Evolving Convention Art Shows

[Editor’s Note: I’m basically somebody who walks through art shows, and doesn’t know much about how they’re run or why cons might change sales policies, so RedWombat’s comment about art shows was very useful to me. I asked to reprint it as a front page post.]

By RedWombat: Art shows! Yes. I have discussed this in the past, I think. Nevermind, I have a mojito, I shall discuss again!

Art shows are, depending on who you ask, either dying the long lingering death or finding a new equilibrium. I was just at a con, the art show was…errm…well, they meant well. I have a con in the near future, and it will be a large and epic art show where I shall very likely make money…but less than I used to. And the art show will not make money for the con, it will cost the con money, it has cost the con money for the last fifteen years, but the con chair says, with a shrug, that people are used to it and it’s an institution and getting rid of it would be hard.

Myself, I can tell you that the adult section is dead as a doornail, that the all-ages section has gone from “pieces will go for over a thousand” to “most pieces go for minimum bid.” My husband does auctioneering at the con, and last year, they got an auction where literally no one bid. They worked their butts off on stage, they had patter, but nobody was bidding. Every single piece went for the last price on the bid sheet. (Why even show up?! I ask at this point.) I took them to the bar afterwards. You’ve never seen two more crushed auctioneers.

I bucked the trend for a few years by virtue of being, well, me–I have a small, wild fan base whom I love, and who love me in return–but the money slides down every year from an easy thousand in the art show to $800…then $600…then $400…and now it’s basically just a habit. I could, were I so inclined, focus my efforts on ways to extract more money from said fan base, but my books make enough to live on and this is my convention I do mostly for love, so I am not currently so inclined.

And that’s a furry art show. Furries spend money on art like you would not believe, it’s a community amazingly supportive of its artists. I’ve gone to ONE general SF/F con art show that was not a going-through-the-motions thing in the last ten years, and it was near Santa Fe, which is a major art market.

Honestly, I think it’s the internet.

This makes me sound like Old Wombat Yelling At Clouds, but back in the day, if people saw a piece of art they liked, and they wanted to see that piece of art again, they had to buy the print. So we had this whole culture of people buying prints and having print books that they could flip through when they ran out of walls and so forth.

Now, of course, if I saw a piece of art I liked and wanted to see it again, I merely have to remember enough details to google it and I can look. It’s a rare piece that I love so much that I will take it home and put it on the walls. So as our people who were used to buying prints aged, we didn’t get a new pack of consumers to buy prints, we got people who wanted merch. Merch is what is currently selling–or wee little prints that people can buy for $5, or postcards, because that’s a thing you can store easily and enjoy and isn’t the commitment of Buying Art. Everybody’s out of wall space, everybody’s trying to de-clutter, nobody has room, and that’s just how life is right now.

I’m honestly philosophical about it all–I moved to selling lots and lots of mini prints, to printing postcards and so forth, I write books, I do fine–but every art show I’ve been involved with has slid down, down, down over the years, and that’s how it is. Que sera, sera…