Bruce Baker has made it smart to be nice.

What do I mean by that?

Well, if you’ve ever hung out with a group of craftspeople who do shows, or participated in an on-line forum discussion about shows, you’ll recognize an all-to-common topic:

The stupid things our customers say.

It’s always a hot topic, and the posts will often outnumber any other thread in the forum. Except, of course, the one on the difference between art and craft. (A word to the wise: Don’t go there!)

It’s true, of course–people will say the oddest things in your booth, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. They may say baffling comments, stometimes verging on the insulting.

I always held back from sharing. Because I have a guilty secret.

First, because people rarely said things I thought were stupid or insulting–just lucky, I guess. Or maybe I it was the quality of shows I was doing. Remember, I quit doing those small retail shows early on.

Second, I myself was fairly new to the craft world. I didn’t know any professional craftspeople when I started out, nor any artists. I figured people weren’t saying anything out of the ordinary, or anything I wouldn’t say under the same circumstances.

In fact, that’s my third point.

I’m one of those stupid customers.

There have been times when I’ve been in an artist’s booth and asked that same “stupid question”–only I knew I didn’t mean it to be stupid, or offensive. I knew I liked the work and honestly wanted to know more about it, or the artist.

I can tell I’ve asked “the stupid question” because I get the heaved sigh, the eyes rolling heavenward, the smart ass retort that makes me feel like an idiot.

My most embarrassing memory is standing awestruck in an artist’s booth at a fancy high-end retail show, just blown away by this guy’s work. I couldn’t tell what it was made of. I didn’t want to touch it–it looked special–and there wasn’t a single sign or card in the entire booth explaining his process or technique. (I guess the art was doing that “speak for itself” thing….)

The artist was standing with his arms folded glaring at us. I said, “These are beautiful! Are they painted tin or wood?”

He glared at me in silence, and then HE TURNED HIS BACK ON ME!

I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d said that had made him so angry. Embarrassed and indignant, I left the booth.

So when those long lists of “stupid comments” come up, I keep quiet. Because obviously, I was one of those “stupid people” they were all making fun of. And I didn’t like it, because something didn’t feel right.

Bruce Baker, bless his heart, has vindicated me.

It’s either on his CD on sales and selling, or I heard it in his last seminar. He explains that whole dynamic of “letting people land” in your booth–they come in, take a look around, and settle in to shop. You give them a minute to catch their breath, greet them quickly, let them know you are available if they need you–and then back off.

You leave them alone. They shop. You remain available but busy, not hovering, not following. Just….available.

Then comes that magic moment when they decide it’s okay for you to talk to them. They will give you a signal. That’s your cue to start talking about the work.

Unfortunately, many, many craftspeople blow this opportunity wide open. They will take this cue and misinterpret it. They will respond with sarcasm, or anger, or indignation.

Because that cue is often “the stupid question.”

Did you see it in my own example? I liked the work enough to stay in the guy’s booth. I looked at everything in there. I finally made up my mind to engage the artist.

I asked him a question. I wanted to meet him, to talk to him. I hoped he’d share some insights about his work with me. Maybe he’d even convince me I had to have one! Maybe there was a really cool one at just the right price that could go home with me….

Instead, he let me know he didn’t even want to look at me anymore, let alone talk to me.

Now maybe he’d heard that same question a thousand times already. Maybe he paints on some rare rain forest wood and was insulted I thought it was cheap tin. Maybe he paints on recycled tin roofs from his boyhood farm and was insulted I thought it was cheap wood. Maybe it was some intricate intaglio process and he was insulted I thought it was paint.

I dunno. But now I’ll never know. And I don’t really care.

Because he missed his opportunity to answer my question (or NOT answer my question, as the case may be) in a way that would have started the sales process.

He could have have sent me off with a painted sculpture, a new balance on my Visa card, and added a new collector to his mailing list. Instead, he left me in a puddle of anger and embarrassment. And I’ve never felt the slightest interest in his work since.

For all I know, I have been the subject of his own “stupid customer” stories.

But I have my revenge. I get to make fun of him today. Here.

So the next time that topic comes up, think twice before getting caught up in that “stupid customer” thing. It doesn’t serve you, and it doesn’t serve your art.

Think hard before asking for a “snappy comeback” for those “stupid questions.” You’re going to feel good for awhile. But your bank account is going to feel lighter.

Me? I have permission from Bruce to be nice.

And I’m gonna use it to the hilt!

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

6 thoughts on “THE STUPID QUESTION”

  1. I agree with you about not making fun of people when they genuinely ask questions. I do however reserve the right to flame them to ash with my sharp tongue if that “question” was really a not so cleverly veiled insult.

    All that aside—we are DYING to know which artist gave you the grand brush off. I’m in pain from curiosity. Literal pain I tell you!


  2. My wife and I regularly attend arts and craft shows as she has inherited a great interest in art from her father. When she finds something she is interested in, she usually will ask many questions about how the art was made, and what materials are in it. Sometimes she does ask what some may term “the stupid question” and there is a wide variety of responses we receive. I can tell you quite honestly, she has never bought anthing from someone who was rude to us! In fact, if the artist handles the question with friendliness, and then engages in a long friendly conversation on the origins of the art and how he or she makes it–there is a much much better chance of buying it. My wife’s father buys alot of art for himself, and his two daughters, and I believe he feels some sort of personal relationship with them. Some artists that he has a relationship with, he will buy multiple pieces. He will talk about what he/she is doing this year, and will go to his/her exhibitions.

    All this in support of what you are saying in this post! So, from a customer’s standpoint, answering “the stupid question” with tact and friendliness will definitely help get the sale.

    On an aside, I’m new to blogs, so I hope I don’t get flamed for “the stupid comment”. 🙂


  3. Hi, I work in the customer service dept. at a retail mail order company. I speak with many customers over the course of the day and I truly believe that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Rather, it is a question that comes from a place of not knowing. So, an ignorant question, maybe? Still, the word ignorant can have negative connotations, too. I believe that it is part of our job as artists selling our creations or anyone else selling something to educate our customers about what we’re selling. At my company, we sell loose leaf tea. I may know all about the different kinds of tea and how they are brewed but a new customer doesn’t. Does that make me better than them because I know and they don’t? Of course not. It sounds like the artist you asked the question to thought he was somehow better than you. The same goes with our customers and our artwork. They are exhibiting an interest and are curious to know what it’s all about. Of course, there will always be rude customers who try to “dump” their garbage on us. They’re much different from the customers who come to us to teach them about our product, whatever that may be. So, anyway, that’s the way that I try to approach any kind of question from a customer. Love reading your posts! -Karen


  4. Karen, I love what you said about those questions simply coming from a place of “not knowing”. And that we run the risk of being pompous when we assume we are “better” because we know something a new customer doesn’t know…. Great points!


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