Quote of the Day

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

art & other cheap thrills

This is what I love about San Francisco: That you can come home on a Sunday evening to find a party complete with full bluegrass band jamming on the sidewalk directly in front of your apartment. And so what had promised to be a pretty boring, run-of-the-mill Sunday night instead turns into sitting on my front porch chilling with some adorable floppy-eared pups, drinking my neighbor's homemade 10-year-old Cabernet and listening to some lively folk/bluegrass/Americana music. And learning from a new acquaintance about Sketch Tuesdays at 111 Minna Gallery. I'm still constantly amazed at how much goes on in this city, all the art and music and cultural events, that I'm still learning of new things all the time, even after over 5 years of living here.

As luck would have it the next Sketch Tuesday happened to be occuring this very week, and so yesterday evening I trekked down to Minna Street after work to see for myself. As promised the gallery hosted rows of artists, hard at work creating a diverse mix of artwork. I wish I'd brought my camera because it's not often you get to really see artists in the process and it was amazing to see so much creativity flowing around the room. When an artist completes a piece they then pin it on the designated wall along with the price (ranging this time from $1 for some small sketches to $200 for a metallic-encrusted painting). Then begins what I see as sort of a treasure hunt: if you find something you like you are supposed to go find the artist where they are sitting somewhere around the room and buy it from them.

I of course became
immediately infatuated with a series of tiny watercolors, but could not find the artist anywhere. It seems that while there is a list of artists who are supposed to attend, as well as table placard labeling their respective spaces, it is not uncommon for artists to come and spontaneously set up in side booths along the venue, which can make it a serious challenge to find the creator of your desired piece. But eventually I did end up walking away with these two by Lacey Bryant, for $5 each:

Yup, $10 total, that's less than the price of a salad at Mixt Greens. The artist was really sweet too, she even offered to hold onto the paintings for me while I ran to get my wallet that I'd left at the office.

And this is another thing I love about this city: that there are so many places that strive to really make art accessible. As an art history major, one of the things I found discouraging about the art world and
especially galleries was the stuffiness and elitist attitude you often find there. Traditionally there is a preconception that collecting is for the wealthy, that fine art is for affluent eyes only, and indeed if I walked into many of the galleries around Union Square, a 20-something in jeans and leather jacket, I would not be likely to get much attention from the staff. After all, they are in the business of selling art, and I suppose I do not look very likely to purchase a $10,000 piece.

But San Francisco is a young, generally egalitarian-minded city, and in this vain there have sprung up over the years a wealth of galleries and non-profits and events that help bring art to a new audience: to the younger generation, to students and to the generally pocket-book challenged. At Hang Art in downtown San Fransico you can rent artwork for 3 month periods, on a sliding scale depending on the piece's purchase price. Around the corner, ArtworkSF offers a
rent-to-own program. At the the nonprofit Luggage Store in the mission, you can see exhibits and performing art events that work "to amplify the voices of the region’s diverse artists and residents, to promote inclusion and respect, to reduce inter-group tensions and to work towards dispelling the stereotypes and fears that continue to separate us." In the lower haight you can visually peruse paintings on the walls of Edo Salon while you get your hair cut. An open studio event I attended a few weeks ago at a friend's warehouse studio boasted several floors of some wonderful and widely diverse artwork. And pretty much everywhere you look there are beautiful, colorful murals (and other street art) that everyone can enjoy, that by their very nature are created for and belong to the public.

And there are so many, many more places like this, galleries and co-ops and studios, places that say, "hey, art isn't just for rich old people to look at and own." Venues that want to provide a place where no matter your age or attire or yearly income you can feel comfortable and not self-conscious or out-of-place looking at art, and more than that, actually be able to bring art home and enjoy it where you live. Places that want to bring artists and art-lovers together in a collaborative, win-win situation, instead of keeping art on an ivory pedestal and maintaining a cold sense of removal between the art, it's creator and the public.

So I guess I am now $10 poorer and a officially a "collector". While I was interning at one of the 49 Geary galleries, an art consultant there would frequently tell me, "you know, it's never too early to start your collection, you should start now!" I was always greatly amused by this and secretly wondered if he was hoping to sell me my first piece(probably). I don't think it really registered to him that he was speaking to a college student living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, working for free at a gallery whose least expensive pieces probably run well into the upper hundreds, if not thousands. The truth is I may never be able to afford one of the Ray Turner landscapes I lust after, or much of the other art I would love to own.

So I must say thank goodness for Sketch Tuesdays, where you can buy an original piece of art directly from the artist (with no commission taken out for an agent or gallery) for less than the price of a meal out, and if you get there soon enough perhaps even witness its creation, which is not something many collectors of fancy-schmacy high-priced art can say. Sure, they may have been made in 20 minutes and they may be on little scraps of sketchbook paper or wood (I even saw a drawing on a postage sticker) instead of good quality canvas, but they are unique works of art that you can fall in love with and take home and enjoy for years to come. And the best part is they didn't cost you an entire month's pay.

How much do I love that I live in a place where I can experience a book fair, a concert and glorious sunshiny afternoon in a beautiful park all in the same day, all for free; a place where my middle-aged neighbors throw a hoppin' party on a Sunday night and where I can buy a painting for $5 while drinking on Tuesday? Lots.

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