Advice from an Artist

Austin based intuitive (not formally trained) artist Sam Sanford gave a lecture last session on his life and relationship with art. Not corresponding to my conception of many artists who exercise their talent after their day job, Sanford’s works have actually been shown and sold in a number of galleries! For the longest time, he showed all of the pieces he had in his repertoire, which is also unlike most artists in the field today, who select only the works they wish to show in the institutional setting.

What I really took away from his lecture was his following line of advice: “don’t sell paintings you don’t like, because you’ll regret it forever”. Being brutally honest (harkening back to Chad Dawkins), Sanford told us advice based on his own personal experiences. At times, his art was very therapeutic and maybe even soul-cleansing for him. He could explore himself and better his mental health through his works. On the less-than-rosy flip side, however, Sanford said he felt he had focused in the past too much on technique at the price of missing out on subject matter, exploring intellectual ideas, and meaning in his works. The idea of technique over meaning coupled with rushing works to meet gallery deadlines led him to his point about only selling works he likes.

Another interesting aspect of Sanford’s lecture is a controversial circumstance in which many artists find themselves: At the beginning of his art career, Sanford set out to sell his paintings and earn money from them. After achieving this, however, the feeling of earning money for his artwork is different than he had expected. He now feels that doing a painting for the purpose of selling it cheapens the idea, meaning and intellect behind it. This crossroads between making art for selling and selling art for further art making is problematic for many artists. Does this cheapen the authenticity of their works? My question as one who has never had an exhibition, is: is it impossible to focus on the art work and furthering of self and ideas and worry about selling later?

-Natasha

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3 comments

  1. I really appreciated Sam Sanford and the way he drew from his past set backs and/or life experiences. I suppose it helps to create and use the past exposure to life’s elements in order to build something beautiful out of it. It’s similar to our class discussion of finding how form and content work together in order to produce meaning. I think Sanford really engaged the audience by putting himself out there and telling us without using many personal examples to help not just reveal a look into his art, but also into his inner being. He helped me see his art in a much more intimate way by peeling off the layers of formality and getting to the biting truth of human emotion. His “Dark Days” photograph paintings were, for me, more gripping and helped me understand Sam Sanford, the person, not just the artist.

    -Kellye

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  2. As an studio major and aspiring artist, Sam Sanford’s advice to not sell paintings you don’t like was helpful and relatable. I’ve been tempted to sell work just for money but have always resisted if I am not happy with it or think it represents the kind of artist I want to be. It also goes the same for having a website prematurely before you are happy with a body of work to represent yourself. In my studio work, I also went through a phase of focusing too much on the ‘meaning’ of the work instead using form to speak to the meaning, and it ended up being shallow. Now that I focus on process and ‘what’ I’m painting, meaning comes on it’s own rather than using that as a starting point. I appreciate that this was included as a topic in our art crit class.

    Lauren Lerwick

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  3. Sanford’s timeline was very colorful and active compared to most artists which gave a sense of credibility in his opinions and statements. His art almost ran parallel with his life where there was purity, lack of self control and an unguarded desire to create art. The older he got, the more success he gained as well as his accident changed him as did his art. The relationship there is what gravitates most of my attention because, as you mentioned, when he became more enticed by deadlines to finish art his creativity, his drive lessened. When Sanford mentioned that he wanted to go back to his original art form, it really expressed his revelation in the loss of how free he felt prior to gaining more attention in galleries. For your question, I would say it is possible, but everyone is so different. Artists handle certain events and life issues in various methods.

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