The Artful Collector: What Gets YOUR attention at a Worldcon Art Show?

I must confess, when it comes to SF/F the more you see of it, the easier it is to become innured to its novelty. Familiarity with dragons, wizards, and flying saucers can breed not contempt – but worse: indifference and inattention.

We’re just about a week away now from LoneStarCon3, the 71st Worldcon – this year being held in San Antonio, Texas.  Let’s say you’re going to go, and let’s say you’ve budgeted a certain amount for expenses, including purchases of “some stuff” when you get there.  We all know you’ll exceed that amount, but right now you’ve got a plan.  A pretty safe bet is that at some point during the long weekend, you’ll be visiting the dealer (huckster) room and the Art Show and – depending on your interests – you’ll be blowing your budget on things to wear (like neat clothing and hats, cute stuffed dragons, jewelry) or hobby-related items like books, games, costuming and weaponry, toys and collectibles, and/or art.  Those last two items are the ones I’m focusing on here, but what I say pretty much applies to anything you might buy.

Aliigator vase by Mary Coover
Hand-thrown and painted Aliigator vase in porcelain by Mary Coover purchased at a previous convention but see

There’s usually lots to choose from, between the huckster room and the art show – and many times, the offerings overlap.  It’s not your imagination.  Crafters and 3D artists especially will sometimes go for greater coverage by taking out booths or tables in the dealer’s room, where they sell “direct” to customers, while also maintaining a presence in the Art Show, where similar works will be available via auction method.  Since these are unique, or at the least, handmade pieces, you shouldn’t delay your decision to buy.  it’s more a matter of choosing the one that suits you – wherever it is.  I only show work in the art show because I can’t be tied to a table all day, and most 2D artists who show work tend to display only in the art show, as well – even though they try to spend a lot of time there.

2D artists sometimes sell prints in the dealer’s room, rarely originals, and some book dealers (especally those that deal in rare books) also will offer original art from time to time – although what they have tends to be vintage art (this is the secondary market, so you’re not buying from the artist).  CAUTION: some dealers have the habit of keeping the art behind their booths, and not making it obvious that they have it for sale…partly it’s out of interest in vetting potential buyers, and partly it’s because they don’t want ART to take up the space they need for BOOKS.   So ASK!  And see the caption for “Night Spiders”!!!

Josh Kirby's cover for "The Night Spiders" published by Corgi, 1964
Josh Kirby’s cover for “The Night Spiders” published by Corgi, 1964.  Purchased at LoneStarCon2, in 1997, from Jerry Weist in the dealer’s room….who was agenting art from Forry Ackerman’s collection.  This piece, unsigned, was not known to be a Kirby at the time: I bought it for my (beginning) bug collection, believing I could “source” it – and I did.

There’s “looking” (sometimes called “browsing”) 😉 and then there’s SEEING.  Walking around aimlessly can be fun, and is guaranteed to use up time.  But if you don’t pay attention to what you’re looking at, you run the risk of letting first impressions and selective attention make your buying decisions for you.  It’s a delicate balance: you don’t want to miss out on great pieces, but at the same time, you want to see everything before you decide.  AHHHHHHHH what a dilemma!!

Wait too long, and someone else may snap it up before you’ve had a chance to bid!  (there will be “buy it now” at the Worldcon!) Decide too quickly and you run the risk of buying too soon, missing the “best” one that you believe might be just around the corner!  Speedy decisions can be problematic because it makes sellers nervous – and can easily come across as insulting.  It’s rude to seem as if you’re just giving a cursory look before buying what an artist has slaved over.  But that’s the way it is with first impressions. I just have to “jump in” when I see something adorable, small and well-priced. This is why art shows have always been a great resource for me to find GIFTS for others – because, beyond the 2-D art, there are always tables filled with fun, fun stuff!

Jeff Coleman's "Coffee Lady" 5" tall, S/N edition 50/200 Resin
Jeff Coleman’s “Coffee Lady” 5″ tall S/N 50/200 Handpainted Resin bought at a past con,  see

Yes, I know how crazy it sounds to say this, but even though connoisseur-ship practically demands a kind of screening out of imagery that isn’t congruent with one’s tastes – I’m totally as impulsive as you might be, when it comes to art shows. Sure, over time, after you’ve looked at thousands of objects you develop the ability to focus on only those which display the qualities you are looking for – and don’t allow yourself to be diverted from your goal (building a fine collection) when it comes to bidding on art for thousands of dollars.  But when it comes to inexpensive stuff….the biggest danger is being overcome by visual overload before ever having the chance to find those pieces having the attributes or characteristics that would have meaning to you.

in order to survive the onslaught of daily visual stimuli, most of us must be selective in what we choose to see, from time to time.  And I must confess, when it comes to SF/F the more you see of it, the easier it is to become innured to its novelty.  Familiarity with dragons, wizards, and flying saucers can breed not contempt – but worse: indifference and inattention.  So you need to pay attention in order to find those needles in the haystacks that were meant for you to own!  And even if you don’t find the “one” that doesn’t mean you can’t follow up with the artist and commission a special piece…as I did in 1991 after seeing a glass plate on display in an art show, etched by an artist – and it gave me the idea to get a set of eight of them, to use for special occasions!

Sand-etched glass plate, one of a set of 8 unique plates created by Taylor Blanchard, commissioned 1991
Sand-etched “Dragons in Flight” glass plate, one of a set of 8 unique plates created by Taylor Blanchard, commissioned 1991

What can you expect to pay for art at a Worldcon?
The exact amount raised from Worldcons vary, but when held in the U.S., the Art Shows generally sell between $80,000 and $130,000 worth of art. Most (65-70%) of the pieces sold are under $50, although most of the dollars (75-85%) come from more expensive pieces. I can attest to that: what I display and sell at Worldcons as agent for a number of contemporary artists (as “Worlds of Wonder”) in past Worldcons has generally amounted to about 10% of the total revenue of the Show.  As for what I’ve spent over the years, I won’t comment on that: let’s just say that I’ve always looked forward to Worldcons for the quality and quantity of art it attracts. 🙂

Yes, I know.  There’s going to be alot of competition for your time.  In fact, most of us have perfected the art of selective seeing – just to be able to get through our usual Worldcon day, being constantly bombarded by visual stimuli.  You can’t pay attention to everything, or else you go nuts.  But at the same time you don’t want walk the show like a zombie, totally unfocused and confused.


PS: if you’re going to be there, be sure to find me and introduce yourself to me!  I’d love to meet the people who read my posts!

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