Four Gallery Images, a Booth Shot and French Cigarettes

(Interested in what happens to your application fees?  See 11/2/12 “Dear Artists: Greetings From the Festival Dark Side”)

Hello, artists – we’re back, with more festival secrets.  Today: why your gallery images may matter less than you think they do, and how your booth shot could matter more than you think it does.

First, if you’re new to festivals, you must have a professional photographer document your pieces.  You honestly can’t do it justice – to have your good work photographed badly is a disservice you do unto yourself.  No matter how accessible the shows to which you apply, you deserve better.  On your own, there’s a good chance you’d place your pieces on a white sheet, using overhead lighting and a flash, or arrange work on a tabletop, or hang it on a wall.  If I didn’t know better, that’s probably what I’d do.  Not our friends the professionals.  In addition to their reasonably-priced charm, they know what background and lighting will flatter each medium – glass is not clay, jewelry is not woodworking, and painting is not drawing.  Personally, I like to be photographed from slightly above – head-on, and you can clearly see I’m shaped like an apple and way too shiny.  2D mixed media is not sculpture.  I think you see my point.  The best work in all the land cannot overcome the burden of being photographed in somebody’s kitchen.

Yet.  The upshot is, if the work is documented by a pro, it’s hardly ever your image quality standing between you and a booth space.  Sometimes your offerings are simply not a good fit for the audience, as not everything plays in Peoria (or Cedar Rapids).  Most shows will provide guidance.  Ask!  Ask!  And!  Do answer every question in the application, and in the detail requested.  We ask our applicants to provide price info, including their most common price point.  (If it’s useful to know: “$30 – $3,000” does not … answer the question.  If I had a nickel, we could buy way more digital billboards.)  Further, while you’re having your best work photographed, take along a piece representing that most common price point, have it documented and include the image in your applications as one of your gallery slides.   You’d be legend.  Jurors across the land will sigh and ask for a cigarette.  They’d send you cigarettes.  French ones (maybe, not wanting to support the tobacco industrial complex), and not in the hope that you’d smoke them, but rather to frame and show off to other artists as you recount your act of faith and courage, and how it paid off.

I’m completely serious.

Moving on.  You’re ready, with professional gallery images, a blessedly incisive artist’s statement – that’s a whole other discussion – and the $25 application fee in hand.  Except … gah.  We want a booth shot.  Require.  A booth shot.

Here’s the thing.  No matter who you are, how much experience you have or how high caliber your show circuit is, please don’t fudge any aspect of your booth shot.  Photoshop-ed with only the best and priciest work you have ever produced?  We can tell.  I say this with love and sincerity – if you seem to be hedging your bet, the jurors will question your integrity.  You are trustworthy!  Do not give jurors a reason to waiver!  We know about “show the best, bring the rest” – and fully respect it as a survival strategy – but a juror’s job, above all else, is to match art to audience.  Which is exactly what you want.  Jurors are selecting with the eye of our buyers; if the images you show are not the work you bring, what you offer may not be what our crowd typically goes for and – yes – you cheat yourself.  I cannot stress this enough.  Show your real work, in its full range of glory, in your real booth, and in a real outdoor festival setting.  If you’re new to festivals, and don’t have a credible shot, display hardware or even a tent, email the show’s director.  We all want you to put your best application face forward, and can offer guidance.

There’s more.  Please, please pass this message along: jurors do not forget the occasions on which artists arrive with very little of the type and caliber of work seen in their application package.  Ditto the quality of booth set-up – to have been presented a certain elegance of display only to have an artist arrive with a card table (oh, sister – it’s happened) is an unforgettable drag on everyone’s experience.  If artists succumb to these temptations, they’re not just hurting us (meaning, our audience, who expect and support fine art) or themselves; their actions also hurt you.  We work to stay savvy, but you are part of the code of ethics mix.  It’s our industry, yes … but first and foremost, it’s your livelihood.  We encourage you to advocate.

In the end, we want to be a great festival, the event our community hopes for and a show in which you’re proud to be a part.  All of us – you, me, our volunteers and sponsors, the audience and community – are out hauling water toward the same thing, that being the perfect festival storm, where the right art is put in front of the right people with the right wallets.  There will be slurpees for everyone, and also some pretty great felafel.  Dogs will be left at home.  Kids will ask you how you made that.  The sun will shine, and our greatest hope is you’ll feel our efforts, your art and that $25 application fee have worked together in a wildly exponential way.  Thank you!  Thank you for the work you do!  We’re lucky you do it, and it’s a privilege to play a role, truly.  Let us know how we can help.

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