Several months ago, during a casual conversation with the exhibition coordinator at my school, she mentioned that she was planning a Small Works sale for the holidays. She intended for that conversation to motivate us obscure students to create small, affordable works that would help us establish reputations for ourselves and make a little money.
It's a great idea. I love the art world's tradition of offering smaller, lower-priced works at the holidays.
Then she mentioned that the works in the show would probably need to be priced at $75 or less. This started me thinking. Could I produce anything that would be priced that low? Drawings? Only if they were unframed. Tiny oil studies? Only if they were unframed. I just couldn't bring myself to submit work that would later appear with my name on it unframed. Plenty of good artists will happily hang unframed works on the wall and let the buyers handle the framing. But I have this persistent image in my head of a buyer coming home with a drawing, and then the drawing sitting on top of the dresser for months, occasionally with socks or jewelry tossed on top of it. Oy vey! When a buyer comes home with a piece of art, the only thing they should have to do is find a hammer and hang the thing. Some buyers know how to frame a piece attractively, and some don't. Some will take care of the framing right away, and some won't. I prefer to do all of that stuff myself, partly out of concern for the buyer's experience, and partly because I want to have control over the framing. I also provide the hanging hardware with the work when I handle the sale myself, just because I imagine most people don't have picture hangers lying around. Buying and hanging artwork should be easy.
As I considered participating in the small works sale, I concluded that the kind of work I produce really can't be priced at less than $100. I decided not to participate. I also have observed that paintings sell a lot better than drawings. People want color. When a drawing sells, it's usually to another artist.
When the Call for Art was issued about three weeks ago, the price ceiling had been raised to $150. Phew. I decided that I would participate after all. Thus started a two-week period of making a painting a day. I produced only eight paintings during this marathon, because the one larger piece took three days instead of one to complete.
The week before the deadline was devoted to (a) letting the paintings dry, (b) getting the paintings critiqued, and (c) buying frames for the paintings. First I ran around town finding frames for each painting, and I really lucked out. I found frames that enhanced each painting and would allow me to keep the prices low. I temporarily framed the paintings, and I took them to my mentor's studio for a critique. She said something I've never heard before: "These two paintings don't need anything." It was a beautiful moment. She made it more beautiful by buying one of them.
I came home and made corrections to the paintings the following day. Two days later I photographed the paintings, framed them, photographed them again, and packaged them for delivery. Yesterday I dropped off the box of little paintings with the submission paperwork, a few hours before the drop-off period ended. It reminded me of my days as an editor when I helped writers along toward their deadlines. I remembered how much I valued and appreciated the writers who managed their workloads well, and how anxious I felt about writers who took on too much and needed regular reminders of their upcoming deadlines to keep them focused on the stories I needed.
Now I'm on the other side of the deadline, I want to be the kind of artist that curators don't worry about. By the time people stroll through the third-floor hall at Gage Academy of Art, looking at hundreds of small works, they may or may not imagine the behind-the-scenes frenzy of activity that led to that point. Probably not. They'll just assess in an instant whether they like each piece. We humans have an amazing capacity to navigate the visual world. We make sense of what we see in a moment. The people who love art and buy it shouldn't have to think about what happens under the hood unless they want to. That's what artists' blogs are for.
As the years go by, I'll probably come to love and anticipate an annual holiday deadline.