Best Reasons to Be in an Art Fair
Goal Update: When I went back to painting three years ago, I wrote down one of my short-term goals was to be in an art fair. This month I did it. I chose the Ravenswood Art Walk for my first one because of its convenience (basically in my neighborhood), it has indoor options (smaller space, no need for tent rental, weatherproof), and it has one of the lowest booth fees on the circuit. It seemed like the least risky investment in time and materials. Afterward, I’m here to tell every artist to try an art fair. Here’s why.
Feedback from visitors. I brought only my best work to the show, so I was confident in the quality of my art. The fair let me hear how people responded to it. I had a few different themes on display: beach, sidewalk gardens, traditional floral still lifes, and water towers. People were very complimentary of my work, and I got to have some good conversations about my art and art in general. I’m happy to chit chat, and I asked everyone who stopped which painting they liked best. There wasn’t a clear favorite, but the comment I liked most was, “Each painting has something that draws me to it.”
Networking with artists. I work alone in my basement studio, and I miss having colleagues, even meetings (kind of). My location in the art fair was a big open room with ten other artists. It was like my office at the Art Institute but without a boss lurking around the corner. We spent two long days together killing time, sharing tools, going on beer runs, and talking about the art-fair circuit. I was the only first-timer, and the other artists were open with their suggestions for where I should try to show. The internet is great and all, but there’s nothing better than talking face to face with people who have the experience I (may) want.
Marketing experiments. I said to a friend that my goals at the fair were to look good (booth-wise) and hand out all my business cards. I also brought a couple of non-art items to sell—buttons and note cards. In my 8 x 6 space, I brought twenty paintings, most of them small, many priced at $100. I brought two large paintings that I knew wouldn’t sell but would look good and get people’s attention. Sure enough, my 22 x 28-inch painting of Montrose Beach was my number one talking point with visitors.
Self-review. I had to edit the group of paintings I’d show, decide on framing, titles, display materials, pricing, and packaging, and keep in mind expenses and logistics of hauling all this stuff to the venue. This being my first art fair, there were many first-time decisions (and expenses) that I won’t need to consider next time. And when is the next time? I don’t know.
You may have noticed that typical reasons, like making money and moving inventory, are not on the list. No, I didn’t sell a lot, but I still call it a successful event for my professional development. I swear.
For Love or Money
I told an acquaintance that I had been painting this summer in preparation for an art fair this month. His response surprised me: “I prefer art that is painted from the heart.” His implication didn’t register with me for a moment when I said, “Me, too.” He went on to ask me if I thought artists need to make money. I said, “Everyone needs to make money.” We softly debated (we were at a child’s birthday party, after all) and parted still on good terms, but the conversation had me thinking that more people than I think still have a mythic idea about what it is to be an artist.
Every single person who paints/sculpts/draws/builds/etc. has a hard time calling herself an artist because of how loaded with history and drama the word is. I read that my favorite living artist, Wayne Thiebaud, never liked the word because he doesn’t think he deserves the same title given to the great Rembrandt. (He prefers being called a painter.) I like “painter,” too—it’s specific—but it’s time for artists and nonartists to get over the old, old, artist legends that still dominate public opinion.
I listened to a funny and spot-on podcast episode called “Kill the Genius” (Art Opening(s), May 24, 2018) with Courtney Jordan and Samantha Sanders. They compiled a list of four types of art genius archetypes that hold back the average person from understanding that it is people like them—average—who make art. The two hosts tore apart the list by getting to the heart of each legend. It was inspiring. I’m not going to say Michelangelo was just like me, but that man went to great lengths to control his image, too. AND, he wanted to get paid. And moreover, he knew that the former would influence the latter. $$$$$$
I Heart Art
I do! I make it, sell it, think about it, look at it, read about it, and (sometimes) I write about it. Join my mailing list, and you'll receive my brief--promise--messages about new work, shows, events, and a little inspiration. Probably a picture of my dog, too.