Yes, but could you do me a slightly smaller one?…

But first…
Dulltown, UK: Today’s existential angst is centred around the sound of the word colloidal.

No, really, I don’t think it should matter. You know, how big a piece of art is. There is a hell of range of sizes in art works isn’t there?
Right from titchy ‘miniature’ portraits, Faberge eggs, the world’s smallest bible about the size of a matchbox (I don’t think it makes it any easier to swallow though), people doing tiny sculptures on the heads of pins, or even having a go at doing Constable’s Hay Wain using individual atoms using a tunnelling electron microscope (TEM) – and then right up to that couple, a few decades ago, wrapping up whole islands in plastic and string. Me, I’m not sure if the islands looked better wrapped, or just left as they were…
Any island is quite big compared to a nice sheet of A3 paper though, and a sheet of A3 is quite big compared to a bunch of nicely arranged atoms.
Anyway… Yes, I remember a chap on the fine art course at college who was thrown out after one term because he would only do tiny paintings – I seem to recall that they were about 4″ x 3″ but very detailed; I thought it pretty unfair to chuck him out just for that!
Painters and sculptors demonstrate this ‘large-small’ thing pretty well. Let’s look at the logic of it. If you go around an amateur art show you’ll see that most of the work is of ‘medium size’. I think the reasons for this are:
1) You don’t want to spend money on the extra materials involved in doing large pieces.
2) You haven’t got an actual studio, so you probably work in your small spare bedroom with an old sheet covering the carpet, or on your dinner table in the evenings.
3) When the work is finished, if it is a big one, you have nowhere to store it, damn! Smaller flat ones can be slid away out of sight behind the settee.
4) There is more chance of a small one being accepted for local art shows – a great big one would take up the wall space for four or five more modest ones.
It also depends how well-off your friends are. It’s no good you doing six-foot paintings and sculptures and expecting your not-that-well-off friends to buy them and try to display them in their small semi-detached house, is it?
Doesn’t it seem sneaky that when you pop into a big gallery, perhaps the National Gallery, London, to have look at a few Leonardo or Michelangelo drawings, they turn out to be only about five or six inches in size, but are mounted in the middle of frames about two feet square? You can really see how valuable they are can’t you? Even if they do look a little bit scrappy and rather quickly dashed off…
I have done a few sculptures in my time, nothing big of course, usually made of hardwood and finished in black, about 18″ high -a ‘look very nice on a table or a shelf’ sort of size. Unlike drawings or pastels or prints, which are flat, and you can hide lots of them away in a folder, sculptures do take up a lot of space. For this reason I’m trying not to make any more of the bloody things, enjoyable though the process is. Oh, but then one day I find myself chiselling away at a lump of wood thinking, where the hell am I going to put this brute when it’s done? (Sculpture)
I suppose you know that you’ve ‘made it’ in the art world when you are quite happy to do a couple of ten-foot paintings and a few ten-foot sculptures, and know that you are not going to be stuck with them – Oh, was that the door bell? It’ll be someone with a hire van and big fat cheque in their outstretched podgy hand…
Then of course there is the question of how much to charge for your work – it would seem logical that small ones would be cheaper than big ones. Or, are we talking about the time spent on the thing? No, that doesn’t really work does it? A great big bright chuck-the-paint-around-from-a-bucket abstract might take twenty minutes, but a 10″ x 8″ intricate pen and ink drawing might take a couple of days of hunched careful work. Should the small one be more expensive? Anyway, we all know that there is no logic involved at all when art and money mix.
A chap I was at college with many years ago recently asked me how much I would charge for one of my charcoal drawings, on paper, about 30″ x 20″. I replied that I didn’t really bother trying to sell them anymore, but the last one I did sell to someone a few years back went for £150. His mouth fell open, his eyes bulged, and he took a breath, and said, ‘How much do you charge per hour then?…’ I think he thought that it was too much – skinflint!…

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
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7 Responses to Yes, but could you do me a slightly smaller one?…

  1. Dana Doran says:

    The issue of money in trade for art is a funny thing isn’t it? For me, it’s an impossible task…how can I value what I produce when it took years of thought, sketches and then actually putting the paint on the canvas? I’ve come to think of it the same way I think about theoretical physics…experts can explain it to me in dumbed-down terms – take the Schrodinger’s Cat thing…alive AND dead at the same time! However, I’ve come to think of it as “resonance.” Resonance is a physics thing…though some will look at a piece of art and exclaim, “Oh! That really resonates for me.” It doesn’t matter what method you use to value your work – it will eventually come down to whether the piece emits some ethereal vibration that so consumes the viewer he is mesmerized and entranced—so that the final value is determined by the pitch and tone of the vibrations….. I haven’t produced that piece…yet. Or, perhaps I have and failing to show my work in public…..well, my career as an artist is both alive and dead at the same time!

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Yes, the money/art thing is definitely odd. It’s as if the quantity of cash subsequently involved is completely independant of the creative intentions and actions of the artist. It’s like a loaf in the oven and blackbird on a bush outside the kitchen. (Did I just write that?)
      I think there are two basic things we seek in creativity:
      1) Wanting to do the process.
      2) Having people see what you’ve done.
      If number two goes well it probably will seriously affect the quality of number one, and if number two goes badly or fails completely it possibly makes number one pointless.
      Oh dear!…

      • Dana Doran says:

        If number two goes well, it will affect the “quality” or the “quantity?” I am reminded of periods of time where one artist dominated in the U.S. – Margaret Keane and those big eyed waifs from the early 1960’s. They were everywhere! I was very young then and can attribute many a nightmare to those eyes! However, sticking to the topic at hand, Andy Warhol said “I think what Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.” (Makes perfect sense to me…..when one considers the theory of “groupthink.”) haha! I do like the loaf in the over and the blackbird on the bush…..this I can deal with!

      • Dave Whatt says:

        Ah, good old Andy!…
        I was thinking of ‘quality’ – you’d start doing work that you know would be popular and you’d stop taking chances – I think art is all about taking a few chances…

      • Dana Doran says:

        I so agree. I’m sure I’ve shot myself in the foot!

  2. As far as school went, I was told to stick with photography as “painting clearly wasn’t my forte”. But there was a guy there too, who like the one you knew, only did tiny detailed drawings…..the art teacher told him off for it as well. Not chucked him out, since you legally you have to attend high school, but still….the “teacher” was exasperated. Also, you should have put an extra zero on that charcoal work, if only to see the expression on the guys face, ha! But seriously…..wasn’t there some artist who charged oodles for a scribble, justifying it by saying it might only have taken him a minute to do, but a lifetime of practice?

    • Dave Whatt says:

      I remember hearing of some case in the US about a cartoonist who was taken to court because his drawings were just two simple lines, he said that if he could do them with just one, he would. Apparently he won the case… Might have been the same chap as in your example.

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