First, a shout-out to other artists for sharing their experiences and insights, which have led me through many dark places in my artistic life.
I mean, not the unasked for opinions and advice-giving. Nor the people who “know better” on how I should make/what I should make. Trust me, I got this. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, what a ‘good’ challenge is and what isn’t, etc.
One terrific game-changer was insights for open studios and art events, on how to respond to the questions we get asked, over and over and over again.
Some of my personal favorites are gathered in my columns Questions You Don’t Have to Answer.
Bruce Baker, a jewelry artist and gallery owner, was also a great workshop/educator back in the day. I listened to his highly-informative tapes (then CDs) on my way to fine craft shows. (Looks like his podcasts might still be available at this CraftCast website.)
One of my favorite topics consisted of how to respond in a courteous, professional, and kind, compassionate way when booth or studio visitors ask those common questions.
Too often, we make assumption about people’s intentions. We can respond with frustration, exasperation, even anger and resentment. Or just as bad, making their question into a joke that turns back on them. (“How long does it take you to make that?” “It took me 40 years to make that!” Ugh.)
I’ve been the recipient of such rudeness, when I asked an artist a question about their work: Were these items wood or metal? (Not allowed to touch, no information about the work, terrible artist statement, etc.) How was I to know they got asked that question all the time? They gave me a disgusted look, crossed their arms, and turned their back to me.
I left without buying the artwork I’d had my eye on. Did not want that energy in my home.
Bruce expanded on the example. “How long…?” His take? We assume people want to know how much money we’re are making an hour. Maybe. (Many customers don’t realize we have to base our retail price on what the item’s wholesale price will be.) But one day, when someone asked him that question, he responded with, “People ask me that all the time. Why do you ask?” And the person responded with, “I’ve always wanted to pursue a craft myself, and now I have the time to do so. So I was just curious what that part of your life is like?” IOW, “what is it like to be an artist, to make this work? Can I do this? Will I ever be this good at it??”
That’s not a put-down. It’s a conversation-opener! I’ve had a lot of people collect my work because they love it, they like/respect me, and my work reminds them of me encouraging them to do the work of their heart. (They may also be delighted to sign up for my introductory classes I hope to offer next year!)
And of course, when something is as time-consuming as my work is, when I share that process, they almost always go into jaw-dropping mode. They have even more respect for what I put into it to achieve the results I want.
Another way to respond to common question is to make a sign. Bruce mentioned this in his CDs, and it work! I have lots of signs in my studio, ranging from “Where do you get your fabrics?” to “Why do you have so many sticks??” Some people read them, some people don’t. But depending how busy I am, how crowded my studio is (pre- and hopefully post Covid!), and how much brain capacity I have available, I can go into story-telling mode or direct them to the appropriate sign.
So here’s where you can help me today. Because I constantly get this particular question in my studio, in every single studio I’ve ever had:
“Do you actually do any WORK in here??”
Of course, I respond politely and cheerfully, and acknowledge, “Yeah, I get asked that a lot!” and point out my work surfaces, etc. I do have a lot of finished work on display. My work has always sold slowly (but steadily, so yeah, it can look like a “store”.) (I prefer “gallery”, of course!)
But during my last open studio, I actually dialed down on visitors. First because Covid rates were sky-rocketing again. Partly because I’m traveling to see my brand-new grandson soon, and Covid is a “gift” I don’t want to give to him. And also because I was invited to be in not one, but two gallery shows. Work was to be delivered a few days after the open studio event was over. I had to hunker down and finish some of the new shrine series I’ve been working, to meet those deadlines.
So the first day I had visitors, I was at one of my workstations, actively finishing two shrines: Painting, mounting tiny sculptures, labeling, etc.
And one person turned to me and said, “Do you actually do any WORK in here??”
I am a human bean. My first instinct was to scream, “What the h*** do you think I’m doing right now?!”
Instead, my usual response. Laugh, say yes, I do all my work in here. Here are my tools, here’s my equipment, here’s a work-in-progress, etc.
Next time, I gonna take Bruce’s advice, and ask them why they ask.
Til then, I’m curious: Do people ask you this, too?
If so, do you have a friendly, welcoming response?
(NOT what you would read in the Facebook group, “S*** Overheard at Art Festivalss”, which may feel satisfying, but can also shut down a conversation with a visitor who could be a real customer someday. Even if someone really means to be an a**h***, remember: Other people are listening, and we do not want to make them afraid to ask what might be a “stupid” question.)
Send me your commments, I’d love to hear them! One request: No snark, no sarcasm, no making fun of the person who asks.
And I will also take my own advice, and make a sign.
And now for the ‘ifs’…..
If you know someone who might enjoy this, pass it on!
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10 thoughts on “YES, COMMON QUESTIONS NEED GREAT ANSWERS! (Need Your Help Today)”
We just had the village’s first face-to-face Art Trail post-Covid lockdown. Art Trail in our village is a collective of artist studio open days, where you can visit the studio (often attached to the artist’s home) for a few hours once a month. While you don’t often see the artists in the middle of the creating process, it can happen. You can often see works in progress and talk to the artist about the creating process.
I like to see the creative space, it gives me a closer connection to the artworks and the artists themselves. Yes, I’m sure there are often silly questions, or repetitive ones, but people go to the open studios because they’re interested, at least a little. And who knows what can spring from that interest?
Thank you for your patience, wasn’t able to leave comments due to travel/computer issues. YES, you are spot-on, people who visit our studio are intrigued, curious, perhaps even yearning to find their own creative outlet (or validation that the work of their heart is creative work, too.) So glad you chimed in today!
Laugh and say, “Yes! Can you BELIEVE t? I always feel energized when I’m surrounded by all of my tools–it’s like their energy flows straight into my heart, head. and hands! Isn’t that just wonderful? It’s my version of a tool bench!”
I’d love to have an open studio at my workshop, but as it’s upstairs, in our home, it’s a no-go. I did my first ‘large/professional’ fair this weekend. Nervous, but fun, and a different sort of fair to my usual, in that it was themed. (https://www.stitchfest.co.uk/) So everyone going was keen on yarny things (spinning / weaving / knitting / crochet / felting) – I was there with my #HookerRing and of course the rest of my shinies.
All the questions were different; because everyone was a creative person or attending with someone they loved who was creative. And as always, spending the time to chat with someone resulted in a positive experience for me – even though one other stall holder came over after I’d spent about 15 minutes with just the one customer who wanted to ask me about all my processes and all my different tings – sterling, silver clay, stone setting, etc – asking ‘did she buy anything after all that?’.
I don’t think that stall holder quite understood that it’s not about closing a sale on the day for me – it’s about someone feeling that they have had a connection, learning something, and then they go away with a card and hopefully will return online, or share their positive experience – and yes, she did buy something, and yes, I did sell more than that stall holder!
Yes I have had these comments too,especially about my miniature scenes.(I create in quarter scale and 1/144″ scale.) One woman said it was nice I had a hobby.(SIGH) I tried not to react negatively. When asked how long it takes,I often reply that the beginning concept is easy, but creating final details can be very time consuming.A lot of people assume I buy the tiny furnishings,so I let them know I have to make them. Lately I have been creating fairy tale books that slide open to show a house scene. These books are about 2″ tall. One man said he wanted to see if I was cross eyed. I assured him I am fine. I think people simply have no clue how much work is involved with creative expression. Asking them questions in return can help, and remembering they made some effort to see our work helps too. Also they may tell others about what they have seen.
Best wishes on your unique and clever creative journey!
Elizabeth, thank you for your patience, I wasn’t able to access my blog for almost a week, and missed your wonderful insights. Bruce Baker did suggest creating a sign for the information to a question that drives us nuts. They do help! But I’ve also learned there are people who want to ask ME and don’t even see the signs. Then there are people who don’t want me to talk to them until THEY are ready to talk, who truly appreciate the signs. (And those same people will be listening to us when someone ELSE asks that “stupid question”. If we respond with anger, frustration, even sarcasm lightly disguised as “humor”, they will hesitate to ask THEIR questions.) Because I’m a writer, I love creating signs. And because I’ve learned to “learn from their questions”, as you have done, I got better at answering them. You are spot on in your experience, and how you’ve handled that. Good on you, and thank you for sharing!
I’ve never had an open house in my studio. I am a weaver and my studio is in my home. I have a spare bedroom with a small desk and chair plus 3 large looms. I have to slide one loom over to weave on another. There is just enough room to move around and I try not to put on weight! Plus there’s lots and lots of yarn, books and tools.
When friends come over I get the equivalent of “do you actually do work in here?” It is a friend not a customer so we just laugh. But if a customer asked, perhaps the response would be somethings along the line of “this is the kind of place I feel comfortable and inspired to work in. Some people like a clear open space for their comfort and inspiration. I admire that greatly but discovered it only makes me feel restless and empty. It doesn’t help me create. I need to see “everything” for the ideas to come and I feel comfortable in this kind of space.”
I absolutley love this, Stephanie, thank you for sharing! And you are spot on, when my workspace is totally “clean”, I don’t want to muss it up. And that means nothing new can come in. I feel a “sign” coming on!
My workspaces are often similarly cluttered (for any kind of work – art assemblages, jewelry, writing). But I love being surrounded by possible elements for my next work. And I remember what one art-doll maker said, about her fabrics being in piles on the floor, that color and pattern combinations jump out at her in a way they never would if it was all neatly organized!
A beautiful way to look at, and exactly how I work! You’ve also made me realize: I don’t know if people ask me that because I have so much finished work on display, or if my work surfaces are so…..dense. I’m gonna ask the next person who asks me that question!