Monday, May 19, 2008


There's a lot of hype in this world. "We're the best!" "New and Improved!" "We're #1!"

Blah, blah, blah. It hardly means anything anymore.

You can believe it when the organizers of the Belleville Art on the Square fair proclaim themselves #1. They are!

I was privileged to be one of only 5 St. Louis artists (of 100 artists from 30 states and 8 countries!) chosen to be part of this fair. It did not disappoint. Part of the St. Louis metro area, Belleville is a historic town in its own right. The people are amazingly friendly. The town is grateful to have the artists there and the artists are grateful to be there. It's a win-win!

The patrons are art-savvy. They understand art and want to collect it. It helps that the show is so competitive that only the best art gets in. There's no "junk" art here. Anything you see at Belleville you will see in a gallery. That can't be said of most shows.

The Art Fair Source Book, the reference for fair artists nationwide, dubbed Belleville #1 in 2007. The rankings come from artists ourselves. We judge fairs on sales, hospitality, ease of set up, etc. We love this life, but the art fair business is hard -- physically and emotionally -- and a fair that respects the artists, pampers us a little, and makes our lives in their town a little easier gets high marks.

Lots of fairs are good. Volunteers are helpful. The food is generally pretty good, even if it's just bagels and coffee in the morning.

So what makes Belleville Art on the Square different? Part of it must be the community. Everyone, it seems, is part of this show. And everyone in town wants the artists to be there. The shop keepers aren't grumbling that the artists' tents are blocking their streets. The community leaders go out of their way to introduce themselves. I got personal visits from the Fire Chief and Chief of Police, both stopping by to let me know what their departments had planned to do to protect the artists. The Chief of Police even babysat my booth for 20 minutes while I attended some business with fair personnel. Who else does that?

This show is so dedicated to art (instead of making money, like many shows), that they have year-long artist-in-residence program that puts artists in area schools, and they sponsor a regional high school art exhibit that displayed student work that was so exceptional, it could have been displayed with the professional art in the booths.

And the fair buys art itself. The fair buys art for the town square and for city hall. That level of dedication to displaying art publicly is rare -- and so refreshing.

Patty Gregory, the show's founder & chair, and co-chair John Rule put together an amazing team. (John didn't even yell at me when I drove in the wrong way!) It's a long, exhausting show that brings 85,000 people to a small, four-block area of town to see some of the best art in the country. As exhausted as I was Sunday night at the show's end, the volunteers worked even harder.

I'm not being modest when I say I was thrilled to be part of this show. Thank you Belleville! You are deserving of every accolade sent your way. Please, please, please, invite me back!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Art of Photography

Find Me a Good Seat, (c) 2008 Jeane Vogel
From the So Mama Don't Take My Kodachrome Away series of Abstract Photographs
Pigment Print, 22x30 inches, $350 framed

It happened again a couple of weeks ago. It's been brewing since.

A woman who identified herself as a watercolorist approached me and told me that she doesn't think that photography is art.

Ok. We photographers get that a lot. Some are. Some aren't. Some watercolors aren't art either.

But blanket statements that photography isn't art are getting annoying. All the more so because why I happen to hear them.

She continued: But you work IS art. I can see the stroke of your hand in your work.

Really? That's too bad. I want people to see the work, the intent, the interpretation, the vision. I don't want them to see my hand. She was referring to the hand-altered Polaroids. They are alternate process photography but the sculpting of the emulsion elevates them above "mere photography" in some people's minds.

When I tried to engage her premise (that was stupid -- I should have just nodded and moved one), she pressed: But this is a compliment. She was implying that she was bringing me in the exclusive fold of artists. I could leave those icky photographers behind and be a real artist.

Uh-huh. It was more like you-move-pretty-fast-for-a-fat-lady like of compliment.

First, I'm not interested in getting praise at the expense of other artists. Second, there seems to be this lingering, elitist, self-important attitude that "anyone" can take a picture, so it's not art. This women actually said that to me too. "Anyone can take a picture, but you do something with them."

Ok. Let me get this straight. Cameras are common, lots of people have them. All you have to do to take a picture is point and shoot. No art there. If that's the definition of art, can anyone be an watercolorist? I have watercolor brushes, tubes and cakes of paint. If I dip the brush in the water and then in the paint and pull it across the paper, did I make "real" art?

In that context, doesn't it seem a little silly to say that "anyone can make a photograph"?

Art is NEVER about the tools. Photographers get trapped by the temptation of the new toys all the time. We think: if only I had THAT kind of camera, I could make THAT kind of picture. Let me say it again. Art is NEVER, EVER about the tools. A camera is a tool. Nothing more.

Give a good photographer an oatmeal can, a piece of film, a pin and a piece of electrical tape, and she will make a wonderful photograph. Give most people a $35,000 Hasselblad and you'll still get a snapshot.

So, if it's not about the tools, what it is about? Like every other art form, it's about the vision and the statement. The best tools in the world won't guide your vision. Only an artist can do that.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Matching Your Soul - How to Buy Art

Bring Me My Kitty Treats... Now, © 2008 by Jeane Vogel
22x22, $300
See it at the Soulard Art Market Photography Invitational, opening May 15

It happens every once in a while. A woman will walk into my booth or my studio with paint chips and fabric samples.

"What do you have that matches this?" she asks.

Every artist cringes a little when she hears that. It means that the art is a decorator accessory, not a statement. It's not that we artists mind that much, but we want our work to be so much more than a pretty picture that picks up the color of the cushions.

This year I added a line to my artist statement. Most people ignore it but a handful have made it a point to cheer. It reads: "Art should match your soul, not your sofa."

Art doesn't just hang or your wall or sit on a shelf. Art demands a relationship. What do you bring the work? What does the work say to you. Does it make you think? Does it make you remember something? Do you have some sort of reaction? Are you inspired or repelled? Does your impression change over time? Can you have a conversation about it?

Next time you're walking around an art fair or gallery looking for something new, pay attention to the work that speaks to you. THAT's the one that will match your sofa, because it matches your soul.