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The Weather Complimented the Show – Torturous, while not a complete washout

Aug 20, 2018

I hesitated to post our latest little Other People's Art acquisition because I knew that I couldn't resist adding a couple of related observations that are sure to tick-off some people – OK to be honest, I enjoy that part a lot more than I dislike having to face the proverbial music afterwards. Most local artists would agree with me about the drastic decline of our so called art shows – heck, try to find any willing to go there any more. But they tend to vehemently deny any responsibility for it – "it's just the end of the outdoor art show" is something of a mantra. Never mind that elsewhere in the country there are shows that thrive, albeit more along the lines of our old ArtQuest event – something pretty much impossible locally for a number of reasons, some of them involving the nature of the artists themselves. 

     Anyway, we decided Saturday morning after our weekly foray to the Havre de Grace farmers' maket, to run up to the annual, always-on-the-worst-weekend-o- the-year Havre de Grace Art Show. How this thing can keep going downhill without disappearing into a puff of smoke, totally escapes me. I won't even, beyond mentioning it in a state of total confusion, go any further into asking how and why exhibits selling honey, olive oil and other staples of the farmers market helped fill spaces at the event? Arrrrgh. 

     Overall the show complimented the weather, or vise versa – torturous. As was the early morning music provided, totally inappropriately religiously oriented. We didn’t stick around to hear the interjected political rants of past years from this bunch. Is it really a thing to subject people in public to to this and call it entertainment? Please.

     Then there's the proliferation of booths selling honey, olive oil and other commercial products. Juried for what? Enough money to pay for a booth? But that's not the end of the commercialism, even though one would think that after all these years the people who run this thing would care enough to be able to spot the huge influx of fake artists exhibits. I spotted at least six that were obvious and another half dozen that bear checking. These are commercial efforts that supply the art and hire representatives to sit in the booth and claim to be the artist. I would place bets on these making up at least ten at this show this year. I would be asking for ID or, at least, checking exhibit lists at other events up and down the coast on the same weekend for duplications. Then again, I really don't believe the show cares.

     If I had to be there judging photography, I would first have to resist the temptation to run down the hill and drown myself in the Bay. And a question, what the heck does bringing in two, yes two, "photography" exhibits that show work printed from public-domain image files from over a hundred years ago say? These printable files are downloadable from archive sites. How is printing them art? The fact that one of them hand-tints the images hardly makes it original "art". So if either one of these, or both, falls into the fake artist category, it hardly matters.

     But there's always a silver lining, no matter how dark the cloud. Usually we can count on there at least being a few good potters – but even that medium is pretty much failing to be represented well here. We did run across a college student showing her clay work for the very first time. While I wouldn't give it rave reviews – she had no grand effort piece to tempt real pottery lovers – we both saw something in what she did have. Sort of reminded us of the early work of some of the better potters we have collected pieces from. I love the challenge of trying to spot talent right at the beginning – and have been right a couple of times.

     We purchased the piece above, a really nice little "open work" bowl, about ten inches across. To be fair, the bottom isn't sanded properly, but we have early Lyon Clay pieces with the same issue. It's all part of the learning process. Below I took a quick iPhone shot of her exhibit – lucky kid had the best breeze in the park, elsewhere it could get really bad.

Piece by Emily Norris – her first showing, she used images from here to begin her Instagram postings. Talk about just getting started. But hey, she's a potter. It should take her about a week to have more followers than I do with B&W photography. She can be found at instagram.com/norrisceramics.

So, young lady with promise, go for it. Just make sure that you watch and study other artists, not just potters – misdirection is easier to spot in those involved in a different medium, and learn from their mistakes. 

A few things I have learned over the years:

• Artists, photographers and potters have one thing in common in that there are far too many forces trying to stear one away from whatever course best brings one's art to the point where it is not only well executed but has something to say worth saying. A wrong or self-defeating path taken can be hard to impossible to retrace. 

• Educators tend to over influence style to the point where it can take years to undo the damage. Resist. At the same time, find a really good potter and offer to help in the studio with the mundane chores for a time – it will be invaluable.

• Commercial forces tempt the artist into doing what they think (often mistakingly) will sell.

• An insecure need for approval from other artists can stop some in their tracks.

• And (maybe worst of all) undeserved success can be the worst teacher of all. 

• Money is the measure of nothing but itself, certainly not real value.

• Awards and prizes are at best subjective to the point of hilarity and at worst meaningless. 

• Praise, kudos and, heaven help us all, positive reinforcement are useless and misleading.

• Critcism is the one thing you can trust – If it is misplaced, it still forces a self-review that reinforces one's faith in one's ability – otherwise it is very simply how we learn. Learn to relish it.

• If you love art you will appreciate and acquire the work of others and not paper your own cage with just your own work.

• You'll find a lot of artists and fine craftspersons who develop a speel or load of bull crap to spout to potential customers. True, it might at times help make sales. But it's a trap. As others begin to see the artist as the fraud he or she is projecting, the artist begins to become that fraud, falling for his own line. It's an insidious trap – avoid it like the plague. It can be fun to watch this in others though.

• And, last but not least, we all make bad pieces – once you are sure, avoid the temptation to sell it off cheaply, destroy it, don't let anything reduce the overall quality of your work. Most artists we know, including ourselves, would gladly buy back some of our early work in order to burn it.