Michael Chesley Johnson has been around, and he’s seen a lot. And he has advice for artists participating in plein air events and for event organizers.
In two blog posts, Johnson outlined some of the unfortunate behavior he has seen on the part of plein air competition participants, and some suggestions for the organizers of the competitions so the artists are happier and the event is more successful. In the first, Johnson starts by saying, “I’ve participated in many plein air painting festivals over the years. Now with the plein air painting season nearly upon us, I have some thoughts on these festivals and how artists should behave. Some of the participants, especially some of the newer ones, might improve their manners.”
He goes on to say that manners simply make the world a better place — and they undoubtedly increase sales for a displaying artist. Johnson offers 10 things for artists to consider, and they range from looking presentable at the opening reception or awards ceremony, to being a thoughtful guest if staying with a host family. The ideas range from the specific — don’t sit or stand in front of another artist’s display of work while munching down food — to the general — be a team player and attend all the activities the organizer expects artists to attend.
In the second one, directed at event organizers, Johnson explains the perspective of an artist. The biggest takeaway from that list of 14 suggestions is that artists want to sell paintings. They have spent money to get to the event, and they would like to get that money back — and then some. The artist discusses times when his display of art was in a poorly lit corner or behind a pillar, and times he’s had to run around to find a person to handle a sale, only to discover that the collector grew tired of waiting and moved on. As in the first installment, Johnson ranges from the specific to the detailed, from the notion of limiting the number of participating artists (to 25) to increase the odds that an artist will sell something, to developing purchase prizes to ensure sales.
The lists seem temperate and well-considered, and one wonders how the ripples from the posts will improve events in the future. “I’m hoping that both artists and festival organizers will read them and, if the advice is appropriate, incorporate them into their practice,” says Johnson. “I think artists can do a better job to help the festivals, and likewise, the festivals can do a better job to help the artists.”