The White Tent or The White Wall - Context Matters, Diminishing Value

The previous post The White Tent or the White Wall raises an interesting question. Is the value of art or craft defined by the context? Here on Crafthaus, I am providing an abridged version of the posts. Read the full posts on ASK Harriete if you are feeling strong enough to look at reality.

KingsMountainArtFair2.Harriete Estel Berman at the S. F. Museum of Modern Art

SF Museum of Modern Art                      King's Mountain Art Fair      

As mentioned in the previous post, on Labor Day Weekend I went to both SFMOMA and the King's Mountain Art Fair. Each of these venues offers a sanctuary for creative expression, a haven, a quiet experience to look at art, a wonderful tranquil environment.

Cathedral of Redwood Trees.Both locations offered visibility for the artists, but I kept wondering ....what difference is there between the white tent of the fair and the white wall of the museum.

Alison Antelman White Booth inside viewThe artists in the white tents are reaching for visibility, credibility, collectors and retail sales.   But the artists at the museum are visible, credible, collected, and purchased.

On ASK Harriete I posted a YouTube video of Joshua Bell in the District of Columbia subway during the rush hour. (The YouTube wasn't working here on Crafthaus.) A few people stopped and watched this world class musician "playing exquisite violin piece on one of the world's most expensive violins." Mostly he was ignored, earning a reported $32.17.

The point? Without the credibility established by a concert hall, the metaphorical white wall,
he was just another artist seeking visibility with no credibility.

The primary issue in the art world and in this post, is that the white wall of the museum establishes credibility and the white tent (which had limited credibility) has lost all credibility.

Alison Antelman Booth Inside.
Booth Shot of Alison Antelman'sBooth.


Below is the next abridged post on Crafthaus is from ASK HARRIETE titled:
  The White Tent's Credibility - Context Does Matter.

CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE to read the whole post.

Here is an example of context from an article in The Washington Post titled "Pearls Before Breakfast".

KING OR POPE OR MEDICI EVER DID. A senior curator at the National
Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he
has some idea of what happened at that Metro station. [Watch this video of Joshua Bell at the D.C. subway station if you missed the previous post.]

ELLSWORTHkelly-tiger-53"Let's say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an
Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52
steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant
columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It's a $5 million painting.
And it's one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art
for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang
that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to
notice it. An art curator might look up and say: 'Hey, that looks a
little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'"

"Leithauser's point is that we shouldn't be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters." end quote.


To go back to our craft fair White Tent:
With rare exception the white tent at a craft fair does not add credibility any more than a subway or a restaurant.  The much hoped for "value" context is lacking.

What is the impact of this lack of credibility?
I have been thinking about this for years, but now, re-examining the white tent in this series of posts has forced me to voice a very brutal reality -- if context matters, then we makers may have devalued our work by exhibiting at craft fairs, possibly to a point that it may never recover. The context of the craft fair has devalued craft media, regardless of quality. 

This isn't going to be a popular observation. I hear outrage....and hostility. My comment is not meant to devalue the art or craft work, nor make a judgement about quality.  I am describing the context . . .

This issue has been compounded in recent years by the hard economic times. In sincere attempts to gain visibility and retail sales, makers are making less expensive items to sell work at lower price points.  Many decide to show only lower priced items further reducing limited booth space dedicated to more unique expensive selections.

The consumer public is coming to craft fairs expecting "deals from starving artists"and prices comparable to cheap imported goods.  Craft fairs increasingly feature hobbyists and 2nd career makers  who often price their inventory merely hoping to recover their material costs.

In an effort to increase interest in craft and raise attendance, the craft fair has pandered to the mass consumer market.  This is a huge mistake.

It is rare to find the discerning buyer or collector coming to a craft fair to buy the best from a maker or artist.  Only a few craft fairs nationwide have been able to maintain the reputation of their event as a premium show.

Even established juried fairs are having difficulty filling show booths with top quality makers. Top makers and artists are becoming less willing to invest three days in an exhausting, costly, and demoralizing event for people who come to "just to look". More evidence that the context of the white tent is diminishing in value even to the makers themselves.

So sorry to say all this.I don't like to say negative comments without offering some recommendations....but it seems disingenuous to cheer "rah, rah, rah" and "sell, sell, sell" when the context at the white tent craft fair is losing value.



The next post: The White Tent - Mainstream, Eddies, and Backwaters of Craft.
                    below are just a few comments from the ASK Harriete for all of the thoughts.

The 1960's earthy, hand made mystique of the independent artist outside of the corporate world is dated. The craft movement rode a wave of popularity that may well have become a "sinking ship" as described by Garth Clark.  I think we rode our "well crafted boat"* with the mainstream current of American prosperity....but now we are stuck in an eddy.

The mainstream current, the eddies, and the backwater of craft.
Have you ever gone rafting down a river?   There's plenty of current in the middle and you hardly need to paddle, but closer to shore along the edge, the eddy currents actually slow down or even goes backward, albeit very slowly.

WhiteTentTheresa Kwong2The craft movement rode the easy downstream current for years.

We floated along, hit some gentle rapids on occasion, but never built any sustained momentum of our own.  The white tent and craft merchandising looks the same as it did 30 years ago. The white tent format has floated into an eddy and may be drifting round and round with the appearance of moving but not getting anywhere.

Bizarr Bizarre sign at Maker FaireMeanwhile, the D.I.Y. movement jumped onto the craft current and steered themselves to catch the emerging currents of the Internet and social networking. Their long tail marketing absorbed the "authenticity" that craft had 4-5 decade ago.




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Time to stop thinking that this is your problem alone.

More posts coming with a discussion of the

                     economics of supply and demand in the white tent.

Increasing quantity diminishing valuea
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value
Post consumer recycled tin cans, copper.
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
7" height x 8" width to 2" (at narrow end) x 58.5" length
Close-up images below.
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value by Harriete Estel Berman
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value
(close-up view)

Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value (close-up view) by Harriete Estel Berman 2side
Increasing Quantity, Diminishing Value (close-up view) 

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Comment by Harriete E Berman on September 13, 2012 at 11:54am

Has everyone listened to Garth Clark's lecture given during the SNAG Conference as his keynote address:

It has made me think really hard about the future of craft. 
Instead of being defensive about the status quo, it is time to think about the problems at hand, understand the root issues, look for solutions and improvements. The next post on ASK Harriete will discuss the economic principle of supply and demand in the craft world.

Comment by Brigitte Martin on September 13, 2012 at 7:33am

Hello Twigs:

crafthaus welcomes differences in opinion and it is good to have discourse. However, please be courteous in your response even if you do not agree with arguments put forth. There's room for everyone at the table and we can certainly agree to disagree on many topics. I understand that feelings are strong, but please refrain from personal attacks. There is no need for that.

Thank you.


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