Artwork by Martin Johnson Heade

I’m thinking on an artist named Heade. When I was in college, I had a seminar class on art history. The instructor opened one class with a story about an antique collector. The shopper bought a painting at an estate sale for a very minimal amount. $20 maybe? She purchased it for the frame because the painting was so dirty, she couldn’t even tell what it was. There were flowers, and perhaps a bird but she couldn’t tell. Looking at it, she decides to take it to the local restorer to have it cleaned and her phone blows up. “How much do you want for your Heade?” She has no idea what they were talking about so she picks up her painting. It was very clearly a painting of flowers and a bird. Her phone is still ringing and in a desperate attempt to get answers, she takes it to a local art museum for answers. Again, her phone blows up. This time it is the museum curator who wants to discuss the benefits of donation. The woman is baffled, why are people so excited about this floral painting? Time and tastes changed, and that poor woman couldn’t understand at the time, why people were so excited about her painting. She looked up Heade in the encyclopedia Britannica and found the reference to impressionism not florals. This was long before computers were in every household and google was a common verb. The curator had to explain what she had.

Artwork by Martin Johnson Heade

Martin Johnson Heade was a painter from 1819 to 1904 (that is his life not his career), who is considered one of the fathers of the American Impressionism movement. His landscapes captured atmosphere and light but in order to pay his bills, he painted still-lifes to put in pretty homes. He sold a lot of these avian/florals because they went with the romantic style that people wanted. Those things paid his bills while he painted what fascinated him.

Now we come to a different time. Information and history are at our fingertips. As artists, we have a choice. We can paint for the market or seek a market for what we paint. Can you imagine how much Heade could have accomplished if he had been able to paint what he wanted because he had found his market? If you want to paint to sell, look for people who want to buy what you create. Watch who looks at your art and describe who buys it. Make a study of it so you can describe them, then seek them out. That is how you find your market. As much as Heade accomplished, don’t be Heade; be you. You can paint what you want to and be a success at it too.

I’m gonna admit something, I will still be looking for Heade florals. I’d rather find one of his landscapes, but if I can find a floral….. She ended up auctioning it off for close to $600k. When I sell it, I’ll toast Heade with a good glass of single malt.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the Spokane Art School Artist-in-Residence, and not necessarily to the Spokane Art School.