The Artful Collector: State of the Art at the 71st Worldcon

LoneStarCon3 Art show "ribbon" for art-lovers
LoneStarCon3 Art show “ribbon” for art-lovers

Well, the SF Worldcon is over, and as usual I was busy every single day of the convention, scurrying from one program item to another, some of them my own 🙂 In between I of course kept close tabs on the art show, the place where – sooner or later – everyone I knew would show up.

The first thing you do when you register, is pick up your membership badge and hang it around your neck. The second thing you do is start attaching ribbons – a craft project which begins when you open your program participant packet and continues throughout the weekend.  For those so inclined, ribbon attachments can

My badge at LSC3.
My badge at LSC3.

become a goal in itself, with badges trailing 3 feet or more of ribbons, which swirl around their owners’ knees, advertising their dedication to fannish fun.  I will add them to my badge only if offered (it is considered impolite to refuse) but otherwise can’t be bothered.   The little stickers, BTW, are the reward for attending site selection “bid parties” – I (apparently, although I have no clear recollection of doing so :)) attended the ones for Japan (2017) and Kansas (2016).  As you can see, these groups start lobbying pretty early in the process for members’ votes, which are cast by ballot two years prior to the actual con.  And once in a while, it’s a real contest . . . as it was this year.  There wasn’t a clear winner until Saturday night, late.  Right up to the last minute it was a toss up between Helsinki and Spokane and Orlando, with strongly held opinions on all sides.  Spokane won!  And we can now officially start referring to the 73rd Worldcon as “SASQUAN” [next year’s site was decided a year ago: LONCON3 will be in London, England]

Of course, I took a few snaps of the art show.  Just so you can get an idea of what one looks like – the Worldcon is a bigger show, but the exhibit space and panels and tables are pretty much standard for all SF convention art shows.  While it was a

LoneStarCon3 Artshow
LoneStarCon3 Artshow

pretty low-key affair there were some definite highlights.  Darrell R. Sweet Jr. brought in a HUGE display of his father’s work.  Darrell K. Sweet (August 15, 1934 – December 5, 2011) was a SF/F illustrator who will long be remembered for his colorful, wonderfully expressive contributions to book covers.  I was fortunate to know him, and sell some of his original art for him, and it was great to see so many of his originals in one place.  There was also a special exhibit of historically important TSR artwork brought in by one of the earliest and longest employed D&D™ artists, Diesel (David La Force), comprising rarely seen originals from the long heyday of Dungeons & Dragons™ Many of the works on display are slated for a planned Museum to be dedicated solely to the art of D&D™

I described the show as “low-key”, above.  I suppose that’s my euphemistic way of referring to an ongoing concern for those who look forward to browsing and buying art at Worldcon art shows – and a touchy subject, for those who run them.  But the jury is in, it’s inescapable, it’s become impossible to ignore . . . Worldcon art shows are no longer attracting the calibre of professional and amateur artists that for many years set, and kept, the aesthetic standards for SF Worldcons at the highest possible levels.  Fans, publishers, art directors, and collectors expected Worldcon art shows to display the best-of-the-best art being created in the field, and top artists looked forward to meeting their expections. NO MORE. 🙁   We have come to the point where there is consensus on the decline in quality, but little else.  Everyone has a different explanation and there’s no agreement on whether the factors are controllable or not.  The reasons are complex and could fill an entire post on their own . . . and very soon I will do that.  Meanwhile, professional artists’ lack of participation on one hand, given the labor and time intensive requirements for putting on an art display, has caused much hand-wringing and some smaller conventions have given up art shows altogether.

It’s not as if there weren’t artists out there, mind you, who COULD be showing their art there.  Indeed, the top artists in the field are still painting, and producing important works (Mike Whelan, Donato, Jim Burns, Steve Hickman, Tom Kidd, Bob Eggleton, Don Maitz, the list goes on and on….) These are artists who used to show up at Worldcons, but no more.  And then there are the ones now winning Chesleys, the younger ones whose works would instantly attract the attention of collectors if they showed up (JP Targete, Matt Stewart, Palencar, Mike Zug, Dos Santos, Lucas Graziano, Raoul Vitale,  . . .  the list is long) –  where are they?  Why aren’t they interested in attending, showing or attempting to sell, their work at Worldcons? Instead, long tables as well as pegboard panels are filled with assorted 3D arts and crafts, of varying quality and attractiveness in presentation.  And they’re not the most appetizing of displays, it seems to me.

Tables for 3D art at LSC3
Tables for 3D art at LSC3

The Chesley Awards are a case in point.  Only three of the winners, and a handful of the nominees, to my knowledge, had their work displayed in the art show, or attended the the convention.   And this is a terrible shame because the quality of work being honored in this way truly deserves public exposure. 

There are those who believe Worldcons are not doing enough to attract higher calibre working artists, whose originals are “collectible” – that they need to provide more, or better, incentives for them to show up and exhibit their work.  There are others who feel that the higher ratio of digital and photographic and “crafted” works to illustrative paintings produced with traditional media, and a higher (than previously) tolerance for exhibiting non-genre subject matter, is simply due to major changes affecting the publishing industry.  It’s in an evolutionary phase, so the art show is also in flux, and we must just manage this transitionary period as best we can until things settle down.  Settle down to what?

I, of course, have my own opinions on this, and have been asked for them by many people involved in art shows, both those who run them and those who attend them.  Since I am congenitally incapable of listening to complaints without offering solutions, most of my opinions come with suggestions for change . . .  changes that *might* (no guarantees!) help stem the decline in participants and quality – and transform the art show into a newer, better, snazzier version of its older self. 🙂  But change comes slowly to Worldcons, burdened as they are by traditions that can’t easily be cast aside, so I’m not terribly optimistic on that score.

What I AM happy about, however, is that I was given a chance – thanks to the Worldcon – to look really silly.  This doesn’t happen to me often enough, so I just had to do it.  There were dozens of possible “props” and I was stumped….  lucky that Steven Silver, another Amazing Blogger, was passing by.  He gave me some excellent advice re: ears.  And…What can I say?  I felt incomplete without the penguins.

Jane with bunny ears and penguins -  perfect professional attire for LSC3!
Jane with bunny ears and penguins – perfect professional attire for LSC3!
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