Do you remember that staple of junior high English class, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery? I felt a little like I'd stepped into that story the other night, gathering with the potential 'winners' at a lovely evening spot in the centre of the city to drink wine, eat hors d'oeuvres, view artwork and listen to soothing classical guitar music while chatting with other art lovers. OK, unlike in the short story I wasn't stoned to death, but in some ways it felt like Art herself was (and you thought Art was a man's name).Thursday evening was the Federation of Canadian Artists' annual fundraising shindig Paintings, By Numbers. I was lucky to be invited to donate a painting this year, as members without signature status are rare at such events. Though the artist must donate a painting and gets nothing but a glass of wine and a pat on the back in return, the exposure to potential art buyers is awesome. The FCA is a venerable institution, one of its first leaders being a grandpappy of Canadian art, Lawren Harris. And while it may once have been the leading edge of art in Canada, now it's mostly a comfortable place to get good quality art from the successful and conservative Canadian art establishment. Surprises and controversy are in decidedly short supply. So, apparently, are people under 50 -- both artists and art lovers. I felt positively adolescent.The lottery happens like this: 60 artists each donate a painting worth $500 or more. Then 60 numbered tickets are sold for $500 each. On the evening of the gala event the ticket holders, artists and a guest each are invited to attend and the numbered tickets are drawn in turn by some local celeb (Deejay Clay St Thomas did the honours). Everyone wants to be first, of course, both ticket holders and artists. There are many factors that come into play when it comes to choice: artist's reputation is right up there because you want good value for your money (and it is -- there probably weren't any paintings worth less than $1000), but personal choice takes precedence. Because of that, any one of the top 20 or so that were chosen on Thursday could have been chosen first -- it's simply the luck of the draw. After that it gets a little trickier. Nobody wants to be chosen last.I must say that I was pretty surprised that with virtually no exceptions, the most conservative, 'safe' paintings went first. It made me feel a little despairing of my future as an artist who can both take creative risks and make a living. My own favourite painting, by Barbara Younger, was the 57th painting chosen, 'beaten' soundly by paintings by much more famous painters, even ones who donated something small and forgotten from the back room. While making the rounds I eavesdropped on one top-selling artist saying to the people who'd chosen his painting, "Come to my exhibition at the Hoity-Toity Emporium next month and you'll see what my work is really worth." My dentures nearly dropped out of my head.Inclusion by Barbara Younger AFCA
At the end of the day I'm glad I went. I met a lovely, retired couple (they were at our table) whose painting choice was excellent, and I got a front row view into the whole psychology and politics behind the purchasing of artwork. I left wiser -- and definitely older -- than when I walked in.
Quiet Anchorage by Barrie Chadwick AFCA chosen 8th