Art in the Age of Recession

A few months ago I bumped into an artist friend at the National Academy. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and after a few minutes of hugging and kissing and the usual questions of “How have you been? What’s new?”, etc, I inquired about a lovely painting he made of me that I remembered well and was quite taken with. Suddenly, his expression changed. He looked a tad sheepish, and I was confused. “What?”, I said. “Um, I don’t have it anymore”, he answered. So my naive, positive self jumped to an optimistic conclusion. “Oh! You sold it!!” I exclaimed. That’s great!”. “No”, he replied. “I painted over it”. And then I became huffy and indignant and offended. :gasp: “You WHAT?????“. “I”m sorry Claudia,” he said, still shamefaced. “But I needed the canvas”.

Then I shifted into kidding-around mode, just to mess with him. I feigned outrage and stammered for an appropriate insult. “Why you . . . you . . . you . . . :searching for the word: . . . you rotten . . . :still searching: . . . you lousy . . . .recycler!!!!!!!.

Yeah, that told him! Not an “asshole”, not a “shithead”, not a “douchebag”, but a “recycler”. Ouch! That hurts, right? What a zinger. 😆

The truth is that, economic recession or not, artists are generally frugal in their habits. They will reuse painting surfaces, salvage materials, and waste nothing. I’ve seen artists drop a piece of charcoal on the floor and pick up every last broken fragment, even if it’s just a half-inch. Why bother? Because it’s a perfectly good piece of charcoal, that’s why. I’ve seen artists squeeze out paint tubes with pliers, flattening those suckers out until that last miniscule drop of pigment is extracted. Artists use both sides of paper for drawings, repair busted frames, and work with tiny stumps of pastel. And yes, they paint right over old, unwanted canvases.

I have here an example of artist recycling. I pose privately for my artist friend Janet Cook, and just before we took the holiday break she wanted to do a rough, preliminary “sketch” of an idea she’s thinking about for a future painting. So she dug up an old painting that she obviously doesn’t care about and started working. That’s me holding a chocolate box, and that’s another model behind me, slowly getting buried, gradually disappearing and receding into the art afterlife.


As an artist’s model, I have been both the buried and the burier in this re-using canvases routine. Honestly, it sucks to be buried. You think to yourself, “All my hard work, my strenuous posing, and nothing to show for it! No physical proof that it ever happened.” :sob: :sniffle: Ah, but you learn to get over it and not take it personally. Just remember, though, the next time you’re looking at a painting, the hidden image of a model might be buried under layers of the surface paint. In other words, it might actually be two paintings in one.

My post title is a bit misleading because artists always work as if there’s a recession. They’re well aware that no bailout money will ever come their way, no government “rescue” is in the offing, and that studio rent and art supplies can be costly. So they are skillful, resourceful masters of penny-pinching. An old coffee can makes a fine paintbrush holder. An old pasta sauce jar makes a fine vessel for solvent. Hey, why not? I’m a “saver” myself and think recycling is a darn good thing. I do, however, draw the line at coffee filters 😆

My late father was a child of the Great Depression. He wasted nothing, and if he were here today he’d give enthusiastic kudos to artists and their economical practices. Hmm, perhaps the Wall Street CEOs should take some tips from thrifty artists. To them I say, better start scrimping and saving, boys! If things keep going the way they are, it won’t be long before you know what it’s like to, metaphorically, “need the canvas”.

4 thoughts on “Art in the Age of Recession

  1. Ron says:

    I seem to recall some movie where a lost masterpiece was found when it was determined that there someone had painted another picture over it but I don’t remember the name of it.

  2. Stephen says:

    This made me laugh. I have a ritual where I collect watercolour tubes for a year and then spend an afternoon with pliers flattening the tubes then crimping the nozzle in a vice to get out the last blob. Silly but strangely satisfying. Actually, maybe not so silly, watercolours are extremely expensive here in South Africa with our currency slowly dwindling – but that is for a different blog!

    That is a beautiful painting Janet Cook is burying. What a shame. There must be a wall somewhere waiting for this picture.

    What a refreshing site – thanks for the short history of Carravagio. I read that he was long left off the list of recognised ‘masters’. His life reminds me of Mozart and Evariste Galois who was a mathematical genius whose life was similarly wasted.

  3. artmodel says:

    Ron, that sounds vaguely familiar, but i can’t remember the name either. Let me know if you come up with it.

  4. artmodel says:


    I’m so glad you visited Museworthy. And if this post made you laugh, well then my work here is done! Really, I love making my readers laugh and smile.

    I knew that an artist like yourself could relate to this. No, it’s not silly at all to get the most out of your paints. I was right about the pliers! Very effective method for paint squeezing.

    Yes, Janet decided to bid a fond farewell to that old painting. But believe me, she will make up for it with her new one. Both she, and her model 😉 , are up to the task.

    Thank you for your kind words about the blog. The Caravggio post was a favorite of many and I enjoyed writing it.

    Glad you posted a comment, Stephen. I hope you do again!


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