Lessons From The Farm – Part 1 of 4: “Know Your Shit”


There is really only one thing worth knowing for artists, and it comes from the knowledge of my grandfather who learned it from his father… who learned it from his father….and so on…..on the farm.

"Sentinel" ©2011 Janice Tanton. Oil on Linen. 40"x40". All Rights Reserved.
"Sentinel" ©2011 Janice Tanton. Oil on Linen. 40"x40". All Rights Reserved.

What is this great secret passed from generation to generation? It’s not “new”. It’s not “original” and it’s not mine. It’s…

Knowing your shit.

This also means:

Knowing the difference between shit.
Knowing when to call shit…shit. 

Giving a shit.


Master Po
Master Po speaks...

In this article, Part One of Four, we’ll cover the four major and most common types of art world shit: Bullshit, Horseshit, Cowshit & Chickenshit.

(Sheepshit will be saved for “Giving a Shit” as will “Pigshit” which will fall into the category of Leadership shit in Part Three: “Knowing When To Call Shit…shit.”)

Listen up, grasshoppers……I got some shit to tell you.


Napoleon Dynamite's Advice To Artists
Napoleon Dynamite's Advice To Artists

Lesson 1 :: BULLSHIT!


I am an old-school painting purist in my deepest hidden recesses, but I am loathe to be considered a conservative – either with or without the capital in that “C” word. I personally like masterful, well-executed paintings that exhibit the skills and vision of the artist with impeccable composition. I love and envy work by contemporary artists such as Collins, Gottlieb, Lipking and Nerdrum. I admire their technique, drool over their vision like a stroke victim. I laud their insight and am moved by their work AND, in some cases, at their ability to openly mock contemporary art, society and themselves.

“They got skills, ” as Napoleon Dynamite would say.

I do, however, rarely tolerate technical errors and loathe it when artists use shortcuts in place of taking the time to hone their skills. Like a farmer that lives on the same plot who comes to know every square inch of the land…this can  take years… lifetimes.

I feel in fifty years, I farmed me up some pretty good drawing skills….egg tempera skills…..watercolour skills….sculpting skills…..design skills…computer skills…film editing skills…..writing skills….oil painting skills and aside from the design skills, none of them happened in an institution of higher learning. I know that I’m still working hard on my skills and will be for the rest of my living days. That’s why it’s called an arts practice….and not a degree entitlement.

I’ll be practicing it forever. Degrees are finite…and boring….and commodified…and trite….shall I continue? Farmers know that no amount of university-larnin’ can equal the knowledge of a well-stewarded operation where know-how is passed down from one generation to another. Degrees are worth shit on the farm when push comes to shove.

I detest walking into galleries and seeing artists rely on tricks of new media to try and hide their lack of skills, time and devotion to their craft and process as much as I detest the curator gatekeepers who are afraid to yell “NAKED” at the foolish Emperor types. Call it bullshit when you see it.

My advice: What Napoleon said….Get some skills, man. Practice….THEN, take it for a ride off a sweet jump.

Mister T - "I pity dah fool."

Lesson 2 :: HORSESHIT!


Like Mr. T, I do pity the fool collector who falls prey to the tawdry dealings of unscrupulous gallery owners, selling the latest trend of an unskilled artist in the guise of “exciting new vision”.

Really? You want me to BUY that? Do I have my VILLAGE IDIOT shirt on?

I literally DON’T buy it, and neither should you. If you can show me that artist has spent time in art history, training, drawing skills, figurative work, classical atelier, research, teaching themselves, then yeah…maybe I’ll look at this “new work” you’ve got going on from this artist. Otherwise, don’t waste my time with this HORSESHIT and don’t expect respect for your work. Lesson from the farm: Respect is earned.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited when anyone wants to try out new technique and I’m technically savvy and highly interested in new media as the next chick. I support everyone in expressing themselves creatively, developing new skills and learning, but NOT when you want to be taken seriously as a professional and not when you haven’t done your due diligence and hold out some crazy piece of crap work in a smoke and mirrors gallery as something else, which it is clearly not.

Mr. T’s advice: “I pity dah fool who made that work and I pity day fool who got suckered enough to buy it.”


Lesson 3 :: COWSHIT!


Really? I should cowtow to your “kiss my ass mentality” because you just got out of your trendy, expensive university art school where you won some Cowshit award sponsored by some cowshit grocery chain, you’re under 30, you’re pompous, have some shock value shit going on and you’re think yourself the next Hirst, Warhol or Koons?

Kiss MY ass, you entitlement-tethered newb! Get a job waiting on tables and go back to Lesson One above – BULLSHIT.

Newsflash: You’re a rookie who’s been fooled by  university and college profs in cushy institutional jobs who fall mostly into the Lesson 4 CHICKENSHIT category below.

Name me ONE famous household named artist working permanently in these crap institutional settings….. C’mon – can’t do it, can you? And yet THIS is where you got your skills? Pshaw. Get over yourself. Crappity, crappity, crap, crap and crap.

Study with a pro. Find a professional working artist with an atelier who will take you on as an apprentice (if you can). Most of them will laugh you all the way back to your waiter job at The Keg unless your honest, willing and humble. Again…go back to Lesson One. Get skills, man.

Bart says: “School’s for fools. Kiss my ass. You know nothing. You are nothing but a piece of cowshit kid wet behind the ears with a ton to learn. If you’re not ready for that learning through the next sixty years of your life, pack up your entitlement issues back to your Mommy and Daddy with your piece of Horseshit (Lesson 2) art and your foolish-flunked-out-art-history-know-it-all-lower-than-a-used-car-salesman gallery rep and join the rank and file.”

Cowardly Lion

Lesson 4 :: CHICKENSHIT!


Chickenshit is the worst kinda shit on the shit scale. If you ever worked on the farm, you’d know that.

A couple weeks back, Seth Godin posted a particularly awesome piece on being Stupid vs. Lazy, offering up the “excuse” of being stupid rather than admitting to the fact that you’re just damned lazy and you don’t want to do the work.

I had to think about that for awhile – things I had been trying to achieve. Was I claiming to be “stupid”….or just lazy and not willing to put the level of effort in required to achieve the desired results? I’ll let you guess at that answer.

I’d like to add the CHICKENSHIT ingredient to that stew. So many artists are just too darned CHICKENSHIT to actually even admit being stupid OR lazy in their own skill and professional development. (BTW….I think sometimes I’m being both stupid and lazy and chickenshit, but at least I know how to recognize the illness.)

Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes effort. Yes, it takes sweat. Yes, it takes money. Yes, it takes getting screwed around, by colleagues, other artists, gallery owners. Yes, if you live on the farm you’ll get kicked a couple times. You’ll make mistakes. What makes you think you’re so different? There’s no such thing as “talent” and no one is going to hand it to you on a silver platter.

The Great Oz says: “There’s no “quick fix” shortcut, you chickenshit. GET off your chickenshit stupid, lazy hiney and do the work!”


A million comedians...outta work.

Try the beef. (It came from a farm where they know shit.)

I’m here till Sunday!

That is all.







Mat Gleason for the Huffington Post: Twelve Art World Habits To Ditch in 2012


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Canuck Plumber

    Haha! Nice. Thats it. Let it all out. This stuff really does roll downhill. Great read.

  2. Don McIntyre

    took some time out of my comprehensive examination studies to read your blog. Made me feel like shit. thanks. Don’t know if I’ll bother going to the studio to paint. d

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