Art Fair Insiders

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


Welcome to the Cooper studio, assignment, Lipetsk.

Art Or Product?

Ah.  Tis the season of the great American ‘Art in the Park”.  Art Fair.  Art Festival.   Art on the Square. Spring Festival of the Arts.  Fall Festival of the Arts.  Botanical Garden Festival of the Arts.  Downtown Art Fair.  Uptown Art Fair.

I was thinking about this during the morning run.

A bit of background may be helpful.  I started running at the ripe old age of 43.  Yup, forty three.  Crazy, I know.  I made an agreement with myself that I’d quit when I turned sixty.  Hunh.  Then a famed (infamous?) Iowa senator had his photo in the paper jogging around our nation’s capitol at age 76.  Seventy six.  Really, Chuck?  I guess I can’t quit.

And the other thing is, I enjoy it in a weird self-competative sort of way.  And it seems to be the only regular form of exercise I can stick with.  Isn’t commitment a grand thing.

But this is an art blog.  Back on subject, please.  Roll back up to the title & first paragraph, and let’s stir in a little artist.  A little painter.  A little creator-kind-of-person.

Art Fair Insider is a great source for exhibiting artists.  I love it.  But every now and then,  someone types in the word “product” when they converse about their exhibiting.  May I state it annoys the heck out of me?  Because then I feel compelled to read between the lines. 

Are they an artist?  Or are they using the art fair venue to make an extra buck?  Are they creating art?  Or are they making product to sell, under the guise of art, at said art fair venue?  Are they an artist?  Or are they just in it for the money?

Ha.  As I ran this morning, I realized there is another question that answers that question.  (good grief)  And that question is (tahdah, drum roll, please)  when are you going to retire?  When will you quit?  When will you toss out the running shoes?  (wait, I think I mean when will you toss out your paint brushes?)  Are you looking forward to a day when you don’t have to do it anymore?  When you don’t HAVE to “make art”?

Folks love to play with that age old question "what is art?"  

Wait, did I just discover the answer?  

If you can retire from doing it, is it art?  If you don't need it to make your week complete, is what you're doing art?  If you can circle a date on the calendar, say December 31st, and say that's it, I'm done, have you been creating art?  Or something to sell?  Is your head & heart in it or just you bank account?

Art.  Product.  Commitment.  Retirement.  What is art?  Hunh.  Maybe the answer has been right in front of us all this time....

Now go paint something lovely, and don't worry about whether it will sell or not.

Later, Karen

Views: 1261

Comment by Alison Thomas on May 15, 2014 at 10:05am

I am waiting for the day when I can retire from my full time job and spend more time making and selling art.  However I have very little room in my house to hang things that don't sell and I pride myself on exhibiting at least 25% - 50% of new work every year.  So yes, I do pay attention to making work that sells.  

Comment by Nels Johnson on May 15, 2014 at 4:02pm

Good art comes from the heart.  When you wake up at the beginning of the day, and can't wait to create new work--it doesn't get any better than that.

Comment by Connie Mettler on May 15, 2014 at 9:39pm

That is the essence of it. Are you doing it because you have to -- then you are making product. If you are doing it because you wake up in the morning with ideas spinning your head then maybe it is art! The ideas of course is that the art from the heart is also what attacks the heart of someone else, but chasing the dollar by making what "they" are looking for can kill off the good energy. 

We were friends with a sculptor in this business who came from the corporate world and he would always call his work his "product." We would laugh and tease him. His wife is a painter, you'd never call that work "product."

Nice thoughts, Karen. Thanks for the reflections.

Comment by Jeanie Stephens on May 16, 2014 at 11:05am
Just a thought, but could it be that it's "art" during the process of creating it and "product" at the time of completion and upon putting it up for sale? Furthermore, is a completed piece not a "product" of creative effort? And why must a person's work be one or the other? Can it not be different stages as I've already suggested? I don't really use the word "product". I usually say my "work" or my "piece", but is the word "product" all that bad or is it just how some people use it and reduce "art" to a mere dime store necklace? Connotation is everything, I suppose.....
Comment by Suzanne Thompson on May 16, 2014 at 11:32am
This, I think, is my first post here. I have lots to say on this topic, but I intend to limit myself. We'll see how that turns out. First, a disclaimer: I have yet to participate in the type of event generally discussed on this board. I am overwhelmed with what I have not done (no booth shot being the first of many things) to be able to do so. I keep pondering how to inexpensively construct fixtures that can be moved in my Forrester, and erected solo.

Back to the subject. In my opinion and experience, an artist is an artist whether work is produced or not. An artist sees everything in a certain way. Seriously, what do you do without thinking of design? Arranging furniture, straightening pictures in the doctor's office! Wadding or folding toilet paper (this may be a bit of a stretch, but if you have the time to contemplate your paper, I'll bet you do) and judging advertising based on its look. That is if you're not having to fight thru the horrible English being used lately.
This summer it appears I will be adding to my bank account by selling scarves I have dyed. I personally consider them product I make them in a production-like way and I respond to what has been selling. They are also art; each is unique, at least so far, and the colors and combinations of colors are based on my internal color sense.

The stay-on-topic police are knocking at my door, so I am ending abruptly☺️
Comment by karen cooper on May 16, 2014 at 12:38pm

Because a couple of comments here are heading into excuse-land, I'll share this - I like to ask myself this question:

Would Auguste Renoir, or Richard Schmid, or Nancy Tankersley consider what I'm doing art?  (or at least studious work progressing toward art?)  

Right, Auguste isn't around to vote anymore, but you get my drift.  

If you gathered everyone who will exhibit at an art fair style event this year, into one place, I suggest that at least 50% would not pass muster.  Ha.  I could be off a point or two either way.  


Comment by Jeanie Stephens on May 16, 2014 at 1:11pm
Grandma Moses might not pass muster, either.

Defining art is a venture into the philosophical branch of aesthetics....and philosophy is more concerned with asking a question, rather than answering it. What is art? What is beauty? You've asked some great questions and I love a good discussion, but I'm not going to claim to have the one right answer to what defines a piece as "art".
Comment by Greg Little on May 19, 2014 at 10:28am

Art is, as the old saying goes, "in the eye of the beholder" It is so easy for each of us to describe our work and creations as we personally like to see and believe it to be...but in the end it is what others view work to be.

Art, product, passion, creation, design, and any other adjectives you might want to use are only just words and have not ever been a determining factor for the quality and creativeness of what a person puts together because what they see in their mind and heart.

You can call your work art, product or whatever....hell, you do not even have to call it anything at all...but if others are not moved and touched by it....!

Comment by Joan Pinkus on May 19, 2014 at 12:15pm

I like that Greg.

Comment by Meg Funk on May 19, 2014 at 12:25pm

Jeanie and Greg, I particularly agree with you both.

I think some people feel justified in using arbitrary words to qualify all people and things, and then  insist that that those arbitrary words have fixed positions on a spectrum of superiority and inferiority. I disagree with this.

A few thoughts here: First, I know of artists and writers that create because they HAVE to, they're driven to do it, not because they LOVE it. If they wish to retire from the agitation of their pursuits someday, does that automatically disqualify their works as art?

Second, does someone's creations count as "art" if they appeal to no one but the artist? Conversely, are they "art" if they are a huge commercial success?

And Third, business is business. Art informs business; business informs art. If people want to survive off of art, they need art that sells, which may mean adapting and making compromises during the creative process. All art is influenced by something, so why not commerce?

(No need to literally answer these rhetorical questions.)


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