Personally I’ve seen still life paintings that were exciting, and those which I felt bored by, and that has nothing to do with the quality of the painting. For me it depends on what the still life is, for example if it’s a collection of objects that hold value to me, I appreciate them more. I’m afraid I’m not a huge fan for example of floral pictures.
There are amazing artists who do florals, but it’s not a subject matter that sparks interest for me. Ironically I enjoy drawing and painting them more than I do viewing them, because they are intricate work. The artists who do them are great artists, even if they don’t appeal to me personally.
Ironically still life paintings led me to discover this wonderful story of an artist I had never before heard of. His name was Peiraikos or Piraeicus. Though none of his paintings have survived as far as we know, but his skills were so advanced he was mentioned by name in the writings of a famous Roman Pliny the Elder.
“It is well to add an account of the artists who won fame with the brush in painting smaller pictures. Amongst them was Peiraikos. In mastery of his art but few take rank above him, yet by his choice of a path he has perhaps marred his own success, for he followed a humble line, winning however the highest glory that it had to bring. He painted barbers’ shops, cobblers’ stalls, donkeys, eatables and similar subjects, earning for himself the name of rhyparographos [painter of dirt/low things]. In these subjects he could give consummate pleasure, selling them for more than other artists received for their large pictures.”
By painting simple things extremely well, the artist not only made a good living for himself, his art outlived the canvas it was painted on. His skill made an impression on a man whose writings are still with us to this day. Because he was both skilled, practical, and a good businessman, he made an impression on someone whose writings are with us to this day.
While I don’t expect my recent western watercolor still life to last for generations, it has even more of an interest to me because it led to this story. It’s also a lesson I fill to all artists, yes you should paint what you love, but you should also find a way to paint something or in a manner others love. Whether you sell or give away your art, if they find beauty in it, it’s a success.
Every artist desires to find an appreciative audience, but the art has to appeal to the audience. This is true whether it’s a still life or a comedian. Interview a comedian and they will tell you that while delivery is important, the joke has to be funny. My appreciation of art led to appreciating brush strokes, but it didn’t start that way. I started liking the picture, and that led to learning more.
I’ve heard many times the discussion of an artist and a gallery. This is where the gallery says, “we sold the painting of the windmill, can you paint another?” The artist says, “I’m tired of painting windmills.” While I understand both, I admire those artists who find a way to paint both what they like, and still sell windmills.
I imagine there were many painters in Peiraikos’ day who would not consider painting cobbler’s stalls, but I have to imagine because I’ve never heard of them. I do know one painter who actually painted what the cobbler wanted, because him I’ve heard of. If you’ll pardon the pun, there is still life in his work because it out lasted the Roman Empire.