Saturday, October 18, 2014

School of hard "A"rt knocks: Something I did not know about "A"rt shows

Last weekend my husband and I set up at the Port Warwick Art Festival in Newport News.  The show is only about 10 minutes from our house.  Every year for the past several years we would attend it as a guest then I would get all depressed and come home and pout.  It was the same every year.  I was so disgusted at myself that I had not achieved my goal of becoming a real "A"rtist, that I could hardly look myself in the mirror after attending this show.  What was wrong with me?  Why was I such a coward that I could not apply to an art show but I could sit for hours cranking out quick profile portraits like a robot?  Not that there is anything wrong with being a sketch artist at Busch Gardens, but I knew in my heart that I was meant to make more meaningful art.

Finally, my day came.  We spent a year putting together my display.  I threw together whatever art I could find buried in closets around the house, then began creating new pieces. We started small last fall, at a local monthly festival called 2nd Sundays in Williamsburg, but when I was ready I knew what I wanted to do first.  The first show that I applied to was the Port Warwick fest.  Much to my astonishment I was accepted!  It ended up being the second big show for me at the end of a very exhausting first summer of realizing my dream of being an "A"rtist.

I wasn't doing the show to make money really, but the money wasn't bad for two days of rainy weather.  I also wasn't doing it to get in the papers, make waves or win an award.  I was doing it to prove to  myself that I could.  I was also very excited to walk around the festival and meet other real "A"rtists.  Some of them traveled from across the country to attend this festival. I was so honored to be part of it. I learned so much by the end of this show that I felt like it was an entire semester's worth of information.

When the time came to announce the winners of the show I was badly confused when they eliminated my category of Drawing, even though I had no expectation of winning.  It seemed to me that all of the other categories were well represented. Sometimes several people in each category were winning ribbons, but what about the pastel artists? What is wrong with drawing?  I thought the impressionists made their point with the world 150  years ago for God's sake! Pastel is a REAL art folks!  Yikes! The application said we would be up for an award, so why did they eliminate it?  I was so confused. No one spoke to me to explain why they did this, so I naturally assumed that between myself and the one other dry medium artist that our work was not deserving of recognition, or perhaps that all of Degas's and his contemporaries work of trying to change the image of pastel and other dry medium was a waste of their time.  It did not make any sense at all, but I swallowed my dismay, put on my smile and went back to my booth. The impressionists were sure to be rolling over in their graves, but I guess there wasn't anything that I could do about it.

Shortly after the judging, the other artist and her mother approached me.  I could not believe how young she was.  Her work was amazing. She was the same age as my children and all of those many kids who I taught and mentored for years at Busch Gardens. Wow, she is doing shows at this age? She has moxy! My heart went out to her when I realized how upset and confused she was too, and I must say that my mama bear claws came out. Now I was mad.  I was more than mad I was pissed off. I waited all of my life for this?  Its one thing to discredit my art focus, I'm just a 49 year old quick sketch vet, but to do this to this very talented young woman seemed ethically wrong.

I of course had to do something, but I was also asking myself how I always manage to get involved in these type of conflicts.  I was torn between sucking it up and living with it or standing up for us. The last time that I had stood up for my rights with an employer they reamed me out big time. (I asked if I could have a 15 minute lunch break during my 6 hour shift.  Apparently they disagreed.)  Now, every time that I get in these situation I have to ask myself is it worth being demeaned and threatened or should I stand up for myself.

Finally Her mother and I agreed that we should go talk to someone. The other artist was very worried about upsetting the committee and hurting someone's feelings, I was worried that I would get bitched out, but I knew that we had to stand up for ourselves as artists. We marched across the street to the artist check in desk. As we voiced our frustration with the woman in charge of  volunteers it became more and more apparent that not one person had any idea why we were frustrated with the exception of one art student volunteer. These folks were not artists.  Since they were not artists they couldn't possibly know how long and hard dry medium artists have fought to raise the image of their work.

The woman in charge of the volunteers explained that when there are less than 3 artists representing a medium, that medium was automatically eliminated from jury consideration.  This contradicted what they had told the other artist earlier, so we became even more defensive. She promised to consider changes to next year's show and explained that the judge had nothing to do with it. The other artist and I said that we may not return next year.  Why should we come back if you don't acknowledge drawing as an art form? We felt that this should have been explained in the application, and when he was announcing awards the judge should have clarified this as well.  We should also have been told in advance and that the information be consistent.  Finally one of the other volunteers tactfully escorted us back to our booth, full of apologies.  I was on the verge of tears.

After I returned to my art cave I felt horrible.  Maybe I should have let it go.  Why do I have such a big mouth?  Here I am finally at the show I always dreamed of and I go and screw it up.  Let me tell you, I felt like a load of crap.  A few hours later however the 2 bigwig women who organized the entire event came over.  Man, I was in trouble now.  I thought that I was about to be told off by two other working "A"rtists, but it only took a few moments to realize that they were not artists either. They loved the arts and so they created this festival ten years ago and they both work very hard at making it a positive experience for working artists.   They said that they had no clue that this clause in the  judging process would be offensive.  They didn't realize that it should have been explained to us.  They said that they realized that it took courage for the other artist and I to approach them and urged us to return next year and encourage other dry medium artists to apply too since apparently we are a rare breed. Wow, you could have knocked me over with a feather!

I  should also say that other than this glitch the show was amazing.  They fed us a banquet catered dinner with beer and wine Saturday night.  They had a gaggle of teen aged boys, I think perhaps from the local high school football team, help us set up and tear down. They sent over free lunches both days, free water all day and a free breakfast Sunday.  Sunday afternoon the volunteers even brought me a mimosa, my very first.  Most shows don't do this I am told.

It turned out that I won the biggest reward I could ever hope for. I learned one more very valuable lesson about the world of "A"rt.  I learned that this wonderful show was not organized by working artists, and so I was wrong to think that they should understand our feelings and know our history. I have no doubt that there will be other situations like this in the future, so I should not take it personally. I learned also that it is important to respectfully tell the organizers when they have insulted, because hopefully it will improve their show in the future and make it easier for other pastelists to show their work.  Finally, I learned that dry medium working artists are uncommon.  I didn't fully realize this since I am friends with so many other pastel portrait artists. The judge urged me to refer to my work not as pastel paintings, but as drawings for this very reason.  If this helps to raise the image of my medium, then so be it.  Ok, lessons learned.

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