WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else's story, someone else's world, and someone else's journey.
There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

(11 minute read)

The next-to-last article in this series about why millennials etc.

We’re on the home stretch!

In my articles, and in the comments section, we’ve shared many fact-based, data-driven evidence about the different world millennials grew up in. It is simply different than the one we grew up in. EVERY generation faces the same challenge: New conditions, new “rules”, new obstacles, new solutions. The bad parts aren’t necessarily our fault, and it’s usually not their fault.

I also shared these setbacks and obstacles with one hope: To soften, and encourage us to change our assumptions and opinions. Only when we open up to seeing life from the other’s person’s point of view can we connect, with compassion and respect.

I knew there could be tremendous pushback against these thoughts, and there was. That’s okay. I will say it again and I will keep on saying it:

My art is not for everyone.

And neither is my writing.

Which means your work is probably not for everyone, either.

I’ll be honest. It’s hard to hear the anger and criticism these articles have generated. Just as it for all of us when someone walks into our booth, and then declares in a loud voice that they don’t like our art, and then proceeds to list the reasons why.

We may be angry, threatened, threatening, sad, resentful. These are human responses, normal responses, when we encounter something that seems harsh, insulting, frightening, upsetting, or baffling. It’s called a flight-or-fight response. It’s almost impossible not to feel these reactions when we experience something that seems to upend everything we thought was true.

But one of my superpowers in life, a hard one to use, but one that’s served me well is this:

We can’t change how we FEEL. But we can choose how we ACT.

This has helped me change my opinion about quite a few big issues in my life. It’s expanded my world view, opened new territories, and inspired me to write so I can share these insights with others who are ready and/or willing to consider them.

Not everyone will. But again, it’s their choice.

So take a deep breath, because today we’ll talk about the most important reason millennials don’t buy our art:

1)    The don’t like your art; or

2)    They don’t like you; or

3)    Both.

Harsh, I know. But take a deep breath, settle your heart, and read on.

Because these are also the reasons why all our non-buyers don’t buy our art, too.

This is the harsh reality of all the endeavors we take up in the world.

There will always be someone who couldn’t care less. There will always be someone who is lukewarm about our work. There will always be someone who doesn’t like it, for all kinds of reasons, reasonable and unreasonable.

But there will also always be someone who loves it. Even if they can’t afford it, or have no room for it, or they aren’t at the point in their life when they can act on their love for it. It won’t matter how good you are, nor how bad we are.

So if someone tells you/lets you know they don’t care for your art, what is your reaction?

Some people get cold and huffy. Some act out on their feelings. There are groups on Facebook for creatives to vent their anger at ignorant, insulting, clueless, gross visitors at fairs and shows. It can be fun to read these stories, because it helps us see this is a pretty common phenomenon. We are NOT THE ONLY ONES who experience rejection, not just from galleries, or juried shows, or guilds/leagues, awards, etc.

But when the stories get toxic, it gets harder to read. Because artists also share their sharp retorts, their indignation, their snarky thoughts about those visitors.

It’s okay. I get it. I love to blort with the best of them.

But what happens is, this turns a potentially powerful human connection into a battleground.

It’s not necessary to get into that fight. In my blog series and eBook “How to Get People OUT of your booth”, I discuss how difficult people can be challenging. But there are diplomatic ways to circumvent their behaviors, ways that help get us to our happy place, so we can deal more effectively with the people who DO enjoy our work.

Because the worst thing that can happen when we “let loose” with anger and bile is this:

OTHER PEOPLE ARE LISTENING.

In encounters where someone has said something rude, mean, whatever, and I meet them with serenity (YES, the serenity is a facade, I’m seething underneath. I’M HUMAN, just like you) other people in my space come up to me after, and say something like, “I can’t believe how kind/patient/powerful you were with that person!”

They now know that even if THEIR question is “dumb” or unintentionally rude, they will still be treated with respect and kindness.

In other words, it is SAFE to interact with me.

When we eagerly jump on others who we believe are behaving badly, there’s a side effect: We contribute to the toxic environment ourselves.

I was lucky. Early on, I held back from “confronting” and “challenging” visitors who were less-than-enthused about my work, (and my writing.) I had the good fortune to live in the same region as Bruce Baker, a former nationally-acclaimed speaker about how to strengthen and improve our creative work on many levels: Booth display, jury slides, signage and customer relations. He drew from his own wisdom gained from doing shows and fairs, but also benefited from other like-mined, experienced artists who shared what had worked for them.

The trick is to anticipate the questions and comments that might trigger us (the flight-or-fight thing), and practice our best response to them.

Because if someone asks us what we consider a “dumb question”, or says something insulting (whether deliberate or unintentional), and we respond with our “fight” reflex, other people who DO like what they see, will think twice before asking their own questions.

Because once people have entered our booth, once they’ve had a chance to look at our work and decide they kinda like it, once they’re ready to talk, they do the thing that will determine where we both go from here:

THEY ASK A QUESTION.

Maybe they can’t afford it – yet. Maybe it won’t fit in their living room – yet. Maybe it creates yearning whispers of what it might be like to pursue their own work of the heart.

Yes, maybe they’re so clueless about “good booth behavior” that they bungle the question. We can get really good with that, if we are willing to change our own attitude, and meet them halfway. (Or 3/4 of the way!)

If we can do that, a door opens. There is an opportunity for a rich exchange of questions and insights, a chance to either a) inspire a sale, if they’re ready, or b) lay the groundwork for future sales. At the last show I did, the second one after a total flop the year before (5 attendees for the entire day, no sales), a customer approached me and declared, “I saw your work last year, and I COULD NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.” They bought a special item and companion piece for themselves, and pricey gifts for two friends. I could hardly operate my Square, I was so excited!

If I’d harbored resentment about the lack of attendance, if I’d sat around complaining within hearing of guests about the lack of sales, I could have squished that connection forever.

Instead I have a new collector who has already shared their love of my work with their friends, who may also consider buying my work. And share it with THEIR friends.

It all starts with staying calm. Leaning in. Curbing toxic assumptions and impulses. Staying focused on our work, the work we love, the work we make room for every day (if we can) in our lives.

If millennials are not your audience, let it go. We’ve shown that they have perfectly good reasons, just like ANY OTHER people who aren’t.

But if you are committed to blame them (especially for the reasons that are beyond their control, and NOT THEIR FAULT), believe me, they will know.

To all the people who commented with compassion and empathy, to those artists who (mostly) contacted me privately (I’m guessing because they didn’t want to expose themselves to criticism) who ARE MILLENNIALS, THANK YOU! Your experience either confirmed my research, experience, and thoughts, OR you were willing to reconsider what is going on. I’m grateful.

To all the people who disagree, please, as always, do what works for YOU. My advice and words are free, and therefore worth every penny you paid for it. :^)

Next week, I’m going to ask people whose work DOES sell for millennials, what has worked for them. Is it their style? Their subject matter? Their price points? Their willingness to engage and connect? I’ll do my best to collect the people who have already shared, and put that in the article for your convenience (and theirs.)

But I do want to leave you with this last story, which isn’t mine.

It’s my daughter’s.

First, both my kids were the inspiration for me to step up to the plate with my art. When my daughter asked if she could work booth with me at fairs, I agreed. It was a powerful shift in our relationship as she entered one of the most difficult part of her life.

She began her art collection with purchases from my fellow exhibitors, and continues to this day. You may find some valuable insights into millennials and their buying habits this Fine Art Views column from last March.

And here is the “spoiler” from that column:

“My daughter still wants something of beauty that came from another person’s hands, and heart, especially when she started to make and sell her own work.

As she browsed for an urn for the ashes of her stillborn child (Sam died 8 months into her pregnancy), she became frustrated with the same ol’ same ol’ look of them. Nothing felt personal enough, or fit the emotion of the event. When I suggested that a good friend who works with wood might make something especially for her, she lit up. (She found a maker on Etsy who resonated with her.)

This box will be in their home forever, and every time they see it, it will bring a bit of solace amid the sorrow. They may not know, or care to know, the story of the maker. But it holds their own story of this time, and that’s what matters.

I just spoke with my daughter again, and she added more about her purchase.

She wanted something unique, related to cherry blossoms, because that’s around the time of his birthday, when the cherry trees bloom here in Washington, D.C. She wanted wood because it’s warmer. She wanted something personalized and not mass-produced.

She wanted “something that fit us”, her and her partner.

There is appreciation for the maker, as it fits her needs as the collector.

The maker may have no idea of what my daughter and her husband were (and still are) going through.

When I hear people my age disparaging this age group, it breaks my heart.

And when I hear people with their own thoughtful, kind, compassionate, positive, uplifting experiences, my heart is healed.

So when you go to your studio today, when you make that time to do the work that is important to you, know that someone, somewhere, someone will be lifted up.

When you are discouraged because you can’t figure out why your art doesn’t sell, focus first on the fact that it uplifts YOU.

When you put it out into the world, know that someone, somewhere, needed to see it, for reasons we cannot even imagine.

And when you are healed, and share it, someone else will be healed too.

Next week, I’ll compile and curate the ways some of us have found a way to gain millennial collectors. There are some strategies that will work for some of us, but maybe not all.

My only goal was to encourage your heart to open up to new understanding, and new possibilities. To expand our rock-hard definitions and assumptions that not might only hurt others, but might also hurt ourselves.

And to echo the last words of that column I wrote, “So let’s open our hearts, and our minds, to these changes which time will bring.

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

Keep hope in your heart, and be open to new possibilities. And be patient with yourself, as we all navigate these new waters.

Art is part of us, no matter what it is, no matter where, or how, or when we find it. Online markets can be just as powerful as in-person encounters, if not more. (Many in this age group never even think about going to traditional art galleries. Yet.)

And I will hope ALL of our art, mine, and yours, will be “found”, someday, by the people who will love it and enjoy it for the rest of their lives.”

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from from my blog by subscribing (upper right hand corner of this page.)

HOW MUCH IS OUR ART WORTH?

My latest necklace series, featuring gems, semi-precious stones, and real pearls.

A reader left a comment on a recent blog post, and raised a good point about whether our art is affordable, (including mine), and offered their conjecture on why it might not be realistically priced.

I started to reply, but four paragraphs in, I realized it was another post!

Re: Your question about whether the price of our art reflects the artist’s personal desire to be of worth at the expense of getting their work out into the world, and into the hands of a admiring owner.

Welp, yes, both of your points are valid.

ANYTHING we buy reflects the time, the materials, and the quality of the object, whether it’s a BMW, or a pair of pearl earrings from Tiffany’s, or a head of organic lettuce.

ANYTHING we make will appeal to many who can’t afford it.

And yes, sometimes a maker’s price may seem based on nothing but their own thoughts, though my experience is that’s more true of “brand” name products. (See luxury items above.) (Okay, organic lettuce isn’t really a luxury brand. But some folks are willing to pay more for it, and some aren’t.)

As for your thoughts about artists over- valuing their own self-worth, some creatives get to the point where they have to raise their prices. Which is a good thing!

Say we price a painting at $2,000, which is pretty reasonable. If it’s framed, that’s included in the price.

If we sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take up to 50% of that income. (In NYC, just before 9/11, some elite galleries took 60% commissions, with less than half going to the person who made the item.) And we pay income tax on that sale, too.

If I sell online, it takes time to take good-enough images, time to edit and upload them, time to create a listing, and time to prepare the item for shipping. An unbelieveable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much time it took to calculate shipping for various-sized packages to potential customers half a dozen countries around the world. (Thank heavens for Etsy’s new automated shipping calculator!!)

We may rent studio space (I have to, in California, and studio rent is not cheap). If we participate in art tours, I have to cover the fees for that, and I need a business license, and often liability insurance.

If we do shows, we pay those fees, and expenses for traveling to shows. I did that for years. Some of those major shows cost upwards of $2,000 or more to enter. And that doesn’t include the time to get there and back, our hotel stay, our on-the-road meals, in my case, the cost of shipping my inventory and booth since I never had the right vehicle to transport them.) In 2008, I spent over $15,000 on three major shows across the country, and sold about $2000 worth of work. That’s when I stopped doing those shows.

We do our own marketing (photography, ads, design work for postcards, business cards, ads, etc,) or pay someone to do it. We often pay for workshops to get better at our work, and/or better at our marketing.

Now let’s say we have good sales, and eventually the demand exceeds the supply. We can only produce a finite amount of work in a year (unless we hire help, which is a whole nother can of worms.) That means we can increase our income gradually over time, doing the same amount of work and time, only by gradually raising our prices.

It’s not our own sense of self worth. It’s our audience’s sense of our worth.

I’ve been told my prices are too high since I started my art biz almost 30 years ago. I charged $18 for a one-of-a-kind handmade horse artifact pin. And some people complained it was too expensive. As I raised my prices over the years, the comments continued. And yet my sales stayed relatively the same.  Which tells me I have an audience, a small one, who will see its worth, and there will always be people who won’t pay my prices. I have to be okay with that.

Here’s the thing: I believe we simply can’t afford everything we like, and when we find something we like, we either recognize how unique it is–if we don’t buy that one piece, there will never be another exactly like it–and jump. (Which is why I offer layaway.)

Or we unconsciously look for reasons why we shouldn’t get it, such as price. This helps assuage our conscious about saying no. (I’ve done it myself.) There have been things I’ve jumped on, though I didn’t need another one, and the price was high. There have been lower-priced things that weren’t quite enough….and walked away.

I’ve had people with little income who find ways to collect my work, through trades, layaway, or buying a smaller piece.

I’ve had people who live in grand homes and drive pricey cars who say they can’t afford my work. (A lot of my work is still well below $100.) Of course, maybe that’s why they’re so rich! 😀

These aren’t inexpensive. Sterling silver, my handmade horse (tiny!), real pearls and gems and semi-precious stones, and a great deal of time getting the design just right.

Frankly, my work isn’t that expensive relative to the “real art world”. Very few of my major pieces barely even compete with the lowest prices of local painters.

The day a good friend sold a $10,000 piece the first day of an open studio tour but complained sales were flat the rest of the weekend, I had to clutch my coffee mug. I was so envious! And yet, it only took a few seconds to get my heart in the right place to congratulate them. They have skills, they have a terrific reputation for great work, and I love their work. They have found their audience, an audience that truly values their work, and I’m still building mine here in California. That’s all.

Knowing our worth is not a bad thing. And though some artists will over-charge for their work, it’s still up to each of us to determine if it’s worth it for ourselves. 

Now, as for getting our work out into the world:

I do that every day.

My art is hosted at my website, my Etsy shop, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked in, and sometimes Tumblr. Also in galleries in New Hampshire and here in California. I have open studios, and guests are always welcome in my studio. My work is often purchased and given as gifts, which I love, because someone sees something in my work they know someone they care about will truly appreciate.

And every single time I’ve felt desperate for sales, every single time I’ve broken my own rules and offered “a deal”, it’s felt awful. Like I’m selling myself short. And almost every time, the purchaser admits they could actually afford it, they just thought they’d try to dicker to see what happened. And I fell for it.

And every single time I’ve stuck to my guns, politely and with integrity, I’ve been rewarded with a sale, maybe down the road a ways, maybe with another buyer, but still worth it.

And yes, I’ve already had my work found at estate sales and yard sales for a very low price. At first that was a little daunting. But again, every time that happens, the person has loved it so much, they’ve tracked me down to find out more about me, written to tell me how much they love it, and sometimes even purchased another piece.

Some people do literally give away their work, to support causes they believe in, or to simply bring joy to others. I’ve given away work, though never to people who dicker or complain about the price, but to those who I know have been through hell and back, who need the gift of my work to help heal.

I give back in the ways I’ve mentioned, and also through my writing. Through this blog, and I’m a columnist for Fine Art Views. I share what I’ve learned as an artist with others for free. Here’s an interesting fact: When I first started writing a column for a fine craft magazine and other platforms, I made $350-$500 an article. Today I get $45 an article, if anything, and a free website (valued at $35/month. You do the math.

But I still write, because I have to. I have to get my art-and-life lessons out, to get clarity in my head and love in my heart. Also because every single time I publish, I get at least one person who said it was just what they needed to hear that day. So my writing is my (free or almost-free) labor of love.

The last way I get my art out into the world is also powerful.

When I have visitors, especially younger people and millennials (whose buying habits inspired this series of articles), I don’t twist arms to make sales. I let them explore my space, examine my work, hold my work, and read my signs about my inspiration, my insights, my hopes and dreams.

Most can’t afford my work. But for them, the conversation turns into something else.

I ask them about their own creative work. They share what makes them happy, and I encourage them to make room in their life for it, whether they can earn a living with it or not.

It can be painting, cooking, gardening, teaching, construction, singing, any activity that, when shared with the world, makes other people happy, and makes the world a better place. (I tell them my advice is worth every penny they paid for it.)

So it’s okay with me if someone can’t afford my work (in a nice way, I mean.) I get it. It’s okay if they believe my work is overpriced, too. It just may not be worth it to them. It’s okay if they believe I’ve inflated my prices because I have no idea of its real (less-expensive) value. (Well….kind of okay….!)

In the end, I do what I can, I do what I have to, and I do what I love. That’s the best we can do, and that has to be okay.

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.
When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

Times have changed. We can, too. If we choose.

(5 minute read)

Welcome back to the series that explores why our work may or may not appeal to millennials!

Again, for a less stressful reading experience, I’ve broken up articles in this series into pieces. But we’re getting pretty close the end of the series, so bear with me!

Last week, I wrote about our definitions of “real art” and “real artists”.  Along the way, some folks have shared their thoughts, especially the belief that for many reasons, millennials just don’t get “art” in the first place. So why bother?

I’m leaning in, because I’m willing to test my assumptions from time to time. I hope this is a way for others to do the same.

So, back to the definition of “real art”.

6)  What if we looked further afield at other forms of “real art”?

The term “visual arts” covers a lot of fields besides paintings. Photography and movies (technically “moving pictures”. Much fine craft approaches the standards of visual art, going beyond “functional” and verging on pure aesthetics.) I was mesmerized by the Bayeux Tapestry in college, and yes, it was in an art history class, not history. It is history retold in fiber, long considered “women’s work”, considered a craft, and not “real art”.

And “visual arts” goes beyond 2D work. There are the performance arts, theater arts, music, writing, etc. Even sports could be considered an art, as combat and competition have been with us since the dawn of time. (The Olympics, for example, inspired many Greek sculptures and Roman recreations.) I have friends who are deeply drawn, and moved, by opera. (I love “bits and pieces” but don’t have what it takes to sit through an entire opera. On the other hand, I attended a lot of rock concerts in the ‘70’s. Who knows, these may be “classical art” a thousand years from now?)

Who among us has not been moved to tears by a poignant song, a beautiful voice? How many movies have broadened our horizons and expanded our point-of-view? I’m guessing, most of us. Music, song, moving/movie art, are all art media that can be found in Ice Age cave art. I consider all of these “real art”.

Lastly –

7)  Not everyone can support themselves making art.

When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.

Art teachers, historically, got there because making a living with art was hard. Teaching is a way many artists get money to do what they love. Are they “less real”?

There are a slew of people in the world who make good money making music. There a bajillion more who won’t, and never will. Same with acting, singing, dancing, etc. The world is full of people who will never be famous, or rich, for their pursuit of art.

And yet they persist.

Why?

BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT.

They may eventually make it their avocation, pursuing it even though they will make less money over a job they are good at, that pays well, but aren’t passionate about.

Below that (respect-wise) are the amateurs. They know they will never make any money for what they do. But they can’t live without it.

The worst definition of “amateur” (especially today) suggests the person doesn’t care enough to get good at it. Even today, that’s true.

Except that our modern times have broadened the definition, moved that negative tone to third place.

“Amateur” now means, “for the love of doing, not money.”

If our society valued pursuit for love, if we were paid for the time and effort we put into the work that means everything for us, the work that we’re really good at, then preschool teachers (teaching arts), stay-at-home moms (care-taking art), home health aides (same), social workers (healing), etc., and us artists would make just as much money as rock stars, famous actors, surgeons (which I consider “healing art”), etc.

Yes, we need standards in all those fields. Training and certification certainly helps. Sometimes accredited education is mandated.

But standards, training, certification, college degrees, don’t necessarily guarantee us, their clientele and customers, satisfaction.

I don’t care how many years a surgeon spent in school, nor even what school they went to. I want to know how good their skills are, yes. I want them to know what they’re doing, and that they are who they say they are.

But I also want to know if they’re only interested in being a rock star in the operating room, or if they understand my needs, my issues, and what will work best for me. (For example, one surgeon talked me into getting a partial knee replacement. Now, two years later, I’m looking at a third surgery, for a full replacement, because it didn’t work out that well. Standard knowledge now says partials only delay the inevitable for a few years.) My time, my quality of life, and our budget has been deeply dented. That surgeon is a good one. But their need to be a rock star overrode my desire for this to be my last knee surgery.

I don’t care how amazing a film director is. If they have shown themselves to be a toxic person, all I can see in their work now are the tell-tale signs and hints of their abuse and power over others.

Again, this matters to some people, not to others. There is no single definition that will make us all happy. Only the one that will make us happy.

But there are ones that can be inclusive, uplifting, expansive, as opposed to strict borders, narrow definitions, and “the only way” to be a creative person in the world.

And artists? More on that to come, next week!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

LEARNING TO SEE

LEARNING TO SEE: An Art-Making Class with Kristina Wentzell

paintclassimageprimo

This story originally appeared on artist Kristina Wentzel as a guest post on her blog in June, 2014, the year we moved to California. Kristina and I organized our first city-wide open studio tour in Keene, NH. Working with her (and her skill sets!) was terrific, and I knew I was going to miss her. She had created a series of wine-and-vineyard-painting classes, and offered me a free session as a going-away gift. I learned more than I had expected. It was a good thing!

Last night I sat down to an easel for the first time in 45 years.

And I created a painting that I LIKED for the first time in my life!

How did I get here?? It’s a miracle!

I was part of Kristina Wentzell’s painting party at the “Art, Wine & Fun Night at Walpole Mountain View Winery” in Walpole, NH.

Kristina started these painting workshops awhile back. Known for her own vibrantly colored, cheerful landscapes and still lifes, she works with groups to introduce them to the pleasures of painting.

Kristina showed us how to recreate one of her original paintings-in this class, a view of a vineyard. (The best part of this class? You could look out the window in the sunroom/tasting room where we worked, and see similar mountains and vineyards!)

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina's painting!

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina’s painting!

She broke it down into a step-by-step process, guiding us all the way. When we were ready to get to work, we sat ourselves in the sunporch/tasting room, with gorgeous views of the vineyards on three sides. Easels were already set up and ready to go with a primed canvas, along with brushes (two), paint palettes (a paper plate with the eight colors we’d need) and a waterproof tablecloth (which was useful almost immediately!)

Here's where it all starts: Orange!

Here’s where it all starts: Orange!

Kristina showed a finished sample of her painting-the one we would recreate– along with versions of each step. As she explained each technique, she demonstrated on each appropriate sample painting.

We started with a light charcoal sketch, which allowed us to play with our compositions until we got one we liked. Then we mixed our first wash of color and painted over our sketched lines. We continued to mix the colors Kristina introduced, adding layer after layer of hues, moving into different areas of the canvas.

I do like my mountains!

I do like my mountains!

As we worked, Kristina came by with encouragement and suggestions. When I got stuck, she was right there, guiding me gently along. When I ran out of green (about three times!), her assistant Kat, a Keene State College art student, was right there with the paint tube.

Kristina 6

âKristina worked with everyone, to make sure no one felt left behind!â

The hardest part? I was surprised by what I thought would be the easiest step: Mixing colors. Kristina showed us how to work the pigments together, creating a little “mound” of color. It’s actually harder than I thought to mix pigments into such a small, neat “pile”. I tend to mush it all over, which not only takes up a lot of “real estate” on my plate, as Kristina put it, but also makes the paint dry faster. I believe I’m the only person who had to ask for an extra plate. The result was, I had to constantly stop to mix more color, which meant a subtly-different color mix each time. Hmmmmm⦠I’m gonna have to practice that! (See my n.b. at the end of this article for why that was kind of a bad thing….)

Still need to master the "little mound" method of mixing paint. I used up all my "real estate" on the plate, as Kristina put it

Still need to master the “little mound” method of mixing paint. I used up all my “real estate” on the plate, as Kristina put it

âI was graciously given a second plate. â

âI was graciously given a second plate.

The second hardest part? Like any work of creativity, what we make doesn’t look like much until we’re completely finishedIt’s important to keep that in mind at all times. It takes patience and confidence to accept each step as “what it is”, moving on to the next step, and the next. Until finally, we’re ready to tweak here and thereâ¦.and voila! A miracle! (Defined by my good friend Melinda LaBarge as a “change in perpective”.) Instead of cartoonish drawings and blobs of color, a lovely landscape emerges. And there is our finished painting. I carefully signed “LU” to the bottom corner, not trusting my skill at painting my whole name.

The beauty of this process is that I never felt I’d “screwed up”-at least, not irreparably so. Sometimes I made course corrections. Other times I shrugged and said, “No, it doesn’t look exactly like Kristina’s.”

Because it shouldn’t look exactly like Kristina’s! As each person bravely held up her piece, (and the admiring “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” started) it was so obvious to all of usâ¦.

We had all painted “the same thing” in a style that was uniquely ours.

All of our color choices were similar-but also very different. Some of us had limned gently rolling hills. Others had mountains that seemed to dance. Some of us had painted a soft sky, while others had skies that rolled and glowed.

We had all created a version of Kristina’s painting. And we had all created something very different and unique.

I like my trees....

I like my trees….

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

I’ve learned the power of good framing. Tomorrow I’ll mosey on down to Creative Encounters in downtown Keene. I know Karen Lyle and her staff will help me choose the perfect frame for this piece, at a price that’s affordable for me. It will join the other works in my collection of new and vintage landscapes, painted by talented professionals and eager neophytes. (Of which I’m firmly the latter.)

I had a wonderful evening out with delightful people. I sipped local wines, munched on incredibly delicious cheese and met up with old friends. I now own an original painting by Luann Udell for the price of a few good bottles of wine.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

And I came home with an incredible sense of accomplishment and joy. I have lost my own fear of painting. I’m not giving up my day job to become a painter. But I now see the attraction of the process. And I’m delighted with my modest results.

Thank you, Kristina!

(n.b. Later I wondered why my painting looked slightly garish, very vivid colors. That was another learning moment. The room we worked in had dim lighting, suitable for wine-tasting, perhaps, but not for painting. As the sun set, the room became darker and darker. So I unconsciously over-compensated for what I “saw”, and that’s what happened.

A small lesson in realizing what we “see” is not always “true”, nor the whole story. We have to consider the light. The circumstances. And our assumptions.

Later, I gave the painting to a sweet next-door neighbor on the Old West Side when we moved to our new rental home on the east side of Santa Rosa. She loved it!

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of a Real Artist

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of a Real Artist!

Maybe being a “real artist” isn’t a special, private club with high membership fees.

(5 minute read)

Continuing the series about why millennials don’t buy our art, and continuing last week’s column about why (or whether) millennials don’t appreciate or collect real art and real artists.

Some folks commented that young people today just don’t appreciate the hard work, commitment, and time it takes to get good at making our art. The words “real art” and “real artists” came up a lot.

I grew up with the belief that I could not be a “real artist” until I learned how to draw, how to paint, and until I obtained a degree or two in art.

When I couldn’t get into art school, my lifelong dreams were shattered. I was accepted into a couple of bona fide art schools, but I chose to go where my best friend, my secret crush, and my actual boyfriend went. And I couldn’t get in. I was allowed to take a few actual art classes.

But some teachers could be disparaging and quite critical of students. I was never one of the “favored few”. As a young person just out of high school, I did not have the backbone, the conviction, nor the talent to take that as a challenge.

Instead, I took it as a life sentence of “not a real artist”.

So, for those who did get into art school, and/or those who have independently taken workshops and classes along the way, I envy and also respect your determination, dedication, and persistence in educating yourself the expected way.

Except for the occasional dip into that pond, I had to find my own path.

So, here we go:

4)  Why is a “professionally trained” artist automatically worth more respect?

There are plenty of self-taught artists who have mastered their medium through practice and diligence. Not all artists can afford a college diploma, nor expensive art classes. I’ve always been baffled by CVs and resumes that list the well-known artists the person has studied under. Either I don’t know them, or I don’t see that artist (the one writing the CV) is that much better than someone who studied under someone less well-known. To me, it means the artist had the time and money to take workshops. Some artists restrict their teaching to artists who are already “good enough”. Many don’t. I admire everyone who has found a way to get better.

And not everyone who puts that time, money, and effort into getting better, actually does get better. Hard to accept, but true. Even if they do get better, that doesn’t necessarily mean the connection of the art to an audience is actually stronger. I have bought artwork that is “primitive” in nature (although “primitive” doesn’t automatically mean “not as good”, see #4) because it spoke to me. For me, it’s not just about skill. It has to resonate with me on a level I may not even be able to verbalize. (In fact, this is a quality a well-respected psychiatrist shared with me about why they collect my own work.)

Also, some media are easier to practice than others. They may be easier to master. But as in my case, that “less respected because it’s easier” may also simply fit the nature of the artist themselves. I loved doodling, but hated drawing from life. I hate, hate, hated painting.

I loved shaping things with my hands. I loved the ability to go back and correct errors, to see where the shape-less lump of clay could go, if only I did this instead of that. And I loved not having to buy a kiln, try to find a safe place where it could fire, to unpack the kiln after firing and realizing the glaze did something vastly different than I intended. (My father-in-law took up ceramics late in life. Mastering the glaze was his major challenge. And when that glaze took a surprising turn-for-the-truly-interesting, he was frustrated by his inability to recreate it decades later.

That would have driven me nuts. Polymer clay met my personality, my nature, and my intentions much better than earth clay.

That’s why I constantly rail (as one commenter has said) that ranking media is a simplistic way to approach the question “Which medium is best?” The better question is, “Which medium is best for you?”

Next comes an even harder question:

5)  So who is a “real artist”?

We all have our definitions, and these reflects mine:

“I learned that an artist is not necessarily someone who has studied art, but one who has something to say, and has the courage to say it. I learned that an artist is someone who makes art in order to save her life”

                                                        –Marlene Azoulai

“If you bring forth what is within you what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” –Jesus, from the Gnostic Teachings.

Your mileage may differ, of course.

To continue our discussion, check in next week with the third part of this originally very long article about real art and real artists.

Remember you are entitled to your own opinion, and this advice is worth every penny you paid for it!

In fact, it’s not even “real” advice. Just an opportunity to challenge our assumptions that hopefully will lead to a happier place in our life with our art.

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!

What do vocation, avocation, and amateur have in common? Artists. Period.

(5 minute read)

Continuing with my series on why people (millennials, but maybe other age groups, too?) don’t buy our art.

Thank you for leaning in on this series. So far we’ve covered the realities of this age group’s finances, home size (e.g., can they afford one, or have a small one?), how dissing the younger generations has been a thing for thousands of years, and why, if they really don’t have an appreciation for real art, it isn’t their fault.

Some of the comments revealed that some millennials DO have an appreciation for art. The artist either incidentally developed a style that appeals to millennials, or they simply don’t like our aesthetic, or they love it and can’t afford it. In fact, their strategies matched my own in my youth: They buy it from antique stores or thrift shops, or trade their own work for someone else’s. Or, if they are fortunate to have an artist for a parent, they will treasure that work. (Note that one commenter has three children of millennial age, and all three vary in their approach to art.)

But other comments built a case that very few people understand a) the importance of “real art”, nor b) appreciate what goes into “real art.”

Young people don’t understand the importance of composition, the artist’s chosen medium, technique, etc. They believe this is a massive change in our culture.

That is probably true. But is it really a “massive change”?

And if it is, so what?

First, there is no magic period in history where everyone treasured “real art”. For hundreds (thousands??) of years in Europe, there wasn’t even a middle class. People were “nobles” who could afford almost anything, and there were serfs, laborers, people who had skills but worked for a noble family, aka “peasantry.” Depending on which continent you lived on, a “middle class” didn’t develop until at least the 1700’s in Europe, and the early 1800’s in America.

As cities grew and industrialization spread, people in the trades expanded their audience outside of patronage by a lord (or pope, in the case of Michelangelo.) They were not as wealthy as nobility, but they had discretionary income.

As for art education, even public schools were only in place much later:

“When Horace Mann launched the public school movement in the 1830s and 1840s, he argued that public education would make the people better workers, and that drawing, which he wanted to include in the curriculum, had commercial applications.”

Did you catch the primary benefit?

To make people better workers. Ow.

So people who appreciate “real” art, outside of rich and famous people, is a relatively new thing.

My thoughts:

1)   What is the value of “real art”?

Jason Horjes came to the rescue on this one, in his recent post, about his favorite response for potential customers who want to know the investment value of art:

“I encourage collectors to buy art because they love it. If you buy a piece that you love, it will pay dividends to you every day for the rest of your life!”

2)  What is “real art”?

Real art. When that comes to mind, what do you see?

Painting? Sculpture, maybe? Starting in Greece, maybe, around 1000 BC.? (If memory serves, the Lascaux cave might have been considered beautiful, but not art-for-art’s-sake, as it was believed to be “hunting magic.” And the chapter following that in my art history texts was pretty small until we hit the Greeks.)

Now, painting. Acrylic paint? Or just oil paint? When acrylic paint showed up, it was denounced as “not real paint”, and considered inferior to oils. Drawing (cave art, anyone?) and watercolor (created in the late 18th c.) have always been considered not as valuable, though the Masters used them, too. Cave art is also “just chalk”, so pastels are considered further down on the scale of value. So, our current assessment of the value of a medium is not based on history or age.

Sculpture? As I’ve said many times, stone and cast bronze are easy winners. But a potter told me years ago, “If I create a clay sculpture, it’s considered “craft”. If I have it cast in bronze, it’s considered “real art.”

Last, some comments on the introduction to this series spoke negatively to the practice of “young people today” buying “cheap, shlocky reproductions and prints” from places like Ikea and Target.

Most of that artwork starts out as work by real people. They’ve found a way to make either work that appeals to a wide variety of people, or they’ve been willing to work with these companies to sell mass copies of their original work.

Does that make them “less than” a real artist?

Or just someone who’s very savvy about creating a different income stream for their work?

And sometimes these monolith companies find ways to work with local artists in ways that benefit both. Just like most of us, young people may collect massively produced artwork editions until they can afford, or appreciate, the unique appeal of original art.

3)  Why do we expect people to understand it on every level?

I am not knowledgeable about many forms of art, because I never practiced them. I didn’t practice them because they didn’t “fit” with how I work. I have bought art without even know what the medium is, I know people whose pastels and colored pencil works are astonishing, much better than some more-respected media. They are just as hard to master, and even harder to sell at a good price.  And in all my years of studying art history, I never saw a “quality chart” on medium.

I also value work not based on its medium, but on whether it resonates with me. Is it a subject matter I care about? Is it an artist I care about, that I can support (in a small way) with my purchase? (I can’t afford work above a certain price range, and I have no more room for big art.) Is it for a cause I care about? Does it fill in spaces in my collection?

As for whether everybody “should” value our work, here’s my reality:

Creative work of all kinds have an audience. And yet that work may not appeal to everybody.

I do not appreciate restoration and collection (curating??) of antique cars. Cool? Yeah. But not my thing. And not for a lot of other people, too. But it’s still “real”.

I love music. Almost everybody loves music. But not everyone appreciates the music I like, and I don’t appreciate “all music”. I’m betting neither do you. (Don’t worry, I’m not going there today!) :^D

I love to read. But I may not like the same authors, topics, genres, etc. that you do. In fact, some people don’t even like to read. I may not understand it, but I know that’s true.

And that’s okay.

To avoid reader burn-out, the rest of this article will appear next week, continuing the discussion about whether millennials appreciate “real art” and “real artists”.

In the meantime, as always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

REASONS WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART #3: “They Know Nothing About Real Art!”

Continuing on with our examination of the reasons why “young people today” don’t buy art.
Continuing on with our examination of the reasons why “young people today” don’t buy art.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

REASONS WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART #3: “They Know Nothing About Real Art!”

So….whose fault is THAT?!

(8 minute read)

Continuing on with our examination of the reasons why “young people today” don’t buy art.

This reason came up over and over in the comments section to my original post in this series. “Young people don’t appreciate art!” “Young people don’t care about art, all they care about are their smartphones!” “Young people didn’t have art in school, and now they don’t even like it.” And on and on.

And my response bounces from “yes” and “no.” And “Whose fault is that?”

My daughter brought this up during my visit earlier this year. She said, “That’s not true! We still had art in school, but a lot of kids don’t anymore.”

When I thought back, I realized I myself didn’t get much art in school. In the elementary grades, it was mostly simple paper craft projects, or drawing, gluing, poster paints, etc. In fact, during my high school years, when I thought for sure I would get some “real” art training, we had a budget crisis. I got to make one clay sculpture in class, and the kiln blew up. (No, not because of me.) (I don’t think.)

My art teacher also coached women’s gym classes and later, women’s sports. (Title IX was enacted in my last year in high school. Which is why I never played sports. Because there weren’t any sports for women until it was too late for me.) Art was understandably secondary for my instructor. They did the best they could, but there certainly wasn’t much money for a new kiln, paint and brushes, nor even good quality drawing paper.

I certainly don’t remember any art history classes while I was in grade school, though I did major in art history in college.

Oddly, though, we probably studied about, oh, four women artists in those classes? Even in college? In all? And certainly no artists of color. In fact, one professor suggested those of us intending to do museum work, or other art history careers, focus on Africa because the field was almost non-existent. It was “wide open territory” for art history folks.

So even though I have wanted to be an artist since I was very young, I didn’t get to practice it, nor study it, nor even see many women who were considered “real  artists, in studies covering over 17,000 years of art history.

In fact, when my daughter was in elementary school in the ‘90’s, I was asked to volunteer and provide “artist presentations” for the school. I had just taken up the reins of my own art career, after feeling for decades I simply wasn’t “good enough”. I thought this would be fun, sharing my own experience and journey, and sharing my own work.

So I asked if I could talk about my art journey.

The response was, no, we want them to learn about real art (boy, I’m beginning to hate that modifier). So, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, Michelangelo, etc.

I declined politely, saying I wasn’t interested in giving lectures on dead white European male artists. Flippant, I admit, and I apologize to those who are offended.

But it was true. Still is.

And yet, none of this—the vacuum, the lack of women in art, the lack of materials, exposure to art, the lack of a portfolio (which resulted in me not being accepted into art school at the time), none of this prevented me from appreciating art, nor did it prevent me from becoming an artist myself.

It won’t prevent young people today from that either. It may delay them, set them back, as it did me.

But if I found my own way there, they will, too.

Not only that, if there aren’t many schools focusing on art today, whose fault is that? Certainly not theirs (millennials.)

They did not vote on their school budgets, they do not create the coursework for their classes, and they don’t set the curriculum for their school years.

Our local newspaper ran an article recently about a group of artists, all volunteers, who come into schools and share their own art, their art journey, and why they are passionate about art. Because if we think millennials had a lack of art exposure, it’s even worse today.

My first thought: This is the kind of program that makes art truly “real” for young folks.

My second thought: Why aren’t more artists doing this??

Last, a triggering photo made the rounds of the internet at least twice in the last decade. It showed three girls sitting on a bench at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at their phones. As you can imagine, it set off a tsunami of comments, shaming them for being among some of the greatest artwork we’ve ever known and ignoring it.

It turned out to be something else. (I love the most popular headline: “Bette Midler asked, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ The answer was universal: nothing.”)

Their class was visiting the art museum. The girls were reading about the artists. The article continues, “The image she shared is similar to one that inspired the same debate in 2016. In it, a group of schoolchildren are tuned into their phones, backs turned to Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Critics at the time called it a “metaphor for our age.”

It was later suggested that the kids were using the museum’s app to complete a school project.

Critics at the time of “young people today” called it a “metaphor for our age.” It literally is. Ironically, though, not as the disparagers meant.

Our assumptions are just that: They are based on what we think we see, and what we think we know. We all do it.

Unfortunately, assumptions are just that: Assumptions. Assumptions like these can be toxic. They don’t build bridges, they don’t fix our sales, they won’t do anything except keep us in a place of righteous indignation.

I get it. I do. My sales have gone downhill, and continue. When we are dispirited, when we despair about art sales, when it feels like the world doesn’t want our art, it’s normal to blame the world.

The problem is, that will be apparent if we meet younger people with that expectation, that assumption, in our hearts. Yes, people can tell when you disrespect them.

And it won’t change a darned thing to help our sales.

It simply makes us feel better. “It isn’t our fault!” we tell ourselves.

Of course it’s not our fault. But it isn’t theirs, either.

And frankly, how many people our age hang that kind of art in our homes anyway? The “real art” of the great masters.

Very few. The only way we could (since most museum art is donated by wealthy patrons, who originally bought at auction for millions of dollars), as most of us can’t afford those originals, are reproductions.

The only pieces of art in my childhood home were a pair of reproductions of Chinese art, and a reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” Original art was not an option (where would we have found it?) nor affordable, and not actually valued anyway. (They did have one still life a friend painted, because they wanted to support her efforts, though they also seems a little lukewarm about it. Like they’d done a “nice thing” for her. At least it was cheap!)

I loved those works, though. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I learned (from a much older friend) that original art can bring just as much (if not more) joy than a reproduction, and often for not much more money. “Original” in the sense of going to local galleries and art fairs, and buying from a living, breathing artist whose work I loved. It was the beginning of my art collecting, and I know it will never completely stop until I do. (More on reproductions in the series ahead.)

My question today for you is, how do you connect “young people today” with your art?

Does it deal with topics they find relevant? (They are very big on climate change, for example.)

If it’s a “souvenir” of their travels, do you offer affordable prints? Or smaller works? (One person shared this last week, that many younger people DO seek mementos of their visits this way.)

If you do see them captivated by one of your works, do you proceed to lecture them about it?

Or do you ask them what drew them to it, and respond to what’s speaking to them. Do you engage them to explore who THEY are before you expound on who YOU are? (Actually, this is useful for ALL artists.)

If art is no longer taught in your school district, what can you do about that?

Are you creating opportunities to volunteer in schools, in local art classes, in local youth art organizations? There are quite a few here in Sonoma County, they are always welcome in my studios, and I’ve learned a lot by interacting with them.

Do you offer classes to a wide variety of age groups? I overheard a young artist talking to one of their even younger students a few months ago through the wall that separates our studios. I was fascinated by how animated their conversation was, how encouraging the artist was, how enthused their student was. Thought-provoking!

Do you have other ideas and suggestions for sharing our love of art with a newer, younger audience? Please add it in the comments section. It will help us all!

As always, if you enjoyed this series, you can find more in the Fine Art View archives share it with your friends and family. You can also send it to someone else who might find it happened. And if you received this from someone else and like it, sign up for like this at my blog.