I love art festivals–they are a chance to enjoy the outdoors and do some people watching while seeing fascinating and diverse artwork. For beginning collectors, they are an ideal way to refine your taste for various artistic media and subject matter as well as train your eye to recognize the range of quality between artists. (Not to mention buy art at prices that tend to be more affordable than at a retail gallery.) From an investment standpoint, you may be fortunate enough to purchase work from a rising star–an artist whose work will increase in value over the years as he/she gains notoriety and attention from collectors, gallery owners or critics. From an art-loving standpoint, the reward may be more pure and simple—you may find a work that moves you to the point of tears, to break into a spontaneous smile or to simply think about something in a new way.
Perhaps the best aspect of attending an art festival though is the opportunity to talk face to face with the artists. I was reminded of this when I browsed around a festival called ART Rocks in Luverne, MN recently. I met a local artist and printmaker named Chad Nelson whose work is edgey, thought-provoking and introspective. (I have to confess that I am predisposed to be impressed by printmakers since I’ve always been in awe at the highly specialized skillset they have to master in order to produce their images.) Check out Chad’s work here and you’ll see what I mean. He has a strikingly unique artistic vision and his subject matter is progressive for this region. Not to mention, he’s simply a nice guy who is eager to talk about the types of printing he does—monotype, linotype, intaglio, woodblock, etc. if you only ask.
It isn’t often you see contemporary artists in the upper Midwest include memento mori in their work but, in a way, Nelson does. The themes in some of his work conjure up mental images of Hans Holbein’s early Renaissance painting, “The Ambassadors,” in which the memento mori is a skull portrayed in anamorphic perspective. The skull stands out in stark contrast to the refinement, luxury and dignity of the men who are the main subjects. In fact, it stands out so much with its twisted and slurred appearance it looks as though a graffiti artist defaced the work.
Nelson’s inclusion of the theme of mortality in his work isn’t done as a postscript to the primary subject matter as in Holbein’s work though. Rather, the theme is integrated along with elements of nature to be the subject matter. This gives his work a sense of placid, thought-provoking hauntedness; these three together are a fascinating combination.
Humor me for a moment–while I’m on the subject of art festivals, I can’t resist touching on art festival etiquette. When you enter an artist’s booth, remember that he/she is likely the person standing inside. If not, it is probably a friend or family member of the artist so make sure you are polite and keep things positive—even if you find the artwork unappealing. Recognize that for many artists, their work is an extension of themselves. It takes boldness to put something so personal forward for public scrutiny or praise. At the very least, offer a kind and sincere “thank you” to the artist or whoever tends their booth as you leave.
(Interested in finding an art festival near you or somewhere across the continent? Here is a great resource—Festival Network Online. Plus, if you’re in my neck of the woods, check out the upcoming Sidewalk Arts Festival in Sioux Falls, SD on Sept. 11, 2010.)