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Monday, May 18, 2015

The RAW end of the Deal - When Art Becomes a Popularity Contest

Now some of you are going to think this is an attack on the RAW arts organization. It is not. In fact I was a RAW artist several years ago and found it overall a good experience.

But this is an attack on the ever increasing rise of organizations claiming to be there for the artist but in turn creating a popularity contest. RAW is one of the main culprits in this system so I will be using it as an example.

RAW is an organization that seeks to promote emerging artists. They provide a venue and they create monthly artists shows that include approximately 30 creatives in all forms of the arts including music and fashion. Sounds like a good deal huh?

Here are the flaws in this system. First artists must sell their own tickets to the venue. While RAW helps promote the event, its up to each artist to sell a minimum of 20 tickets each in order to fill the room. When I was asked to participate I thought "OK 20 tickets is not that bad. I can handle that" and I did. But I found out immediately that the event is created more like a beauty pageant than a gallery show. It was fun, but it was more like a carnival show than a serious art show. While I had lots of people that walked through and saw my work, they were not buyers. They were every day folk that were their for the show and because they wanted to support the artist they did know.

And there was very little vetting of the artists involved. It was more like a cattle call than a serious show. And now I will stop picking on RAW. Because I do believe they have their place in the scheme of things in the art world.

But what concerns me is that more and more organizations claiming to be their for the artist are merely creating more popularity contests.

Take the yearly Bombay Sapphire art contest. On the surface this looks like a big freaking deal. Damn the perks you get if your one of their top artists are grand. Sadly their organization turns right back towards self promotion. Once you put a piece of art up on their site, its up to you to get "votes" for your work. Again its a big huge popularity contest where you are out in the virtual gallery strutting your stuff in a skimpy bikini and yelling "vote for me! Vote for me!"

There is not a day that goes by now that I don't see some poor artists out on the social networks begging for people to vote for them for one contest or another. This is sad. This is abusive to the artist. This is abusive to the principles that art should be upholding.

So why is the system turning more and more towards making the art all about the popularity of the artist and not the art itself?

Well in the case of RAW its all about profit. Their organization and organizations like them make their money from ticket sales. While they claim they do not take a percentage of sales sold during the event, the sad fact is, very few people are going to buy anything anyway. I know there are exceptions. I know some artists do fairly well selling lower priced art at these things. But can they honestly say they were in a better position after the event closed than they were before it began? Other than experience gained from showing your art live, I am not sure in my case I gained much else.

There is something to be said for a juried event. I was in a photography contest a few years back where each person submitted the piece based on the subject chosen. In this case it was weddings. It was judged by a well known European photographer who literally looked at each piece and then chose based on its content which pieces were the best. She was a specialist in this form of art and even those that weren't chosen (which I am proud to say I was one of the top three), came to hear her speak and gain knowledge for why she chose the works she did. It was enlightening and instructive and even though we only got a small stipend for being in the top three, we all felt like we'd accomplished something. This is a feeling I DID NOT GET from the RAW show.

But these two contests were opposite ends of the spectrum. I think there must be a middle ground between them where the artist and the sponsoring organization benefit and where the event is NOT a popularity contest.

What I do know is that the system needs to return to an emphasis on the art not the artist. The artist has done the hard work in the creation itself. Going out and pimping themselves for votes afterwards is deeming and places little value on the creation/

There may be some merit in creating a peer review system similar to what is used in the scientific community where the peer review also helps the artist with gaining recognition, funding and grants. This is an area I will examine more carefully in future articles.

But what I do know is that the present system is deceptive and very hard on the esteem of the artist. They judge their work not on the value of the art they create but on the votes they did not achieve in these rigged games.

There must be a better system. There are too many talented folks out there to lose them just because they did not have a loud enough voice to get the votes.



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