What’s it Worth to You?


Waiting, photograph

I was in a photography gallery last weekend when I overheard the salesperson tell some customers that the pieces they were looking at had no Photoshop work performed on them. I wondered at this.

Admittedly the pieces were of the sort that looked as if Photoshop must have been used extensively (in fact, I actually am not sure the salesperson was telling the truth!). But I got the distinct feeling that the unstated message was that the work was more valuable because Photoshop was not used.

I wondered what the equivalent point would be in the painting world – maybe “this piece was painted using only #2 brushes” or “I used only red, blue and yellow paint”. Maybe there are people out there who would care. Maybe they would take some added satisfaction when looking at the piece hanging on their wall knowing that certain constraints were enforced in the creation of the work.

But, seriously, do you think that much about what tools the artist used or do you care more about how the piece looks, how it makes you feel, what mood or emotion it evokes? It’s not as if all one has to do is buy Photoshop, install it and push a button and out pops the final piece any more than a painting paints itself if the artist buys a palette full of different colors.

OK, I’ll dismount my “what’s wrong with Photoshop” soapbox and pose the more general, and probably more interesting question – what criteria should be applied to establishing the value of a piece of art?

Here are some common metrics that seem a little problematic to me…

How much time did the artist spend making it? Some artists work more slowly – should they be paid more?

Is it new work or old? Maybe the older work is better…

How big is it? Well, maybe… more materials costs more, but big isn’t always better.

How unique is the work? Hmmm… perhaps there is a good reason other artists aren’t doing this.

It’s a favorite of the artist. But the artist isn’t the one buying it so who cares?

Made with antique tools vs modern tools – means it probably could have been better.

In the end, I believe everyone has to determine if a piece of art is worth the money being asked because of how much they like it – big/small, old/new, common/unique, regardless of how it was made, it boils down to the emotional reaction. How will you feel everyday looking at that piece of art?

If someone loves a piece of art, why spoil it for them by applying an arbitrary metric of value to it that undercuts their own emotional valuation? What it’s worth is up to them.

Seeing isn’t Believing


Truck Stop

“Why let what you see get in the way?”

– Joyce Kellock

What is so special about what we see? My main interest in what I see is not in the thing itself, but rather in what it inspires me to do with it. It’s just a starting point. From there I can roam in my imagination and play with my creativity.

I encounter so many photographers (and often painters) who are so committed to faithfully representing what they see. Well, I could go there and see it too. I’m more interested in having them show me something that I couldn’t see without their help. I feel cheated – I feel like a child who was taken to the circus but not allowed to go in the big tent. I want to see what’s inside.

What we see can get in the way of revealing what is inside. Sometimes the impact of what we see is large, especially for the artist who was there at the moment. It can literally stop us in our tracks. We think that re-presenting that moment will be enough.

I would invite all my fellow artists to never be satisfied with what you see – there’s always more. That’s where the real beauty lies. Invite us into your tent.

Now, Be Nice and Share…


Beachpeople I

“A photograph that has not been shared or at least printed is almost an unexistent photograph, is almost an untaken photograph.”

– Sergio Garabay

I have a lot of pictures which I have not shared with anyone or even printed – these are the ones I wish I had not taken, so I don’t mind that by not sharing them I am bestowing upon them the status of “untaken”.

Then I have pictures I like and these I feel compelled to share. I am, at heart, a public artist. I know many people who are private artists. Painters or photographers who make their art and keep it to themselves.

What makes us different? Is it that I am an extrovert? Hardly… Many would say that my art is the only personal expression I’m likely to share, particularly with strangers. There’s a paradox for you.

Many of the private artists I know are very personable and outgoing, self-confident in many ways. They’re the ones you’d expect to find sharing, sharing, sharing…

I think the compulsion, or at least inclination, to “go public” with one’s work as an artist  comes from the desire for the work itself to have some larger meaning. If kept private, it can only have meaning in the sphere it exists in, which is only in your own head. By sharing it, that sphere is expanded and the potential meaning expands along with it. There are certainly other, more practical, reasons artists share – money, for one. But I believe there is a deeper, more personal motivation lurking around there as well.

As Louis Armstrong said, “The music ain’t worth nothing if you can’t lay it on the public.”

What Color Are You?


Transits 3, Untitled 4

“I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.”

Henri Matisse

I like a lot of negative space in my figure work – I usually shoot the models against a black backdrop and like to print in fairly high contrast to accentuate the difference between the skin and the background. It allows me to focus the attention of the viewer on the figure so that it becomes almost an abstraction.

This is such a foreign concept to most painters, particularly watercolorists (one of whom I am married to!). There is generally so much white in watercolor. I don’t think I am a person who could tolerate that much white.

I suppose each of us is drawn to certain colors or a particular palette and that this reveals something about our personalities. I wonder what my use of pure black in so much of my work reveals about me – perhaps my own dark side is coming forward. I guess I feel the need to leave nothing of the paper revealed, I want to make my mark on all of it.

I am thinking again about all that white in so many watercolors – have you ever encountered angst in a watercolorist? I haven’t…

Dogs and Cats


Escape, 10 x 10″ Acrylic and Spackle on Ilustration Board

“In order to keep a true perspective of one’s importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him.”

– Dereke Bruce

Praise and blame – occurrences in our daily lives that are certainly not limited only to artists. But as artists we put our efforts out there repeatedly and essentially invite praise or blame. So it’s good to develop some techniques to deal with it.

I suppose one could take the advice given above and become a pet owner. The personalities of dogs and cats definitely capture the dichotomy well!

Usually we focus on how to handle blame – it’s easy to handle praise! But they are two sides of the same coin, and the degree to which you relish praise, you will likely find it hard to withstand blame.

The Buddha had some advice:

“Praise and blame and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a great tree in the midst of them all.”

Think of yourself as a tree, one with deep roots that will protect you from the blowing winds of praise and blame. Treat each with the same (dis)regard.

I’m telling you this as a reminder to myself. I’ve recently submitted this new body of work to our local juried Open Studio art event and will hear in a couple of weeks whether I’ve been accepted. I’ve tried to do this before without success – I’ve tasted the jurors blame. No matter what happens, it will be an opportunity to contemplate my reaction to the praise or blame.

Who knows, I may soon be paying a visit to my local pet store!


Why do we value an original piece of art over an imitation? These days, with improvements in reproduction techniques and technology, the reproduction may be as good as (or even better than) the original. I know, I own a fine art printing studio, and it is true that not only can the reproduction look every bit as good as the original but it may also be more archival. I have had nationally renowned artists in my studio comparing the reproduction to their original and worrying that no one will be able to tell the difference. Now, this is not always true and there are definitely ways in which an original painting technique might not reproduce well but it is possible to do so in many cases. And most of us would not place as much value on that reproduction as on the original. Why?

Some believe the value of an art piece comes only from the visual experience we have of it, how it makes us feel upon seeing it, etc. In that case, a “near-perfect” reproduction would be of comparable value because it would give us that same experience. Or consider a painting that is a forgery but is good enough to fool even the experts – the actual visual experience of the forgery is the same as if it were authentic. Once we discover it is a forgery, the painting itself has not changed – only our knowledge of it and it’s relationship to the world has changed.

So it must be true that the value of a work of art is more than just how it looks and what our visual experience of it is. It is partly that, but also its value is based on our knowledge of its relationship to the world. We value it because it is the original, it was created by a specific artist at a specific time, perhaps in response to a particular artistic tradition, etc. It isn’t simply a parasitic forgery of someone else’s work. It isn’t a mechanically produced copy of the original. There is a context in which we see the work which goes above and beyond simply what it looks like.

When I look at a work of art about which I know absolutely nothing, I am basically left only with my own visual experience of it. The more I know about the work the greater the potential for me to place a higher value on it.

As in most things, knowledge leads to greater value.

Do You See What I See?

Continuing the discussion of why my son doesn’t like art, or more seriously, why we like some art and not others…

Why does everyone have such different tastes in art? The experience of an art piece seems like a combination of the inherent qualities of the piece itself as well as all the experiences and inner dynamics of the viewer at the moment the two come together.

Forgive me for dipping into some arcane philosophy, but this brings to my mind the Phenomenological school of thought founded by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century (yet another interesting cultural influence raising it’s head around that time). He proposed that the essence of a thing is not found in some external object (the thing as distinct from us) but in the relation of the object and the perceiver. He said that we “constituted” objects by perceiving them. This also reminds me of one of the major concepts of quantum theory, which is that “objects” only come into existence when we become conscious of them.

One of the challenges of this school of thought is that of “intersubjectivity” – how do we know we are all referring to the same object if the object’s essence depends on our unique perception of it? Well, maybe we shouldn’t be so sure of our shared experiences – have you ever stood next to someone at a gallery and listened to them describe a piece of art and thought to yourself, “Man, are we looking at the same piece?”

At some level, I guess we’re never really seeing the same thing as anyone else.

The “Bear Trap”

In my last post I had a shot of my wife and her art studio. One of my visitors keenly noted what he referred to as a large “bear trap” in her garden. And, indeed, it did look like one was there ready to spring shut! So I thought I’d alleviate any fears people might have about the safety of our property by showing what that was.

Years ago we made an “art trade” with a local metal sculptor – a painting for a dragon. He resides happily and peacefully in the garden near Susan’s studio, though lately he has been getting a bit overtaken by the plants growing up around him! Next year we may have to relocate him to a new home…

Art Studios

I thought I’d share with you the art studios here at the Cornelis estate – I always like seeing other artist’s studios so thought I’d share our with you.

This is my “new” painting studio – a TV room converted to a higher calling (many thanks to my wife for suggesting it!). I had not had a place for painting for a number of years so this comes as a welcome return to being able to make a mess and leave it there! You can see my table of monoprints in progress – the trick with these is to start a bunch at once and then refine them incrementally, so there is usually quite an array of them lying about. I’m still getting settled in, so it will undoubtedly get messier over time.

Below is my digital printing studio (aka Color Folio). This is where my day job happens – making large format fine art prints for artists all over the country. I’ve been doing this full time for the past 10 years. As you can imagine, I get to see all sorts of artwork during my day, both photography and paintings!

You can see my drum scanner (the monolithic tower in the middle), 60″ Epson printer and a bunch of computers. This is also where (in my spare time) I do my own photographic work, some of which you see on the walls. Lately, as you know, I’ve been taking paintings I’ve made and combining them on the computer with photographic work, mostly figurative.

Later this year my wife and I will be participating in our local open studios art tour in Sonoma County. I will be opening Color Folio (which doubles as a gallery) and my wife will also be showing her work. Here she is standing in front of her art studio:

As you can see, we’ve dedicated a lot of space to producing art!

More Monoprinting

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

– Scott Adams

I’ve been continuing to explore my interest in monoprinting. So far, these are all fairly small (6×6″) pieces done using hand tools only (no big presses). One of the things I find most appealing about the process is the way in which so much of the result is unexpected – maybe that changes with more experience but, for now, I’m enjoying the unanticipated nature of it. It seems as if there are no “mistakes” in this process, just images that haven’t found their way to completion yet. Sometimes I even cut up my “mistakes” into pieces to use as collage elements in other work. OK, I admit, I have actually thrown a couple into the trash bin, but that was probably just being lazy instead of considering how they might be used, saved or resurrected.

Another aspect I like is that the best way to work on these is to start a bunch of them all at once – each time the brayer lays down the ink, an impression is created on it’s surface that can then be used on another or a new piece. Often these “ghost” impressions are the most interesting, containing shapes and textures from previous applications. In the past, I’ve sometimes become bored when working on one piece at a time – this lets me feel like I’m working on a dozen pieces all at once!

Here’s another recent effort…