Saturday, May 30, 2009

Art Markets (and Creative Grove): Democratising or Demeaning?

The brand new Creative Grove art market kicked off yesterday at the Grove Street PATH, and it got me wondering about the social standing of such pedestrian (literally) events within the artistic community.

From a "fine art" perspective (aside from selling your work on a street corner) an outdoor booth is about as low on the totem pole as you can get. People: normal, common-denominator people, stop by, talk about your pieces, and--heaven forbid--sometimes try to touch them. But why does this sort of public display strike so many artists as demeaning, rather than as an opportunity for community engagement? Is it the nature of fine art to want to ascend into some otherworldly cloud and escape the prying eyes of the "less-enlightened", does wanting to withdraw really just highlight the fears these artists have about how the general public will react to their work, or is it merely pragmatic (how much do they actually sell-really)?

Showing in a gallery, or even at an established fine art fair (outdoors or not), is not the same thing as popping up a table at a major-transit-hub art market that also sells baby t-shirts. It all comes down to audience, and it's in this sense that Creative Grove is extremely democratic. Who knows what it will become as it continues (hopefully) to grow, but for the moment it is really smack dab at the intersection of art and life--and I like that.

Perhaps it's a romantic notion, but I really believe--or want to believe--that someone off the street can walk up to a great work of art, recognize its communicative or aesthetic value, and be moved enough to take it home. And I don't think that's anything for an artist to be ashamed of. I'm really not talking commercial design, or even screen-printed t-shirts, though they are an important first step in getting people comfortable with the idea of fine art, but rather drawings or paintings that aren't as instinctively functional. Jersey City isn't quite there yet. I think we need more jewelry and decorative wall-hangings before we can fully jump into the swampy territory of fine art markets and develop the more limited audience they rely on to survive.

Ultimately I think this type of market can serve as a source of civic artistic empowerment, but what's your take?

Note: Creative Grove will continue to run every Friday with a rotating group of artists and craftspeople throughout the summer.


Charles Kessler said...

Why assume, or even hope, “that someone off the street can walk up to a great work of art, recognize its communicative or aesthetic value, and be moved enough to take it home?” People have no problem accepting that a wine connoisseur (or mathematician, or surgeon or computer expert or whatever) knows more about wine than we do and can appreciated the subtleties of wines more than we can. They don’t get touchy about it or feel inferior or insulted -- they just acknowledge they’re not experts in that field. Yet somehow with art we’re somehow supposed to inherently understand it and judge it without any effort, as if one is born with this innate ability. To expect otherwise is to be a snob, elitist or undemocratic.

Part of the problem is people are confused about what art is. There’s folk art, outsider art, street art, commercial art, children’s art, illustration, kitsch and fine art -- and probably more that I’m forgetting. Fine Art is different from the others in that it is in dialog with a tradition that goes back thousands of years. Not better or worse than the others -- just different. (I know, I know, there are lots of exceptions, complications and subtleties like public art, crafts, primitive art, etc. but my basic point holds).

To show art in an outdoor market, given the history of these markets, is demeaning in two ways: (1) it disregards the effort involved in making fine art. I worked hard learning the fine art tradition, and continue to work hard at it, and so does every artist I know. It doesn’t necessarily make me a good artist, but it does define what type of art I do. And (2) it’s "de-meaning" to the work. It takes the art out of the fine art context and changes the meaning. Duchamp demonstrated how important context is with fine art (this is what I mean -- tradition). A urinal in a bathroom means something very different from a urinal on a pedestal in an art exhibition.

Anonymous said...

Creative Grove was actually inaugurated May 22. said...

The Creative Grove Artist market is exactly a democratic, weekly, open and diverse experiment, it will change every week by it's participants, by the viewers and by the interactions, reactions and mood it will produce.
As Charles Kessler stated, there are many categories of art, and we, who promote and sell art will have to insist on environments and settings for the type of art we represent.
I have seen many outdoor art settings that hold great quality work and at the same time a wide array of work.
Across the river the art comunity in Manhattan has established in SoHo an outdoor venue for expression, display and sale.

The Washington square art fest twice a year is another venue,
Central Park South also twice a year (I think), what about the many art shows outdoors across the States, and a very unconventional but extremely interesting and diverse fest is Burning Man in Nevada.
The Creative Grove management would absolutely welcome a curator for the Fine Art Installation sector!

Anonymous said...

thank god we have experts like mr. kessler to school us in art appreciation. here i thought it all about how a piece appeals or doesn't appeal to me and whether i want to acquire it. little did i know, as a non-expert, that i must first appreciate its pedigree, its venue, and its qualification as "fine art".

silly me. i'll confine myself to "family guy" reruns in the future.

what crap.

Charles Kessler said...

See what I mean?

Anonymous said...

I agree that arts education affects the way people see art. But I think it's important to point out that the artist who started the Creative Grove market is a serious artist who really is part of the "fine arts dialogue."

- alb

Charles Kessler said...

I love it! Making art out of outdoor art markets. If that's what the artist is doing, it's brilliant and sophisticated twist on the contemporary trend of taking things that are generally thought of as non-art and making art of it.

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