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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 this summer, I'm asking you to bring your art. Bring your best art.
Editor's Note: You can view Karen's original post here.