Monday, June 25, 2012

Pondhawks, Peregrines, Festivals

Bracketed by strong rain on Friday and today the Manayunk Arts Festival took place this weekend. At least for me and I think the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center it was very successful.

The festival itself also was a bracket. At top you see the catalog for the very first art show I believe I was ever in, in 1975. At that time I don't think I'd had any art education at all outside of a ceramics course that was so bad it didn't have potters wheels. Raw enthusiasm convinced me I was good enough to get into the juried show.
And I did. So I was thrilled to come by the next day and watch people admire my work. HA! I learned early on that at least 50% of the audience at a festival does not even glance in the direction of your work. They walk right by without their eyes even going in that direction. A good customer is one that actually stops long enough to focus on what you've done. They may move on in a second or two but at least they've looked.
I may have been in one or two more of these festivals in San Francisco but I haven't shown again for more than 30 years, at least in festivals. Once I started taking courses in art, at City College of San Francisco, University of California at Berkeley, and Cornell University I was only interested in showing in galleries, and only the 'serious' ones, and museums. I have showed in numerous galleries and museums.
I continued to try to show in the 'serious' galleries for 20-25 years. But as I did so I also realized that I found that scene very stale, inbred, predictable and a little full of mullarkey, to put it nicely.
I've been uninvolved in the gallery world for at least 10 and maybe even 20 years. If someone had been showing and selling my work it would probably be different. But I'm not sure that would be the case. And of course it's hard to judge the influence of sour grapes.
When I studied art history I ran across an original essay from the 1700 or 1800s. In it the little-known author said how much he admired 'ignorarts', people who hadn't been educated in the arts but still had an opinion on art. He found their perspectives refreshing. This has alway struck me as both true. Many people will see your work through the prism of what they've read or been told. I prefer to get their own personal reaction.
About the time I gave up on the current art scene I noticed that all the galleries were showing 'important' art. Yep, that's what they called it. Who made the determination if the work was 'important?' Well they did of course. But it seems to have worked, at least as a marketing ploy. Millions and millions of dollars change hands in the art world each year. So much 'important art' moving about. I was always tempted to label a new show 'Unimportant Art' to show how silly the concept had become, with everyone thinking that their own art was important.
I can hardly read about contemporary art without getting angry. It seems so full of marketing and nothing else. This is a very long-winded way of getting to why I enjoyed the art festival.
I got to talk to numerous people about my art. I got to judge their reactions based on what they actually saw, not based on wha they'd read or what was written on the museum wall or what some gallery dealer was whispering in their ear. My guess is that the proportion of viewers who scooted by without even glancing my way is about the same as it was in San Francisco in 1975. But now it doesn't bother me. I realize that the audience for authentic art is small and within it a much smaller group might be interested in art in my own style, subject and media.
But this is fine. I think that the secret to art is to believe that you have an audience and it just has to find you. Not everyone will be able to afford it even if they liked it. I talked to numerous people who I know liked some of my work though they didn't buy any. Still they now know my work and may purchase it later online. Or they may stop by a Manayunk Roxborugh Art Center show. More than that I've gotten some honest feedback on my work.
In all my many years of making art I firmly believe that what artists most value is honest feedback. It's not always pleasant and it's not always right. But it's always nice to feel that you're talking to someone who has actually taken the time to look at and appreciate something you've spent so much time and effort on. I'm not sure you get that even in the most prestigious galleries, showing the most 'important' art. It is truly astonishing I think to compare the time and effort that goes into making authentic art, and by that I mean art that is not created by some easy formula, and the time that most viewers will spend on it. A painting can easily take 20 hours or more but the average viewer spends less than 5 seconds looking. The mitigating factor I think is that if someone buys it who likes it they'll see it and enjoy it almost every day. So eventually there's more time spent looking at it than was spent on creating it.
The second photo at top is a small field sketch of a dragonfly that landed on the frame of another MRAC artist. Since he just sat there for 30-60 seconds it was a great opportunity to sketch him, or actually her. This morning I got out my new field guide and realized it is most likely a female Eastern Pondhawk.
And what about the peregrine of the title? I've known that peregrines have been nesting just around the corner from where the 'Emerging Artists' booth was for months. But I've rarely had time to check on their progress. At the end of a 12 hour day on Saturday I turned the corner from the festival and began the long uphill climb home. As soon as I did I heard raucous calls from above. There above me were three peregrines, one adult and two young begging for food. I soon ran into a friend of mine who said that there were actually four, two adults and two young. It was thrilling to see and I hope to get back soon to see and sketch them.
And finally the second most popular statement of the audience in the 'Emerging Artists' tent: 'You guys have emerged! You're not emerging!'. I think that's true. I hope that reflects well on both the Manayunk Arts Festival and the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center. It would be nice if both developed reputations as places to see quality art. I have to think, without being too self-congratulatory, that we did our part this weekend. The most popular statement was "How did you guys get this big shaded tent?" I think our spot was probably the coolest on a very hot day.
Oh yes, that Bonaparte's Gull watercolor that I've shown recently here, is now in someone else's home. I'll miss it but I know that someone else will now enjoy it. I really liked it but I'm happy to know it has a good new home. I trust that more time will be spent looking at it and enjoying it than I originally put into it.

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