Respect is something we all like, want, and at times demand. Just what is respect though? I believe most people know what respect is; when they have it and when they give it. My friend Dan brought up the idea of respect in relation to the arts and artists. I guess I never thought of it as being a real issue with most of the artists in my little world. My friend Dan’s question about respect got me thinking…
20 years ago there was a venue that artists looked forward to exhibiting in. Getting accepted into an exhibition held in this venue was a real honor. Artists from Chicago and neighboring states came to exhibit in this cultural center. That was twenty years ago. Now only a few artists apply to this exhibition. It’s been six years since I last made an effort to even attend. A mutual friend of ours approached us with an idea of getting a group together for the next exhibition. When none of us showed any interest in having our work there he wondered why. Physically it is a great place for showing art, but the reputation of the place has fallen so much that artists view it as the last resort and some won’t even consider it then.
So what happened that caused this venue to lose the respect it once had? Some say it was that the board lost interest in the visual arts such as painting and sculpture. Others say it was the quality of the art being accepted into the exhibits. Our inquiring friend wanted us to give him our reasons for not wanting to participate. We came up with lame excuses which he didn’t accept. After some prodding, we laid it on the line – it was a matter of respect.
The cultural center had lost its respect for the artists participating in their exhibitions and half the ones still showing there had no respect for their fellow artist. Stories and complaints get around real fast among those in the small art world here, and I bet in other places too. Just the week before, a complaint going around about the place was how this woman came in with her work and, wanting a better spot for her piece, moved another artist’s work to a less favorable spot. This act did nothing to enhance reputations for either the offending artist nor the center. This small act opened up our little group to a number of reasons why they chose not to exhibit in this venue.
I dragged myself up to the cultural center because I needed to see the latest exhibit before commenting on it to my friend. The actual artwork was rather good, a few pieces were inspiring. Still I could not recommend this exhibit to a collector, or even to friends. One piece, very well done and framed nicely, was simply a copy of a photo a workshop instructor must hand out to her students. I have seen three paintings done from this photo. Art should be completely that of the artists. Just a few more feet away was another piece that had the hand of the instructor all over it. After seeing the entire exhibit, I could not recommend this venue.
Artists are doing themselves a disservice by thinking they are getting a copy of someone else’s work past a jury or a judge. One artist went so far as to have a nephew fill in a dozen “people’s choice awards” slips… We had a good laugh hearing that one, but little stunts like that hurt more than just that one artist. How is the public going to take art seriously when artists themselves do not take art seriously?
In art school, our painting teacher had one student set up a still-life which we all painted from. Part of that lesson was even though all the students painted from that setup, our teacher said only the student who set it up could claim his piece as the true work of art. I thought it was a dirty trick, but got the point our teacher was making. In my classes, I do not allow my students to use any photos that are not theirs and I do not paint on their work. This is so when they are tempted to enter a competition the work they enter is truly theirs.