Lessons Learned from A Commissioned Painting
One of my favorite plants is a Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum). I can see why it is given as a gift to those who have lost their loved ones because its gentle arched foliage evoke feelings of comfort and tranquility. Recently, my Peace Lily decided to give me several beautiful white blossoms. As I was dusting off its leaves I was instantly reminded of an experience I had many years ago as an artist and the valuable lessons learned from a commissioned painting.
I studied Life Drawing at the American Art School and also attended the Art Students League of New York where I was fortunate to study Portraiture with John Howard Sanden, the founder of the Portrait Institute. From these valuable lessons I quickly became quite proficient and began accepting commissions for realistic style portraits. I also sold many Impressionistic florals and garden paintings.
One customer came to my studio and ordered a portrait painting to give as a surprise gift to his wife. He handed me several photographs of his father-in-law who had recently died. He thought it would be a wonderful homage to his wife’s father to have a portrait made of him. Although I recognized this as an unusual request, I accepted his order and his 50% deposit.
Two weeks later he came to pick up the portrait and was very impressed at the likeness I had achieved of his father-in-law. Extremely satisfied, he gave me the final payment.
Two days later this gentleman returned with the painting and an apology. He told me that the portrait resembled his father-in-law so well that every time his wife looked at it she began to sob. In fact, she couldn’t bear to look at it. That was not the response he wished for and in retrospect I can understand why she reacted the way she did.
I felt terrible! To imagine that my painting brought so much pain was heartbreaking. Although it wasn’t required of me or any artist to return payments for commissioned work that was accepted, I offered one anyway. He adamantly refused telling me how much he respected my talent and valued the time and detail I put into the painting.
However, I felt compelled to do something for his wife, so I offered to give them a painting I had created of a Peace Lily — at no charge. (Sorry, I no longer have a photograph of the painting.)
A few days later the customer returned to my studio with his wife. They both thanked me profusely for the gift. With their huge smiles and warm hugs they told me they hung the painting in a special place in their living room. They expressed how the painting brought them solace and joy and that it brought back positive memories of their beloved father, and lessened the grief they were experiencing at the time.
What did I learn from this experience?
I continued to accept portrait commissions but not one of a person who was no longer alive. And, I didn’t accept portrait commissions from third parties. The only exceptions I made were to do portraits of people’s pets who had passed, but the commissions came directly from the pets’ owners.
Another huge lesson I learned was about the tremendous healing power of art. How art can alter a person’s state of mind, heal wounds and bring comfort to the owner. An artist has the opportunity to connect with the heart and soul of another human being, even a total stranger. And, now every time I look at my Peace Lily I can relive a joyful memory.
Artists also have the opportunity to sell their art as a healing modality to be placed in hospitals, medical treatment centers and healing venues. You may want to learn about my e-Book “Sell Your Art in the Healthcare Art Market”.
*About Renee Phillips