Post from 2122, November 2011

‘Tis the Season…

Monday, 21. November 2011 1:01

At least in Houston, ‘tis the season for art crawls and art markets. Art crawls are a little different from fairs, for those of you who have not experienced one. At an art crawl the artists use existing studio/gallery space and the audience wanders from one studio to another. An art market is more like an art fair, in that artists bring their work to tables inside some building and patrons gather there to look or shop.

Over the weekend, I managed to view all of the tables at WHAM, the Winter Holiday Art Market, and a number of galleries in the Houston Art Crawl. The price range of available art was enormous, varying from just a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. So, in that regard, there was something for everyone, provided the price and your taste matched.

This was only time that I had been to the art crawl alone and the first time I had visited WHAM, although it’s been around for six years. Going to these events alone gives you a different perspective on the whole experience, and some new ideas occurred to me.

The first thing that became apparent to me was how social these occasions are. I think when you go to one of these things with friends, you form your own social group and then revolve around that cluster. When you go alone, you’re more objective and unconnected. I ran into people that I knew and saw people that I had seen at such events in the past, the “arts people of Houston.”  And I noticed that a number of people did not seem to be there to see the art so much as to socialize with each other, and the crawl provided them with a convenient environment.

In addition to providing a social venue, the art crawl and art market do provide a way for the buyer and the artist to come together. They provide a way to allow the art-interested public to become familiar with the work of artists. And they allow the artists to get their work in front of many potential buyers and interact with those buyers in whatever way they think will benefit their sales.

The degree of artist-patron interaction varied a great deal—from the single artist sitting alone, seemingly paying no attention to the crowd, to couples who were enthusiastic and overly engaging with patrons. Regardless of their approaches, none of the artists I observed seemed to be participating in the direct selling I have seen at art fairs, but seemed rather to be seeking exposure—allowing patrons to become familiar with them and their work. Such indirect methods seemed to be resulting in sales only of smaller, less expensive pieces. This is confirmed on WHAM’s website.  It causes one to wonder if this indirect methodology, which is advised by many art sales experts, really pays off. You cannot exhibit at either arts event without expense.  And even if you were able to look at an artist’s overall sales figures, I’m not sure that you could determine whether or not occasions such as these really contributed to artist income in any significant way.

You may notice that I’ve been talking about the market and not the art. Probably because it is a market, and because it is a market, potential buyers look at the work exhibited as commodities. It is seldom that you see someone actually stop and contemplate a piece as an actual work of art demanding such absorption and attention. The cynical might say, “Maybe none of the art deserved it.” I thought otherwise. But then in this situation, there is no guidance for the buyer, no gallery operator advising on the potential worth of an object. The buyer has nothing to guide him/her except his/her own taste and budget. That, unfortunately, can turn patrons into bargain-hunters looking for decoration or hand-made gifts instead of art-appreciators, and that, I think, is a little sad.

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