A Picture is Not Worth a Thousand Words

Let me gift an observation to you, please.

The conventional wisdom appears to be that a good picture of art is better than a poor picture of art when it comes to submitting an application to be accepted into an art fair. Based on what I have seen, what my peers have seen, what my customers and patrons have seen, and what sales numbers are screaming to artists – this model isn’t what is best for the artists or the patrons walking and working at street art fairs whether the show is small or gargantuan.

Buy/sell vendors are spreading in the shows like a cancer in a smoker’s lung. Some artists bitch. Some ignore. The shows keep a low profile and hide behind ignorance, jurors, lawyers, apathy, and even deflection (“There is just not an issue here.”). Buy/sell vendors simply go to another show or call their brother-in-law lawyer who lives in his mother’s basement to borrow her laptop so he can write a “cease and desist”.

The problem is vendors who are not artists infecting art shows to sell their wares at the expense of authentic artists who are attempting to sell their work to art patrons who are attending fewer and fewer shows less often because there are too many non-artists selling stuff that looked like photographed art during the show’s jury process 6 months earlier.

But there’s more.

Now we have people advocating that applicants do “whatever it takes” to make sure their work comes across in the photograph as the best work available for the show to consider during the jury process.

Has this “whatever it takes” mentality worked? Are the shows rid of “buy/sell”? Are the shows providing our patrons with the best work possible? Do sales reflect this model as a shining example of how to stack an art show? Are patrons coming to the shows and spending money for first class art work? Are their jaws dropping at the displays of outstanding, thought-provoking, soul-stirring paintings, drawings, sculptures, works in clay, glass, metal, paint and ink?


The current system is not working.

I will be in Louisville in October. I am not giving Zapp one red cent to attend their conference. I doubt very much they will invite me to speak. Nonetheless, here is my contribution to help clean up this mess we call art fairs and it does not have the backing of anyone other than me as of this writing. I have not heard this idea coming from that joke of an artists’ union, not from that group that gives awards to fairs and festivals, not from anyone. Not from any other application sites like Zapp, JAS, or Entrythingy. It certainly won’t be supported by photographers or Photoshop’ers that take pride in making photographs of stuff more beautiful than they actually may be. It won’t be accepted by shows that want to improve, it won’t be accepted by some artists.


Here it is: Drop the 100 or 200 or 500 word limits on the applications.

Shows should expect if not demand a full written description of what they do and why. I am not talking about a flowery, bullshit artist statement or survey questions where the applicant toggles some ambiguous series of quiz questions. I am talking about the artists writing about their thought process, their materials, their studio, their ideas, their techniques, their revision process, their growth and development, their plans, their customers, their future ideas. They should include statements about the images submitted. Most importantly they should communicate to the show why they are applying to the show. Websites and names should be prominent on the applications. They should be proud to apply to the show and state why they are doing so and what they have to contribute.

Buy/sell vendors will be more easily removed because they will have to blatently lie to pass muster on the application as a genuine artist rather than a buy/sell or production house vendor. Actual artists will have an additional avenue to communicate their authenticity as artists. Shows will have to work a bit harder and spend more time organizing data provided by applicants.

I know most shows will dismiss the idea because of the added work. Some artists will complain about having to do more on the applications. I know the posers and fake artists will complain because they feel they are being picked on or singled out. My response is: “Tough”. If the goal is to make the shows more authentic and more in line with being art shows for our patrons, then this is a viable option for the shows to weed out the problems.

Is this an easy solution? No. Do I expect shows to adopt this idea? Not hardly.

But I do think having artists write more on the applications about their work is the best way to verify if an artist is an artist or an importer. The problem is, in the end only a minority of true artists will advocate a stronger application process than a questionairre and a few pictures throught a website.

Do you as an artist want the shows to continue as they have been going for the last few years?

The shows are not going to get better until artists make them better.