Cedar Ridge and Evening Light by John CoganI remember the time I said good bye to John Cogan, when he was leaving Houston and going west to establish himself as a painter of the Grand Canyon. I was jealous of his calling and ambition, but it was not my path. We did not keep in touch much over the years... but I have always considered him a good friend. John was a Rice graduate, his field Physics, and working for Shell Oil when he discovered that he loved something more. I'm one of the guys he met briefly during that time of decision... and then he was gone.
But that decision led to a great art career, mostly in Arizona and New Mexico, where he is a popular landscapist today. I have kept up with his work and progress via his website... you need to go check it out... But in this blog we are still talking about the huge changes in the art world... And how John is facing them...
John now lives in Farmington, New Mexico. His kids are grown, and he and his wife have settled there for good. He and Karen have found a good place to live, and are now looking forward to cuddling their five grandchildren, with more on the way.
"These are tough times" he admitted, agreeing that many galleries in the Southwest have gone under. Even in the hottest art market in America, in Santa Fe and Taos they have they have seen a 25% attrition. Some towns like Sedona, Arizona have suffered even worse. John has seen one of his top galleries, El Prado, in Sedona go under... with nobody stepping in to replace them. El Prado was the gallery who gave him his start in the Southwest and sold the heck out of his work.
He explained that all this attrition "has pushed more artists into fewer galleries." The surviving art galleries are packed with great art, and not so many buyers. That kind of competition is a killer for fledgling artists. It's rough for the old veterans as well.
He tells a tragic tale of a slippery slope in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he has had to watch two of his galleries in less than two years go out of business. He is starting with his third gallery in two years as we speak. These are the best tourist /art markets in the country, who cannot support art galleries.
Not surprisingly, this concentration also drives sales per artist and prices down. Even having a good reputation does not help in a market where so many good artists are struggling for a piece of the pie. John explained that his artist-friends are talking about drastic solutions... some are selling their ranches, some thinking about relocating. The word on the street is some of the"biggies" in the business are having to liquidate and downsize or worse. Some even get so desperate as to suggest moving where the perceived money is... to TEXAS! That cracked me up.
The Farmington area is the home of an impressive stable of "famous" artists. Besides John, there are cowboy artists Tim Cox, and Gerald Farm, and a few others. Still, there is not the critical mass to forge any kind of art colony, or art market per se, and no attempt to make anything out of it. I asked him why not?
"That's not how an an art market gets started... look at Santa Fe, how did it get started?" John explains how a bunch of ALREADY FAMOUS ARTISTS converged on this sleepy New Mexican village, and adopted it..hung out there for years, made it a cool place to be, because of the western light and local subject matter, and they were encouraged and patronized by their big-money collectors back home in New England. It started with mature artists gathering, and young artists seeking them out in an idyllic setting. Farmington is the home of some significant artists, but it is not an "art town."
He went on to tell of towns in Tennessee and California who have tried to force it, with limited success. It takes as a lot of commitment and money to make it get off of the ground. And why would they?
As John points out, all the buyers have died. Literally, died off. "Those guys buying our art back in the 80's are dead or in their eighties now... and they are not collecting art. Their children call me and want to know what the paintings are worth... do I know where they can sell them..."
It is a new game. And if it was a football game, it has been reduced to half the field, with one hundred players, butting heads, and... there is a ball the size of a pecan.
So, what to do?
John CoganJohn is an artist, and as he admitted, he chose his path a long time ago and he is committed for life. But he has begun to expand his portfolio. He has sort of started his career all over again. He has started painting out of doors, ("plein air") something he resisted for a long time. The practice has given him a fresh outlook, and a new challenge. He has taken some college courses... in Christian Apologetics. He is "casting his nets in every direction," willing to capitalize on whatever opportunity presents itself.
And that's the way it was when he came to Farmington twenty years ago. So not much has changed... except the country we are trying to operate in. John changed the subject for a moment, but he was actually moving towards the larger question...
THE LARGER QUESTION?
"Americans in this post-modernist era no longer want or value beauty" John finally confessed, as he hit the nail on the head. He went on, John Cogan the Christian apologist did, to explain that "Beauty reminds people of God" And they do not want that. People today do not want anything that reminds them of God...
We are in an age where order, beauty and serenity, are not where people's minds are, and they clamor after things that better reflect their own state of mind: ugly, dark, and chaotic. The art problem is really a national spiritual problem. If art is selling, it is re-enforcing all the negative tendencies of a failing culture: Tattoos. Pornography. Video super heroes that promote mindless violence. And none of us make that kind of stuff... and do not want to. We represent yesterday's values and today's anachronism.
That is bad news for more than artists... it is bad news for America.
We talked for awhile about the ironies, that we made our livings in the past years selling mostly to people who did not share our world views. Sooner or later they had to turn away from us. "I don't know why," John offered, as if it was a lifetime mystery, "but most Christians do not buy art."
Christians did not understand their most effective spokesmen were Christian musicians and artists and actors, who could help fight the spiritual warfare in this country in the entertainment industry, which has stolen the hearts and minds of our children. There was no collective awareness which understood the importance of the artist as messenger, as agent of social stability, or any duty of Christians to support them. That is why so few Christian songs, movies and art have made it into the mainstream. It is artists that design entertainment, commercials, movies, videos, websites... and their world view will shape our culture.
So much for that.
Thank you John for inspiring us and bringing God's Creation to the fore, and fighting a good fight.
The fight is not over yet.