyed my studio and home years earlier.) *sigh* In each case, my response was to roll my eyes and carry on.

Jess said...

I was told to give up painting and become a graphic artist when they dropped the painting program at my first undergrad college. Instead I gave up my scholarship and transferred.