Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
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Con Art

My experience of con "art shows" in recent years is limited but I'm inclined to sympathise with your complaint that they are too narrowly concerned with graphics produced for commercial reproduction as book covers and illustrations - plus, hopeful imitations by those aspiring to join the ranks of the professionals. This was good enough for the days of my youth, when cons were small in numbers and enthusiasm was all. But in these days of mass attendances and increased wordly sophistication, it just won't do. When I think of the excitement and pleasure to be found in the wider manifestations of art it just seems a. ridiculous restriction.

Is it the fault of the artists themselves? I know that many self-styled fan artists are concerned only with having their work reproduced as illustration or decoration, and appear to have little interest in pursuing other forms of artistic expression. It would be interesting to hear if Eddie Jones does do any work purely for his own amusement, without any thought of reproduction and the limitations it often imposes. How many artists do you know who produce non-commercial work? Maybe there's too great a preoccupation with turning their talents into hard cash...to me, the besetting sin of our age is that of producing art to satisfy the market. (Though on reflection, it's been happening all the time). Okay, so one has to earn a living: but that doesn't stop me from painting and exploring ideas. without any thought about selling the end product. So far as I am. concerned, art is discovery not a means of earning money. (It's lonely out here, man!)

Are the con organisers, at fault? They can say, legitimately, that they just exhibit whatever work is submitted. But they tend to slavishly follow the pattern of past cons and show little understanding, imagination, or interest, and seem to give little direction so far as. the art show is concerned. Include, a paragraph in the pre-con handouts inviting fans to submit work, provide a room and a few display panels, and that's it: what's the next item on the agenda... Unfortunately that's not it. Look at the sad results of this policy at the Mancon where the art show was crammed into two minuscule rooms, and visitors had to wriggle through a cramped maze of display panels where it was almost impossible to see the work in any comfort.

A few people put in a lot of work to mount the show, and I don't wish to belittle their efforts, but to me it seems so obvious that pictures are to be seen and therefore should be displayed with plenty of light and space around them, that I marvel that I have to mention it this way, Certainly future con committees who wish to mount a worthwhile art show should extend their horizons beyond commercial boundaries while giving some thought to adequate display facilities. And most of the newer hotels are used to conferences and offer display facilities.

Is it the fault of the fans? I suppose if they felt strongly about the cavalier treatment meted out to them, they'd protest.. If they don't, then it could be that they don't care - they'll just take what is put in front of them as part of the general entertainment, uncritically. In which case, you and I are wasting our time worrying about the situation:

My theory is that it all has to do with the British educational system which is preoccupied with verbal literacy. To be educated is to be able to read and write and in the process of learning one acquires a book-based mode of thinking linear and sequential - comes to believe that words can explain everything. Visual imagery is relegated to a mere supporting role, providing pictures to embellish and decorate the words. Which is why so many fans equate art with illustration, or "realistic" pictures of times and places that the camera cannot reach. When your outlook has been truncated in this way, you are visually illiterate. And it amazes me that our society regards verbal illiteracy as a catastrophe, while visual illiteracy is hardly even recognised.

So most people (and fans) don't know anything about art but know what they like, and tend to stay on comfortably familiar ground. Which is why so many of those fans, who like to think of themselves as forward-looking and open-minded, prove to be conservative and reactionary when faced with current manifestations of art and throw around words like "pretentious" and mutter "pseud, pseud" in their beards, hoping to cover up the fact that visually they are a century behind the times...

(( Oof! Take that, fandom: Actually, Harry, I'm sure we both realise that the prospect of a con art show ever really reflecting the trends of 20th century art is only slightly more remote than the same thing happening in our local art clubs, obsessed as they are with portraits, landscapes and still lifes, all rendered in a rather wishy-washy version of Impressionism. I'm inclined to agree with your final analysis of the situation: certainly, I was a victim of the system. When I discovered a latent interest in painting and slowly caught up on what painters had been doing since the turn of the century, I was astonished that so much knowledge could have been hidden from me. Still, considering the fact that it's only in recent years that sf writers have attempted to come to terms with. "avant garde" developments in writing, perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on our artists - hrb ))

LoC to Harry Bell's fanzine Tocsin, March 1977.

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