Narrow Escape from an Art Attack

Sidewalk art show (anonymous)

Wandering the streets of Schenectady during the “Art Attack” on Saturday, evading the pleading eyes of the artists hawking their works throughout the city’s downtown, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I wasn’t one of the hundreds who’d signed up for what may become an annual event. I was reminded, too, how writers have it easy compared to visual artists when it comes to displaying our work.

It’s not that I wasn’t tempted. When I read the e-mail invitation to display my work at Art Attack, I gave it some serious thought. A chance to display several of my paintings and collages for free in a city-wide festival on the first day of spring, perhaps even to sell them – what’s not to like? Then I reminded myself of the logistics involved – loading my paintings into my trusty Focus hatchback, schlepping them to Schenectady, hanging them and arranging a display area, maybe babysitting them throughout the weekend, then putting the entire process into rewind on Sunday evening. Not worth the hassle, I decided.

Daumier "This Year Venuses Again"

Five-star Frame and Art, the first venue I visited, was a lovely gallery, with quality work displayed in mini-one-person shows. Damn, I thought – I shouldn’t have blown this off. Maybe next year. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Schenectady’s striking city hall, designed and built during the Depression by McKim, Mead, and White, was temporary home to hundreds of art works in many media – some truly excellent, but the majority mediocre or worse.

Artists sat or stood by their works with their game faces on, doing their best to make eye contact and smile. There were plenty of visitors, but there and at the other venues it was obvious that they were out for a leisurely stroll on a gorgeous spring day, and that the art was strictly secondary. I didn’t see any serious discussions of art happening, let alone any sales. I chatted with some of the artists, and learned they’d been advised to stay with their work if possible, since the event offered no insurance coverage.

Comparatively speaking, we writers have it easy. All our merchandise and display paraphernalia fit easily into a couple of cartons and a wheeled cart, so the logistics are simple, and we usually don’t have to put in the long hours that visual artists do. Our works come in multiples, so they’re priced low enough to tempt the occasional impulse buyer. Original works of art, in contrast, are luxury items and beyond the reach of most of us in today’s economy. Nonetheless, regardless of medium, we artists have similar motives. “I put my heart and soul into this work,” we think. “Pay attention. Please care enough to take my creations home with you, or failing that, at least to truly see them for what they are – portraits of the artist.”

But hope springs eternal, even for this jaded painter. A beautiful new coop art gallery will open soon in downtown Troy, and I’ll probably display some of my work there on consignment. As the New York Lottery hucksters say, “Hey – you never know.”

How about you? Do you enjoy hanging out at public venues showing and hoping to sell your work? Is it a necessary evil you endure? Or do you bypass it entirely?

12 thoughts on “Narrow Escape from an Art Attack

  1. Yeah, Julie, it is a pain. I have been hiring a young helper for 1 craft show ayear, but it’s still too much schlepping, and having people go by and not even LOOK! At 77, I’m definitely too old for this, but I get seduced every so often by a chance to be appreciated. Facebook is great for that.

  2. Please be sure to send me an email as to when and where you display your art work. I’d love to see it. Betsy

  3. Hi Lyn, Betsy and Diane,

    I agree, getting recognized on Facebook or by blogging is a whole lot easier. I have no plans to show more than maybe a few pieces, so I probably won’t publicize it.

    If anyone wants more info on the new coop, though, you can e-mail me at and I’ll let you know more about it.

    Albany, Schenectady and Troy all have Friday art nights – First Friday in Albany, Troy Night Out on last Fridays, and Schenectady somewhere in the middle. My feelings about them are much as described above – they’re good occasions for a festive night out, but I’m afraid they don’t generate much business for the merchants or artists. I hope I’m wrong – they keep doing them, so there must be something in it for them.

  4. I’ve not had the experience of showing work, but from the other side of the equation, I like to go to art or book shows. I have to admit, I feel guilty going into a booth to look even though I know I probably won’t buy, so usually I just look and keep moving.

    Straight From Hel

    • Hi Helen. I share that vague feeling of guilt about just passing by, but if I do really like someone’s work, I try to tell them so – at least that validates them to some extent.

  5. I like to hang out at these types of events. I talk to a few people and maybe hand out a few cards. Expectations aren’t very high, but I do manage to meet people and let them know I’m a local author.

    Stephen Tremp

    • Sometimes I enjoy it too – especially if I’m with another author or two that I can talk to. But in general I prefer to be home, chatting on my computer. One mark of a true introvert!

  6. I was one of the few writers at the Art Attack – we had our room, not many visitors – I’d have preferred to be outdoors on such a lovely day! But I did sell a few books, so I can’t complain. I missed the walking around, though. It’s hard to be stuck in one spot for many hours — I’ve done a few craft venues like that and I much prefer to give talks to groups at libraries and historical societies. Still, it gave the artists exposure. That’s important. I hope they handed out business cards. Most people will accept a business card. Marilyn aka: M. E. Kemp

    • Hi Marilyn. It was good to see you there. I admire your perseverance. Everyone always talks about “exposure” at these events, especially after it’s over and they haven’t sold much or at all. How much is this “exposure” truly worth and how important is it, really? But then what is online “exposure” worth?

      Most of the artists had business cards, and I collected a few – at the very least, validation that I was paying attention and had a modicum of interest. Sometimes that has to be enough.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Heidi. But I can’t take credit for the “Art Attack” title – the organizers in Schenectady came up with that. One man in particular was responsible. I believe he’s the city’s historian, but looking in the credits on the brochure, I can’t even find his name. Talk about selflessness!

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