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.

Views: 3388

Comment by Barry Bernstein on January 21, 2015 at 9:04am

R.C. you are only half right. There is no jury pool. That is a myth and even if the jury for each show was the same every year, your chances of getting in year to year is the same unless you can win a prize and then get invited back. Even winning "best of show" does not guarantee that you will get in once you jury, again. Ben Frey won BOS at Cherry Creek two years ago and he got rejected, this year. Being on the NAIA board didn't help him either. The real problem is that there aren't enough good high quality shows. Ironically, there are too many shows, but, the majority of them fail because they love appealing to the masses, with lower quality work. I don't sell very well at those shows, so, I am right with you in that I can't get enough of an opportunity at the really good shows. One of the directors exclaimed a couple of years ago, that they could have had two shows with completely different work and would have maintained the same level of really great work. Too many good artists, too little premium spaces.

A friend of mine has a different take on the jury system. He enters all the international exhibitions. He has won the Korean Biennales, with its $50K top prize. He has, also, juried international events. He says it is good that events have the same jurors. He says to keep applying. Eventually, the juror will recognize your work and you will start getting in to all the events. It may be that you have been rejected 10 times by that juror. They won't remember that. All they remember is that they have seen your work and that familiarity helps you get accepted.

One of the traditional values of working in clay, if you get a good education, is subtlety. Humor and subtlety does not get you into art fairs. That is always frustrating. However, making work that you think the jurors will like is a big fail. How do you know what someone will like? Make your own work.

Comment by Oscar Matos Linares on January 21, 2015 at 10:05am

RC, I think that all artist believe they are the best in their craft. You may need to understand they may get 100 great artists applying for 10 spaces. When I walk the shows I can recognize people that do better work than me but I also see work that I go really. That can apply to me also where people go really. Another thing like Barry Bernstein mention the lack of good shows make everybody apply to those good shows those regardless of the odds. If you can crack into one the what call the big seven it makes a big difference in your year. What I found out is that need to work in exit plan just Barry and my friend Eric Lee. You need to work in other sources to sale your work because getting into the good shows is hard and the truth you may be against work that jury better than yours. 

Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on January 21, 2015 at 10:39am

Barry, I appreciate your wisdom and experience, but by "jury pool" I don't mean the same people over and over, I mean the same "type" of person.  Those who are "in the know" about art and that is a small sliver of people to hold our financial futures hostage.  

Remembering your wonderful summer essay recounting your "back to school" experience, you told how it was to be constantly judged/graded by the instructor who was much younger and less experienced than you.  The fact is, his credentials out weigh yours and he would be invited to be a juror before you would be.

When a normal art fair patron walks into my booth, he/she actually looks at each piece hanging on the wall.  Noticing that each one has a title he/she begins to read them.  My titles add a whole new dimension to my images.  They are fun!  Then, each piece is "consumed" and often sales are the result. When a show judge enters my booth, their eyes scan the walls quickly looking for drama and excitement.  Finding none, they thank me and leave.  They've missed "my art" completely!

Every so often, lightning strikes and a judge will take notice.  Over the last couple of years, I've won best in category at Artigras, Jupiter, FL and Fair Hope, AL.  A rare occurrence, indeed.

Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on January 21, 2015 at 10:59am

Oscar, thank you for your incites.  

I feel like I'm always against work that "juries" better than mine, that is why I wrote the piece.  There is a weakness in the system if I and other artists feel we don't get an even shake.

I still make a good living doing art fairs, but I have to do an average of 35 shows a year and as I age, I would like to do fewer, better shows.  Who wouldn't!

Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on January 21, 2015 at 11:01am

Bert, ain't that the truth!

Comment by Barry Bernstein on January 21, 2015 at 11:21am

Yes R.C., I have ranted many years about the fact that the judges "hold our financial futures hostage." Give me a chance to sell my work at the place where I will sell best. It doesn't help that by getting in once in a while, we just get a taste of how good things could be if it was a regular occurrence. If you've been around long enough, you were around when we would get into every good show. Before St Louis, Cherry Creek, Des Moines, and Ft Worth, the top shows were Ann Arbor, Coconut Grove, Old Town, Boston Mills, Baltimore ACC, and Kansas City. I was in all those shows every year. Now there are a lot more really good artists and the same amount of top shows. I stopped doing shows for 3 years and I remember having a conversation with a friend who told me that things were a lot different, when I decided to do shows again. That it was harder to get into the good shows. I didn't believe him. He was right. I still get into some of those shows that I named as the best, but, they are not nearly as good as they used to be.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on January 21, 2015 at 11:29am

I might add that, finally, I am getting some opportunities to do the top shows. I did St Louis for the first time, last September and this year I've been accepted to Cherry Creek and Old Town. This is the first time I have been juried into Cherry Creek. I was invited to do it the first year when the committee came to Coconut Grove, saw my body of work and presentation up close. I've been rejected every year since, until now, which would support your claim about the jurying system. 

Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on January 21, 2015 at 11:33am

Right on.  I've become a master of second tier shows.

BTW, congratulations on getting into Cherry Creek, please let us know how it comes out for you.

Then, let all the second tier shows what they should do to improve their buying public!

Comment by Oscar Matos Linares on January 21, 2015 at 11:45am

RC, I found myself looking for the meaning of incites.  I know what you mean because i also need to 36 shows in year to do well. Regardless what people think that is a lot of work and is very hard in your body. I honestly hope the best and hang in there. You know better than me about this business just keep pushing forward and do not give up.

Barry assuming I do not get into Columbus I may stop to bug you for a while in Old Town. It seems like they jury in a lot of the people of the AFI and Facebook AFR. Best of of luck at both shows. I did not apply to neither of those two and Lakefront.

 

Comment by bonny hawley on January 21, 2015 at 3:36pm

I walked Cherry Creek last year as a patron, I was in town for a family reunion.  The show was hot hot hot- most people were going into the air conditioned galleries and milling around.  I was disapointed with the quality of the show, although some of the work was exceptional, most was not of the quality that I remember Cherry Creek being in the past.  There was one street of artists across from some construction that looked really bad.  The top prize winner of the show was MM2D and they had a cardboard table with jewlery in half of the tent.  I saw lots of people carrying small 14x18 paintings around- I wondered where they came from and then I found the source- one of those paint along places had all their paintings no one took home for sale all over the ground outside their store for $10.  They were selling like crazy. Rejection is hard, but it is part of this game and sometimes it is a blessing.

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