Deep Thought Thursday: Could you make it blue instead of pink?

What would you do (as an artist) when a client wants to buy a painting, for a few thousand dollars, but requires one of the minor details be changed? Say, a street sign/name of a store, something not truly important to you. Would you alter the painting or not?

—Courtesy of Rose Aniello in a previous comment

Keith Larrett, Syzygy. wood
Keith Larrett, Syzygy. Handturned Coastal Red Milkwood with dyed black veneers.

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24 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Could you make it blue instead of pink?”

  1. It depends on the painting, the person asking, the style of art, the age of the work, & the artist’s modus operandi insofar as, are they commission friendly or not, which opens that door…When I got married, certain body parts started appearing accidentally in my automatistes works- I have had to cover entire paintings because of these Freudian slips…If a client caught one of them & I didn’t, I would most happily try to fix that…If someone asked me to change an aspect of a painting, maybe that might be a better artistic choice, maybe not, but I am always willing to concede that collectors contribute in their seeing, & complete the work…Also, since each piece seems ‘destined’ for the person who buys it, possibly detailing just asserts that fact…I keep an open mind…But I don’t do commissions, & usually when people have brainiac ideas, I just tell them to go paint whatever they imagine, themselves…You do have to know the difference between selling a painting & selling your soul though, & where that line begins & ends…If it’s the devil asking, I’d say no…

  2. Hmmm….
    I think it would depend on the peice. I prefer to do custom work, but if asked to alter something of my own creation, made for myself, I’d probably have to say ‘no’.

  3. Yes, definitely I would change it. Especially since it’s a quick fix. You have to be flexible when working for people. You can do things exactly your way when you get home.

  4. No no no no-I’m not a designer or a decorator of paintings. The painting as a whole is fundamentally changed by that request. I guess the collector and me could co-sign the painting as a collaboration-but I would not do that. And my paintings are abstract and I would still never change the painting. Once I begin taking direction from others, then this is no longer my direction, my creation, no?

    Since I work with all types of colors from inception if someone told me the colors they like or desired, and if I felt these were colors I would or could normally use in the course of my paintings, I could then create, from inception, a painting. But once started I would not take direction from the collector on the direction of the painting. Upon completion, Jack n Jill, pay the bill!

  5. Interesting question!

    I agree with Sari in that my response could vary depending on the piece and the request. The older the piece, the more likely I would consider a modification. If the modification impacted the overall composition, probably not.

    Also too, if additional changes are made to cater to individual requests, then additional charges should also be made.

  6. If the painting was varnished this would be a problem. I work with acrylics and if I were to varnish an acrylic painting I would have to remove both the isolation coat and the final coat. There is a chance that no matter how carefully I did this I could screw up the painting. So I would not honor the request. I would offer to paint another version taking into account the particulars the collector wanted. I also paint abstracts in addition to landscapes and I agree with Steve’s comments. If the collector does not like the painting upon completion I would have painted a few versions to select from- not that many of course. I think that too many choices is way too much. I am not mass producing wallpaper.

  7. I don’t think it is possible to make a change to a painting that has developed organically over days and days of me waking up slightly different each day. An entire painting is not a sketch or one idea easily redrawn or adjusted. If someone indicated to me that they liked my painting except for one little thing that bothered them, then I would probably talk with that person about why it bothered them, keeping it intellectual rather than emotional. Perhaps open up a more general discussion on art and make connections with that person and their tastes and interests (if possible). If we connected then perhaps this would-be collector would take an interest in me and find a future work of mine to their liking to purchase. I think they would have to understand how I work before I would want to sell a painting to them anyway, for I would fear that they did not respect my work to suggest I change it in some way. Sometimes comments and talk are just that, and do not effect or alter individuals. I have discovered that in most online discussions between artists, that there exists two primary destinations as goal that divides artists and makes discussion difficult. Some artists have the primary goal of selling, and some artists seek primarily to grow their art world reputations. I’m an starting to see that divide here too.

  8. This sistuation does not apply to my work, but my first thought was yes, for a big premium fee (if technically possible) if not possible, I’d offer them the commission option. Which brings up a quiestion: Do you charge more for commissions? When I make commisioned porcelain sculpture, charging my regular price fro a piece tens to be expensive for me. I often make several versions because, in ceramics, you never now what the process is going to pan out.

  9. Michael Newberry

    I read a Vasari story many years ago of patron who dictated every aspect a commission to one of the Renaissance artists, and gave another commission to da Vinci in which she made it clear she would be happy with anything he chose to make. It was understood that da Vinci was in another category of artist.

    What makes the highest levels of fine art special is that it is 100% the voice of the artist. Think of the Goya etches. What puzzles me is why would a collector want to get an artist to change their painting? And I if a collector wants to make changes in an artist’s work, would they ever understand and appreciate an artist’s dedication to their unique vision?

    I do think that the artist that is willing to make changes and the collector that asks for them deserve each other.

  10. The one thing I promised myself when I jumped ship from the 9 to 5 world was that no one would govern my art, and I’ve stuck by that. I still do illustration work on the side and there the client has some say, but when a brush hits the canvas it’s my world, my thoughts, my art.

    I liked what Michael said, “I do think that the artist that is willing to make changes and the collector that asks for them deserve each other.”
    That pretty much sums it up to me.

  11. The question asks: “…one of the minor details be changed? Say, a street sign/name of a store, something not truly important to you.”

    Art is about the artist’s heart & soul… it is also about making a living. One “minor” detail that truly is not important to me? Unless it was a change that I believed would compromise the integrity of the piece of course I would honor the collector’s request.

    This type of interaction with the collector offers the opportunity to talk about art with someone who is possibly not that familiar with the creative process and a chance to build a solid working relationship… A buyer who has had a “voice” in this creative process will be even more proud of their purchase and likely to talk with friends about the experience and how accommodating the artist was to work with… Hence, more sales!

  12. Alyson Stanfield

    All good responses.

    Carla: Your question is a good one and worthy of a blog post or newsletter topic. I do think you should add an extra charge for commissions or special requests.

  13. “something not truly important to you” is the key phrase here. I have had clients in the past ask me to change elements of a painting that are extremely important to the work as a whole and in that case I have to politely pass on the suggestion. However that being said, I have changed paintings for clients when the note for change is insignificant. For example I had a request to paint a Hollywood Sign on a distant hill. I had no issue with that being that the landscape was the Hollywood Hills. On the other hand I have had clients ask me to “for instance” remove a cross from the painting because it spiritually offended them and that’s where I drew the line; because it was integral to the spiritual nature of the work. The contrast wouldn’t have existed without it and those are issues to important of change for the whim of a viewer.

  14. Ch-ch-ch-Changes! Artists beware lest you are led down the dark & winding path. Early in my career I had a request from some collectors to duplicate a sculpture that had been sold. They wanted to see it while I was working on it–in my naivete, I agreed–never thinking that they would not have the vision to see how the finished piece would look. They were very freaked out & it went downhill from there. They complained about every little aspect of the piece, including details of the final painting. I was so aggravated that when I delivered the piece, I also gave them some paint & told them they could change whatever they wanted. I took those people off my mailing list.

  15. Clearly this question has as many responses as there are artists. I suppose a secondary question is “who defines (the) art?” In fact I am seeing a whole blog post on this topic for not just paintings but all kinds of art forms. The first thing to start with is the assumption that the client has come to a particular artist because said client feels a connection with that artist’s work.Moreover, the question specifies that the requested change is for something small and unimportant to the artist. Here is the crux of the matter for if no part of the work is unimportant than this question is not relevant. So perhaps this question really is. “is there any aspect of your work which is not fundamental and that you would change at the request of a client?”

  16. Royce and Christine hit on the sensitive issue whether it is “my world” or not. BTW, nice site and work Edward. I think Alyson takes dark pleasure in hot button topics! 🙂
    I have been thinking more about this “something not truly important to you…” I would think what makes a fine art work special is that the artist thinks that everything is important to them from the nuance of color; and attention to detail, to the integrity of the whole work. I wouldn’t buy an artwork (and I do have a small collection) in which the artist thought that part of the painting was changeable or didn’t matter. I would rather see the artist work on that particular part til the artist was delighted with it. I think being delighted with your art, marketing it as such, and selling to a good collector is the all around perfect match.

  17. I had to restore a work the gallery owner chipped because he didn’t know about fragility of oils mixed with cold wax(don’t do this anymore btw)…I can’t duplicate a colour on a dry painting to fill because colours are mixed & oils tend to lighten over time. So, when I restore a chip I have to improvise by adding a dab of something complimentary (sometimes a shape like a bird flying far away), trying to duplicate looks cheesy.(like re-detailing your own car in the same colour-quite difficult actually)…Restoration is one area of my practice that requires me to alter older works. This where I learned to be more mentally flexible about change…

  18. Unless the alteration really messed up the piece in some way (or just couldn’t be made for one reason or another), then yeah I’d change it for sure!

    Sure its your art, but its about to THEIR art. They’re gonna own it, take care of it, put it in their home, see it everyday, etc. So putting an extra little touch that would help them feel more connected with the piece shouldn’t be a big deal. You still put the paint on the canvas, its still your creation.

    And if they want a bigger change or a similar piece in different colors then have them commission you. ‘Cause when it comes down to it they want a piece of your art, and they want to pay you for it.

    They’re not trying to disrespect your art because they want a street name that’s significant to them or a similar piece with a different color scheme, they obviously like you and your art enough to come to you out of all the other artists out there.

    Having artistic ideals is important, but I think as artist its important to stay flexible and open to a small change, or a commission even if you think they’re evil or something, lol (I think most people really aren’t as particular as alot of you seem to think…).

  19. As a general rule it’s too risky to make changes to suit the whim of a collector. You’ll lose the spark that drew collectors to your work in the first place.

  20. If the change request is congruent with the piece and is in keeping with the flow of it, why not? It’s not much different than a commissioned work. However, if you were to seriously feel that it adversely affects the integrity of it, then no.

  21. I have had two experiences with this. One was a similar scenario as Christine. I was doing grecian pillars in a woman’s foyer. When I began she did not understand the process, therefore she was horrified!
    I didn’t even bother trying to explain. She was never going to understand the complicated process. She was a wanna be artist watching every little thing I did and constantly wanting to get in there and change everything I did. The last time I saw her I gave her some paint and never went back. I don’t do that kind of work anymore. Paintings only. On another occasion I painted a commission which is what I do like best. Once I got the painting to her home there was a minor issue that I felt needed changing that affected the entire piece. Which we discussed and agreed upon. Then a few weeks later she called. She said, “I think that the lower part of the painting needs to be a darker blue to match the top”. That is where I draw the line, I painted it that way! Now she went too far. I do commissions. I am very accommodating as to their wishes after that, they are informed that the creation of the painting is mine. Period. They don’t get to see the painting until it is finished.

  22. Wow. Thinking about that question for a good 10 minutes didn’t get me any closer to an answer. I guess I would say that it depends on the period of my life. During down times when I’m making less money I would be more likely to submit to a request on certain paintings. However, pieces that I do purely for myself and put up for sale are off the market for changes. These are far too personal and are more a part of my personality than anything. In these works everything usually has significance (weather the viewer knows what that is or not.)

  23. Since I work in watercolor, it may not be possible to change the color. Then there is the artistic integrity of the piece. My work is entirely about color so I would also have to be comfortable signing the piece after changing the color. But generally I would be happy to change minor things about any of my work – if possible. Perhaps that another great advantage of watercolor.

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