Art Festivals

I have found that a great way to learn about art is to visit art festivals. You don’t have to go to Art Basel or Frieze Art Fair to get a good experience. There are dozens, if not hundreds of art fairs and festivals around. Here in central Iowa, the biggest and most prestigious art festival is the Des Moines Art Festival. This coincides with Artfest Midwest on June 27-29, 2014. However, there are several other art shows around. The Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames, IA does an art show every year. Art on the Prairie in Perry, IA is another. There are two art shows every year in Valley Junction, one of our historic “art” areas. No matter where you are located, there is likely an art show somewhere nearby.

The first time I went to an art show, it was pretty intimidating. The prices were way higher than I had anticipated. Everyone seemed to know way more about everything than I did. On top of that, I actually did not like most the art that I saw. There I was, watching people buying art, seeming to really like it, but most of what I saw did not do anything for me. I remember thinking, “What are all these people seeing that i’m not?”

I decided that I needed to figure out what was going on. So, I did what anyone who wants to learn does. I went to someone who clearly knew a lot more than I did. I started talking to the artists, one by one. I talked to as many artists as I could in the amount of time I had. Artists that made art I liked, artists that made art I didn’t like. I asked about their art, the art at the fair, artists that they respected, and styles that influenced them. It was fascinating. It was a lot of fun.

Now, when I go to art fairs, the first thing I do is walk the entire show just looking from the aisle, window shopping. I look for artists that I know, especially ones that I have bought from in the past. I look for art that catches my eye, either favorably or unfavorably. I make note of where everyone is and get a feel for what sorts of things are there. Is there a lot of photography, painting, sculpture, jewelry, other? What do people seem to be buying? Then I walk the whole thing again. I will stop in all of the booths that I found before, paying particular attention to artists that I follow and artists whose works I don’t like.

Yes, you read that right. I pay particular attention to the works I do not like. The artists I follow make art I do like. I want to know why I don’t like the art. Is it the particular style. Is it too cartoonish? Do I not like the colors? What doesn’t work for me? Then I compare it to the art I do like. What is different about them? Why do I like a particular abstract artist and not the other? What part of this landscape appeals to me that the other doesn’t have?

That’s how I’ve figured out what I really like. I go to several shows every year. I see a lot of art and artists with a lot of different styles. I like some. I don’t like most. That’s OK. Most artists recognize that they won’t appeal to everyone. And most artists are very friendly people who love to talk about their passion.

If you listen with an open mind, there is a wealth of information to be found at your local art shows. Who knows, you might find a piece (or better, an artist) that you want to buy.


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