I went to a family reunion of my sister-in-law Basia's family yesterday at Lake Koshkonong in Wisconsin. (Xander volunteered to stay home with the puppy, who isn't crate-trained yet—thanks again for that, Xander.) I got to see, among many other people, Ray Poppert, Basia's sister Liz's husband, a guy I've known for years but don't get to see very often. Ray works full time but is also a longtime craft artist—he used to make beautiful, very tasteful modern style lamps, and he told me he's now making artworks out of sheet copper.
We talked for a while about selling craft work and trying to make money from it. Really, though, Ray wants to work as an amateur, doing what he wants to when he wants to, without the obligations brought on by making a business of it.
Which brought up a further topic. There are lots of reasons to show original artwork/craftwork, and not all those reasons involve making money. One good reason is to share and get responses. As I thought back on it, I could bring to mind several people I knew who exhibited their work just for the many "interactive" benefits it brought them—strangers could see the work; their friends could send friends to see it; and they got gratifying feedback from people who liked it.
I think that's fully as valid a reason for exhibiting originals as selling and making money, if the latter doesn't interest you or motivate you. Artists like getting feedback and sharing their work with people who enjoy seeing their work. Seeking feedback can be just as good a reason to show as seeking sales.
As to how to do this, well, that's where Ray might have to get creative. I knew one woman who had a (customary, not contractual) arrangement showing her work in a bank lobby, where she kept up a revolving exhibit for years. I used to show my portraits in my friend Judy Schlosser's frame shop in Georgetown, P Street Pictures (they've moved, but the shop still exists, and they're still showing artwork. Don't know if Judy still owns it, though. I did get commissions from showing there, so I'm not sure if it really counts.)
Have you ever exhibited your work "altruistically," i.e., not hoping for sales?
(Thanks to Ray Poppert)
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Featured Comments from:
Clayton Jones: "Yes, and it was an enlightening experience. Some years ago I was invited to display my B&W Florida landscape prints at an annual south Florida Audubon Society gathering. It was not to be a sale (no prices on the framed prints), but they provided a very nice space and help setting it up and it was very well received. At one point a man came up to me and very enthusiastically said, 'Wow, these are great. Too bad they're not in color.' I politely thanked him, knowing that he didn't fully grasp what he had said, and he had obviously enjoyed seeing them.
"Towards the end another man, after spending a long time looking at every print, said in a very considered and thoughtful tone, 'I never knew there was so much color in black and white.' It's the nicest comment I've ever received for my work. I remember thinking, 'He gets it.' That made all the effort worthwhile.
"So in the course of the event I received a lot of appreciative remarks, bookended by those two which are etched in my memory forever. It was a pleasant and gratifying experience to exhibit the prints without the 'shadow' undercurrent of desire for sales darkening the atmosphere."
John Leathwick: "I had never exhibited in nigh 50 years of photography, despite repeatedly extolling the virtues of performance as means to development to my son who is doing a piano performance degree. However, after getting some large prints done at the local print/frame shop, they invited me to exhibit some prints there, altruistically as you put it. I thought I should walk my talk, and found that it lifted my whole approach to the critical taking, appraisal and presentation of my images. And I got not only some great feedback, but also a beautiful set of prints to hang at home. I highly recommend it!"
ben ng: "I find it the most rewarding way to show pictures. A couple of years ago I did a show on how a First Nations burial ground was being dug up by mountain-bikers for their course. The result was the City Council agreeing to fence off the site. And hospitals and drop-ins for the homeless like pictures; my reward being the homeless tell me of great locations to take pictures, which is worth more than selling for money."
Jonathan Morse: "Emily Dickinson wrote about 1800 poems, but only ten were published in her lifetime—and some of those were published against her will. People (including publishers) begged her to publish, but she was interested only in sending her poems as letters to her friends.
"And about Dwight D. Eisenhower's paintings, there's this."