Lessons from an Art Show

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Today I did the art show for Pawlet on the Green – an annual local event held each year as a fund raiser for the Pawlet Scholarship Fund. Local and regional artists of all sorts come and display their work on the Saturday before labor day, and a percentage of what is sold goes to the Scholarship Fund.

I don’t do art shows. But I do this every year. It’s for a good cause. It’s only one day. And it gives me a chance to meet and catch up with a lot of my artistic friends.

Often we artists are not a social lot. We do our work alone in a studio or out somewhere in nature. But we do enjoy company, and the company of other creative people  is a joy most of us don’t really get enough of.

So I do this one.

It actually began late yesterday. I had ordered an inexpensive (re: Cheap) tent to use, but it did not arrive till late Friday. I scooted over to Edie Mach’s green to put it up. Let’s see – no directions? Check.  Pitiful little pegs that can’t stay in the ground? Check. Missing a section of the center pole? Check. Yep, the tent was a disaster. Big Thanks to Jeff Hamill, his wife Heidi (who is an artist at Dry Brook Studio) and their two girls, who saved my bacon helping me out. I ran and got some decent stakes, and an old trunk to take the place of the missing pole and I was ready for today.

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I got there early to finish setting up. And after I finished I helped some of the others set up. There was Dew on the grass and it was clear and sunny with a wind. I walked over the the creek and listened to water a while, enjoying the light playing on the reflections before the water poured over the dam near Mach’s store. The clouds were fascinating (I will post some of those another day)  It was a perfect day to do this. The show started about ten.

It was a slow day. Far slower than in years past. In the end, I sold one painting. Most everyone there didn’t move a lot of art either. A few things, but not like years past. The lack of traffic however, meant that I got to watch people and listen and see more, and I learned a few things.

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If you love something, Really love it. Get it. 

The one painting I sold, however, was crazy gratifying. Maybe the most gratifying painting I have ever sold.

You see last year when I did this the first time, there was this one man from New York City. A real “captain of industry” type. Absurdly well dressed with his equally absurdly well dressed wife. He came back to my tent half a dozen times to look at a particular painting. As the day was winding down, I saw him striding towards my tent with a “I’m gonna buy something” look on his face. Just as he got to my tent, his wife grabbed his shoulder and said “You don’t need any more art.”. And like that he was gone. I remembered his face. It had the disappointment of a child denied and they walked to their car.

Today he was back. And I had brought that painting back. He stopped, did not hesitate and pointed. “I want that one.” Bang. Ten O five and I had my first sale. The look on his face when the picture was there, and he bought it, was priceless. Totally worth the day to see his joy. He had thought about that painting all year. He was just lucky it there. Most of the time I don’t show things twice at the same gallery or show. If you want it, love it, get it. Or suffer the sadness.

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Young people love abstract Art. Old people do not. 

Ok, it’s a generalization, but boy did it play out. My booth was full of kids all day (more on that later). Most of the people who lingered, who loved the work, were under 30. They didn’t buy much, but they loved the art and wanted to talk about it.

Most of the older people walked by me without even looking. They already knew it was not something they cared to look at. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. I know abstract is not for everyone. But at 59, I never thought of it as young people’s art.

My favorite was a woman with her daughter in tow who walked past my tent. Her maybe six year old daughter was like a puppy on a leash she wanted to come look so badly, trying to drag her mom over to look close. “You don’t want to look at that.” the mom said. “It’s Abstract.” (said with appropriate demeaning snear. Fortunately later the girl got to come look.

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Give stuff away. Give stuff away that kids like and they will bring their parents. 

Did I mention kids love abstract? So when they came, I gave them all a bookmark. I make these out of painting that I don’t like so much. And sign each one. The back has my name and contact information. It’s free art you can take home and use. And once a few kids got them, every kid in the place got one. And then they brought their parents and grandparents. No, none of them bought anything, but I had some delightful conversations, and the chance to show some work in a gallery not far from here. By day’s end, I could look around and about half or two thirds of them were carrying a bookmark in their hands. It made me smile.

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Good neighbors count. 

One side I had Chris Edmunds ( an folk artist) and his wife Nancy, and on the other side I had Christoper Smith, a friend and artist from West Rupert. They were all pleasant, made the day fun, and were easy to work with. And it made the day fun. Good neighbors count, even when they are your neighbor only for a day.

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Bare feet and good lemonade make any day a good day. 

It was a perfect barefoot day. And it got kind of hot by day’s end. Without a lot of people to talk to, it could have been brutal. But bare feet cooled me off, and the Barn Restaurant had some killer fresh lemonade that kept me going all day. Made it downright pleasant, in fact.

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Best two quotes of the day. 

1)  “I don’t get that abstract shit at all.” – said by an old man who was nice, but truly seemed baffled at what he was looking at.

2) “Finally! A real artist not in thrall to the almighty landscape!” said by a woman whose small daughter, bookmark in hand, had dragged her to the booth. (yes, she was under 30.)

In the end, an art show like this is not a way to get rich or make a living.

But it’s good exposure, for a good cause, and there was a host of great conversations. I met some great people I’ll make a point of getting to know better this coming year. So worth doing. Not everything’s about money, after all. Now I am home, tired, and I still have a sermon to write. But what a joy filled day. Mark your calendar now for the Saturday before labor day next year and join us. Even if you don’t like abstract, there’s a host of other great art, and people, all around!

Tom

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