Thursday, June 30, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear? - A Tribute

My education in the School of Business and Industry at Florida A & M University warned against mixing business with personal.  In the corporate world of an employee such a combination could lead to career implosion.  Art is personal.  It is also my business.  I’m ignoring FAMU’s warning.  Instead I’m encouraging an intimate love affair between personal and business.
My latest piece, “Do You Hear What I Hear” (2011), was completed on June 29th – the day of my 15th wedding anniversary.  “Do You Hear…” is my tribute to the man I embraced in marriage.  It is a testament to the man of faith he has become through every challenging obstacle we have faced together.  He is also a science lover.  His tribute must combine faith with science.  “Do You Hear What I Hear” shows science’s ability to explain some things and its limitation to fathom others.   
Science has proven sound travels in waves of varying frequencies.   Humans detect sound waves with their ears.  Receptors in the ear carry the waves to the brain.  The brain interprets the information from the ear and lets  us know what we are hearing.   Scientist have used MRI technology to study the brain’s reaction to different types of sounds.   The technology allows scientists to see which areas of the brain are most excited by the sound stimulus.  I believe emotion is measured through our level of excitement.  If you’re really emotional the MRI will reveal higher levels of brain activity. But an MRI cannot reveal human thought.
If an MRI could read the thoughts of my husband after receiving bad news, it would reveal something peculiar.    After hearing pronouncements of foreclosure, unemployment, and slow economy, his thought revealing MRI would see faith, hope, and opportunity.  How do I know?   Because I’ve stood by him and heard the pronouncements with him.   I’ve watched his actions and heard his words.  When the world - and his wife - marinated on seemingly impossible situations, he hung on to possibilities.  He turned each pronouncement of doom into a new beginning while all the time relying on the power of his great big God.
 My husband has always wanted to be a part of something scientific.  I plan to enter “Do You Hear What I Hear” in SAQA Il/WI’s Stitched Together, Art and Science exhibit to be held in the art gallery at  Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois.  When I told him about the exhibit he exclaimed, “Fermilab has the largest particle accelerator in the midwest!  I’ve always wanted to go there!”  Hopefully the art piece he inspired will one day be mounted on walls dripping with science. 
Martin Cornelius Lindsey thank you for being this Christian family’s man of faith.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Where Are We?

William "CJ" Cowherd Jr - 57th Street Art Fair Vendor, Chicago, IL
Attending art fairs and gallery openings  is my newest past time.  I’m meeting artists, observing new techniques, and experiencing different mediums. But I’m also discovering a recurring trend – the minuscule number of African-American artists at mainstream art fairs.  I find myself asking, where are we?  Why aren’t more of us in juried art fairs such as the 57th Street, Gold Coast, and Old Town Art Fairs - all prominent Chicago art fairs?

Cheryl Toles - 57th Street Art Fair Vendor, Chicago, IL
My experience tells me there are thousands of talented, contemporary African-American and African Diaspora artist.  Even though an abundance of artistic talent exists in Chicago less than 2% of the approximately 200 artists at this year’s  57th Street Art Fair in Chicago’s historic Hyde Park community were African-American.  Why is this happening? I don’t believe the reason is a lack of talent.  America has a well established system of privilege, but I don’t think this is the primary reason either.  I propose the primary reason is a lack of professional preparation.  

Several weeks ago, I presented some of my artwork to a prominent Chicago gallery owner.  After reviewing my work, he acknowledged my creativity and artistic talent then he succinctly stated my art wouldn’t work in his gallery.  In his opinion, my presentation lacked the polish to appeal to fine art collectors.  My pieces weren’t ready to hang in collector’s homes.    I mounted my art on the least expensive pre-stretched canvas available not realizing collectors and galleries have acceptable standards for unframed works.  My presentation didn’t meet those standards.  He likened my artistic presentation to a well designed car with missing wheels – it looks good but it can’t be driven.

Mainstream art fair jurors are concerned with presentation.  They expect the artist’s presentation to mimic a fine gallery transported to a neighborhood street.  The 57th Street Art Fair runs concurrently with and adjacent to the Hyde Park Community Art Fair.  Both shows are juried, but are totally different.  The 57th Street Fair seems to cater to high end fine art collectors while the Community Art Fair draws the casual art appreciator.   Another outstanding difference was large numbers of African-American vendors at the Community Art Fair even though the vendor fees for each fair were identical.   I asked my children if they noticed a difference between the two art fairs.  My middle school son responded, "The 57th Street one is for professionals and the Community is for amateurs."  He explained further by saying that the professionals took time to come up with an interesting display.  
Do the jurors of mainstream shows see the same thing?  As African-American artists do we need to move from amateur to professional by investing  in  our  presentation? Are the photos we use to introduce our work to juries professional quality?  Do we need to educate ourselves on the expectations of collectors and galleries while maintaining our artistic creativity?  Are we operating like business owners who understand the expectations of its customers?  Are these the changes African-American artists need to make to increase our access to mainstream art fairs and galleries?  How would the fine art market change if more of us took these steps? What do you think?