Shop Talk with Amiel Mesner
Even as a child, art was my true calling. I did poorly in school because nothing was more important than my learning to draw. Art schools weren’t worried about my low grades because my drawings won them over.
I didn’t know people thought there was a difference between decorative art and fine art. All I wanted was to develop my skills and techniques. In my studies, I saw what all brilliant art has in common: exceptional skills and exceptional techniques.
After art school, Stephanie and I knew we wanted to make our living as artists. It wasn’t even a decision. We just knew. Being devoted to art defines who we are. Our work comes from passion and beauty.
I found work in theater set design, heightening drama and charming an audience—which isn’t that different from what Arteriors does today. I followed my passion, but stayed practical. With children and responsibilities, I had to make a living. If there hadn’t been enough work, I would’ve done something else and painted on weekends. I’m grateful I kept finding work that helped me hone my skills.
Here’s a Maxfield Parrish re-creation in front of a landscape we designed and painted way back when. (Carolyn Ross Photo)
How did I learn decorative art?
First, a foundation from the School of the Museum of Fine Art. Then sets and scenery for the Boston Opera Company, which led to additional art-for-hire freelancing. Further refinement of my skills occurred at the Huntington Theatre Company, Boston and the American Repartory Theatre, Cambridge. This led to a job at Bloomingdale’s as a commercial painter, which then led to providing decorative finishes for the designer showrooms. That’s where I perfected my faux finish techniques. From there, private homes and restaurants were the next logical step.
I love creating decorative art and I’m living my dream—but decorative art is different than art that intentionally provokes. Stephanie and I have an ongoing conversation about how decorative art and provocative art can both be fine art.
Decorative art and provocative art both qualify because of the devotion to technique that’s needed to make beautiful works of art. When someone tries to claim decorative art can’t be fine art, it seems like they’re being arbitrarily judgmental. Personally, I have profound respect for both; they just have different purposes.
Provocative art’s a personal statement. At its best, an artist makes a thought-provoking statement about culture or the human condition. Done right, it’s gorgeous and powerful. Provocative art can also make statements about how life is sometimes disturbing. Provocative art can hold a mirror up to truths about society that are uncomfortable to see.
Decorative art’s not about the artist’s statement. At Arteriors, we’re a conduit for our client’s vision. Decorative art aims to please the eye and evoke pleasant emotions from the audience. Decorative art is about channeling artistic talent to express what the client wants to express.
Decorative art comforts the viewer by transporting them to a different place. It’s not about reminding people that the world can be harsh. Decorative art depicts ideals, conjuring illusions that transcend everyday experiences. Murals can invoke the serenity of an expanse of beautiful sky, a favorite vacation spot, or a forest full of animals. Along with transporting the viewer to a favorite location or era, decorative art can imbue a room with warmth. Decorative art can radically transform a space, resulting in richer and more luxurious surroundings.
Gallery art is often “fine art that acts like decorative art.” The first stage is often when developing artists make the personal statement: See, I can do it too! As such, representational art is usually where artists begin. Then many try to determine what will sell: I’ll make fishing boats in Gloucester for the coastal crowd, or maybe Hudson River School-style landscapes for upstate New York!
The truth is that all art deserves to shine. I have an abiding love for art in all its forms, including the magic of creating an environment that makes people feel good. Arteriors is devoted to that noble pursuit. I adore Picasso and I’ll always remain astounded by his mastery of so many diverse techniques and mediums, but I’m not trying to be Picasso. I want to use color and light like a gourmet chef uses ingredients: creating harmony for an unforgettable experience.
Many brilliant artists did commissions. John Singer Sargent painted commissioned portraits and murals. The Boston Public Library and the MFA show his murals. Sargent believed that his murals were his most serious avocation and that portraiture was merely work made for bread and butter and that it was “decorative” in nature.
(For another example of the fine art of murals, please take a look at our article about mural painting.)
Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings at Mass MOCA in North Adams, MA explore both decorative art and provocative art.
When I create provocative art, I experiment. I shoot from the hip and embrace happy accidents that lead me to places I’ve never been—but my decorative art is fine art as well and that fine art needs to be precise because every motion counts. Our clients expect and deserve fabulous results. Lately, commercial businesses are buying our services more frequently because they see the value we provide to their clients.
I compare our creative process to golf. The drive off the tee is the sample for the client. We get close to the target and then, like putting, win by using finesse. If someone doesn’t know what they’re doing with decorative art, they can’t deliver. The process needs to be precise and smoothly executed in order for it to be cost-effective. The better a decorative artist is, the more value there is to the artisanal work they create. Our clients love what we do because they can’t find anyone else who can create works of art as beautiful as ours.
My decorative art needs precision in order to exceed expectations and have lasting value.
Making a living with decorative art isn’t about how much you can charge per hour. It’s about high-speed precision and conserving the client’s money—not being quick and dirty or hoping to get lucky with experiments. The creations are always different, but decorative art needs to hit the target every single time.
Arteriors: connecting feeling to fine art.