The following is a blog post after my experience at Illuxcon this year. There is a new push to bring imaginative art into the mainstream with talk about a permanent museum and more museum shows for the genre. These were some of my thoughts as someone coming at it from the gallery side of things as opposed to coming from illustration.
Illuxcon was an interesting mix of new and old for me. It was fun reconnecting with old acquaintances from my brief illustration career and meeting new people who I have only interacted with online before the convention. It was exhilarating to see excellent imaginative art but frustrating to see prices for quality finished work set so low compared to the gallery world.
Patrick and Jeannie Wilshire and the other people behind Illuxcon are bringing imaginative art to a broader audience with this convention. They are doing this by spotlighting the best traditional artists and sculptors for collectors and fans in a small intimate setting. Hopefully it will raise standards and prices along with that appeal. I think the time for this may be just right if it happens fast enough. It has been tried many times before but has never caught on completely. I participated in shows at the Delaware Museum in the early 90's with other artists in the field but the shows while well attended did not produce a large enough collector base needed to sustain itself.
What is different this time around is the way entertainment and media have seeped into every part of our lives. It is literally at our fingertips 24/ 7 now, with tablet computers and smart phones. Much of the content driving the media explosion has its roots in Science Fiction and Fantasy. What was once a marginalized genre by most of society is now the mainstream and of course art plays a large role in the creation of those products.
The industries that drive this kind of art creation are almost completely digital at this point. Prints will never garner the prices of originals. The missing component here is the representation of this kind of art in traditional galleries and show venues alongside more normal subject matter. There are a few of the more successful artists of the genre doing this already but it is a very small number and most haven't given up illustration to become full time gallery artists. I can only assume because sales haven't filled the gaps between the two disciplines and while collectors are there, they are too few in number to sustain artists completely like other genres of gallery work can.
To create a sustainable market for original works the genre must move itself away from illustration and production art to stand on its own, freed from being a tool of product enhancement. Patrick Wilshire has again taken the lead on this by helping to establish an imaginative category with the Art Renewal Competition one of the premier representational shows in the country at this time. This should encourage more imaginative works to be created without any ties to merchandise.
In the sixties, traditional illustrators from the pulps and paperbacks of the forties and fifties created a market for western and representational art that thrives to this day. Some of the highest paid prices for representational genre art are being paid at the venues that host this work. Look at the Masters of the American West Show, American Masters at the Salmagundi Club or the Prix de West in Oklahoma. Imaginative art can do the same if it can rise above some of its exploitative and juvenile subject matter and hold onto its traditional creation long enough for galleries and venues to establish their viability. Illuxcon is a great start.