Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

I'm a relative newbie to art festivals, having done just one so far. As I begin to apply for 2020's shows, I would like some input on what subject matter to choose for jurying.

Much of my photography is abstracts and nature details. I tend not to do much landscape or wildlife, which is mostly what I see at art fairs.

I've found quite a few threads here with great information on the topic of image quality with regard to jurying, but not much that addresses subject matter. One comment of note was that at one jury, the director "...opened by telling the jurors they were NOT there to curate a museum exhibit or even populate an art show; they were there to select art that would be purchased by attendees from the region."

Knowing that each show has its own clientele/region combination, are there some guidelines or hints as to which subject matter a given jury would be most receptive to? (I do realize my jury images need to reflect what will be in my booth.)

Thank you!

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There is no yes or no answer. Try and come up with a subject that others are not doing or a similar subject treated in a way to make it look different.

Depending on where you live, make plans to attend an open jury to see what your competition is submitting.

Larry Berman

Which show had a director who made that statement?

Columbus (OH) Art Festival - The text I quoted is here:

Choose what represents the best of your work, in your eyes. If your work is good, it will speak for itself. The jurors have to make some decisions to cut out mediocre work, and from that perspective, the words you quote do ring true. But beyond that, my experience is that the unique will get accepted into shows that are worthy of your work. I also do photography and my work is not like anyone else's, and I keep it that way because to do nothing more than copy the style of another because it "sells" would not feed my passion. I have only been turned down for one show that I applied to, and I knew when I applied it was a long shot.

I rarely have a person who passes my tent who does not walk in and take time to look at my work, rave over it and express how much they enjoy it. Sales do not always reflect that, since I have very vibrant photos that do not always easily translate to the neutral color palettes of people's homes these days, or else they are not imaginative enough to see anything in their homes that isn't what all their neighbors have, and for what it is worth, that does play into whether you make a sale or not. But as an artist, having that positive response to my work is its own reward. And in October, I was in a show that gave awards and the judge who spoke to me as he was judging my tent actually said, "You don't do what everyone else does. I like that." I responded that I could only be me. That night I was awarded "Best Fine Art." 

This past weekend, I had a discussion with some friends who also do shows in a different medium, and we were discussing poor sales I had at a recent show, and the suggestion was made to do more pictures like everyone else did. My answer was, "Then I have to make the decision that big sales are more important than staying true to my art, and right now I am not ready to make that change." I had already decided that the geographical area (tourist spot) and the timing of the show (holiday weekend) meant that my work would not sell well there and I will avoid shows with those criteria in the future. You will learn something from every show (In the three years I have been applying to shows, I have changed my booth presentation considerably as well as the actual format for printing my work and sales increased with both changes) and at some point you may make the decision to change to creating something the masses will buy, but in the beginning, as they say, "You do you, boo." See where that leads first before you worry about being like everyone else. 

If you are just starting out, all of this is new to you. I agree with Larry B. that researching is a good idea, either by attending some jurying process, or going to the website of the show and looking at the work of artists in previous shows. Also, attend some shows in your area, and pay attention to who has what, and what sells vs. what gets attention, etc. All of that is part of learning where you want to go in this process. 

Overthinking is the demon of us all, and this is an area where there is never a guarantee. Sales are different show to show, year to year, for a multitude of reasons, which is why Larry S. has a valid question in asking about that judge. A show that uses that as a criteria is not judging for art, in my opinion; not quite sure what the motivation is. Every experience is a good experience if you learn from it, and the best way to start is going with your heart and see where it leads. Once you get some shows under your belt you will have some points of reference to adjust course if needed and you are comfortable with it. 

Show a cohesive body of work. I was once at a "practice" jury which was very eye opening, both for my work and the work of others. One photographer had submitted a "mish-mash" of his work, a little of this and some of that. The artist approached the juror after the formal presentation for feedback and the juror tried to suggest to this artist that he submit just one subject to the jury; i.e. just birds or just landscapes, etc. The photographer countered by saying, "but this is ALL my body of work" He obviously missed the point. Yes, you may indeed enjoy showing a variety of work in your booth but for the purpose of submitting to a jury KISS (keep it simple (stupid)). Many shows have artist images online after jurying and you can see how there is a cohesive body of work for those artists that were chosen. Good Luck!

I'll search for jury images online as you suggest - thank you, Brian.

Thank you, Susan. I appreciate the thoughtful response and the practical wisdom. Congratulations on the Best Fine Art award!

>>Susan wrote: "Then I have to make the decision that big sales are more important than staying true to my art, and right now I am not ready to make that change."

Yes to that. My aim is to achieve both authenticity and sales by building a list comprised of only those who are interested in what I create as opposed to trying to appeal to everyone who comes by my booth at an art fair.

So, my primary reason for doing art fairs is not immediate sales. I'm starting this art fair thing at age 58 and my plan is to do it only a few years in order to build my list.

You are very welcome. I only started this in 2017, at 62, so I'm right there with you. Authenticity first and foremost at this age. The sales are coming but the responses to my work are much more important to me and I know the rest will come in time. And one final bit of food for thought... you will always be improving and changing. After every show I come up with some tiny tweak. And each one has made a positive difference. I think we all do best when we recognize we are a constant "work in progress"!

And thanks on the award. It was a very pleasant and humbling experience. :-)


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