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Welcome back to the Cooper studio on this lovely and sunny Saturday. We'll keep it brief. Simply a finished painting to share with you:
It's All In How You Tell It, an acrylic painting on a perfect little 12 inch canvas. It's shown in my website portfolio, and it will make its début out in the world tomorrow at the Octagon Art Festival, Ames, Iowa.
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Welcome to the Cooper studio. Yup, still on the topic of that summer art fair. Who'da thunk it was so complicated, eh?
The summer art fair. And no, we don't have to limit ourselves, it could be a fall event--we'd even allow winter if you move it indoors. Think art festival, then it becomes season-less or generically seasoned. However/whatever.
Today we need to talk about one of the major problems with the art festival venue. In a nutshell? Rampant abuse of the format.
I've looked into the history of the art fair a bit. The original purpose was for a group of artists to show their work, sans a brick and mortar style gallery. It makes perfect sense that the local art center or art gallery would help with that, organizationally speaking. They often pull in a lot of volunteer work, and their mission statements tend to read like:
Our Mission: To bring People and Art together
Our Vision: To enhance the quality of Life through Art
Our Goal: To provide communication and aesthetic appreciation of the visual fine arts, through the use of education
It's About the Art.
Experience collaborative, creative merrymaking at its finest. Join friends old and new...
From a spark of love of the arts and small town life, the idea of Art on the Prairie grew with dedicated planning...
How did we get from that to a company directing a collection of 14 art fairs? And in the off season hosting a "boot camp" to tell artists what they need to do to be art fair artists? Average price to "show your art" there? $479. And then the company grows and needs to make more money, so of course, another art fair is created. Is it about the art, or about the company needing more revenue? Please don't tell me you need a moment or two to think about your answer.
And of course, they are not the only culprits. When the local school dance team needs a fund raiser, their moms decide to host an art fair. When the town 4th of July festival isn't big enough, they add on an art fair to attract more attention and numbers. Does it matter that they don't have a clue about showing art and their mission statement doesn't have anything to do with promoting art?
"We can charge the artists to show us samples of their art, and make some money there, and then we can pick the ones we like to exhibit their art at our fair and make even more money there." "We can make money, lots of money" .
Which is all well and good for the hosts of art fairs. But what happens when there is an art show every other weekend? When the art fair patrons begin to see the art show as "just another art show, and we went to one last weekend so why go to this one, it's pretty much the same."?
Obviously the art fair patron is the ultimate decision maker regarding the success of the art fair. But the artist doesn't need to be the hapless victim caught in the middle. If you are an art fair artist, or planning on becoming one, do some questioning first:
1. Who is hosting/directing the fair?
2. What is their goal or mission statement?
3. Is it business or is it art?
Think of it like this: Is it called an art fair, or a money fair? Whoa. Caught you, did I? If as artists we would chose to exhibit at events that put the art first, could we thin out the events that think of their revenue first?
Because when the art fair host thinks "anything for a buck" it trickles down to the artist. And when the artist thinks "anything for a buck" they start to use phrases like "cobble something together to sell next weekend/next year". That's not good for the artist. It's not good for the art fair patron. Most of all it's not good for art.
When you look at that schedule of art fairs for 2012, please, put art first. Thanks for reading.
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Welcome to the Cooper studio, where we've predetermined to talk again about the summer art fair.
Aaaah, sunny days, the green grass of the park scattered with cute little white tents, happy artists selling their fine art....
Oh wait. How much of that line is fiction? Imaginary? Delusional? A sham?
I've spent quite a bit of research time lately on the topic of the "fine art fair". Some of them have a heck of a history.
Every time I looked up one of the grandaddy art fairs, and was able to find their mission statement, they all seemed to have something in common. Some examples for you to peruse:
---Wanting to create an event where local artists could showcase their work to the community, Womer established the first 57th Street Art Fair in 1948
---The Annual Edmonds Arts Festival began in 1957. The mission then as now, was to celebrate and promote the arts with a lively and pleasurable presentation of local and national work.
---It all began one hot Chicago summer in the early 80's when four neighborhood artists (Bob Smeltzer, Joe Kotzman, Tony Cachapero and Rodney Patterson) decided to have an art fair--a picnic in the park. Rodney suggested that it might be a good opportunity for local artists to show and share their work to each other and to their neighbors.
Did you catch the commonality? They are all working to showcase the art, to friends, neighbors, community. To "celebrate and promote the arts". So how did we get from that, to this:
---Art Fair has become both tired and tiresome. It's held in the absolute hottest part of the summer. The prices are ridiculous and most of the so-called art is schlock. How many times can you mill through the crowds viewing the same old fare every year?
--Taken from a news article about parking garage revenue during the AnnArbor Art Fair, but certainly not a unique thought amongst art fair patrons.
What jumps out at you from that comment? Maybe the SO-CALLED ART IS SCHLOCK?
Shortly before reading the comment, I read another--this one a discussion at ArtFairInsiders regarding (of course) lackluster art fair sales, and various artists comments about if they would be exhibiting at art fairs next year. One artist said even with poor sales, she was not quitting. She would "cobble together" something that would sell.
What happened to celebrating the arts? Showing our work to the community? If the purpose of an art fair is to showcase our work to the community, shouldn't we be showing our best?
(here comes the politically incorrect part) Are you an artist, or not? Are you being delusional in calling what you exhibit at an art fair ART? Ouch. I suggest if you are cobbling something together that you think will sell, adding to the patron impression that the "so-called art is schlock", then maybe it's time to re-think your game plan.
There's always a discussion out there somewhere about "what art is" and there are a bazillion different answers. I suggest that "schlock" is not one of them. I also suggest that if you are cobbling together something to coax a twenty dollar bill out of some art fair patron's pocket, that something is not art either. The summer art fair is not dead, but it has been seriously injured. Injured by artists who have put grabbing a buck, in front of creating their art. Yes, we all have to make a living, but we'll do it best by keeping our priorities straight. Art fairs were created to showcase and celebrate art, not schlock.
If you are an artist planning on exhibiting at an art fair next summer, I'm asking you to bring your art. Bring your best art.
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Welcome to the Cooper studio, home again, after yet another summer art fair. You know, the little white tents, scattered around the park, or maybe up and down the street around the town square. Yeah, that summer art fair.
Before I left for Lake Forest, Illinois and Art Fair On The Square, (my most recent adventure) I was reading at ArtFairInsiders, a website for art fair artists. Several other artists had posted what event they were exhibiting at, and one specific post has remained on my mind. The woman had mentioned the weather forecast for the town they would be exhibiting in. Something about the forecast from hell, and please pray for them. Ha.
Let's talk about YOU being the artist at the summer art fair. There are a lot of ways we could/should look at this:
1. You and the physical work of exhibiting
2. You and the art work
3. You and the specific fair suitability
4. You and the business. Yes, I'm sorry. There will be math.
But let's begin at the very beginning, it's a very fine place to start...
You, and the physical work of exhibiting, at the summer art fair. Unfailingly at a summer art fair, there is a patron who romances the game. "Oh, it's so wonderful that you have such a great talent, and it must be so much FUN to come here and show your paintings! I'll bet you just love your job!" And her friend would be the one who assumes the tents are all set up and free for the taking by any artist wanting to show some art. I am so sorry to disappoint you, but that's not quite the way it happens. First of all, it's work. It's work coming and it's work going, and it's work in between. It's hard work. Do you shy away from things requiring physical labor? Then DO NOT consider the art fair venue. Let me explain. Please.
The white tents? It's BYO. Yup, you load them into your van at home, and you unload them when you get to the scene of the art fair. And they are not light weight. Set up? It's your job. Sometimes there's a stray boy scout or two, volunteering. But usually not. And do you realize how heavy a box of paintings can be when you have to carry it across the park lawn to your booth space that's at the top of the hill? Yup, still your job. Yes, get a cart for that, something more to load and unload, of course. And when everything is hung and pretty (also your job) there's the meeting and greeting to do. And smiling. And explaining. And discussing. Now, that part is all very enjoyable, but after 8 or 10 hours, you just might start to wear out a little. But never mind, because if it's a one day show, then everything has to fit back into your van for the drive home, and yup--it's YOUR job. If it's a two day show, most artists leave the white tent on site, but a lot of us load the paintings back into the van for safe keeping overnight.
Did I mention when it rains, no one comes to the rescue? All of the setup, all of the tear down--still the job of the art fair artist, whether it's raining or not. And when it's 103 degrees and the humidity is even higher?? Still your job.
Remember I mentioned weight? True, I was speaking of the weight of the white tent you are lugging around, but even THAT weight requires more weight. To hold it down. Because sometimes the wind blows in the park. And if your little white tent catches that wind it easily becomes a sail--unless you've weighted it down with weights on each corner post. Fifty pounds recommended. Each. And yes, that's your job too.
Do I sound grim? Sorry. I don't want you to be misled. To romanticize the whole thing. The summer art fair is a marvelous and fun place to show your art work. Well run events can have upwards of 20,000 people through in a single weekend. And visiting with a few of those people, about your paintings is a pleasurable thing, and that's the gospel truth. But it's accompanied by hard work, and don't you forget it.
Next up: the art work you want to exhibit at the summer art fair. My inherent lack of political correctness will probably cause some toe stepping. Ouch. Stay tuned.
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Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa.
We have no choice but to talk about making a statement today. "Why?" you ask? Because I have a very strong mental image front and center of one that I just viewed. Ha. See? No choice.
Let me paint the verbal picture for you: I had just delivered some new paintings to MaryRose Gallery in Perry, Iowa. As I started the car and began the return trip home, the very first intersection I came to yielded up the story root. There, driving down Second Avenue in Perry, Iowa: a vintage Jeep, and you know it had to be red. Did I mention it's a beautiful day in central Iowa? So of course the canvas top was back, letting the driver enjoy every part of his trip. At each corner post of the windshield was an American flag. The driver was seventy plus years, give or take a few. He'd taken it upon himself to make sure everyone knew what he was saying. Making his statement. Because right below the windshield, resting on the hood cover, he'd posted a sign, as wide as the jeep hood, and just the right height to fit under the windshield. In big black block letters he'd written and I quote: "Bite me". Whoa. I grabbed for my trusty camera and then realized he'd probably come after me with his cane, so no, no picture for you.
Making a statement. I guess he'd done that. I'm not here to tell you that I understand his statement completely. But I can tell you I'm still thinking about it. Wondering about it. Trying to figure it out. And I know the mental image isn't leaving me soon.
If we expand our definition of artist's canvas, and call his a "rolling canvas", he could check off "mission accomplished" for today, couldn't he? How about the rest of us? Have we made our statement in the visual arts world today? Or are we just going through the motions?
I recently read a comment from a fellow artist. The artist exhibits at summer art fairs, and has had a not so great summer. Vowing to not quit, she's planning to "cobble something together" to keep going. I want to know: how does to "cobble something together" equate with being an artist? Doesn't being an artist mean you've got some statement to make? Something MORE than I can "cobble this together" and sell it to you?
Maybe you've guessed by now, but I find that "cobble something together" phrase disturbing. Disturbing enough so that rolling around in the back of the mental blog file is a series of articles about the summer art fair. Stay tuned. I'll probably inadvertently be all kinds of politically incorrect in my attempt to make the statement. But it's a statement that is more and more needing to be made.
In the mean time, think about what it is that you are wanting to say with your art. It can be as simple as "I saw this and I loved it, and here's why". When art creation is a reaction to a stimulus experienced by the artist, the first big step toward something meaningful has been made. Go for it. And it WILL be a lovely day. Thanks for stopping by.
Dios mio. This post needs some color, and so a painting newly delivered to Perry, Iowa seems logical, eh? The Caboose Park:
The "Caboose Park" is an acrylic painting on canvas, 12 x 24 inches and available--sort of. It will be part of an auction at Art On The Prairie, this November 11th, 12th and 13th, in Perry. I guess that means you have to be there....
Cooper, on painting, blog