Cate and I had such a wonderful Artfields experience this year, as we do every year. I think what makes it such a great experience are the people and the inviting atmosphere. And yes, the really cool art.
Since I was asked by the organizers to present my feedback and suggestions, I took the opportunity to ask myself what it would take to make Artfields the per-eminent art show in the South. A lofty goal indeed.
I think one of the great disappointments for me this year were the winning selections. I realize this is a very delicate area. It reeks of sour grapes by one of the “losing” artists. After 37 years, however, I understand sometimes we win, sometimes we lose; art is highly subjective and so is quality. But across the board, many of those I spoke with felt the system somehow broke down. Following are some suggestions I made to the Artfields executive committee, not just about the judging process, but also how the entire experience could be enhanced and deepened for all concerned:
- It is not unprecedented to offer some criteria and guidance for jurors, rather than giving them card blanch. Start with the mission statement of Artfields and go from there. We talked about having different categories, which I think is great. But I think if you asked the jurors to help Artfields guide the definition of Southern Art buy identifying southern themes and reflecting the southern experience and more broadly, the human experience.
And yes, as I mentioned, those who choose the jurors can choose those who reflect that artistic values of Artfields, rather than those who have a long list of credentials. I have a tendency to be wary of academics. They tend to choose work based on shock value or on more cynical criteria than what the actual purposes of art patrons in a small rural town in the south. Imposing esoteric ideas on people who are looking to learn about humanity is a recipe for disaster. The juror mentioned “impact” as a named criteria, along with what could be described as staying power. All very good, but somehow the process got skewed this year in the selection of the top prizes. I think The Emperor’s New clothes is not a story you want associated with large monetary awards. I think the solution is to really understand the perspective of jurors you are considering and giving them some criteria. One criteria that may be considered is beauty, i.e. attractiveness. This might be what we were describing as classical/traditional elements. But it goes beyond this. What draws the viewer in and keeps him and makes him want to look more deeply into the mind of the artist for answers to real human questions?
This brings me to the element of universality. What does it tell us about humanity and the human experience? Does it offer a unique perspective on what it means to be human? One example might be the southern experience, which is universal. What does the work say about society or our culture? Asking the jurors to find works, perhaps creating categories around works that have a social conscious, that represent the folk life of the south, that represent the continuation or breaking with and/or reinventing tradition. The work must ask more questions than it can answer. This year’s top winner did none of this. It was much adu about nothing.
What went wrong? Not giving any guidance to the jurors means they have no structure, no basis for making meaningful decisions. They simply are going to debate based on their own unique perspective and end up with a compromise. I’d almost suggest appointing a single juror and provide him/her with all the assistance necessary to process all the work. I have no comment on the formula of mixing the popular vote with the jurors discretion. All I know is there were some very emotionally powerful works which met some of the above criteria, that were completely ignored by the final results.
- Artfields must lead the southern arts movement. To do this, collaboration with The Gibbes and other arts and historical institutions might be a good idea. Identifying with Southern arts giants and creating awards named after Southern icons, sponsored by southern giants in business.
- Artists should be invited to guest Blog in advance of the event. In fact this should be going on all the time. I don’t want to just hear about Artfields when in late winter spring. I need to be hearing about Artfields all year long.
- Critical analysis of winning works by jurors or art critiques from a variety of media is essential to establish greater credibility. Inviting artists to contribute feedback and publishing these on the website and in the catalogue might get the ball rolling. If you’ve participated, you can contribute. You are currently leaving great resources on the table.
- The video profile your PR firm produced was great, need more of those. Creating an ARBEAT type format, with a knowledgeable host interviewing artists as they work might have more impact and could be produced more inexpensively than what you are currently doing. I would be happy to discuss this idea more with you, once you’ve had a chance to see what I’m talking about.
- Lake City needs another commercial gallery or two in town. When I say commercial, I mean market driven, not academically motivated. I think trying to be a mini NYC is not a viable idea. Even converting some open spaces on main street into galleries where those placed in charge are motivated by sales, choosing work they feel might appeal to art collectors would not take anything away from the other venues, who should also be motivated by a sales commission. It would allow more art friendly spaces to be developed. I know a lot of artists were grumbling that their work was displayed above a clothes rack or in a darkened hallway. That is just plain disrespectful and is a no win for everyone. If you can’t display well, don’t display at all.
- Awards presentation needs to be more showbiz, suspense, glitzy, drum rolls, lights, smoke, the works. The community needs to be celebrating the winners in a big way.
- More artist demos or artist talks, even a blanket invite to any participating artists.
- Here’s an idea I originated in Detroit 15 years ago, called Artists Among Us. Perhaps Artfields can offer an award for multi-disciplinary work, not just 2d and 3d.
- The main stage needs to be in use throughout the main days of the festival. It needs to be one continuous party with lots of acts. Strolling artists and artsy performers, like walking trees, quick sketch artists, story tellers, character actors, magicians, unique vendors selling cigars, candy artisans. I have a guy in Charleston that can get you people who do amazing things.
- Now this might not seem practical but I think docents, curators and sales reps should be in the main venues and the smaller venues should be given a crash course in art sales. They should be familiar with the artists in their venues and have their websites ready to show.
- Participating artists should be invited, encouraged and perhaps required to come and talk and preferably demonstrate at anytime that they feel compelled during the festival. They should be encouraged to set up shop and sell their wares in key designated traffic areas. That’s the kind of mess that makes memories for the people who come to Lake City.
- Prizes should be offered for plein aire next year, followed by a live auction of the Fresh Art. I call them Fresh Art Festivals and they are awesome. I used to present them in Detroit. This would be perfect for Artfields.
- Raise to $5,000 the prize for the Portrait Competition to attract top artists. This has the potential to become a major portrait prize in the south. The portrait prize winner should be announced, or at least acknowledged at the main event and the email wrap up, featuring the winners.
- Purchase awards are a way of building up the public art collection in the town. Rather than just the main prize winner, there should be a number of purchase awards, sponsored by and chosen by individuals or corporations, who want to create a legacy in Lake City.
- You may want to consider awards categories in portraiture, ie classical/traditional, outsider, avant-garde.
- Is the ROB included in the lottery process? This year, most of the award-winners came from there, implying that perhaps the jurors favored the work because of the context, rather than on the merits of the work.
- More murals!! Communal group painting during the festival on any available surface. Even if they are white washed over later. People need to do something with all that inspiration and I think they would appreciate a chance to get involved. Each mural might have a director to encourage a specific them or subject. Even silly painting parties could be a fun way to involve the civilians.
- Based on our conversation about the scope of the foundation, I think a more narrow focus might be in order. Developing Colonial Lake in Charleston is nice but it diffuses from the power of transforming Lake City.
- As an arts destination, there need to be more events throughout the year. There needs to be an ongoing presence of great art available in a number of venues, with differences in approach to create a critical mass.