The White Tent or the White Wall.
The White Tent - Mainstream, Eddies, and Backwaters of Craft.

The White Tent's Credibility - Context Does Matter

The previous post The White Tent or the White Wall raises an interesting question. Is the value of art or craft defined by the context?

Here is one answer from an article in The Washington Post titled "Pearls Before Breakfast".

"MARK LEITHAUSER HAS HELD IN HIS HANDS MORE GREAT WORKS OF ART THAN ANY KING OR POPE OR MEDICI EVER DID. A senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he has some idea of what happened at that Metro station. [Watch this video of Joshua Bell at the D.C. subway station if you missed the previous post.]

ELLSWORTHkelly-tiger-53"Let's say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It's a $5 million painting. And it's one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: 'Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'"

"Leithauser's point is that we shouldn't be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters." end quote.

To go back to our craft fair White Tent:
With rare exceptions, the white tent at a craft fair does not add credibility any more than a subway or a restaurant.  The much hoped-for "value" context is lacking.

What is the impact of this lack of credibility?
I have been thinking about this for years, but now, re-examining the white tent in this series of posts has forced me to voice a very brutal reality -- if context matters, then we makers may have devalued our work by exhibiting at craft fairs, possibly to a point that it may never recover. The context of the craft fair has devalued craft media, regardless of quality. 

This isn't going to be a popular observation. I hear outrage....and hostility. My comment is not meant to devalue the art or craft work, nor make a judgment about quality.  I am describing the context . . . that the context of craft fairs has devolved into a branding gimmick for consumer audiences seeking to buy low-priced items.  Consequently, our handcrafted, thoughtful, unique objects are compared to mass-produced, low-priced goods.  This diminishes the perceived value and credibility of our work.

This issue has been compounded in recent years by the hard economic times. In sincere attempts to gain visibility and retail sales, makers are making less expensive items to sell work at lower price points. Two-dimensional artists are selling computer-generated prints and canvases using commercial reproduction processes to look like original paintings.  Likewise, three-dimensional makers shift their efforts to fabricate what sells.  Many decide to show only lower-priced items further reducing limited booth space dedicated to more unique expensive selections.

The consumer public is coming to craft fairs expecting "deals from starving artists" and prices comparable to cheap imported goods.  Craft fairs increasingly feature hobbyists who often price their inventory merely hoping to recover their material costs. Second careers and retirees may have "fun" making and selling but often seem to have less concern about making a living.

In an effort to increase interest in craft and raise attendance, the craft fair has pandered to the mass consumer market.  This is a huge mistake.

It is rare to find the discerning buyer or collector coming to a craft fair to buy the best from a maker or artist.  Most of the time the maker's or artist's "best" is not brought to the craft fair. Only a few craft fairs nationwide have been able to maintain the reputation of their event as a premium show. The rest are slowly diminishing in credibility.

Even established juried fairs are having difficulty filling show booths with top-quality makers. Top makers and artists are becoming less willing to invest three days in an exhausting, costly, and demoralizing event for people who come "just to look." More evidence that the context of the white tent is diminishing in value even to the makers themselves.

So sorry to say all this. I don't like to say negative comments without offering some recommendations....but it seems disingenuous to cheer "rah, rah, rah" and "sell, sell, sell" when the context at the white tent craft fair is losing value.

Is it possible to raise the status of the white tent, to change its context?  Or should we spend our time and effort in more productive channels to obtain the right kind of exposure and context necessary to sell our work?

Let's keep examining the issues. I have more thoughts.

Increasing quantity diminishing valuea
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value
Post-consumer recycled tin cans, and copper.
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
7" height x 8" width to 2" (at narrow end) x 58.5" length
Close-up images are below.
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing  Value by Harriete Estel Berman
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value
(close-up view)

Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value (close-up view) by Harriete Estel Berman 2side
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value (close-up view) 

This post was updated on June 17, 2022, to provide current links.