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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sidewalk Art Venders

Photo by Jim Lane
His name is Marco. He sets up in the shade of the prestigious
Academia Museum in Venice. I bought one of his oil paintings (below, left).
Photo by Jim Lane
Marco's art, in the fine tradition
of Venice's Canaletto.
I think I should make myself clear from the start, I'm talking here about those artists who sell their work on the sidewalk, not those who draw their work on the sidewalk. If you're interested in that sort of thing, check out "Pavement Art" (06-02-13). Having just returned from the damp city of Venice, my memories of the hard-working, talented journeymen artists who eke out a modest survival competing with one another for tourist euros on the "streets" of this fascinating city are quit are fresh. I have a very sympathetic, or empathetic (take your pick) feeling for such talent. Although I've never set up my painting display on a city sidewalk, I've spent many a long, hot, summer day under similar circumstances in more city parks than I like to recall, pursuing similar remuneration for my own work. It takes a special kind of artist to endure, or perhaps even enjoy, such an existence. I'm not one of them. I always limited such sales efforts to no more than a half-dozen shows per year, I seldom "enjoyed" the experience. Moreover, I've not done so now for more than a decade (it's not a marketing ploy I'd recommend for aged artists).
Photo by Jim Lane
The Lindos Acropolis, 2010, on the island of
Rhodes, my first street vendor art investment.
I'm not sure how prevalent such street art vendors are in the U.S. but all over Europe, these hearty souls are as much a part of the landscape in tourist areas as t-shirt and postcard sellers. They're cut from the same cloth. Only their prices mark these artists as a breed apart. The Venetian canal scene (above, left) is 8 inches by 12 inches and cost thirty euros. Of course, you could buy several t-shirts and a whole stack of postcards for that, except you wouldn't have an "original" work of art (usually oils or watercolors) and you wouldn't have the satisfaction of helping support the local art economy. Sure, each artist likely turns out dozens of similar (perhaps nearly identical) versions of each best-selling scene, and he or she likely does one such as mine in an hour or less. However, let me be the first to tell you, the time involved in selling such work is ten times (or more) that of creating it.
Photo by Jim Lane
Shade is at a premium, rain and wind always a threat, boredom goes with
the territory, but the scenery is nice, and the colorfully dressed international
tourists, a modest distraction. One or two sales each day can make it all worthwhile.
Artists catering to tourists have a long tradition. Though he may not have displayed his work in front of San Marco Basilica, the Venetian artist, Canaletto, painted it so many times he could likely have rendered it from memory. He, too, pursued tourist dollars (well, lira, actually) as wealthy 18th century Englishmen and others embarked on what was then called the "Grand Tour" of the European continent (Americans were rare until the 19th century). Venice was considered a "must see" stop for all such cultured gentlemen (and ladies too, if accompanied by such gentlemen). The market then was different. Canaletto didn't have to compete with cheap postcards and his works were considerably larger, occupying a substantially higher price niche. Yet his style, his super-realistic renderings of the Campanile, San Marco, the Doge's Palace, the Grand Canal with its picturesque gondolas, and the then brand new San Giorgio Maggiore, were not that far removed from the work of Marco (top) in spirit, if not in price.

The Piazzetta Looking North, 1730s, Canaletto. The tourist garb has changed; the sidewalk cafes are missing; but far greater than the differences are those
features of St. Mark's Square which are totally unchanged today.


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