The Absurdity of it All

Brian J. Sullivan

Don't you think it's ironic that in a country as rich and as generous as the United States, a 76-year-old needs to go back to work just to get insurance to buy the prescription medicine he needs to survive?

What's wrong with our country that we can spend billions of dollars a month on some war in a foreign country, or spend billions more on humanitarian relief efforts in some central African nation, or spend billions on a space program to allow several men the opportunity to live in a space station rotating high above the earth's atmosphere?

Now don't get me wrong; I believe all these to be noble and just causes, yet at the expense and neglect of our own people this is criminal. Big business has taken over.

Look no further than the once thriving local art fairs, now run by big time promoters with huge corporate sponsors. Gone are the days of crowds of interested art buyers leisurely strolling among a plethora of hodge podge tents in search of the next great undiscovered talent.

Art fairs have become big multi-dimensional events offering—music-fest, food-fest, theater-fest, auto-fest, and art-fest all rolled into one event. Artist booths now compete with cell phone displays, liquor booths, nurseries, and outside show-rooms of new automobiles from the local dealership.

With the big events have come bigger fees for the artists. A $45 application fee is not uncommon along with booth fees of over $500; that is in addition to the higher travel, motel, and food cost. Then there is the emotional cost of being away from the studio, friends, and family for extended periods of time.

Add to this several art fairs running concurrently on any given weekend in the same locale and you have an apathetic crowd which has become so satiated as to become numb. True art collectors rarely come out to these events anymore since it's all the same. Gone are the true Avant Garde artists.

Many fairs have instigated a gate fee which again limits the amount of people who come through an art fair or at least remove more of their money so now their attitude is "we paid to get in, now entertain us," and they rarely buy anything anymore.

Isn't it absurd that we "artists" are made to pay for the privilege of entertaining the crowds so that the promoters can charge more for the gate fee along with more in jury and booth fees to the artists? When was the last time you went to a concert and heard of the musicians paying for the privilege to play! Or how many actors do you know who pay for the privilege to smile in front of the camera? None, I suspect. We are all artists practicing our craft, so why are we treated like second class citizens? And since when was this double dipping (charging the artist to exhibit and the buying public a gate fee) made the norm? Can you say g-r-e-e-d? What about e-x-p-l-o-i-t-a-t-i-o-n? Helllllo! I am a clean shaven, well educated, professional artist with over 25 years of gallery and museum exhibitions all over the world.

Over the last 20 years, these escalating practices have hurt the art market and forced true creativity from the market. Why? Because for artists to be able to stay in business and to pay for all the increasing  costs, they have to cater to what the general public will buy. Disturbingly, over the years, I have found that less "original" art is being sold at each art fair.

How can artists compete against the Walmarts and Home Depots which sell nice matted and framed pictures for around $100? Heck, some of my frames alone cost me that much wholesale. Isn't it absurd that people will spend more on a frame than on the actual art work?

I think it is sad that over the last twenty years, my beloved profession has evolved into this, because it will never go back. Times have changed. Things are different. Higher gasoline prices are here to stay.

For a moment, just imagine what would happen if at the next art fair, all the people who paid an entry fee at the gate were met with row after row of empty white tents as artists boycotted. Now imagine this happening at each fair across the country. Media attention would bring to light the artist's plight in record time. The art market would make corrections and we could all live happily ever after doing what we love. But until that happens, I've begun filling out job applications.

So isn't it absurd that I now work at Walmart (in the framed prints department) so I can get insurance coverage and meager wages just to be able to afford some more art supplies and the entry and booth fees? At 46 years old, I'm not yet ready to throw the towel in. Close, but not yet.