There’s a well-known fine art photography competition that happens fairly regularly. (It shall go nameless to protect the innocent.) I’ve considered entering it, because it receives a fair amount of attention, and the overall competition seems to be run by skilled and qualified people. But I first decided to sit back and watch the competition for a while, to see who they pick as winners, to learn what they consider to be “fine art”. And I have to say, I’m glad I waited. My initial enthusiasm has tapered off to a lukewarm ‘ehh’. It’s not that the don’t pick fine photographers who are doing good solid work. It’s that the photographers they pick all seem to be the same. The same style, the same mood, and the same techniques, over and over again. All photographs of slightly depressing situations and/or people shot in that same pseudo-documentary style that’s all the rage in galleries today. If you showed me all of the photographs in one collection, I’d assume they were done by the same person. When will art competitions stop just following the latest styles and trends, and start to take some risks? When will galleries seek out the breadth of what is out there, and not just cater to a narrow set of tastes?
I know, silly questions. Galleries and competitions are not about finding the best or the most creative, they are about establishing brands and marketable product lines. They need to survive and make a living, so I don’t blame them. If you know a certain style of art will sell, you’d be foolish not to sell it. I just wish that someone out there would take some risks and try to introduce people to things they don’t know they’ll instantly like. The way great alternative record labels like 4AD or Epitaph introduce us to music we’d never listen to on our own, but once we hear it, we can’t get enough. Where are the risk-takers in the art world? I’m not talking about the people who only show “edgy” art-school art (God help us). But the ones who find local talents, obscure styles, and interesting hybrids. I’m tired of Bob Seger art. Gimme some Cocteau Twins.