Collector and DIADEM contributor Michael Cavendish (DD) interviewed artist Leslie Holt (LH) on December 10, 2013.

DD: One day while standing in the Met, I looked at a Giotto and wondered whether Giotto had a hard time parting with the painting, even though he surely made his living from selling his works to patrons. When you make a painting or a series of paintings that you are deeply happy with, are there surprising emotions that come from parting with it when it sells, even though the separation is part of a working artists’ job?

LH: The longer I am a professional artist, the better I am about letting go. In fact I now kind of relish the idea of people living with my work, and love seeing it up in people’s houses.

It’s an ego thing, for sure, but it’s also what making art is all about. Besides the practical consideration of not having wall space for all the art I make, I want people to see it and live with my work. I never went into art to sell, and never thought I would be able to make a living off of my art, even a partial living, as I am now.

I was happy to sell a piece here and there and count on other ways to make my living. Even though I chose “day jobs” that were incredibly draining and difficult making it really hard to also make art, I figured this was my lot in life to one extent or another.

So to sell with regularity at first was absolutely thrilling. Someone wants my work so much that they pay for it? Novel and mysterious!

It really began with the Hello Masterpiece series. They jumped off the walls like crazy and still do, much to my amazement.

On the one hand, I understand their popularity, combining Hello Kitty, the genius and amazing pop icon and famous artwork has obvious appeal. Combined with their manageable size and relative affordability made for a good package.

On the other hand, I had struggled so hard with work with more serious and personal content, it was hard to come to grips with the fact that selling art has nothing to do with how hard the work is to make.

As far as letting go of particular pieces, what is hard in this HK series in particular is that I am often making them and only live with them for as long as it takes for them to dry, then shipping them off to galleries who have a high demand for them.

So the HK series in particular has been about a flutter of activity with little time for contemplation and observation of the work I have completed.

I do like to live with my work for at least a little while, just so I can take cues from it on where it goes next. And I never have any on hand for myself — there are favorites I want to live with, like Guernica, and Goya’s Third of May. One day, perhaps!

DD: You seem to work with some great gallerists. Let’s take the example of David Lusk in Memphis. What is the difference in your art practice before and after you developed a professional relationship with the Lusk gallery?

LH: I do work with fabulous gallerists. None of them fit into any of the bad stereotypes. David is a gem. He understands artists and is interested in our long term trajectory. He also works his butt off selling our work. Not only is it in his own self-interest, he seems to really love his job.

I found him because one of his artists had an exhibit at St. Louis Community College where I taught. I happened upon her work — Beth Edwards — and fell in love with it. And felt a lot of commonalities with my Hello Masterpiece series.

She creates these quirky cartoony like characters and inserts them into retro interiors and scenes that often have a famous painting in them. So my strategy at the time—and still—for finding galleries that might be interested in my work was to look at the resumes of artists who I liked and seem to share aesthetic or concepts with my work.

I looked up David Lusk Gallery and loved a lot of his artists. I sent him a cold e-mail with a link to my website. He responded immediately and asked me to send him a few pieces so he could see the work in person. That made me panic a bit.

As a gallery newbie I wasn’t sure if this guy was legit and if I would see the work again! I did a bit of checking and then went for it.

The day he got the work he offered me a show in 2009. It’s really not supposed to happen like that.

But I feel extremely lucky to have found him and for him to respond so generously. He operates from a gut level a lot I think, and has a great sense of what he likes and what he can sell.

Meeting him was a huge turning point in my career, not only because I get to exhibit in his space but he also takes my work to art fairs all over the country.

But it was actually Andrea Pollan of Curator’s Office in DC who first “discovered” my Hello Masterpiece series.

She was a juror for a show at Ann Arundel Community College that I entered on sort of a whim in 2007. I liked the theme “Dislocations,” and thought my work fit, combining two unlikely elements in one painting.

She purchased two pieces and then asked if she could take my work to some art fairs. I was thrilled and happened to be from the DC area, so I got to meet her in person shortly thereafter.

I had a HM exhibit in her space in 2009 which did really well both in sales and got a great review in The Washington Post which felt like the next best thing to the New York Times!

Again, I felt like I got extremely lucky. She’s a huge Hello Kitty fan and had this tiny space in which this small work went perfectly. She continues to sell my work and bring it to fairs, and I got to have my very first studio visit with her recently because now we live in the same town!

Same with my two other galleries — PHD in St. Louis — in 2007, I walked into Philip Hitchcock’s very first exhibit when he opened the gallery and I was literally walking out the door when he asked me about my work.

He got intrigued and looked at my website while I was there. He put me on his calendar right that moment! He’s an artist, so also understands what we go through on many levels.

Burnet Art Gallery is a connection through art fairs. David brought my work to Art Santa Fe and RalphBurnet bought a handful of them.

He’s a huge collector of contemporary art, with a taste for the YBA artists like Hirst and Emin.

His gallery director offered me a show shortly after he found my work. He owns an art hotel in Minneapolis, Le Meridien Chambers.

It is an awesome place for those of us weary of horrible Ramada Inn-type landscapes and flower paintings.

Burnet Gallery does not represent artists, but my current exhibit there is my second, and I hope to have a long term relationship with them in one form or another. Also salt of the earth people, down to earth, and totally get artists.

DD: Have you yet been able to figure out a psychographic profile of your collectors? Any patterns to where they live, what they do (or don’t do!), what other artists or genres they collect?

LH: I need to look up “psychographic.” I want to incorporate it into daily conversations!

I am so curious about who buys my work and try to get intel wherever I can, but I can’t say I have the big picture.

Here’s what I do know . . .

The work attracts a large contingent of middle aged women around my age — mid thirties to early fifties. This age cohort grew up with Hello Kitty.

Gay men buy this work, too. Hello Kitty is feminine, campy, but quietly subversive in a friendly way.

Several collectors told me they bought them for their young daughters in hopes of getting them interested in art. Fascinating to me.

HK freaks buy it. This is meant most respectfully, as I am one myself obviously. Mostly women of the demographic I cited above.

Those women who sneak images of her into their everyday lives in small and not so small ways by buying the cheap tchotchke at Target and other ‘fine retail’ establishments.

You’ve seen them — they have HK key chains, cell phone charms, pencils. Then they move up a level to the purses, back packs, apparel, appliances. I have the hk toaster where you burn an image of her face into your bread. A collector of mine gave it to me as a present!

Then I hear about people with entire Hello Kitty rooms, sort of shrines, and who know every little factoid about her back story and development.

I don’t know whether to be sad or amused that the entry point for most collectors is Hello Kitty and not the masterpiece.

DD: Does it matter to you whether a collector of yours who takes more than one painting ever shows them publicly, as opposed to just secreting them away in a home somewhere for a decade or two? Are you happier if your works lead a kind of public life apart from you and the patron who paid you for them?

LH: I’d love for my work to be seen by as many people as possible. I would love a museum acquisition. But I haven’t given a lot of thought to what particular people do with my work beyond putting them in their own homes. I guess I am too new to this selling business to consider other possibilities.

DD: Did you see where the Alice Walton mega-museum, Crystal Bridges, is embarking on this project of fanning out all over America and trying to collect work that captures our country’s contemporary art of this decade? Do you ever discuss with colleagues something like how much more vibrant American art would be if even one of the speculators paying 100 million for single works at auction were to do something like that instead?

LH: I love this idea! We certainly talk about the outrageous price of the work of the few art stars, or poor dead ones who barely made a dime off their work while alive. RIP, van Gogh.

I have taken a break from looking carefully at some of the mainstream art magazines because the artists in them get so repetitive. So having a large institution take this on is . . . amazing, actually.

DD: Give me some names you’d toss out if Alice Walton called you and said, “Leslie Holt, tell me the artists I absolutely cannot overlook in our museum’s survey of the American 2010s.”

LH: I’d say, Alice, c’mon over to my studio, please!

But seriously, I do not pretend to have my finger on the pulse of contemporary art or a sense of what the contemporary canon would look like.

Some of my absolute favorites right now are already getting a lot of attention: Hank Willis Thomas, Ida Appelbroog, Vik Muniz, Catherine Opie, Gabriel Orozco, Julie Mehretu, Ai Weiwei, Oliver Herring, William Powhida, Do Ho-Suh.

Some lesser-known folks I’ve come across who I love and return to repeatedly: Katherine Kuharic, Phyllis Plattner, Maysey Craddock, Sarah Frost.

I also have become very fond of outsider art these days, having recently worked directly with some artists with disabilities; some trained, some not. David Kontra and Paul Lodes are favorites.

DD: I view your series of paintings of partially eaten cake as being one third of a fascinating triumvirate of contemporary icons—to include Emily Eveleth’s jelly donuts and Susan Jane Belton’s coffee cups—where there is a quantity of emotion, visceral human emotion that is poured into the subject, to the point where the subject, your ravaged cake, is no longer what it appears, but is rather this pulsing metaphor for a kind of frailty or foible that is behind most of what we experience as the human condition. How much emotion, of any kind, any quantity, are you consciously asking the cake series pictures to radiate?

LH: Thanks for the comparison. I have a lot of respect for both of those artists. This series that I call The Party’s Over, was an attempt to get back into pure painting via cakes, which are a loaded symbol for me.

I always turn to objects for meaning and as stand-ins for humans in a way.

The cake images are about that sinking feeling after the party when things are a mess and you are left with the mess to clean up and you didn’t have that much fun anyway. That’s me with parties.

As a kid I hated the build-up and expectations of birthdays. And then cake is just a beautiful subject to paint, frosting and all. Sensuous, flexible. No one picks apart if you put a crumb in the wrong place, unlike say architectural subjects, right?

So there is immense freedom in just letting loose with the paint. Scale mattered a lot too.

I have been crouched over tiny Hello Kitty paintings for years. It was time to stand up and use my arms again!

But, yes, I want them to be dark and call up the viewer’s own mixed emotions about the moment in time they portray—positive and negative.

The Baroque treatment of light was supposed to refer to Vanitas still lifes as well. Parties are kind of excessive by their nature.

There’s a one-upmanship, at least in my suburban upbringing. Sally had a pony at her party. Sophie went to Farrell’s Ice Cream Shop.

My dad would make our birthday cakes. One year he burnt mine by mistake. Mortifying. One year he made a banana cake. What kid likes banana cake?

It wasn’t like we were the poor kids. It was more a quirk of my parents to be absolutely frugal and oblivious to a certain expectation their kids would have about fitting in.

It didn’t scar me for life, but it added to my tension around parties and cake.

Some viewers have read the cakes as being about eating disorders, which I find fascinating. I was not unaware of the loaded nature of food in that way, and the dark flavor of them was not intended to go in that direction.

I kind of liked that spin on it after awhile.

DD: I find pre-20th century pictures of food to look dead. And to be a philistine about it, I’m not even crazy about Braque’s still lifes with food or implements. For me, Wayne Thiebaud was the first artist to make food something that could be painted as a take-on-all-comers subject. But Thiebaud’s style was about as far from Chiaroscuro as one could get. With your cake series, could we say that you are starting with Thiebaud and taking his idea out of the beautiful banality of Pop and toward that quality that the Romantics had, that storm-tossed formula for introducing feeling into form?

LH: Yes. Thiebaud. Huge influence. I would say maybe too much, as this series has just begun. He is so present in my mind.

I never thought of them in connection to the Romantics. But I see how one would. Baroque was a more conscious connection on my part because of the lighting, but they do have an extra emotional component and aren’t as objective as Baroque still lifes are they? That’s interesting.

In my mind, Braque was using food as a marker of space to explore fragmenting it, so yeah, I don’t even see them as food images. To be a philistine myself, I’d just as soon read about Braque’s analytical cubist images than look at them. Not that I’ve done a lot of that.

The cubist ideas and where they led future artists are more interesting to me than the images themselves.

DD: When you planned this series, did you settle on the cake motif right away, or did you do some studies on other inert objects, edible or otherwise, that you thought maybe could be vehicles for the same outcome?

LH: It started with cake but I have been all over the place. Different candy, partially eaten tootsie pops, crushed and spilled birthday cups, deflated balloons. I still want to explore some of that. My Skittles word paintings were an offshoot of those explorations.

DD: Every year or so it seems a journal like Art & Antiques will feature a 19th century American who did these kind of Caravaggio-styled still lifes of, say, curing herrings, imposed on that super-black sort of Renaissancey background. Are you influenced at all by 150 year old still life? And for that matter, who do you feel influenced by?

LH: Yeah. I love all that stuff. More Baroque than Renaissance. Baroque was when “painters’ painting” really started in my mind.

Letting the paint do its thing rather than controlling it so much.

Even those pretty tight still lifes.

You look closely at a Pieter Claesz and you find pretty amazing brushstrokes, little blobs of white for highlights and relatively free looking moments, especially for the times. Gorgeous.

Velasquez is a hero, another one to look at closely for the beginnings of freedom in painting.

Rembrandt, too, especially because I got to “live with” several at the National Gallery. My influences are all over the map. Now that I have done all these fake masterpieces!

Lots of those painterly painters of the Baroque influenced my technique, particularly while first learning to paint.

In high school I was enamored with a lot of Abstract Expressionists—particularly de Kooning—he was big to me.

In fact, I have been too intimidated to do a Hello de Kooning. Funny. Hard to fake that kind of gust and brushwork.

Until now. Now I literally have paint on my hands, working on a Hello de Kooning!

I seem to gravitate toward Spanish artists form throughout the centuries; Velasquez, Goya, and much of Picasso’s work.

Van Gogh and Kokoschka have also been huge for me.

I have looked at a lot of pop art recently because of the obvious connections to my HM series.

Some feminist icons like Chicago, Schneeman, Hannah Wilke for their boldness and willingness to step out and bringing attention to subject matter and materials that were being ignored. And their profound influence on the post-modernist explosion.

Wilke’s chewing gum gesture pieces are really important to me. Her use of humor to get viewers to look at super serious subject matter is one I look for again and again.

I look at a lot of contemporary Native American art for the same reason; James Luna, John Feodrov, William Powhida.

Then of course the Japanese greats like Murakami and Nara. Just amazing, smart and fun artists.

I consider everything I look at and resonate with to be an influence of one kind or another, whether it is for their concepts, aesthetics, techniques, sometimes even their personalities or approach to art making and their communities.

Recently I have been looking at more community-based artists and collectives to absorb those kind of approaches as well. I always have one foot in community work, whether it is directly related to my art or not.

DD: I want to go back to your Hello Masterpiece series. To get everyone perfectly on board, in this series, you repaint a masterwork, like Guernica, and then paint Hello Kitty into the scene. A dual appropriation.

I felt like I “got” this idea of yours within about 2 nanoseconds of first seeing it, and all I could think of was a big Murakami show the museum in Brooklyn did a few years back where the gift shop was selling Luis Vuitton handbags emblazoned with little Murakami-wrought Manga characters.

For me seeing Hello Masterpiece was like, ‘well, you other jokers opened the floodgates, and this is Leslie H. showing you the end game.’ And it is, for me, hands down, one of the cleverest ideas out there. Talk about where the idea came from and whether it roasts anything along the way.

LH: How nice of you to say. Especially to be compared to a Murakami. Whoa.

The idea came about quite randomly as part of my role as an educator. I was teaching Art Appreciation at several colleges in St. Louis.

For people who have not had the honor of taking that class it is a survey humanities class for non-art majors, often the only exposure to visual art the students will have in their college career and beyond.

And frankly many students consider it an easy “A” and do not come to the class with much interest or experience in the arts.

So I have always felt like my role was to jump up and down around art and try to convince them of how important and vital it is to our society.

The class is a ridiculous one to teach, and it is always given to the new teachers. The seasoned, tenured folks do not want to teach non-art majors.

Ridiculous, because it tries to cram in everything important about visual art in one semester. The definition of art, the role of art and artists in society, the visual elements of art, how to look at art, the physical materials of art, and then an entire history of art in the last quarter of class, which is about four weeks in a traditional 16 week semester.

So I literally feel like I can’t catch my breath as we zip through image after image in the book and PowerPoint, pausing at the “major masterpieces” to talk for a couple of minutes about their importance, perhaps a bit about the artist’s life.

Now that I have taught this so many times, I am upfront and say that this will be a swashbuckling tour of art history. Just a taste to whet their appetites and inspire them to find out more.

I find it helps to be honest with them, or maybe just helps my own sense of absurdity to lay it out there in the open.

The more I teach the class, the more I pare it down and refuse to succumb to the impulse to include it all in the class.

I opt to leave things out in favor of spending more time writing and reflecting on a lower number of images and artists.

But then you have to leave things out. There’s no way to do it all and do it justice.

As a new teacher, my first year out of grad school, this class stressed me out to no end. Not only did I have to stand up and lecture as opposed to a studio class where lecture was limited, but I had to cover so much information and try to keep it engaging, thoughtful, accessible, to young people who mostly had looked at very little art.

So the idea came quite randomly as I was literally flipping through the textbook one day. I had a small collection of HK figurines around my studio and desk.

I had them because I did another series where I juxtaposed HK and other childhood icons with psychotropic pills.

I started playing with a figurine and placing her on images in the textbook. And I thought it was funny, so I took pictures. And I then did some paintings from the pictures.

And the small size made perfect sense. Hello Kitty became the tour guide, the Sister Wendy of art history.

And it exploded from there. It was so ripe with possibility, and layers of meaning, and just so fun to paint each one.

It really sort of clicked from the beginning. My only hesitation was putting other, more personal work on the side while I focused on this series.

It started out somewhat tight with some strict self-imposed rules. I wanted to paint these images like still lifes from direct observation. Then I broke that rule when I actually used digital images.

But I would only use a Hello Kitty figurine that existed in the real world, like dressed up as a ballerina in a pink tutu.

I wouldn’t put a blue tutu on her or alter her gesture — I have no idea why I was so rigid about it.

Except that I was obviously also staying true to the masterpiece, as much as possible.

And there was something so absurd about honoring Hello Kitty in the same way that I honored this famous art.

It’s so funny to me now, but I was dead serious about it, and I’d get a little miffed when people suggested otherwise.

Also in the first few years she was always casting a shadow on the masterpiece. Again, something about being clear that this was an artifice, and honestly some vain attempt at distinguishing between this series and something that was pure kitsch… or something frivolous and pure fun.

My pet peeve was when people would ask why I didn’t make her fit more with the painting, like making her curvy and distorted in a Dali.

I get why people ask that, but it would make me feel like they didn’t understand the depth of the work that her dislocation in the piece is the point. Now I laugh at myself for that.

The work is about not going deep in a way. And all the pitfalls of that.

I was also strict about the tiny size, so that they would connect to museum postcards and other art souvenirs. All the commercial mediated ways we experience art.

I have loosened up about that too. For this current exhibit at Burnet Art Gallery, I made two 20 x 20 inch images and enjoy their presence.

DD: Another thing, a second thing that struck me about the Hello Masterpiece series is that a really paranoid social historian could take it as a diagnosis of the times we live in. Like, America used to achieve these radical and heroically big goals, so the moon landing, in art terms, a Rothko, but now we’re only able to muster a nostalgic repackaging of our former highlights, and in a consumerist way at that. Is it valid to look at these works not as art world commentary, but as commentary on our lives generally?

LH: Yes, as bleak as that seems, I agree that you can’t separate out the commentary on how we experience art from how we experience so much of our lives.

I think some of us are nostalgic for so called genuine experiences, those unmediated by consumer culture, technology or other factors.

The fact that many of us lament how much we are plugged in and can’t seem to control it very well speaks to feeling like a cog in the wheel of progress. But of course even when we unplug and just take a walk we take all of this cultural baggage with us.

It has done its damage. And worked its wonders!

DD: To achieve this series, you had to figure out, in turns, how to paint exactly like some of the greatest masters of all time. You made yourself paint like Picasso, like Klimt, like Lichtenstein. Very few contemporary artists have ever assigned themselves the challenge of trying to scale all those peaks. What did you learn about the old masters of modern art, and about the painterly side of yourself or your practice, as you went?

LH: I have learned I am a great faker! Seriously, I have learned a lot of ways to create the appearance or the “gist” of the original; but these are far from exact copies.

But I have also learned so much about painting. When I started, and even well on the way into the series, I didn’t even think about this benefit of it.

The copying was just something necessary to make the piece successful. But of course it is a huge learning experience.

Now, with six years of them under my belt, I can see how much I have learned. It is extremely satisfying.

It has given me a whole new reverence for some of these artists. And it’s given me incredible joy at looking at originals.

Seeing La Grande Jatte after trying to do Seurat was an amazing experience.

Spending 40-plus hours on a 9 x 12 inch painting made me realize just how obsessive he must have been to create it on that huge scale.

I have connected with surprising artists, ones who have not been my favorites before this series. Seurat for one.

While I appreciated his contribution to color theory, I felt like his images were kind of stiff and stilted. Now I am just in awe and see all sorts of life in those layers that I didn’t appreciate before.

Monet is another one. I was quite cynical of the blockbuster Impressionism exhibits. But now I jump at the chance to see them, particularly if Monet is involved.

In his case, there is almost no point in just seeing them in reproduction, except to serve as a reminder of the real thing. You miss all the intricacies of the surface and layers of paint.

Picasso was another surprise. Again, I used to mostly admire him for his huge contribution to modern art. And was troubled by some of his personal story, the womanizing and egomania I perceived in his biography.

But painting Picassos gives me new insight into his vision, his use of design, color, expression. Guernica is my all-time favorite image to paint.

I feel like I learn something new about it every time. Then there are artists I knew I would connect to, van Gogh, Matisse, Artemisia, Frida, Goya. I feel like I am having a sort of dialogue with these artists when I work on their images. Even though Hello Masterpiece is a very irreverent series, ironically the act of painting them has given me new respect and awe of these artists.

DD: If we can talk about school, do you see more students with chops but no ideas, or is it that there are plenty of ideas but no one has yet slowed them down to learn drawing the line, layering the color, and so forth? Or neither? What is the bête noire of today’s college art student enrolled in Painting 201?

LH: Hmmm. Since as an adjunct I have mostly taught freshmen or non-art majors, I don’t think I have much insight into this one.

I only got to teach painting, for example, at my grad school, where we got our own class, and one year since then at a university. I have done most of my teaching in St. Louis and have been more surprised by how conservative both the institutions and the students have been toward art education than anything.

Very traditional formal approaches for the most part, without tons of infusion of contemporary art or concepts.

At one university where I actually got to teach painting for a year, I tried to convince the painting department head of the value of pop culture in an introductory painting course. She didn’t like that some of the students had incorporated brand names and pop culture characters in their final projects.

She thought it was superficial, and that I should be pushing them away from what they usually think about.

Needless to say, I was not invited back!

There’s a bit of measuring of the departmental tone that adjuncts have to do before going outside the standard core curriculum. So if you want any semblance of job security you play it safe. I have been guilty of that.

DD: Voice teachers can tell you what it takes for a promising student to get out of the karaoke club and into a semi-professional posture. Chess instructors can give you the difference between a skilled young player who will go on to win tournaments and a skilled one who will never take anyone past 15 or 16 moves, a patzer. What are the one or two habits or qualities a young aspiring artist can adopt that may move them up and out of the neighborhood art fair, community art show circuit and toward what we could call, for a lack of better vocabulary, a serious contemporary artist?

LH: So hard to advise young artists because there’s a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time to breaking into the gallery scene.

It’s really important to keep checking in with yourself about what you want from your art career, because it’s a lot of hard work, whether you get into galleries or not.

Particularly you need to assess whether you want to jump into the chaos that is the gallery scene.

Besides it being hard to get in, once you are in, there are a whole lot of pressures that can be disruptive to your studio practice. The pressure to keep producing, to prep for a show every two years, to keep that gallery in the back of your mind as you break out into new work.

Will they like it? Will this mean we part ways? There are so many ways to be an artist now, especially with the DIY startups, pop up galleries, and online.

It’s really important to me as an educator that young artists are aware they have options rather than the old model of being part of the small chosen few by the so-called big galleries.

The bottom line is that I want to promote art making on all levels in multiple contexts, for multiple purposes. This is true more than ever since I have gotten involved in more community-based art practice and away from academia.

But… if you decide, even as an experiment, that you want to get gallery representation around the country, then the two things I would point to are hard work and tenacity.

This assumes some baseline of creativity and talent, but quite honestly, talent and creativity are nothing if you don’t put in the hours to make the work.

I believe strongly in Gladwell’s ten thousand hour concept.

There is no getting around the hours you have to put into making the work, developing your skills and concepts, no matter how much initial raw talent and skill you bring to your art.

That same work ethic and tenacity applies to getting involved with the gallery side of the work.

It is time consuming to research galleries, to really get to know their programs and see if you fit, and then maintain your relationship with your gallerists, all of whom will be different human beings with different needs and communication styles.

DD: As someone who both pursues an art practice, with success, and teaches, do you ever impart advice to your students about how to paint with an eye to making it easy for someone to pay for the painting?

LH: Do you mean paint something sellable? I feel pretty out of touch with that myself so wouldn’t know how to give advice about that.

I can say in retrospect why certain pieces of mine sold and maybe others didn’t. Students always ask about that and are very curious about it.

Part of me feels like a purist because I want to keep that conversation out of the classroom full of beginning students. It would be different if I were teaching advanced or grad students, but beginning students really need to start testing ideas, pushing limits, and building skills, not worrying about marketing yet.

I don’t know when that magic moment is for a young artist to be ready to learn about the art market, and maybe I am being overly protective, but I do think school can be a safe place to explore ideas unhindered by commercial stressors.

It’s like flexing a different muscle. I want the creative, expansive, observational skills to come first.

If I were teaching students who were on the cusp of getting their work out there I could speak about my experience with sales, and then would probably send them to research the market for themselves, see what is in the magazines and galleries. To ask gallerists lots of questions.

I so respect their knowledge in that area and recognize that I have very little.

Going to art fairs is always a great education about what sells and what doesn’t. It certainly shows you what galleries think will sell.

I don’t think talking about selling work corrupts students. These are important conversations to have in school.

And the relationships artists have, and have always had, with commerce are interesting and just part of reality.

I wish I had gotten more of that kind of information and training in both undergrad and grad school. It sounds like some art schools are doing a better job of giving students more practical education about the business side of being an artist these days.

It’s a tough balance, especially with so much critique of higher education these days. But art schools have traditionally erred on the other side of that balance by not giving students any tools for the gallery world.

Leslie Holt is on the web at

N.1. this text courtesy of DIADEM Art Papers by Cavendish Projects.

N.2. all text copyright the author and the artist.

N.3. Cavendish Projects is on Twitter and Medium @cavprojects


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