Musings on Photography

Different Motivations for Shows

Posted in interesting blogs, motivation, the art world by Paul Butzi on August 16, 2007

Lately much of the energy I had been pouring into this blog has been going into helping get a local artists’ organization off the ground. Much of the focus of the new organization is on connecting with different alternative venues (restaurants, banks, etc.) and getting display space, then putting the member artists’ work into those display spaces on a rotating basis.

I think this is important, not just because it helps artists sell work but because it builds community awareness that artists live among us. As an example, we recently had a booth at a local equestrian fair, along with various other artists. The woman who organized the art portion of the fair had a huge booth representing several local artists. It turns out one of the artists she represented was Linda Adams. Now, the interesting thing is that Linda is someone I know – Linda is one of the baristas at the Carnation Starbucks. I’ve been buying lattes from Linda for years now, but I didn’t know about any of the art she makes.

It seems to me that our communities are better off with artists in them. Maybe that’s mostly an article of faith for me, rather than something I can demonstrate logically. It isn’t that I think artists are somehow morally superior to everyone else – in fact, I find that notion (common in the art world) to be more than a bit upsetting. But I do think that nearly everyone’s life is enhanced by a little artmaking, and it’s a lot easier to allocate time to do a bit of art after washing the dishes if everyone else is doing it too.

So although I’m constantly conflicted about the value of doing shows, about the value of getting your work out into the community where it gets seen, and how much I want to orient my photography around selling prints, I’m starting to realize that doing those things can have a big impact on the fabric of the community.

So I read with great interest this post by Dave Beckerman, about Ansel Adams trying to get Paul Strand’s work for a show in his gallery, and Strand’s refusal. Strand’s response to Ansel’s request was

Nevertheless I cannot say yes to an exhibition of my things at the present time. Actually I have little interest in exhibitions because at the basis they exploit the artist to entertain the public free of charge. I can never get used to the idea that pictures are free entertainment in the U.S., elsewhere too, that the people who claim to enjoy a thing never support the individual who makes what gives them pleasure.

Dave goes on to comment “Can you imagine Strand in the age of photoblogging?”

I think that Strand is missing part of the point – that by hanging his work in a show, he improves not just the art world but the world in general. Now, it’s Strand’s work, and I think wholeheartedly that artists should have unrestricted rights to decide what happens to their work. But it’s worth considering that when we get our work out before the eyes of our community (and here I mean community in the broadest possible sense) there are benefits that can’t be measured easily and are not represented by currency – benefits like finding out that Linda, the friendly barista, is actually a very good artist.

3 Responses

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  1. Mike said, on August 17, 2007 at 5:28 am

    You send your stuff out and they ding the frames, break the glass and don’t bother to apologize.

    Then — a little luck — you might get your things back intact — if you hang the show yourself.

    The folks come, look and say “How lovely.” and buy — nothing.

    😦

  2. Frank Armstrong said, on August 17, 2007 at 7:02 am

    I think it is a “pick-and-choose” carefully situation. By memberships, I support a number of photographic organizations, and it one of the things that I push my students towards. But Strand has a point, it is “free entertainment” for the public. However, if you don’t put it out there, no one knows you even exist. Choose your venues carefully, the ones where you know people who can do you some good will see your work. And sometimes you choose what will look good one resume. Offer a print for auction in support of your local arts organization, etc. I think you have to decided if you are going to make art for yourself (meaning you’d do it no matter what), or do you make your art for public consumption. Or both perhaps, and I think “both” is a hard road. But I’ve been lucky in that I’ve not had to depend on my art to support my family, nor my photographic addiction. No, I don’t have independent means, I have a hard working and understanding wife. Not to say I don’t make money through my art — a few print sales along the way, and a part-time teaching job has helped keep me current in the digital world and my finger nails a bit stained from the chems. It all about making smart compromises along the way — like becoming a house-husband and raising a child so the wife’s career can move forward allowing me to photograph for myself and no one else.

    P’taker

  3. Sean said, on August 21, 2007 at 11:06 am

    “The folks come, look and say “How lovely.” and buy — nothing.”

    It’s not about the money. If money comes in, great, that pays for the next camera upgrade, but if not, oh well.

    Photography is therapy for me. I’m an @$$hole — I admit it. There’s no better treatment for my type of personality than spending time finding something beautiful and then sharing it with others. It beats spewing venom and negative gossip, both activities that I have certain proclivities towards.

    So when I put my work on display I’m improving ME at the very least. And this makes life better for those who live around me.


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