While the ten Crusade Engagement Grant finalists plug away at their detailed applications for review by the selection committee, we are featuring interviews with each of them so you can get a better sense of their program idea. Get inspired, and pay attention too, because next month we will be setting up a poll for a popular vote, and the finalist who wins will receive $1000 to help them start their program (separate from the $10,000 award).

First up was Matt Eich, who proposed a photobook collective program. This one is from Amy Parrish, who wants to create a reality TV show around collecting. From her initial application: "The overall message in this series will highlight the emotional value of owning an original piece of art (compared to buying a generic image from a big-box retail store). It will also show the process of acquiring art, step-by-step, through a variety of outlets to demystify the process for first-time buyers and lift the barrier of intimidation."

How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?

You know how you do a search on the Internet, and some way or another an entire hour has passed,  you have landed on a page and you can’t possibly remember how you arrived?  Thankfully, this unknown path led me to Crusade for Art.  I think the website drew me in, initially, because of the VW bus logo, having recently purchased a 1972 hippie bus of my own.  

Needless to say, I read through the site content and became enraptured by the movement.  I’d never before turned the tables to think about how to create more purveyors of art as opposed to selfishly thinking of how I could promote and perfect my own work.  Between the moment I first learned about the grant and the open application date, my mind began turning until the idea for this project struck me.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

Believe it or not, I actually experienced the very same connection that I’m seeking to document in others.  It must have been buried in my subconscious, having so profoundly affected me just two years prior when I had the opportunity to spend time with photographer Joyce Tenneson and learn about some of her work.  When she shared her story of how one of the images came-to-be, tears immediately began welling up in my eyes.  It touched on such a deeply personal part of my own life that I felt an immediate bond with the work.  Now on display in my home, it’s so much more than aesthetically-pleasing decor, but a reflection of my own life; and a common story shared between the artist and myself.

How do you think artists should play a role in educating the public or their audience about their art or art in general?

Based on my own experience, I feel that photographers have the challenge of sharing the deeper messages within their work.  This can be tricky since photographic artists work in a visual medium, suggesting that an image should stand on its own without the need for further explanation.  However, in a consumerist society, we’re relentlessly fed an immense number of images (primarily photographic in nature) that make bold statements with just one glance.  In this way of ingesting media, there is no time allowed for savoring the subtleties of a photograph.  

With this in mind, we can work to retrain audiences to truly take the time to see and explore an image along the path of their own inner dialogues, leaving the artist’s insights and secrets embedded within the work; and/or we can extend written and verbal cues to help the viewer access something deeper.   For instance, I know, as the artist, that in a particular photograph inspired by the Japanese folktale of “The Crane Wife”, a long train of fabric represents magic sails from the story, a half-mask speaks to the half-woman-half-bird character and specific colors pay homage to a storybook representation of the same tale.  However, if my audience is not familiar with the narrative, they’ll never recognize these important details.  Sometimes giving context to our work can be the best education we can offer.   

Why do you think many people find art intimidating, and how can we lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art (and specifically photography)?

Ha!  Well, pop culture has certainly reinforced the phenomena of serious collectors pulling out obscure references from a seemingly meaningless piece of work and simultaneously chuckling smugly at the person who walks in from the street and sees only globs of color (lets not get into the fact that a photograph is rarely the piece of art hanging on that gallery wall seen in films or tv).  And, of course, in this fiction that image sells for a million dollars.  While the jabs are often directed towards the pretentious, there is nearly always embarrassment from the other party.  As harmless as this may seem on the surface, I think this broadcasted stereotype has unintentionally informed many perceptions by reinforcing the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to experience art and that unless you have a thick wallet and can keep up in heady conversations, you may as well go home.  

Logically, the way to best combat that is to broadcast opposing mass messages to the general population.  Show “regular” people with art photography adorning their walls.  Feature comfortable gallery environments with friendly staff.  Showcase other outlets such as open air art fairs where photographers may be accessible to the public.  Ask artists to speak about their work.  Encourage curiosity (having more questions than answers) as a good thing.

This still doesn’t touch on the perception of value though.  It’s extremely difficult to place generalized numbers on what art should cost (regardless of the medium) without sticker-shocking some buyers or devaluing the work of other artists.  For example, by assuring future collectors that you can easily obtain original art for $50, you’re training them to think $100 is too high.  But by focusing only on images in the tens of thousands of dollars, you’re beckoning back to that pop culture stereotype of art being outrageously expensive.  There are countless budgets and priority sets to take into consideration.  In whatever form, when messages linger on price, it’s telling the consumer that price is of weighted importance.   

If we can publicly expand the definition of “value” to mean more than monetary value, that alone can lower a perceptual barrier to entry.  There’s a saying that goes something like “when they cry, they buy.”   It suggests that true value lies within an emotional connection between a purchaser and a product, not on an arbitrary number.  Of course then there’s the entire concept of perceived value that is based on numbers, but that’s a whole other story!   


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