Last night I did two things I hardly ever get to do: I went out with my husband (OK, we had an out-of-town cousin with us too, but we WANTED to be with him!) and I walked an art fair as a buyer. What an eye-opener for me!
First, for those who don't know about it, the St. Louis Art Fair is reputed to be one of the best in the country-- and one of the most competitive. More than 1500 artists vie for one of the 165 spots. The setting is ideal, too. It's set in the business district of Clayton, an upscale inner-ring suburb. The hours of the three-day show, which go to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night, must be grueling for the artists. I've done those show hours and they can be horrible or exhilarating, depending on the crowd -- and the artists' attitudes.
After spending the evening at the fair, I came away with one conclusion: most of the artists there should be ashamed of themselves. Except for artists I knew, only ONE artist greeted me with an attitude of welcome and enthusiasm for her work. At least a quarter of the booths were void of artists altogether!
In fairness, it was a little rainy -- but rain is part of the deal when you sign up to be a art fair artist. It will rain during the summer, and it will rain in September in St. Louis, and -- if history tells us anything -- it WILL rain during the St. Louis Art Fair.
Also, in fairness, there were A LOT of people on the street Saturday night. The booths had people in them and I saw some transactions.
What I didn't see was artists' enthusiasm for their work. Maybe that was because some of the work just wasn't that good. Maybe there were tired and wet and crabby. I don't care.
Art is so subjective and I don't claim to be an intellectually gifted critic. I do see a lot of art and I think I can recognize an artist with vision, originality, and care of craftsmanship. I generally skip over the fiber and jewelry booths, (sorry) so I cannot speak to those.
First, the good: the quality of painting and drawing was exceptional -- the best I've seen for a while. There were glass and ceramic artists producing extraordinary and unusual work. There was some sculpture that was so interesting I wished I had an extra $500 to plunk down. I think my favorite by far was Cathy Broksi, a ceramic artist, whose figures spoke to me with such force that I woke up this morning thinking about them. I hope Cathy wants to trade work with me someday. She was the only artist who was energetic and welcoming. She and her assistant-friend even were friendly and open AFTER they found out I was a sister artist and probably wasn't buying anything. (I'm putting a bumpersticker on my van that reads: "Driver carries no cash. She's an artist.")
I'll let my friend Mary Beth Shaw, a mixed media artist and self-confessed "girl who runs with scissors," who exhibited at the St. Louis Art Fair this year, comment on the Mixed Media work. Some I thought was wonderful, but a lot looked mass-produced and gimmicky to me.
Now for the photography. Since I'm a photographer, this category always gets my harshest eye. Frankly, I didn't see anything that knocked my socks off. Chris Maher is doing some wonderful work with smoke, but most was the same-ole, same-ole. Some of these photographers are very familiar to me, and I don't see a lot of new work from them. One was such a disappointment. I've loved his work and wanted to see it in person. Not only was he not there, but the work looked haggard and the presentation was sloppy. I think it's time for a break for him.
I'm glad I took a weekend off from art fairs to be able to walk one with a customer's eyes. It was a good reminder of how customers -- at least this customer -- wants to be treated. And it was another reason to get back into the studio and produce new, fresher work.