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Is all new Western Art cloned from something else? We continue looking for answers

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On Friday we set out to ask and answer a simple question: Is all Western Art essentially the same kinds of work repeated year in and year out, or is that just a myth that comes from people who don’t know anything about what Western Art really is?

The result at the first show wasn’t as simple as it might seem, so we’ve returned again this time taking artwork from three separate shows: The Western Heritage Artists Footprints on the Trail show at the Holiday Inn, the Russell Skull Society Artists’ Exhibits show at the Mansfield Events Center, and finally the Great Western Living and Design show at the Montana ExpoPark.

We attempted to find a broad range of art types, however inherent in any kind of study of art is paying more attention to those pieces that you find more appealing than the others. I also will share a few observations while attending several shows throughout the weekend that were not photographed but help fill in the parts of this puzzle. We tried focusing on pieces that really did well in terms of originality this time instead of focusing on what wasn’t working.

And, again, I’d like to remind you that a high score, a low score, or a mediocre score on the Originality Index Rating scale does not speak to the quality of the work.

Nearly all of the works on display during Western Art Week are of a high quality, but rather it speaks to how original the piece is compared to what things people who have attended Western Art Week for a long period of time over the years have likely seen many times before.

Anyhow, let’s get to the art, shall we?

First up is this piece from Margo Fox at the Footprints on the Trail show


What’s cool about this piece is the mysterious, dark tone that permeates it throughout. If you’ve ever spent any long periods of time out in the wilderness, you know that things can get dangerous and spooky very quickly if you’re not careful.

This piece gets our Originality Index Rating score of 6 out of 10.

Here right out of the gates we’re going to tackle the originality vs. quality question. If we were to grade this piece on quality, it’d likely be a 10 out of 10. But, in terms of originality, it’ gets a bit of a lower rating because of the familar content. At the end of the day it’s a very well-done landscape picture in black and white, but a landscape painting all the same.

Studying this piece closer up, the way it plays with shadows and light sets it apart because it helps set the eerie mood nicely and the subtle mixtures in the clouds of blacks, whites and greys signal a sense of danger in the air when you look at it.

The piece is a good reminder that when it comes to western art, not everything has to be pleasant and happy. There are plenty more emotions or feelings for an artist to draw from when creating their pieces. The dangerous tone and the fact that it’s in black and white help make it something other than just another landscape painting.

Next up here’s a piece titled “Eagle John” by Jerry McKellar at the Russell Skull Society exhibition sitting next to several other of his pieces.

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This piece’s strength is it’s intricate curves and contours, particularly in the man’s beard. This piece gets our Originality Index Rating score of 9 out of 10.

The lighting of this photo doesn’t quite do the piece justice so here’s another from McKellar’s website.

Eagle John 1


As you can see in this photo, the man’s beard almost looks like waves in the ocean, the way they ripple and move despite the fact that they’re sitting motionless in bronze.

The style is consistent throughout the piece, as well, with the same types of contours not only found in the man’s beard, but also his eyebrows and wolf cap on his head.

This piece oozes personality and originality and is very captivating to look at. As I was walking along through the Skull Society exhibits, as we were about to leave, I found myself stopping, turning around and taking a photo of this piece because it had caught my eye in a way that few other sculptures tend to do.

If you imagine what this man might have looked like in person, you might think of him as a sea captain, or a fur trader of some sort with a bevy of tales about living in the wild, going where few have ever gone before.

Next up let’s take a look at this piece titled “Lloyd and Flint” from John H. Warren at the Western Living and Design Show.


While it’s sort of hard to see from this photo, this piece is actually two separate images folded into one.

If you look at it from the left you’ll see one image, and if you view it from the right you’ll see a different one entirely.

This picture gets our Originality Index Rating score of 9 out of 10.

The fact of the matter is you’re not going to see any other pieces like this one anywhere else at Western Art Week. It’s a simple idea executed in an original way.

By using this accordion style of design with strips of two photos, this artist made something that is a conversation starter and pushes the boundaries of what a picture should look like.

The only way this could have gotten more original was if the pictures you see when you look at either angle weren’t so drab but instead were of something crazy that you’d never think of seeing on a piece of canvas.

As it is, though, this is up there as one of the most creative pieces of Western Art we saw all weekend.

Next, let’s take a look at this lamp from James and Mary Smile out of Rollins, Mont.

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This piece gets our Originality Index Rating score of 7 out of 10

The first thing that strikes me about this lamp is how it’s not only a piece of art but also a functional piece of furniture. Everyone needs lamps in their home and this one is quite original in that sense.

This piece is original because of it’s Western style not despite of it. If you were to look at hundreds of wall lamps across the country, you might find only a handful that look anything like this one does. That’s got to account for something when it comes to originality.

However, looking at it from the spectrum of “western art” vs. “all art” and you maybe start to understand that it’s really using a lot of well-known themes and ideas that have come to define what one thinks of when they’re looking for “Western” décor.

And therein lies the rub with most western art. When it comes to comparing all western art to other genres, it’s quite separate.

Think about it, if you were to walk into any art museum in New York City and looked at what you saw on the walls or in the corridors, I can almost guarantee that you would not see any western art.

It might be the most isolated genre of art, which isn’t a knock, simply stating that it’s not one that gets the same worldwide attention that styles such as abstract impressionism, pop art or photorealism gets.

However, there’s still room for improvement within the genre itself. On Saturday as we were walking through several artists’ rooms, one woman, who identified herself as a “big fan of western art” said she wasn’t sure if the room she walked into was one she had been in earlier because it looked too similar to some of the other ones.

That to me speaks volumes about one issue Western Art might always face. When your’e a Western Artist, how do you separate yourself from the others doing the same thing that many others already are doing?

One artist, Ed Anderson, uses an illustrative, primary colors type style that several others have done quite well. People such as Harry Koyama, Nancy Cawdrey or Carol Hagan use such a style in vastly different ways, also.

Others, such as Tom Gilleon, experiment with new mediums.

Gilleon, if you remember from last year, unveiled a digital painting at the Russell Museum titled “Hungry Fox Equinox.” He’s also since displayed another digital painting titled “Three Wise Men” in Big Sky.

Those experimentations are what every artist should strive to go after. While it’s nice to have a steady paycheck every Western Art Week because you know the same types of people are going to be attracted to the same kinds of pieces, that to me goes against what it means to be a true artist.

A true artist is never satisfied with settling on one type of work. If you were fine with that, why would you be an artist in the first place? There are many better paying professions that reward people for being consistent in what they do.

Art, however, is more than that. Art is about trying new things, exploring new concepts and after failing to make a connection, finally, even if just once, reaching people in a way that they’ve never been reached before.

So, overall I’d rate this Western Art Week a 6 out of 10 in terms of Originality. I did see lots of cool original items at all of the shows I attended.

But, well, I still wanted to see more. I know, however, perfectly well that I’m not a member of the core demographic of people in which Western Art Week is designed around.

However, I still feel that there’s room to reach out to people who seek originality in the genre rather than continuing to settle on working with what’s already been done hundreds of times before.

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