Art Fair Insiders

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

I just got my annual rejection from Cherry Creek and it got me thinking.  There is a problem in our business that effects many artists like me.

The last time I did Cherry Creek was 1992 (its second year).   I was 11 years into my art fair career and still showing tried and true photography,  That year I showed an ironic new image, that combined with a provocative title, caused people to see themselves in a whole new way.  My sales went up dramatically and I had my best show to that date at Cherry Creek.  

After that, I began to look for more image/title combinations and soon ironic turned to comic.  I became successful beyond my wildest dreams topping out a few years ago at Main Street; Fort Worth with a $21,000 show.  People come in my booth and chuckle constantly, then, before leaving, they say, "I love your sense of humor".

Well, 34 years into my career, my body of work has progressed to the point where what I do is very popular with patrons of art shows, but because of the restrictions of 10 second viewing by jurors I can't include my titles and even if I could they wouldn't have time to "get the joke".  A glance won't do it!  So, of late I'm getting more rejections because I'm jurying with my new work assuming shows want variety and diversity.  Wrong!  It seems to me, that shows want the same-old-same-old work every year.

The problem with the whole system, is that the entire jury process is disconnected from the buying of art.  Shows choose their jurors from the same pool every year.  The jurors are all from the pool of people who are "suppose" to know art.  NOT people who consume art.  So, the same artists (many great ones) populate the best shows year after year.  However, the public is denied the experience of seeing a greater variety of artists (many great ones).  

We all know the serious type of people shows recruit to their juries (e.g. Museum directors, gallery owners, artists and academicians).  I don't believe they take humor seriously!  

If you have four eye-popping images that take no thought to process you're in.  It's the same with judges at shows, they glance at a wall of work but consume none of it.

I know the people of Denver would love my work, but they will probably never get the chance to see it. 

An artist friend of mine thinks the best shows are commission shows, because the public votes with its dollars and the top sellers are invited back.

Something to think about.

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Comment by Karen Holtkamp on January 30, 2015 at 6:54pm

Summerfair in Cincinnati doesn't want to see a booth shot, which I can't understand.  (App is on Zapp and due in a week, by the way.)

For the shows I organize the jury does NOT look with a magnifying glass to see if the work shown in the images is in fact displayed in the booth.  Instead, I ask the jury to consider the booth shot in terms of whether or not the artist presents a professional image.  This is crucial to me as an organizer because a show that's high-quality in appearance helps to draw in the customers year after year as word-of-mouth does its magic.  Artists who show a booth that looks like it belongs in a high-school craft show almost always get an immediate "no" from the jury.

Comment by Robert Briscoe on January 30, 2015 at 2:03pm

I don't argue with requesting a booth shot at all, just how it is mostly used currently.  I strongly believe the jury room should not be where it is implemented, just images of our art.  The tremendous quality of exhibitors at the indoor craft shows tells me a lot.  The shows at Philadelphia, Evanston, Smithsonian and the now defunct Washington Craft Show all have excellent artists and work with beautiful booth designs. There is very little bait and switch or buy and sell at these shows, if any, and none have ever required a booth shot.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on January 30, 2015 at 1:38pm

I agree with that Booth Image thing somewhat. It becomes all about MERCHANDISING then. How well we present our art. It's no longer about the art as much then, since without it the judges would have to concentrate more on the art for scoring. But then a show isn't about the art, it's about selling art. It's about merchandising. So I don't think it's possible to judge an artist for a show without the booth shot.

I'm sure if shows didn't require a booth shot we'd find something else wrong with the jurying, wouldn't we? By the way, isn't there one show not looking at booth shots? Seems like there is and I just can't think of it. I think there are a few out there.

Comment by Robert Briscoe on January 30, 2015 at 12:29pm

Barry I have too, but many deaf ears.  Shows are convinced that this gives them (the booth image) the real true story of who we are, and gives them a false impression that they are stopping the cheats.  I want them to do this but the unintended cost ultimately is in the show quality. Artists who need to cheat or manipulate the application can figure out how to do the booth image to deflect what they really intend to bring.  The booth at the show is the place to enforce the rules they set in place but never seem to.  Two other elements:  the booth image is one less art image we have to tell a better story about what we do.  The second and most crazy about the booth image requirement is the Jewelry category.  The entire group gets a free pass in regards to booth images.  A booth image taken far enough away to show the booth and tent will not reveal anything about the actual ART shown!

Comment by Barry Bernstein on January 30, 2015 at 12:09pm

Bob, I have been saying that since they started requiring booth shots.

Comment by Robert Briscoe on January 30, 2015 at 11:37am

Hi all and I hope we all have a great year.  I wanted to post my two cents here on this topic.  I think two words that are directly (not the only thing) related to this: "BOOTH IMAGE".  I think this has completely altered how we are viewed by juries in the jury room.  They have become transfixed on that image instead of the actual art work before them.  Shows should only use the booth image for their own proof of artist's work quality and voracity for enforcement at the show.  My two cents.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on January 28, 2015 at 4:05pm

I kinda let this topic set a while so that I could think about it more. I'm not going to agree with some of the arguments it presents. So here are my disagreements.

I think shows want variety and diversity, and certainly not the same-old same-old. Shows want good work, certainly. If it's the same work that got in last time, then it scored higher than the rejected work. Why? It was judged as the top in the field for that day.

I don't think for one second that the entire jury system (the jurors) is disconnected from buying art. I think it's quite the contrary. Most often shows are juried by museum or college/university professionals. Are you thinking they are not art consumers? They all have good incomes since their jobs require advanced college degrees, and they are all highly educated as well. I have been in many of these person's homes and absolutely every one of them have an art collection. Not just a few pieces here and there, but a collection. I sold a $2,200 painting to a Senior Curator of a museum when we were in Pensacola this fall. He also bought plenty from the fine craft sector of the show, but his focus leans in that direction since the museum employing him is more about that than 2D.

I might agree that some of them won't take humor seriously where art is concerned. I think they take art seriously. But I don't think all jurors won't consider thoughtful ground breaking humorous work as valid. Don't you know Robert Kastrinos and David Burton? Both are fellow Floridians. Both have a HUGE sense of humor. Both are in plenty of the big shows. Both do phenomenal work. And so does Michael Madzo, and plenty of his work appeals humorously. He gets in everywhere.

Maybe you're just talking about photography? How about ELLIOTT ERWITT'S WORK? I know he doesn't do outdoor art fairs, but much of his work shows humor in photography. It's stupendous!

If you want to show in Denver, why not try Golden Fine Arts Festival or one of the others besides Cherry Creek? Some AFI'ers do the other shows and feel just fine about doing them and not doing Cherry Creek.

Having better selling art doesn't mean you have better art. You just have better selling art.

Comment by Thomas Felsted on January 28, 2015 at 3:05pm
I'm not sure I follow. Judging a painting based on the title is the problem. A better analogy might be "if a literary work was judged by the picture on the cover of the book" that would be laughable. To have a photo, or a painting judged by wittiness of the title... If that skill is doing the heavy lifting for someone to like your art, it seems less...(I can't think of the right word)

I always feel insecure when the jury image preparation forces me to name the painting. Personally, I don't want to. It cheapens my work and puts it in a box, filtered by the specific words I labeled it. I would much rather just number them 67, 68 and so on. Are famous classic paintings given such titles? No. Just obvious recognition phrases like "Haystack" or "Sunflowers"

If your work is dependent on your humorous title to be admired, I most definitely think it should be included in the presentation of your work. I will agree with that. I wonder if you can format your image so that on the jury photo, there could be a cropped space below the image with your expression or witty description that would force jurors to read it. Act as though that sentence part of the piece itself and appears on the bottom of every piece sold at art shows. Then you could bypass the problem of it as more than "just the title"
Comment by Brenda Helt on January 28, 2015 at 1:18pm

I think there are two issues here:  1) Is "popular" art being automatically rejected by juries; 2) Should the title of an artwork be considered by juries.  The first is just hard to tell, as juries differ and the people on them differ.  But the second is a problem for a lot of artists.  My wife's work is often contextual and it's the title that places the work for the viewer--makes it meaningful, and so creates a market for it.  Her work is abstract, but not entirely so, and the viewer usually knows what they're looking at and can understand the visual narrative only because the title provides context.  Imagine if literary works were judged without their titles.  The idea is laughable.

Comment by carol sher on January 23, 2015 at 8:57pm

My work is humorous too combined with my pen, ink and watercolor illustrations.  I was told by one promoter I am to be considered a craft and not an art. All I can say to that is seriously humor combined with art is now a craft!  My booth is usually filled with people laughing at my words and enjoying the pictures. I am just confused by how work is considered.

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