The other day, someone who knows that I love contemporary art, but doesn't know me well enough to know better, asked me this question ...
"Michael, Are you going to the '--- Art Fair' this weekend?" My answer in a moment.
Of course, summertime means that art communities in cities all over America - and the world for that matter - are staging "art fairs." It's great. These events are usually designed to support our local art communities. They give artists, galleries and art communities overall outlets for recognition and sales. We cannot live on sports and entertainment alone, can we?
Most of the events are very well-intentioned. The organizers, sponsors and volunteers are usually members of local arts councils and communities that are busting their asses to give voice to the importance of art globally, but especially, locally.
Let's face it. Love of contemporary art begins at home. Home is where the heart is and starting in your own backyard makes perfect sense. But here's where the problem comes in ...
Staging big art events even in small cities costs money, time, muscle, sweat and sometimes, blood. These events are not for the faint of heart. Organizers must come up with the branding and marketing, the venues, the sponsors and investors, the galleries and artists, the city permits and so on.
In short, staging art events can be a pain in the ass ... even for passionate players.
But on top of that, there's this. Many if not most people simply aren't equipped or ready for a FULL ON art fair. A full on contemporary art fair consists of nothing but ART. And I mean nothing else but often challenging ART ALONE as the main attraction.
It's like the difference between true coffee drinkers who take their coffee black and those - like me - who need a good amount of cream or milk in their concoctions. Black belt coffee drinkers tend to be the espresso types.
God bless them, but so many of these so-called art fairs aren't truly art fairs. They're family fun fests.
Well intentioned art fairs morph into family fun fests when organizers realize that art alone won't make these events sustainable. All of the money and sweat equity involved in making these things happen just won't be worth it if you can't get the necessary attendance. This comes down to admission prices along with everything else they need to break even let alone make money. In this day and age, art is still a tough sell ... even in good economic times.
And so, what's a well-intentioned organizer to do? You realize that your city isn't edgy enough or hip enough or adult enough or art loving enough or cultured enough or well-heeled enough or whatever enough to sustain a TRUE art fair. So, what do you do?
You freak out and rather than gradually building a community of true art fans and consumers, you make your art fair ...
... a FAMILY FUN FEST!
Fun for the whole family! Face painting for the kids! Waterslides! Dudes on unicycles juggling coconuts! Wood carved squirrels! Jewelry! Pottery! Scarves, hats and tee-shirts! Popcorn and cotton candy! You name it, we've got it! It's like the county fair ... without the rides.
And as a bonus ... if you keep your eyes peeled ... you can find some cool art somewhere in the mix. If you've been to enough of these things, what you typically see is the desperation and resignation on the faces of the artists and small gallery people who are wondering what the hell they've gotten themselves into.
I must say that after many years, I've learned to "read the temperature" of these outings. It takes time, but one day, things will click and you start to pick up on things most people don't see ... or simply don't care enough about to actually notice.
Somewhere, that well-intentioned art fair became a family fun fest. It's now merely a big, "artsy fartsy" outing. Organizers know this, but of course, no one will admit to it. It's all about sustainability. Sustainability does indeed matter. These things cost money and you've got to make money in order to come back again next year. That's simply how it works ... for everything.
By the way, let me just say here that there's absolutely nothing wrong with family fun fests. Families need to have fun too. Families need to spend time together and explore their cities together. Family outings are very important. Let's hear it for family fun fests.
However, it troubles me that so often, in an attempt to spotlight contemporary art - especially to the masses - art is usually the first casualty amid efforts to remain sustainable. Art gets disrespected left and right, up and down and coming and going. Art gets diluted and watered down. Art gets a bunch of milk and cream poured all over it ... often at events designed to spotlight art.
I learned many years ago not to even entertain the thought of attending every event that calls itself an "art fair." Not to sound snobbish; you know how I feel about snobbery in art. However, when I attend an art fair, I want ART ... not a big, fat, frothy frappuccino that's claiming to be one. I'll let someone else enjoy that. The larger, more international art fairs are beckoning.
Oh, finally ... Did I attend the, "--- Art Fair?"
I wish them the very best, but no. I did not attend the family fun fest.