From Passion to Survival
why we do art shows

Iíve always thought that there are two types of people who do art shows, and probably many that fall in between. Most are those that are creative and can take advantage of the concept of art shows by using that creativity to earn a living and support a family. And there are people that canít deal with the real work world and donít get along well with others. Its relative easy to tell which type that is when youíre set up next to someone you either get along or donít get along with.
I became interested in photography in the early 1970ís and found that I had an innate understanding and love of the medium. I carried a camera everywhere and took pictures every day. It became an obsession. I spent a few weeks one summer on Monhegan Island (Maine) and ran into a woman who was selling her etchings. She had them spread out on a bench in front of the restaurant where most of the people ate. Intrigued by the concept of selling artwork, the following summer I brought a few boxes of my own matted photographs and the sales paid for my summer vacation. That same woman told me about a few shows in New York City that she had been exhibiting at. I made some calls and got the applications and I once I did my first show I was hooked.
Back then everything was low tech. There were no professional looking displays, everything was hand made. My first display was built with 1x2ís and pegboard (image below) with clear plastic thrown over the top if it rained.

1978 booth
There were no uniform bodies of work and no jury slide photographers to photograph them. Those specialties didnít exist yet. And it was relatively easy to get accepted to almost every show you applied to. You learned about shows by word of mouth from other artists, and once I learned about Sunshine Artist Magazine, I would pour over it from cover to cover looking for shows to apply to. I moved from doing mall shows to outdoor shows where you could earn more money in two days outside than for a week in a mall where you spent most of your time reading books and eating.
Once I started doing art shows on a regular basis, I became part of a "family" of artists. Friendships developed and we looked forward to seeing the same people from show to show, maybe sharing breakfast or dinner with them and you watched each otherís family change and children grow up. Doing art shows was a fun way of earning a living.
Technology started to affect the art show business, as it did everything else in our world. Displays began to look more professional. Bodies of work became tighter. Shows started getting more competitive. Even vehicles became more suited for transporting art.

Things were good through the end of the 1990ís. Some artists consider 9/11/2001 as the date things began to slide downhill because people cut back on non essential spending. But if you think about it, change was inevitable. Art shows became more about the money than about the art. Baby boomers were starting to age, they were the artists and the buyers of the artwork. The Internet had a substantial affect as people began to make purchases on line. You could find all sizes of art at very low prices at the big box stores. Costs related to art shows began to rise as sales dropped and artists began to earn less money. Then the move to online applications happened and the number of people applying to shows increased making it more difficult to get into shows where they would earn less money.

For some, the move from 35mm jury slides to digital jury images and the online application system became the reason or blame for the downhill trend. Better quality images of your art were now within reach of everyone, not just those artists who had hired a professional jury slide photographer in the past. With higher quality images being prepared by more and more artists, it was inevitable that applications would become more competitive.
So where will it end? I'm no longer doing shows, but still love walking them and seeing artists that are into what they're creating. It's been about three years and I'm itching to do it on a smaller scale, I've even applied to a one day show this August. Who knows, maybe you'll see me out there again.
comments - e-mail Larry Berman at larry@bermanart.com

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