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What I’ve learned about saying “I could paint that”

I’ve loved painting for a long time, and learned to oil paint ten years ago though I didn’t practice much at the start. In my youthful arrogance (to put it nicely), I would sometimes see abstract art and wonder why on earth anyone would pay that much for it. “I could paint that,” I’d tell myself. But the truth is, I was wrong for a multitude of reasons. I mistook the art not triggering any emotional reaction in me with it being “Not Art”, and looking at its simplistic nature, I convinced myself that I could do it too if I wanted to. The only thing I was correct about in that case was not connecting with the art. You can’t force that connection, and if you don’t feel it, then you may not see it as art, and that is okay. But it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s just the way *you* see that piece. Apart from the fact that artists are human too, and that your comments could be hurtful to them if they’re within earshot, there are really concrete reasons why you might be wrong.

Can you really copy someone else’s art? 

Perhaps it’s possible to copy it if you’re an incredible art forger, for example, but I’m quite convinced those only exist in movies. Every piece of art you make is uniquely you and your own style shines through, even though you might not recognize it when you start. You may try to copy someone, and that’s a perfectly fine learning technique (just don’t try to sell those paintings without the rights to them,) but even the simplest of art is just that… art. You cannot follow an exact formula. The painter’s hand moved differently from yours. The painter breathed differently from you, and so their brush strokes also turned out different. They used a tiny bit more than you did of this medium, or their brushes were more worn than yours. There are endless factors that went into making that painting that could make your result very different from theirs. Even if you follow a tutorial painstakingly closely, you will *still* not get the exact same result. I used to find this frustrating, but now I’ve realized that this is just because I have a different style from the author. As long as I like the result, it does not need to be *exactly* the same, even if I’ve spent hours following a tutorial to get it “just right.” Your own style is beautiful too.

Why don’t you “paint that”? 

If you look at a $500 painting and think “Wow.. that’s absurd. I could do that,” I have some bad news: If you don’t already have all the supplies, it will cost you a lot more than $500 to make that painting.

Painting is expensive, especially when you use professional grade supplies to create archival-quality art. Every great paint tube can cost $10-$25 depending on the type of pigment used in the paint. Then there are the brushes, which can cost upwards of $10 each, and you’ll need quite a lot of those. Then there are the paint mediums, the easel, the workspace, the storage units, the cleaning tools and liquids. And don’t even get me started on how expensive canvas is. Want a simple 16 x 20 cotton canvas? Be ready to fork over $40 for it if you want professional grade at regular price. Want to frame it? That’s likely another $60+ for a decent frame. Do you need some lessons? There go a few hundred dollars. Add to that the cost of your time, which painting takes a lot of. For every painting an artist sells, they have tens that didn’t make the cut, or that they’ve painted over many times.

Now let’s say that you are a hobbyist, and by some strange coincidence, you have all of the needed professional supplies. Perhaps you’re a beginning artist like I was years ago when I thought ‘I could paint that.’ But to be a successful artist, you don’t only have to make the art piece, you also have to sell it! Let’s start thinking about setting up your business. Do you know how much it costs to file for an LLC to protect yourself and your assets from being seized if someone claims your art hurt them in some way? How will you get customers? Where will you advertise? Where will you sell it? How much does it cost to go to an art fair? Do you have the four + $60-a-piece grid walls you’ll need to display your art? Or the canopy and tables? Do you have a website? Do you need to hire someone to design it? There goes a good $2k just for that website. Will anyone buy your art? How will you get into a gallery? Did you know that galleries take 50-60% of the price they sell the painting for, and that you’d have to raise the prices of your art across the board (which likely means less buyers outside the gallery)?

There are so many things an artist has to think of to sell their art, and each piece is very uniquely theirs. If you don’t connect with the art, don’t buy it, but maybe think twice before you say “I could paint that.”