Things here being the way they are – ie, artistic production still inexplicably outstripping public demand – the house has gradually filled up with works of art. Artist partner, too, has been cranking up creative production since the children are now both at school, so competition for having a work hanging in the sitting room’s much-coveted chimneybreast spot has hotted up. We are reaching the stage when we need to have regular rehangs, similar to those at Tate Modern, so that works don’t have to languish for too long in storage.
A leaflet arrives as an insert to a magazine with details of a way that may help our situation. Ever tried showing at an art fair? You hire wall space at a large venue and sell your work directly to the public. There are a number of advantages of doing this over showing in a gallery. You don’t have to say goodbye to a hefty percentage on each sale, you come face to face with your buyers and other artists, and show what you want to show at the price you choose.
It looks promising. The dates are convenient, and I’m up to a new challenge. A deadline gets my creative energy going. Before anything, though, I get the calculator out. The list of expenses soon mounts up. Hiring of the space, framing, printing, transport, time spent manning the stall, the loss of other paid work… Some services are included in the cost of the space, including publicity, packaging and a credit card payment service for buyers. But how many paintings can I show in the space at one time, how many am I likely to sell, and how many spare ones will I need to take the place of any that sell? How many works, in short, do I need to sell just to break even?
I have a track record of letting my imagination run riot before my work goes on sale; how much will I make if I sell everything I show? How much could I turn this into annually? But selling out has, of course, rarely troubled either me or extended the abilities of my accountants. I usually manage to sell something, and have sometimes surprised myself by selling more than I expected, but usually – and perhaps this is true for the majority of artists – I’m left thinking that things could have been an awful lot worse, as well as bit better.
We can make art for a variety of reasons, not all of them to do with making money, which is why most of us have day jobs. But while I may want to get some paintings off our walls and onto somebody else’s, I’m certainly not prepared to be out of pocket for the privilege. Would it make me feel any less an artist if I handed out my paintings to passers-by in the street who wanted one if it worked out a cheaper way of disposing of them than arranging to attend an art fair?
What an art fair can offer, though, is the opportunity of contact building and finding new, perhaps regular, buyers. Maybe that’s what I’m hoping for most now. I give the organisers a call, and they ask for a selection of jpegs of my work so that they can decide whether it is good enough to include. I may appear to have occasional wobbles about my work, but as I hit the send button I don’t have the slightest doubt that they should agree to include me.
But let us remember that success in such a venture is not just down to the quality of the work, the right frame, the right subject, the right price and unerring self belief. There is one more vital ingredient that defines whether such an event is a success or failure: the right buyer. Without a good supply of potential customers with cash in their pocket our chances of a satisfactory result are low, and how many of these lovely people will turn up we can only wait and see.