Out of Context?

A recent comment from a customer got me thinking about the notion of context, or how art is viewed. And in the way things often happen, this week, I received twice weekly email from Robert Genn, and the subject was the same... synchronicity is great, isn't it? You can read his whole letter here: http://clicks.robertgenn.com/context.php.

My customer asked why I wasn't planning to show my work at an upcoming street fair. When I said I didn't do that kind of show any longer, she expressed surprise, probably because we were at an outdoor event at the time. The difference between the two events? Context. The street fair she referred to caters to import/export vendors, clothing, and commercial items. It's an annual, Afrocentric event, where the audience is largely, if not exclusively African American. Despite that, for my work and my display, the context is wrong. Not only would it stick out like a sore thumb, I would likely be considered too high-priced, pretentious, and any number of other derogatory things for exhibiting there.

The caliber of artists and artisans at the show where the question came up matched my work and display. There, the context for my work was correct. Because of it, customers expected a certain level of professionalism, quality of products, display and level of service. An artist who didn't offer this was the one who 'stuck out like a sore thumb,' and customers could see the disconnect.

We've spent a great deal of time, not to mention money this year to raise the level of our display and products. Where we are now is very different from where we began, as are the shows which we can now be serious about pursuing. The context within which we were operating was fine, but we realized in order to be considered for the more high-end shows, we had to step up our game.

Finding the right context is a mind game, too. Being able to believe your work is good enough to be exhibited and sold at high-end shows or galleries is an ongoing process. For me, it began with my positive, supportive, fellow-artist husband. He believes in me and my work; his discerning eye and inventive mind helps me to be a better artist. Positive feedback from customer comments and of course, sales is another integral part of the process. Having my work recognized by others, and being written about is important, too. I need to focus more on this aspect. It was great being the featured artist in my local newspaper's Home and Garden section last summer: http://www.jordanstreasures.net/noarticle_070106.htm

The next phase? Being asked to do gallery or museum shows--I was just approached yesterday, at Festival for the Eno to do just that--more information as it develops. Applying to the highest level shows--next year, maybe....I'm still in the process of being about to believe my work fits that context.

Another part of the journey; a work in progress.


Sonji Hunt said…
I agree with you about the selling shows that you decide to do. You have to place yourself correctly and then also aim for higher. Sometimes customers need the information to discern between buy/sell import work and art work. Many can't seem to tell the difference. It's about educating your audience also instead of taking offense as many artists do. Good for you for explaining your position to your customer.

Also, when I look at your work, I ask myself why you aren't participating in exhibitions, too. There are plenty of times I've wanted to email you a link to enter a call for art, but didn't know what your plan was for yourself. Sometimes such information isn't welcome when you aren't reaching in that direction. Your work is lovely and deserves a wider audience who will consume it like a yummy dessert.
Lori said…
Hey Michelle,
Nice piece in your hometown paper. Good for you.

I understand your position when it comes to choosing festivals. You have to be true to your own vision.

Although, it would be nice if some of those festivals had a more diverse offering. I'm always looking for that vendor/artist who stands out from the crowd and whose work draws me back for a second look (smile).

But like Steve Arrington of the musical group "Slave" once said, "Nobody Can Be You, But You."