Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What does it mean to be an Artist?

I’ve been thinking a lot about art lately.  I’ve  taken on the monumental task of organizing our local craft fair.  The catch is that there are a lot of “new” rules this year and with change comes resistance.   Some of the resistance is just that the tables are more expensive this year than last, others are upset that they must now follow the Guidelines laid out by the Health Authority for safe preparation and sale of foods.  The things that catches me is the concept of “handmade”  this is a craft fair and the criteria state that items have to be crafted in some significant way.  Nothing with the stamp “made in china”. While sometimes this is easy – those cute little hand blown glass beads are definitely hand crafted, and somebody spent a lot of time crocheting little hats for babies. Whereas those Pashmina imports from India were screened out as not locally handcrafted.   But the line gets blurry  - does gluing a little metal hello kitty charms onto hair clips count as a craft?  or cutting elastic bands in short lengths and tying a knot in the end?  How about machine embroidery – where you buy a program for a Snoopy image and then let the machine do its thing on hand towels?  Are my little packages of seasoning blends hand crafted? 

Which takes me into a whole other realm – the business of art. Or craft.  I spoke to a woman who makes her living on her art once – she talked about her paintings, her prints, he workshops, and then the rise in cute little crafty things on webpages such as and maybe it was better to be selling cute little crafts rather than trying to break into the realms of art collectors and galleries.  She thought my spice packets were brilliant in their own way.  Maybe I need to spend some time and put something up on Etsy.

I have another artistic friend who is a photographer – who used to spend hours and hours in her dark room but can no longer find the chemicals for her work as film is slowly becoming obsolete.   She now makes more money making handmade soap than the delicate art of the dark room.  She suggested I watch a documentary called “Exit through the Giftshop”.  
Artist stands with his paintings 'The Queen' (R) and 'Kate Moss' at the Opera Gallery on October 3, 2011 in London, England. (I doubt he had permission to use their images - given that he's already lost a court case to RUN DMC for the use of their image)

I did.  As a straight documentary, this film is a snoozefest, an artist's love note to himself written in spray paint on a public wall.  But on another level it blew my mind.   It is about a French immigrant who started filming graffiti artists, and eventually met some very famous ones, who encouraged him to try making art.  So he did…. But not in the fashion that I would consider art – is it handmade – certainly… but not by our Parisian filmmaker.  The fellow instead jumps in with two feet, hires out of work artist and graphic designers – having them do the actual creating of his ideas on an enormous scale.   The not so brilliant ideas he pawns off on these designers are largely imitations of other renowned graffiti  artists, crossed with the use of famous artistic and historic images, many of which are copyrighted, altering them in slight ways.  The documentary then follows him as he holds an “art show” in an abandoned CBS builidng.   Marketing his self-financed debut  with mixture of an overheated and hyped street art market and his misuse of endorsements from a few legendary graffiti artists.  Then comes the part that kills me -  this fellow who didn’t actually do any of the creation of the installations himself, who didn’t seem to have one original idea in his head sells this so called artwork made largely of copyrighted material for  five-figure sums.  

Art collectors and people with lots and lots of money gobble up this “art” so his debut art show is a soldout affair that brings in sums I’ve never even dreamed of.  Over a million dollars in a matter of weeks….

So is this guy brilliant, or just lucky?  Does promotion of Art give it value?  How do you value art?  What really is handcrafted? and what does this say about my own art?  How do I price my art?  And what does it mean to be an artist?  

But if you want some famous art- you too can own a pair of spray painted, Nike sneakers for $1000 (  

or you can get some not so famous art in the form  of my labour of love – Wynken, Blynken and Nod -  $15.99 which should be up on the Friesen’s Press bookstore website within the week.

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