Past Comments

February Issue 2007
by Tom Starland

Changing Face of the Visual Art Community

Last month as I was delivering the January issue I ran into a number of galleries - that were not there anymore or were soon to depart the scene. A few were fairly new, which is understandable, some had been around for some time, but one stood out above all. It was the Pope's Gallery located in the Myer's Park area of Charlotte, NC.

A note was on the door announcing that after 37 years of business Pope's Gallery was closing its doors for good. Now that's a milestone.

For all the galleries that are just opening their doors for the first time - they can only dream about still being open this time next year much less the 7 years "they" say it takes to feel that you've made it in business, but 37 is amazing. It's a pretty small group of galleries that can claim that many years of keeping their doors open in the art biz. That group also excludes those galleries that like to claim or imply they have been open that long. You know who you are.

To the folks at Pope's - thanks for those years. For the folks who opened new galleries - good luck. Staying open a full year is a major accomplishment in this biz! It isn't easy. Here's to many more.

Looking Back 20 Years

Thanks to all those who have sent us their congrats for lasting so long. I'm sure we have amazed some folks who wish it had only been five or ten years.

I'm not going to offer another chapter in looking back in time - at this point, but there were a few things we needed to address.

No, we're not going to change our format to look like Skirt! magazine - you can get in trouble for doing that - or at least sued. I did at one time think about starting a publication called Pants!, but since I wear shorts most of the time - it didn't seem the right fit for me.

Yes, we will always have a black & white part of the paper. In fact, I still expect that will remain the major part of our paper for some time. Not all galleries, institutions, or artists have the budget for color advertising. Many don't have a budget for anything - much less advertising. Remember our name - Shoestring Publishing Company.

No thank you, to all the designers e-mailing their offers for assistance in adding some style to our pages. We opted for substance over style a long time ago - besides we can't afford a real designer.

A long, long, long time ago, Lee Helmer, a Charleston-based designer created our logo. (That's the only part of our paper done by a professional. Blame the rest on us.) It has been updated as we have changed our area of coverage, but it has served us well over time and I think it will stay. There was some talk of changing the logo to reflect changes involving the paper, but I asked - what good does it do to change your logo - if you're going to be basically the same old paper? Who would we be fooling?

And, finally, in the "I wish" category. No, unfortunately for you and for me - there probably won't be a time when my commentary can be found running together all in one space - like a normal article. Of course that's the way it comes on our website.

Spoleto 2007

Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC, has announced its 2007 lineup and once again, there was no mention of a visual art offering. The last real visual art exhibit they presented took place back in 2002. At this point the only reason I can come up with as to why the visual arts have taken such a major slight - is money. Spoleto doesn't control any space in which they can present an exhibit and charge admission - something like $50 a pop.

Based on previous exhibitions done during the Festival's golden days - they would not have any problem landing grants to present other site-specific outdoor installations, so all I can say is it must be one of two deadly sins - greed or sloth.

There is still a lot of interest in Spoleto presenting visual art as part of their "comprehensive" arts festival. The article we have posted on our website - archived from May 2002 gets an average of 100 visits a month. That's a lot for an event that took place five years ago.

Come on Spoleto. Give us some visual arts so you can be truly comprehensive.

Oh, but wait - I forgot to mention that there will be the exhibit of decorated fiberglass turtles - presented by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and the SC Aquarium. That will make up for no Spoleto visual arts. That's if they can find enough artists and sponsors to participate - they're not exactly knocking down the aquarium's doors to take part.

Speaking of comprehensive arts festivals - we have the North Charleston Arts Festival (North Charleston, SC), the Piccolo Spoleto Festival (Charleston, SC), Artisphere - The International Arts Festival of Greenville (Greenville, SC), and the Appalachian Summer Festival (Boone, NC). They all don't have a problem leaving out one of the major areas of the arts.

But then again, nothing compares to the scale of Spoleto in our region - it's just not comprehensive - without visual arts.

Politics or Not?

I don't like to involve politics with business - it's not a wise thing to do - you might say something that will upset or disturb someone - someone who is an advertiser, supporter or reader. But, I'm not going to be talking about politics - I'm going to be talking about art - an art installation in fact.

For a couple of years now I have been receiving updates on an installation which is located in the front window of Touchstone Gallery in Hendersonville, NC. The title of this ongoing work is, Portrait: Iraqi Freedom?. It is made up of dog tags, Peace Mandalas, hanging stars, and tiny white bags. It's quite an eye-catching display. I've always been attracted to things presented in multiples, but this display turns rather disturbing once you learn what the symbols represent.

As of Jan. 7, 2007, the dog tags represent the 3,009 members of the American military who have been killed in Iraq. The Peace Mandalas represent the 250 Coalition troops killed. The small stars represent the 22,565 America troops who have been wounded. The small white bags represent the 650,000 plus Iraqi civilians, insurgents and security forces who have been killed.

Suddenly this attractive little installation turns disturbing - very disturbing. But, isn't that one of the functions of art?

Most people won't look at something that they know will disturb them - they don't want to be bothered. They don't want to think about it. This dangling display of small symbols is attractive to the eye, but represents something that is hard to ignore - once you learn what it represents. People always like to ask that question about art - what does it mean? what does it stand for? what does it represent?

On a regular basis we present readers with a lot of art that is not disturbing. Most of it represents the beauty of nature, shows off artists' skills with technique and materials, or demonstrates how colors and patterns can be assembled into pleasing results. But, we wanted you to know that some art is disturbing - not in the way it looks or is presented, but by what it represents.

Now if you think this is a political statement - so be it. I was just pointing out that there is a diverse amount of art being presented throughout the Carolinas. You just don't always see it or know what it represents. Now you know what at least one represents.

What does it mean - well, that's up to you.

Artists - You Need To Get Gathered

This month and next, the South Carolina Watermedia Society (SCWS) will host their annual Regional Gatherings in different locations around SC (See article in our Feature Articles section). You might know these folks as the South Carolina Watercolor Society. They changed their name to reflect changes in their organization.

The theme of this year's gatherings is, Taking the Fear Factor out of Digital Imaging. The programs will be conducted by five different professional photographers.

This is a program made to order for most artists and gallery personnel in the Carolinas. Not a month goes by when someone can't e-mail us or send us a decent image of some artwork on CD or any format. It gets down right silly.

In some cases people have lost the opportunity for major publicity by failing to be able to deliver usable electronic images to be used - in ads and on our covers.

Hey, I'm among the technology challenged, but I'm not going to let it get in the way of me losing an opportunity. I'll fight learning something new to the very end, but I'll not go without because I can't figure out how something works, and if I can't figure it out - I'll start talking nicely to my better half - she knows how to do things with these techno machines.

So here is a free opportunity for people to learn how to photograph their artwork in a digital format. And, everyone at the program will want to ask the same "dumb" question so you'll be in good company. So go and learn what you should have known for years.

But don't go and throw out your regular photographic equipment - some colors just don't reproduce well in the digital format - not yet.

Here's a tip - ask your program presenter to explain the difference between RGB and CMYK color? And then ask them why digital cameras don't capture images in both formats? Then come tell me.


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