Conclusions and Thoughts of the Future of the Genre
Miniature art today is approaching a critical, yet exciting, dimension as a genre. The historical timeline has shown successive waves of influence and productivity that ebbed and flowed corresponding with the generations of the leading proponents of the art. The leadership of today’s miniature art societies has at hand the prospects of developing new styles, dissemination of information more efficiently than ever before and the increased recognition for the merits of contemporary miniature art by the academia. In the past few decades, they have solidified their guidelines and expectations and have set forth shining examples of ideal works via their exhibitions and permanent collections.
Lack of youth and innovative newcomers remain the key threat to the longevity and vitality of the miniature movement. Various efforts to cater and appeal to their participation have fallen short. Elevating the prestige and recognition of miniature art and the financial rewards of participation are perhaps the best hope which is hinging upon the efforts of a few dedicated leaders and volunteers facing the monumental task. They, and the cultured minority of miniaturists, must become the interpreters and educators to the public, leading by example in the quality of their work and infecting those who interact with them and their work with the same enthusiasm with which the love of miniatures overwhelmed them.[i] It is imperative that they continue to delineate between miniatures and small works and emphasize that although all miniatures should be fine art, not all very small fine art can be recognized as miniature.[ii] Some fine art, based solely on attributes of technique, cannot be translated into miniature without making nonsense of the genre. Such a work incorporates aspects of miniatures, but as an art object, is not considered a miniature.Consider a modern art piece of nothing more than a single colored canvas or a simple geometric sculpture. Such a work, based solely on diminutive size, is unbecoming of the established miniature genre which has expectations regarding all three components: technique, size and scale. The genre has inherent limitations based upon its format and scale that challenge artists seeking to pursue the art. Such challenges pose no real threat to artistic masters in conventional size when they meet them.[iii] As Stephen Doherty, editor for American Artist Magazine, noted:
I think I can speak with some authority when I say that some of the most talented artists at work in the country today are intrigued with the challenge of working in a miniature scale, and are satisfied with the intimate nature of their artistic expressions. M. Stephen Doherty [iv]
Those with aspirations of pursuing a career in miniature art today face the same artistic challenge as in 1850-1860 with mechanical processes cornering the low end market for art and the high end remaining dominated by styles that are far easier to produce than the tedious and laborious efforts of ideal miniature art. Most will choose to pursue miniature art alongside another career or production in art. The number of societies dedicated to miniature art, as well as the overall number of participating miniaturists, has waned in recent years. Attrition due to advancing age of members and defection to more profitable or easier to produce genres is outpacing newcomers despite clear improvements on behalf of guiding leaders. Just as noted over a century ago, the movement would benefit from more uniformity and clarification of its ideals.[v]The insightfulness to pursue miniatures as a niche, realizing the inability to please everyone, leads to success and posterity, and the hope is that the self-sacrifices made by individuals willing to work within the miniature’s restrictive format on behalf of the common good, is palatable enough to merit the necessary changes.
The internet has become an indispensable tool for miniaturists of the 21st century as both an essential means of education and collaboration. Surely, all the competing art forms laying claim to the title of miniature, would have swallowed the historic genre had it not been for the defensive lines established by the websites of the miniature art societies and the peer-to-peer exchanges in the online forums and behind-the-scenes emails. Miniature art society websites and those of individual miniaturists have begun to more proactively educate about the genre via listings of information and history, specific pertinent quotes and samples of quality miniature work, but they still remain more static in function. Two online forums are presently dedicated to miniature art: Wet Canvas/Miniature Art and the Yahoo Miniature Art Forum.[vi]Wet Canvas, founded in 2005, embraces all forms of small art with no emphasis on technique or regards to affiliation with formal miniature art societies. The Yahoo Forum, founded by Jim Smith and Vicki Taute in 2003, by contrast, aligns itself with formal societies and exhibits following their guidelines. The Yahoo group formulated and adopted the Association of Miniature Artists standard definition for miniature and uses it as a basis for foundation and mutual consensus. Unlike Wet Canvas which is solely a process of dialogue exchange, the Yahoo Forum has dedicated sections for files containing reference materials: suggested books, supplies, show applications and links to pertinent websites. In addition to the usual image albums of members’ works are those highlighting studio/workspaces; references for techniques of style, matting, framing and historical samples; and individual albums featuring images of exhibitions around the world. Both of these groups have been instrumental in educating peers and encouraging new participants in the miniature genre.
Miniaturists of the digital age cannot even conceive of the technological advances that will be made in their lifetimes that will impact the production and marketing of their art. Just as the miniature painter Rembrandt Peale noted in 1857 that the daguerreotype and print photography had killed bad miniature painting while stimulating artists to emphasize the strengths of their productions, these modern achievers will find ways of championing the works of their hands over the machines.[vii]
The greatest advantage to the pursuit of miniature art is the ability of an artist to pursue the work with minimal studio space and comparatively low overhead expense in materials. Framing, shipping and the daily conduct of business are also a minor fraction of that with conventional scaled work. Undoubtedly, the sole pursuit of miniatures as a lucrative financial career is nigh impossible with the modern cost of living, competitive art market and relatively low price points of miniature work. Career success has been attained by a few today that emphasize niche marketing and diligent attention to the unique qualities of miniatures. The words of old still ring true today: “Men and women can afford miniatures when the oil portrait seems beyond their purse.”[viii]
Dudley Heath, proclaimed of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the exponential growth of miniaturists alone did not constitute a renaissance.[ix] He knew future success was not contingent upon numbers but rather quality, and that a few dedicated leaders and talented exponents of the art could make the lasting impression required upon future generations to maintain the legacy of the genre. Such are the individuals rising to the occasion today. Their efforts, mostly out of the public eye, will bear significant results in time. May this book inspire and promote, but above all show the love for the genre held by those who practice it. In the words of scholar, Roy Strong “Long may it flourish as a genre!”[x]
The content below has been added by the author as pertinent to the reader with the subject of the specific chapter. If you are a MAA Signature Member and have information relevant for this, or any other chapter, please contact the author.
– On page 97 of Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America, I placed an old photograph at the top of the page. The gentleman in that photo is Alfred Praga, founder and President of the Society of Miniaturists, c. 1900. Here is a link to a silent film of him in 1927 painting a miniature: http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=9916 (He apparently softened his stance on the use of magnifying glasses as he aged.)
[vi] The Wet Canvas Forum < http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=219> and The Yahoo Miniature Art Forum <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/miniatureart/> accessed 7.2009.
[vii] The Crayon Vol.4, Part 2 (February 1857), 44. <http://www.daguerre.org/resource/texts/portrait.html> accessed 10.2009.