Saturday, July 17, 2010

dark thoughts

I've mentioned many times over the years how much I love being a part of the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. It's a beautiful setting, good friends showing alongside me, and customers who are educated about art and buy work. When I first started showing at the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, it was the late 90's and Palo Alto was flush with dot com cash. Palo Alto has always been a solid show but those days were very high rolling. I would always bring my best one-of-a-kind work, and it would sell. Things have been slowly shifting over the past 5 years, and I really started noticing two years ago how I was mostly selling my less expensive "standards" while my high priced, unique, one-of-a-kind work sat on the shelf. Not unexpected considering what was happening in the world, and the shifting demographic of Palo Alto itself, but for some reason I still always felt surprised. This year I planned for it, spending less time on really expensive stuff (over $400) and making some more mid-range work, in the $100-$250 range.

While it was still a very good show-- I still always sell more here than I ever have at any other show-- there were big, long periods of slowness, very unusual for Palo Alto. That left me with plenty of time to start having some very dark thoughts about the future. For the first time I started questioning my prices-- are they too high? I always put a lot of thought into how I price my work but I started picking things up and thinking "This is $175? That's an insane amount of money for this little thing!" I watched people time and time again ask about prices on stuff, nod soberly when I told them the cost, then walk away with nothing.

And there's more, of course. I think one of my biggest worries about the future of being a self-supporting artist is the changing nature in how young people-- my future customers-- are growing up and how they live now. There is little emphasis and education on art in schools while kids are driven to work their asses off on extra-curricular activities. Then, as they get older, these same kids incur huge debts in college and spend the first part of their adult lives paying off incredible loans. The contemplative life where the arts and culture can be appreciated simply does not figure into the American lifestyle as I think about what's coming in the future. I think art and culture is being set aside for the people who actually have the luxury of time, and that is the money rich. The rest of the population is expected to work harder, stay inside the home and watch television and play on the internet for entertainment, and shop Ikea if they want to express taste or style. In fact--and this is where it gets really dark--I think this whole emphasis on "design" in places like Target and Ikea is a cultural conspiracy to convince people that hand crafted art is irrelevant and out of reach. And with the way our society is changing with the lack of public funds, maybe it is becoming out of reach for everyone but money wealthy.

As I gloomed on these dark thoughts while remaining perky and friendly with people who walked into my booth, I felt like we are all on this ship sailing into a future nobody would recognize as desirable and nobody wants. But we are all so busy with the minutiae of our own lives we haven't looked up long enough to see that we are lost, our ship is falling apart, and we are about to go over some seriously steep waterfalls.