Testing the waters

The First Friday event went OK for me. I put out a sheet-covered easel with a couple of my paintings, set out my $1 postcards and created an interactive environment where I’d draw people’s characteratures. No, not the kind with the big heads, but more illustrative and funky style (especially the work of Dennis Eriksson and Anne-Li Karlsson). I even set out different kinds of sunglasses so people would feel less awkward and get into the spirit. But by the time people were buzzed enough to do this, it was 11:30 and I was ready to pack up and not be annoyed by drunks after sitting there for two hours. Although I did make three whole dollars in postcard sales, had my palm read with astonishing accuracy by a gypsy and a nice chat with a lady who turned out to be the Tucson Museum of Art‘s Curator of Latin American Art (their Mexican Photographers Today exhibition was excellent, by the way – remember the Oaxacan teacher’s strike?).

Most of the crowd seemed to be youngish engineers from Raytheon (the Dell of Tucson) and girls who liked youngish engineers from Raytheon. Not exactly the art-loving crowd. One gentleman came up to ask me if I’d painted each postcard individually (!). I must say, that’s been one of the oddest questions I’ve ever recieved. I explained to him that I took photos of my paintings and printed them as postcards at the printing company I work for. I related this to the curator. She says she has very kind,  well-educated and experienced volunteers at the museum, retirees from the Midwest and the East Coast, but they have little knowledge of photography, for example, beyond the family snapshot.

After the show, I told my husband (whose support and labor are invaluable) that the ratio of people I got beyond “Hi, how’s it going?” was actually about the same as the hundreds of people who’ve come through my studio during the East Austin Studio Tour (an audience actually seeking out artists’ studios) over the last three years: you have something resembling an awkward conversation with 10% of the people, 2% buy a postcard, and 0.5% you actually connect with.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, yes, part of it is me. I don’t know how to talk to people. At the First Friday event, after awhile, I got fed up and started pulling people’s legs a bit. Late in the show, a young man came up and babbled something unintelligible about my characteratures. I replied, angling towards my paper and markers, “Sure, would you like me to draw you?” He backed off, shook his head, waved his hands, “Oh, no! I’m not at all photogenic.” I said, smiling, knowing I’d already lost, “Well, you might be drawing-genic, you never know!” He continued walking backwards, shaking his head. In Studio Q at Pump Project, among the six artists in our space, we left the talking to Matt and Alicia – the cutest and most talkative of the group. It definitely helped people linger in us introverts’ areas a bit more, and likewise loosened us up.

But the other part of it I’ve experienced firsthand as a visitor to other people’s studios. It’s just so intimate, that (for me) unless you really know someone’s work and perhaps have some acquaintances in common, it’s difficult to come up with any intelligent questions or comments. And if you’ve had a few glasses of crappy wine on an empty stomach, holding out that there’d be something to nosh on at said open studio, you may think you’ve a breakthrough, and so you spout it out. When really you’re just “that drunk chick/dude.”

Now this is all completely personal: I’m not a very good off-the-cuff conversationalist. I’m still working at connecting with the engineers and accountants of the world, because I depend on them (and they depend on me), in a way. And I know the more exposure I have, the more comfortable I’ll be. But the other realization I came away with was that you have to beat these people over the head with art until they are comfortable examining it, and taking the next step and engaging the artist in conversation. I don’t know how that happens except through repetition and doing a lot of really cool-looking performance type shit with traditional media (no one wants to buy Pump Project a Flickr! pro membership, so the Vision Riot pics aren’t up right now) that people find palatable as art, in a fairly decent venue with food and beverages flowing. I still think the Austin Art Garage has hit the nail on the head with this crowd, and their numerous sales and the number of people who come out to their events prove it.

P.S. Liz, the artistic organizer of First Fridays, is awesome and very nice. I do hope to work with her again – and First Fridays – to continue solving this artist/public problem of “If one train leaves Chicago at 2 p.m. going 59 m.p.h. and another train leaves St. Louis at 2:15 p.m. going 61 m.p.h., what time will they meet in Nashville?”

P.P.S. Although I write from a different experience and education, may I attach this, with all due humility and respect, to the discussions going on back home about “public” and “longevity”? (very important that the truly curious – read the comments in these two links and my initial news posting below).

First Fridays
Presented by Tucson Young Professionals
Friday, September 5
9pm-1am
Tucson Museum of Art

So. I’ll be participating in my first art event in Tucson on September 5 (thank you, craigslist!). The First Friday events sound like a cross between the Austin Art Garage and the Blanton’s B Scene. On the surface, it’s just something interesting to do for professional Tusconans (say it with me: “tu-soh-nans”) in their 20’s and 30’s besides go to the movies. But the thought process behind all is to keep young, educated workers in this city through producing an entertaining event with networking opportunities, and awakens them to a responsibility to invest in local arts and culture, and thus improves the local economy by their staying. Because it seems like a lot of people come here, work for a couple of years and then move on to a bigger and better job market.

Anyways, I’ll have a space/booth/mini-environment outside the Tucson Museum of Art with some of my paintings displayed, postcards for sale, and drawing people in the crowd as 80’s cartoon characters. The nice thing is that it’s free for me to participate as an artist. No booth fees, no membership dues, nada. That was the main reason I didn’t participate as an artist in Art City Austin, although I had a special invitation to bypass the jury and automatically be in of the festival, it still would’ve cost me about $1000 for the rental fee and to purchase a tent. (I did volunteer during the last shift on the last day, and one of my jobs was to pick up the feedback surveys from the artists. Man, I have never seen so many pissed-off people in all my life.) Business, social/cultural responsibility, art, booze and music. That’s my kind of party.

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