They Come for the Wine

John W. Pinkerton

If you’ve read my essays, you realize that I don’t consider myself an artist.  I think of myself as an old guy who paints.

I’ve been applying myself to the improvement of my art skills for about 14 years now.  I made a deal with the Lord which included my promise to keep at it until I’m 80 if he or she would keep me alive that long.  So far I’ve kept my end of the deal: the 80 is at the Lord’s discretion.  As you may know, my “art” is produced by hard work, not talent.  It’s a struggle and sometimes I momentarily regret having made the deal, but I did make the deal, and I try to be true to my word.

I’ve only mentioned “the deal” with a few folks all of whom seem to think I’m joking.  “Surely you can’t give up painting.”  Look, I went my first 60 years without painting.  I took up painting as a way to give me something to do in my old age.  It seems to me that 80 is beyond old age.  If I’m healthy and my mind has not wandered off, I’m sure I can find something else to occupy myself without painting.

Being that I’ve been banging away at the art thing for a few years now, I feel comfortable passing on a little old guy advice about being an artist.  Number one on my list of advice is to work at it.  It doesn’t matter how talented or untalented you might be, you need to work at it every ding-dang moment you have from your necessary daily tasks.  Taking a day off to deliver paintings seems like  a joyous holiday free from responsibilities.  My favorite quote about the importance of work came from the father of a friend of mine: “Work, work, work until your ass falls off.”

Education has its limitations.  I’ve never had an art lesson.  Yeah, I know, it shows, but being that I haven’t been told how to paint, my style is unique.  I watch some very talented artists become just like other talented artists as they become more educated in the art of art.  Of course this anti-intellectual view limits me in what I can do.  I try to stay within my limits, but, occasionally I attempt something beyond my meager means; sometimes I fail; sometimes I inch out a win.  I’ve been so long without an art education that I’m a little afraid now to find out all the things I don’t know.

Gallery owners are full of it.  I’ve found them to be nice people.  Many have artistic talents way beyond mine.  However, each has his or her own particular prejudices.  The prejudice may be subject matter, style, media.  It largely depends upon whom they consider their market which brings me to my point: shop around; eventually you’ll find a market which matches your art.

Get a personality.  I was never a particularly friendly person until I became an artist.  I intuitively understood that it’s easier to sell your art if people like you first.  I grew a long white beard; this makes people easier to approach because no one is afraid of an old person, and besides, it makes it easy for people to remember me.  I try to have a personality that matches my art.  Most of my art is humorous; therefore, I try to be humorous.  This matches my theory that we paint who we are.  Anyway, figure out what works best for you.

Keep good records.  I seem to be incapable of this.  If someone asks me if I still have a certain painting, I have to really put on my thinking cap.  Fortunately for me, I have Linda who takes care of a lot of the details.

Pay your taxes.  You’re not an outlaw; you’re an artist.  You don’t want to have to explain to Bubba, your cellmate, that you’re in prison for evading taxes on your art.  Fortunately, I have Linda to keep me out of jail.

When someone advises you against using a technique or using a certain color, ignore them and try it for yourself.  Some of my best work came out of applying this principle.


Be generous.  When an organization asks you for a painting to be auctioned off, give one to them.  If you don’t have one to spare, you ain’t painting enough.  When you have a chance to make a friend happy, give them a painting.  You’ll reap benefits from this.

Be helpful and encouraging to your fellow artists.  This comes naturally to me because I have no ego about my art, and I’m fond of folks who are trying to achieve something.  That’s the main reasons for my having

Chances are that after you’re dead and gone, folks won’t remember whether you were a successful artist or not, but they may remember if you were worth a damn as a person.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: your friends are not clients.  They just attend your shows to drink the wine.



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