This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
To say that we live in an isolated corner of a forgotten state gives the implication that there is even more of a vibrant art scene here than there is.
My Little Hometown, 30 miles from our rural farm, like many little and mid-sized burghs throughout the nation, natters on about its “art community,” and the brochures and the websites and the press releases are tireless in their assertion that we are a center for bustling and thriving Art Action Now!
If you’re real quiet and have got a good set of binoculars, you might even stumble upon a real, live, working artist out in the bush somewhere. (There are quite a few, incidentally, but they’re quietly working while the city fathers around them jabber.)
In real life, however, where real people live, we’re not a mini-Santa Fe, NM, or Scottsdale, AZ.
You know how Bugs Bunny was always missing the road to Albuquerque and winding up in some remote backwater with Yosemite Sam?
THAT place has more of an art scene than Our Little Town.
But I never realized that this was actually a good thing until I returned, quite recently, from a visit to an arts community that lives up to its name, with a respectable, quantifiable number of artists and galleries and year-round art walks and studios and all that stuff.
By gum, there was a lot of art flowing through this town, which was a town, not a very big one, but fortuitously placed in an area where lots of tourists like to congregate.
And you know something else about all that art?
Most of it was bad.
Without getting into arguments with people about art quality and whether or not we can ever call any piece of art “good” or “bad,” (for the record: yes, we can), much of the work produced by the many artists milling around this village was of amateur quality – you’ve seen it; you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been to a community college first-year student art show, then you’ve seen what the galleries in this community – most of them artist co-ops – had to offer.
In reading through the artist statements of the gallery and co-op participants, I stumbled upon a theme: very, very few of them had shown their work outside of their personalized bustling art community. They didn’t see a need to, because there were so many apparent opportunities right at their feet.
This is typical of what I read, over and over and over:
“Since 2001, I have exhibited a total of 18 pieces in the City Ice-Cream Shoppe’s annual Cool Art Flavor show. I studied under the amazing and fabulous Prudence Artista (who has taught a number of the locals, it seems) and the crowning achievement of my art career was to be juried into the Best of the Bunch Co-op Gallery. My art speaks deeply to the inner being of all the people who see it.”
In 10 years, this artist publicly exhibited 18 pieces in one venue, for an average of 1.8 pieces per year.
“Maybe she means 18 pieces per year,” one counters.
Does it read that way to you?
But okay, let’s grant her the 18 pieces, maybe the same 18 pieces that she shows in one small, local show at a restaurant per year, and let’s move on to studying under Prudence.
I saw Prudence’s work – it was in another co-op – and my first thought was, “This person’s got potential.” Not potential to teach right now, mind you, but potential to move forward in her art under a decent teacher.
And the crowning achievement: jurying into the Best of the Bunch Gallery.
This sounds like a good point to stop until next week, when we’ll discuss how too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a good thing, and how frustration, lack of apparent opportunity, rejection, and running headlong into brick walls are experiences that you don’t want to miss.