Art and the new economy

I’ve been doing juried fine art festivals around the southeast and midwest for a number of years now.  It satisfies a lot of areas in the delicate balance of being a painter and making a living at it.  There are certainly art stars whose five figure work keeps them well cared for, but I suspect the large majority of working artists are in the mid-ground: we’re making it by using every resource we can.

What I discovered years ago was that galleries were lukewarm to my work, but that people loved it.  That meant I had to get it to more people, and more often.

Entering art festivals in my immediate area provided instant rewards, but there weren’t enough of them, so I started branching out.  Pretty soon I was getting shows in the surrounding states, then Florida, then Texas and so on.  Now it was a question of finding the right shows for my work.  Because a show that you love and that treats you well, as a painter of beautiful still life on canvas, does not necessarily provide me the collector of modern geometric cityscapes.

That remains an ongoing study.  There are resources: Art Fair Insiders, Sunshine Artist, the Art Fair Sourcebook and so on, but you still have to tweak it yourself.  There are certain promoters who are known to get out the public with money to spend, but, again, it’s a question of taste, which is so very, very subjective.

One of the most hopeful observations is that there is no one clearly defined type of art that appeals.  At one show, a person with huge colorful abstracts will kill it.  At another show it will be the person who creates clever images using cultural icons.  Another will reward the painter of tropical paradises…..and so on.

So, the question we discussed on the road home last weekend was this: how far do you go with adjusting your work to fit the market?

I’ve never been someone with a big message or a lot of angst to share, anyway.  I started painting late in life and want to bring color and joy into people’s lives.  I’m also not committed to art-as-therapy, even though it is very therapeutic and I get a little twitchy when I’m too long away from my work tables.  I’m the first to tell you this is how I make my living, so I want to continue to paint what people want, as long as it isn’t compromising my “schlock level.”

So what is my line in the sand?

I’ve been painting cityscapes for a number of years now, and people are still drawn to them.  But they are not taking them home like they used to do.  I also have a series of geometric abstracts, but they seem to confuse people.

What doesn’t?  The three dimensional hanging pieces I started as a result of a fund raiser several years ago.  They are novel and light-hearted.

So is this what I do?  Or should I give it up and make functional art, like painted dresses?

Because here’s the other thing I know: no matter how little money people have, even during the depths of the recession, they will spend some to “treat themselves.”  They buy jewelry, functional craft, and things for their pets and their gardens.

Paintings, not so much.  It’s getting better, but it’s still perceived as a luxury.  I could wax philosophical and tell you how important that “luxury” is to your overall well-being, but you’d probably walk away shaking your head.

Perhaps that is my direction: find a way to share the importance of real art in our lives. Because it is, very important.  People in the direst of circumstances are heartened by little bits of color, a glimpse of real sunlight.  And that is what art is, those glimpses of sunlight.  It takes us to places that words don’t go.  It bridges gaps between diverse ideologies.  We need it.

My new mission……..

About CJS

living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-colonial history.....thinking about current events....painting the wonderful cities that make up our heroic country....hoping we can save it from apathy, and our enemies....pondering a life of adventure from the comfort of age
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