Will the Automotive Fine Art Society raise the bar at this year’s Pebble Beach show or will they continue their downward slide?
Automotive Fine Art Society (AFAS) was founded by a small group of painters and sculptors of automotive art to bring together the fields brightest stars and to “raise the standards of automotive art to a level of acceptance as serious fine art from the point of view of both collectors and critics.” (see link, AFAS).To myself, an aspiring car designer, and raging car enthusiasts everywhere the AFAS was the Holy Grail. Their founding concept of uniting automotive artists in an effort to display and pursue the cutting edge of a new art genre was so alluring to me that I began to follow their every move in hopes of one day joining their ranks.The AFAS became my constant source of inspiration. I would mark my calender to see as many of their shows as possible. Most importantly, I looked to them to see the boundaries of automotive art being pushed. I knew that they were the “best of the best” and anyone who was fortunate to enter their ranks was on the cutting edge of what was to come. The future was bright, or so I thought.
Fast forward 30 years later to today.
Just one week away from their annual Pebble Beach show in Monterey, dare I say the AFAS has become a pale shadow of its’ former self? Now 30 years later from their rise when I looked to the AFAS for inspiration and admiration, the AFAS is in a rapid state of decline. A decline painfully evident by their recent loss of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance venue this past year.
For many years the AFAS had an exclusive agreement with the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. They had a gorgeous tent gallery right in the heart of the concours field. Better yet, they had a monopoly stronghold on the market. If you weren’t an official AFAS artist you weren’t permitted to display your work. No money or check could get you in the show unless you had those four simple letters on your name tag.
The loss of the prestigious Amelia Island Concours on the east coast now leaves the artists of the AFAS a single annual appearance in Pebble Beach. Similar to their agreement with Amelia Island, Pebble Beach affords the AFAS a prime, center stage gallery to show their art in the heart of the concours field with ZERO competition. They are elbow to elbow with the who’s who of the automotive world. They are in the epicenter of the week’s best media exposure. The nearest display space for other non AFAS artists is miles away, off site!
If the whispers amongst artists at the 2015 Amelia Island are true, even the cherished Pebble Beach venue might now be in jeopardy. After all, if the AFAS could lose their relationship with Amelia Island why not Pebble Beach? Losing the golden goose of Pebble Beach would surely be their breaking point. They would be forced to show side by side with their competitors on a level playing field sans the lush, corporate sponsored tent and lofty AFAS only environment.
This recent crack in the foundation of the mighty AFAS has left many independent artists speculating as to why. It certainly leaves them salivating at the thought of an equal playing filed. For once, the work would stand out and not the “credential”. Look out Goliath, David is busy preparing his sling!
After 30 years of dominance how could the AFAS loose their competitive edge? In my humble opinion there are a few key factors that have led up to this current situation.
Reason #1: AFAS Membership Rules Stifle Creative Growth & Competition
I firmly believe the AFAS’ antiquated membership rules have fostered a stagnant environment where there is no internal competition amongst artists. Although they have tried to stay on the cutting edge of automotive art and have added a few members here and there over the years, the AFAS is still primarily the same key artists from its’ glory days in the early 90’s.
Comprised of 30 members, new artists are by invitation only. Even then, there are only two “guest artist” spots open once a year for the Pebble Beach show. These guest artist positions are then voted upon by the members for the right to be an “Associate Member”. Why associate member you might ask? Because you can only be elevated to official full member status under the following conditions from their website:
“When a full membership position becomes available through the retirement, dismissal or demise of a present member, an artist from the Associate Membership list will be recommended to the Board of Directors by the Selection Committee to become a Full Member. This recommendation by the Selection Committe is entirely at the Committee’s discretion and selection is not based on the chronological order in which an Associate Member was added to the Associate Member list.”
Many other automotive artists have asked me why this procedure is in place. I believe it’s for two reasons. Firstly, the AFAS is a shared ownership. The more artists that are members, the more of the pie has to be shared amongst members. Adding an “Associate member’ label works around having to dilute ownership. Inviting guest artists each year (which is limited to 2) gives the appearance to the public that they are still searching for new talent. The last thing existing members want is to compete internally for sales. They are very leery of having any overlap in style or technique so as to avoid cannibalizing each other’s sales. Of course, this all all concealed under the guise of only inviting “the best”. Yet one would simply have to look at a few of their recent guest artists to see that is far from the truth.
All of these political work arounds have transformed a cutting edge group of artists into a polite, noncompetitive reflection of its’ former self. Instead of searching the automotive art world for a new, unseen perspective they are focused on creating a show environment where they don’t have to worry about losing sales to another member.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the work. Excluding the work of a handful of core members, the rest are hardly what one would consider “the elite”. Any artist can quickly peruse the most recent AFAS exhibit and see that, while the work displayed is well done, it is far from the best automotive art available today. It’s safe. It’s cliche. It’s the same art we’ve been seeing for decades now. In fact, many of the existing members are creating the exact same art they did from the day the first joined. There is no pushing the envelope, there are no new visions. They have become complacent. You can find better work on Instagram. Even Jay Leno’s Garage has a better pulse on the automotive art scene.
It’s almost as if they are happily stuck in the past. Blindly following the same procedures that worked when they were at their peak during a much different time than today. A time when the world was a bigger place. A time when enthusiasts’ only exposure to automotive art was when they went to a concours. A time before email, the proliferation of the web, social media and instant access to rising artists across the world. All of which brings me to another reason why I believe the AFAS is in decline…
Reason #2: The AFAS Refuses to Embrace Change
I’ll wager that if you were to talk to several modern artists most, if not all, will tell you that the vital key to their success is their ability to continually experiment and grow as an artist. The best artists relish change for it promotes a constant state of growth and is condusive to new discoveries. They are relentless in their quest to break new ground. To push their limits of their talent and creativity. To rise above and beyond what everyone else is doing. To transcend the norm.
This can be something as simple as changing their technique or something more abstract as approaching a common subject matter from an unorthodox viewpoint. No matter the path, it is essential to be in a state of constant evolution.
Every genre of art experiences this pursuit of change. It’s what drives the market and creates new sensations. It’s the “it” factor that collectors seek. It’s the one constant that every artist pursues to help them rise above the crowd. Why should automotive art be any different? The answer of course is, it shouldn’t!
As the self appointed leaders of the automotive fine art world the AFAS should lead by example. They should encourage and demonstrate that they are on the leading edge of automotive art. Their members should exemplify this standard by constantly pushing the limits of automotive art. They should strive to have each and every active member break free from their comfort zone in the pursuit of a higher standard. Painting the same front, realistic three quarter view centered on the canvas for thirty years doesn’t cut it.
They used to push the edge and break new ground. After all, they essentially brought the genre to the forefront of the public eye. Somewhere along the way they lost their hunger. They became content to simply do what was expected. They seem focused on the easy sell and year after year the work has become predictable. In fact, if you do some research you’ll see that several of the existing members are doing the same exact work they have been doing since the group’s inception back in 1984. Surely they are capable of more? The question remains why resist evolution?
In my opinion it is a simple matter of resistance to change. Who likes change to begin with? It certainly isn’t easy and if your current formula is working why bother? The problem is sooner or later the world will pass you by. This is exactly what has happened to the AFAS.
The majority of the AFAS membership are now in the twilight of their careers. They were the legends during a time when print was king and they are resistant to embrace our brave new digital world. Don’t believe me? Just try to email some of them or search for any type of web presence. In addition, the vast majority of them are already retired from lucrative careers or have a full-time career that they are focused on such as teaching. That fire that burns in every artist from being young and hungry is no where to be seen.
Perhaps it is the complacency in the comfort of their ways that drives them to resist all forms of change thereby restricting the growth of the AFAS. For example, they will not under any circumstances consider any form of digital art. Why you might ask? I believe it is simply based out of fear and a lack of understanding of what digital art has become.
Digital techniques have taken over every aspect of film design, game design, transportation design, and many forms of art. They are common place and widely accepted in many art circles as a viable creative process. I believe the AFAS has zero knowledge of this movement and naively believes any digital art to be a “one click” forgery beneath their old school traditional ways. I think there is an underlying fear that everyone armed with a computer is a keystroke away from competing for a small market segment. You might even go as far to say that as traditionally trained artists they look down upon anyone that uses a stylus as being inferior. The proof is to the contrary.
A simple Google search or visit to Petrolicious will yield an abundance of talent who work in digital or other non-traditional methods. Does the AFAS really believe that Markus Haub or John Krsteski aren’t top caliber automotive artists because they choose to create differently? If they do, they are doomed to fall to the wayside.
There are a few AFAS members who think differently. Jay Koka for example has long been a favorite of mine as he always engages and surprises his fans with new and exciting artwork. He has experimented with many different styles and methods throughout the years. He is keenly aware of the importance of the digital age and is solely responsible for the AFAS web presence.
I know that some of you are thinking this is just sour grapes on my part. It may seem that I am grinding my axe at the expense of the AFAS but it is not the case. They are my idols. They are the reason I chose to sacrifice so many things in the pursuit of automotive art. I would be lying if, despite everything I said, that I wouldn’t be honored to show with them at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey.
The most valuable lesson I learned in art school is that to be the best artist possible you have to be open to hearing and giving critiques. Even if it’s brutal to hear, truthful input from your peers is the most important aspect of development and growth. If you want to hear nothing but unicorns and rainbows ask your mother or wife what they think about your art. I respect the AFAS too much to not speak the truth. Any true fan of their work would do the same.
Hopefully, with a little constructive criticism and willingness to change they will forge ahead and remain THE standard for automotive artists everywhere.