The story goes that, years ago, a marketing hotshot created an ad campaign for Subaru with the following tag-line: "Cheap, and built to stay that way!"
Sales of Subarus promptly nose-dived, the campaign was ditched, the hotshot fired.
Subaru was, of course, trying to position itself as the inexpensive but reliable alternative to a host of competitors in the class of vehicles designed to attract the attention of the cost-conscious suburban/rural soccer mom.
Anyone who has or knows a real soccer mom also knows that that particular cohort is not into "cheap." Inexpensive, sure. Cheap, no.
I confess, I feel the way the Subaru soccer mom does when I hear or see the term "cheap art for sale." I cringe.
Lately, I've been seeing more and more notices for Cheap Art; often they are poorly magic-markered onto cardboard signs at local Farmers' Markets. But in a recent notice about the Northeast Kingdom being featured in the July/August issue of National Geographic Explorer Magazine, the Kingdom is described, in part, as "home to the pioneering Cheap Art Movement."
Hmmm. Is this "on brand?" as our Tourism Commissioner likes to intone?
Our "pioneering heritage" as the first to outlaw slavery, the first to recognize civil unions, the first to use a postage stamp, laughing gas, sandpaper, and a host of other firsts, is something that all of us in Vermont may be proud of.
But cheap art?
I can't imagine anything more likely to quash a desire to visit the Kingdom than the prospect of being exposed to bale after bale of Cheap Art. [Note to self: whales come in pods, crows come in murders; check the internet to see of Cheap Art comes in bales. It sounds like it should.]
There's a guy in town who, when he completes them, shellacs jigsaw puzzles, frames them, and hangs them on his wall. He has several dozen creations and, he tells me, he only hangs a small portion of his collection at a time and he changes it whenever the mood suits him. He's got a farm in Peacham, Main Street in Moscow, Ascutney Mountain in the fall, and a bunch of other Vermont land- and village-scapes about which he regularly boasts.
There was a barber down in Savannah, GA in the 1980s who took up whittling. Over the course of his lifetime, he recreated pretty much every person he came in contact with as a small wooden doll, crafted with his two hands and a two-dollar pen-knife. Sometimes he'd give one of his pieces to a family member as a holiday gift, but most often he'd give them away to clients who liked them. Then he'd whittle another likeness. At his death he had a collection of nearly a thousand dolls he'd created over the years.
So here's a trick question: which of these makes cheap art, and which does not?
Here's my take on it.
If an artist values his/her own creations so low as to allow them to be labeled "Cheap," it creates an oxymoron. Art is not cheap. Art is never cheap, not when it is the result of a guy putting a jigsaw puzzle together, framing it and hanging it on his wall, or whiling away the hours with a pen-knife and a block of scrap wood.
Cheap is a state of mind. It starts with "inexpensive" and takes a disrespectful turn into self-loathing. Cheap is not Vermont. Cheap is not Art.
Let's do something about this; can we call it "Inexpensive Art" "Affordable Art" "Art Anyone Can Own" "Art for People for Whom Money is the Only Object" or something else? Please?