In construction it’s called ‘fit and finish’. In the culinary world it’s known as ‘presentation’. When it comes to a finished piece of art, I like to think of it as ‘craftsmanship’.
Personally, I want every art piece I produce to meet a certain level of craftsmanship. I first learned this as a fourteen year old intern in advertising when the Principal of the agency told me, 'presentation is everything.' A last minute idea (even a bad idea) with a rough marker comp, if presented well, can sell.
Today, any moron can open a word processor or free image editor and slap together a horrible logo or create some aesthetically offensive signage for a building. But there was a day when companies hired some of the greatest and most well known artists and illustrators in the world to create their brands, advertisements, and signage. Imagine having masters like Andrew Loomis or J.C. Leyendecker illustrating advertisements for shirts and socks. Why? Because presentation is everything. Who cares about shirts and socks? If the socks are going to make me a Leyendecker man, I do.
This level of quality and care is one of the things that draws me to the subject matter of my work; mid-century American products, manufacturing, and graphic design. In a day and age where products are increasingly cheaper, poorly conceived, and mass-produced, I’m drawn to a time when there was great pride in what was created. Cars, advertisements, even the way people dressed spoke of a level of personal pride and responsibility. If you wear Arrow shirts or Interwoven socks, you too will stop traffic and get a ride from a beautiful woman. The woman, incidentally, looks pretty keen as well. No running errands in yoga pants for her, she's got the hat, the gloves, the fur coat ... everything about her says she cares about the way she looks and she's drawn to a like-minded man. It is a beautifully crafted piece of art which speaks to a time when we would pursue beauty even in utility.
For the artist, craftsmanship is not only a point of personal pride, but a matter of respect for the viewer. I believe that if someone is going to look at your work on a gallery wall, or pay you the highest compliment and purchase the work to hang in their home, they should be confident that it represents the artist’s best effort. It’s why I use authentic 1950’s source material in my work. It’s why I labor over detail. On rare occasions, it’s why I throw away paintings in which I’ve invested countless hours. You are probably starting to think I have ‘issues’. But art is often an expression of deeply rooted issues. When someone looks at my work I want it to be clear that each mark and compositional choice is by design and not by accident. I don’t work on a piece until it is ‘good enough’, I work on it until it is finished.
Don’t get me wrong, there are commercial artists today who are true craftsmen. Todd Sanders, Sam Spratt, Seonna Hong come to mind as great examples. These are incredibly talented artists who produce consistently stunning work. These and many others should serve as inspiration to both established and emerging artists. Perhaps we can all reclaim a bit of that nostalgia that would drive us to create work that stops traffic - and worth the time and energy invested by both the artist and the viewer.