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

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Comment by Heather Jordan on January 6, 2015 at 12:18pm

How many times have we been to an art show and had a piece we didn't purchase a piece and it "Haunted Us"? I like most artist will purchase art due to many factors and have for years kicked myself for not purchasing pieces that compliment our home. This artist made brooms at a show and was going blind, his brooms were expensive but so creative and original. His positive upbeat personality was something I will never forget. The broom cost over $180, I have looked at the fireplace many times and thought of him. I pray I see him this year on show road. I will have no question to spend $200 on the broom, due to HIS art not his art minions. 

I think at times we need to think of the consumer, they want an ART experience wrapped up with the artist, the art and justification of purchase. They may look down at price, reproductions or artist attitude to open their wallets.

I have been at shows and seen art booths and art that has been well traveled and patrons say,"When are they going to bring some fresh art, it looks dated." "How many palm trees can one booth hold?" "I saw that same kit at the craft store." "She has 30 prints of the same thing I will come back later, she will never sell that many in a weekend." We see things differently and our art should show it.

Art and Product are completely different. Art is idea's something created from ones hands, unique. Sometimes due to materials it can only be created at that moment. Product is repeating the same item over and over.

Comment by Albert Jonas on May 21, 2014 at 10:14pm
It is necessary to earn a living in the world and it is good and of value to be able to do so with our creative artistic products.
Interestingly it is when we are least concerned with gain that our creativity is most and our opportunity for success and gain greatest.
As artists we intuitively know this but need to be reminded of it to be able to practise it with courage.
Comment by karen cooper on May 21, 2014 at 1:47am

Jeanie, thank you for your thoughts.  And you are correct.  Mostly.

This part of your comment is perfect:

 "Art is not just for the people who can afford it. If it was, we wouldn't have the museums we do that charge nothing or very little for entrance. Furthermore, I'm a human being. I'm moved by beautiful, unique, interesting, and creative works. "

I am so glad the conversation got around to this point, and your comment.  I value that too.

And like you, I shy away from elite-ist attitude.  I could be that woman at Vancouver - I've sold a whole lot of paintings for $145.  Go to any "daily painters" website - there are many, many artists work online for that range and less.  While I consider my work as very diligent effort toward excellence, I am fully aware I have NOT reached that status - one each of any of my works is completely enough.  I am not alone in this category.

Please don't translate a desire for original art into a desire for superiority.  That's a large assumption that could insult many.  Rather, consider this:  that for many people, the connection to a piece of art is the reality of the paint film itself, the beauty and motion of  the individual brushstrokes, the rise and fall of the paint surface texture, the visual depiction of the artist's thought process and actions.  It's more than just an image, it's like a timeline of what the artist saw and felt AND how they reacted.  The whole works, all on one canvas.

We live in a world where I think many of us feel overrun by untruths.  To me, to see the real work of someone's hands, is a breath of fresh air.

Thank you all for your comments.  Now it's time to go paint  :)

Comment by Jennifer Racette on May 21, 2014 at 12:19am

Excellent point, Jeanie.  I agree that it is impossible to truly connect with the art without having at least some sort of connection to the artist - either by meeting him, knowing him personally, or knowing about him and his story.  I don't know about others here, but I am not too proud to appreciate being appreciated - regardless of the size of the patron's wallet.  Some of the most delightful conversations I recall ever having, have been about the creative process and inspiration - both in my role as an artist visiting with a client, and as a collector visiting with an artist.  It is that human connection that invites you in to pause, to ponder, to ask and learn, to appreciate.  And the artwork in front of you becomes all the more precious and interesting when it conveys the memory of patience and kindness and pleasantries exchanged with its creator.  I've always said that collecting and living with art is like seeing dear old friends on a regular are at once stimulated, comforted, and pleased with each encounter.  The human connection makes this all the richer an experience.

Comment by Jeanie Stephens on May 20, 2014 at 10:03pm
Jennifer and Meg---As a collector and/or paying customer, I'm buying your art. I'm not interested in Karen's product. This is why. Art is not just for the people who can afford it. If it was, we wouldn't have the museums we do that charge nothing or very little for entrance. Furthermore, I'm a human being. I'm moved by beautiful, unique, interesting, and creative works. In fact, just as it is a wonderful thing as an artist to feel that you have touched or moved someone with your work, it is just as wonderful to be the one touched or moved....and to feel a connection to a piece and the artist , alike. Yet, as soon as you place your work as being "above" any kind of buyer or collector, you disconnect from said person and send the message that what you are selling is actually something that person doesn't want. You don't make it more desirable. You make it less desirable. People who genuinely like art are not the kind of people who ask how many copies you're going to making of the original they just bought. The people who do this aren't buying art. They're buying product....and making an investment. People who genuinely like art want to feel a connection and being able to take home a piece no matter what their budget is a wonderful thing. They maybe spent all of $5 on a greeting card, but to them, it has value. They like it for whatever reason they like it.....and often, they may like it more for the simple reason that the person they bought it from was nice and welcoming and touched by their appreciation of the piece. When I was in Vancouver about ten years ago, I bought a $150 painting from a woman that I just love. Her work was just wonderful and she was so nice and humble. I bought this painting after almost buying a painting priced at $500 from another artist. My choice was not based on price. I liked both pieces, but decided not to buy the $500 piece because it became apparent to me while looking at the work that the artist was arrogant and disconnected and the piece I was considering became that to me, as well....even in the course of a few minutes. Whatever substance I saw at first, in fact, was lost. My point is, whatever you want to call your work, be it "art" or "product", the buyer is going to have his/her own opinion in the matter and calling it art doesn't give it any more value than calling it a product gives it any less value.
Comment by Jennifer Racette on May 20, 2014 at 3:58pm

Well said, Meg.

Comment by Meg Funk on May 20, 2014 at 3:54pm

A print is not an original, knowing the difference doesn't require special skills. The authenticity of the original doesn't come into question when prints are made; the prints are made so that more than one person in the world can enjoy the piece (and so the artist can make some money). Many copies of books are printed so many people can enjoy them, but the greater value of first edition books is not challenged by the subsequent prints.

Karen, you are most welcome to take care of people who can afford to buy your art. I think this whole discussion came about because you wished to level judgement on the artists that "produce" more affordable work. Is it live and let live, or is it not?

Comment by Jennifer Racette on May 20, 2014 at 3:51pm

Karen, as an experienced collector of original art, I don't mind if the artist makes prints of the original.  I am gratified in knowing that I own the original piece that is deemed worthy of authorized reproduction.  As an artist, I appreciate patrons of all backgrounds and budgets.  If they want one of the $3,000 necklaces in the front case, I'm all in.  But if they can only afford a $50 pair of earrings from the back wall, I am happy to oblige them.  The customer walks away happy in owning one of my designs, and will be back to see me for a larger piece - in person or online.  If you choose to scoff at people who "can't afford to buy art", I'd say you're limiting yourself both financially and artistically.  Would the "masters" play the elitist short game as you're suggesting, or would they focus on the long game of educating and cultivating new patrons?  I think we all know the answer to that.

Comment by karen cooper on May 20, 2014 at 2:34pm

Hey, just for fun, let's talk about this:

"When you disparage an artist's signed/numbered print of an original work, you disparage not only the original work but you also disparage a substantial segment of the art-buying public which does not possess the budget for much higher-priced original works."

So.  When you get right down to it, signed and numbered is about as value added as putting a certificate of authenticity on the back.  Yes, it's bonafide, certified and it has it's own number, but it's still just a copy.  I know art collectors who will tell you that printing copies of the original "disparages" the original.  I've had a customer say, as he hand me his bank card, "now you're not going to print a bunch of copies of this after we buy it, are you?"  Gospel truth.  It happened at the  Omaha Summer Art Festival.

So how about this:  if you want to take care of the people who really can't afford to buy art, then I'll deal with the folks who manage to figure out a way to buy originals, and then we'll have everybody covered.  We'll send everybody home smiling.  Dang, what more could they ask for?!

Comment by Rich Terry on May 20, 2014 at 1:11pm
Oops... Not creating or being artistic.

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