(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.
Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!
We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.
Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”
Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”
True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”
The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.
And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.
Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”
So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?
First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.
Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”
And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”
So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.
If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.
And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.
You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”
Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!
Here’s what’s worked for me:
First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”
(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)
In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.
I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)
The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)
At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)
Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.
Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.
Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)
Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.
Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?
Because that isn’t really what people are asking.
Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…
I have a vision.
I have a story.
I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.
I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.
My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?
The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.
After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?
So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?
What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?
What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?
What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?
Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.
Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.
Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.
Find a way to welcome these younger visitors to your work, your vision, and the world of art. It pays off for everyone.
I had an open studio last weekend, a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.
I spent the week before clearing clutter, arranging and pricing new work,dusting (I decided to call it ‘patina’ instead), in preparation. True to form, I was also making new work up to the day before. I get my best ideas with the pressure of a deadline!
There are two things I did/didn’t do that may astound you.
I DON’T offer refreshments for visitors in this studio.
I DO provide small gifts for children, and encourage them to touch my work.
You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine. The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holy, one artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.
I quit offering food in my show booth because I don’t need it anymore. It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping the wife’s purchases. But now, instead, when I greet visitors, I tell them it’s okay to touch the work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else.
So why do I welcome kids in my art space?
Because it is an act of generosity, compassion, good will, and education. And it’s the best gift I can offer visitors, especially those who are new to my work.
First, welcoming kids means you are also welcoming their parents, or grandparents. Few places accomodate kids. Find a way to do that, and you’ll earn the undying gratitude of their accompanying grown-ups.
Second, being open to kids lets the grown-ups actually shop. If not today, then when the kids are older.
Third, the peace of mind you create in your space expands to all your booth/studio visitors. When others hear you giving permission to engage, they relax, too.
Finally, the education bit. Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.
I cannot tell you how many creative people tell me that “people don’t appreciate fine art/fine craft” anymore. Or how “schools don’t teach that appreciation to young people anymore.”
I’m baffled by this. When did regularpeople ever appreciate fine craft or art?? I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.
When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing and paper mache and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations, there was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teacher simply didn’t have the time for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (She was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year.) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go. I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as “home ec” and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.
We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade and fine art. People can easily find craft and art online. It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.
So who will teach the art-makers of the future? Who will share the vision, and encourage the connection for the collectors and admirers of tomorrow?
When we engage people with our work, we share something powerful. Inspiration, artistic vision, professional goals, our process, our materials (and why we choose them) are ways to educate (gently), connect (authentically), and encourage our audience to buy and collect handmade. People are genuinely hungry for this.
I get that not all work is touchable, or safe for young ones to handle. I’m fortunate that my artifacts are sturdy. In fact, their touchability is a strong selling point, too. But we’re creative people. We should be able to come up with ideas that work.
I have several. I keep a box of shiny, pretty beads on hand. I’ll ask young ones to pick one, and then offer to make a necklace for them, using inexpensive cording and slip knots.
I keep some samples of animal artifacts on hand, too. I’ll ask a youngster if they’d like to hold a bear or a horse (or a bird or a fish). They’re so unnerved, they’re usually speechless, but also intrigued! I let them hold the animal while their parents look around, and retrieve it when they leave. Parents are so grateful!
I freely hand out business cards with images of my work on them, or old show postcards. Again, a well-appreciated gift, and also a reminder of their visit to my space.
Touch is such a compelling instinct for all humans, not just young ones. So much so that Bruce Baker, noted speaker on professional development skills for artists, advises, if your work is too delicate to touch) having a sample of your work on hand that is touchable, even for grown-ups: A sample of the handmade paper you work with for people to stroke, or a piece of the roving you turn into handspun yarn. For fine 2D art, perhaps a scrap of paper with a bright daub of paint on it, or the experimental work you made to figure out color mixes, cut up into pieces for them use as a book mark.
Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block.
At the very least, try business cards featuring images of your work. Moo is an online printing company that offers small business cards. They cost more than other brands (watch for their sales!), but you can customize them to the point where you can order 100 cards with 100 different images of your work. So cool to say to a child, “Would you like a picture of a bunny, or a bird?”!
It’s worth brainstorming about how other art and craft media could be presented in small samples or even inexpensive “gifts” to kids. I’d love to hear your current strategies, ideas, and suggestions in the comment section!
P.S. I can’t seem to post images in the comments section, but I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth! Send your pics, and I’ll add them!
My nephew is getting married today in Chicago. He’s the first grandchild in our family, and the first one to get married, too. I wanted to be there.
(This is a long shaggy dog story about poor customer service, so if you’re not in the mood, just scroll down to the last few paragraphs.)
So I spent hours researching flight schedules and ticket prices. Found a great deal on Spirit, non-stop (bonus!) and acceptable times. (We live two hours from various airports, so 6 a.m. flights are not an option….)
I made my sisters & sisters-in-law (old and new) jewelry two days before. I went over my wardrobe the night before. I packed my bags, got a good night’s sleep, and printed out my boarding pass.
In hindsight, maybe I should have foreseen where this was all heading when I realized I had to pay an extra $70 to carry on ONE bag ($35 each way.) And to ensure an aisle seat (knee surgery last month, remember?), I had to pay an extra $20. So the “bargain fare” was beginning to look less and less like a bargain.
Oh, well. It was worth it, right?
We left for the airport with my husband in good time to catch my flight.
My husband dropped me off at the terminal for Spirit, and that’s where the real fun began.
I had a mental hiccup–do you have to check in if you already have your boarding pass? I asked one of the “line helpers” at a neighboring airline.
“You with United? No? You have to go over there for Spirit.” I told him it was a pretty generic question, but he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t “his” customer, so he just insisted I go somewhere else. Of course, I realized after one quick look at the ticket kiosk that I was all set. As I walked away, he followed me, saying repeatedly, “Miss! Did you get the answer to your question? Can I help you?” Well, thank you for the help–NOT.
I went through one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen, with a nervous gentleman behind who kept trying to nudge me forward or snake around me. He finally succeeded in doing so, only to be pulled from the line to be searched. HA!
I found my gate and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.
Finally, one of the other passengers went up to ask what was going on. Guess what? Our flight was cancelled. When were they going to announce it? In a little while. Why? There was bad weather in Chicago (which I found out later was not so bad and didn’t last long.) Our flight was not delayed, or rescheduled. Just cancelled. There would be no rebookings til the next day, in the afternoon. AFTER the wedding.
A bunch of us tried to find a new flight, but it was difficult. I realized I’d be arriving very late, if at all, and exhausted (still recovering from surgery, not much stamina.) I decided to just get a refund and go home. I’m glad I did, because I saw the other passenger two hours later, still trying to rebook her flight with another airline, with no success.
I called the hotel to cancel my reservation–I only had a couple hours before a penalty fee would kick in. I was put on hold several times. The agent asked for my confirmation code eight times. (No exaggeration.) She kept asking when I would be arriving. I kept reminding her I was cancelling. She kept putting me on hold to “check with a supervisor.” After being kept on hold for 10 minutes, I hung up and used my smartphone to cancel the reservation on their website. It took me one minute.
I decided to have lunch while waiting for Jon to come pick me up. I went to the only restaurant outside the secured area. I asked the man at the cash register if it was self-serve or table service. (It looked like both, and I wanted to be served.) “We have table service,” he said. “Sit anywhere!” I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. After fifteen minutes, (and after several larger groups were seated after me, and waited on before me), I decided to just get a salad to go and eat it in the hallway. I picked a packaged salad and waited at the cash register. And waited. And waited. Near me were a group of waiters chatting. I waited about five minutes, then turned and walked out. As I walked out, one of them ran after me, saying, “Miss, can I help you? Miss! Did you want something??”
I got a quick sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts. (I was desperate.) Jon soon arrived, and we started home.
We decided to stop in Jaffrey and eat at a very nice inn. It was lovely. We sat on the screened-in porch and watched the world go by.
After a few minutes, I left to go use the restroom. Jon said it was kind of hidden, and to just ask one of the staff. After wandering through a few rooms, I saw a waiters station with three staff members talking. I waited til I caught the eye of one of the waiters and said, “Can you tell me where the restroom is?”
And he said, “Yes.”
I waited. He waited. I waited. He waited.
I know he thought he was being funny. I know he didn’t know I’d already had a 10 hour day full of waiting, disappointment, rude and pompous air terminal employees, and a long, hot drive still ahead of us. I know it was a joke.
Unfortunately, I was in no mood.
I turned around and walked out.
Of course, he came chasing after me. “It was a joke, I’m so sorry, the restroom is right there!”
We finished our meal, paid and left.
On the way home, I thought about the day’s events.
I wanted to be at that wedding. I tried hard to be at that wedding.
It’s nobody’s fault that I can’t be there, but it’s certainly not mine. All day long, I dealt with people who were paid to serve me, paid to assist me, paid to give me excellent customer service.
Very, very few of them did.
At one of the fanciest restaurants in the region, I was humiliated. I just wanted to know where I could pee. I politely asked a paid employee for assistance. All he had to do was point and say, “Right there” and I would have been content. Instead, at the end of a very long, exhausting day, I was made the butt of his little joke.
In fact, the best customer service I received that day was from the two cheerful, accommodating women at Dunkin’ Donuts. They were making minimum wage, and they barely spoke English. But that didn’t stop them from making sure my coffee was exactly the way I wanted it. (And yes, I gave them a big tip.)
So here’s the customer service point:
Whenever I write or talk about giving great customer service at a show, in your booth, when I write about how to answer customers’ questions about your work or your product, there’s always someone who insists that a funny, snappy answer is a good thing. When you ask, “How long did it take you to make this?” they respond, “It took me 30 years to make that!” I am here to tell you, it’s not funny to the person who asked you a question.
As a person who was exhausted, in need, and paying a lot of money to have a nice dinner, I just did not appreciate the “joke”.
In fact, I contend it’s not “a joke” nor “funny” to the person who’s at your mercy. It’s condescending at best, and passive-aggressive at worst.
Please. Don’t do this to your customers.
The best service I received that day was from a woman at Dunkin’ Donuts who barely spoke English. She simply kept asking if my order was “okay?” until I said yes. She put more cream in my coffee, gave me more napkins for my sandwich, till I was “okay!” Taking care of me wasn’t “beneath her”. She didn’t even need to smile or crack jokes. She simply took her job seriously, and I am grateful.
All the customer service advice in the world comes down to this, and it’s really very simple.
Treat your customers as treasured guests (until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt they don’t deserve it, and even them, simply move them on.) Okay, maybe they are stupid. But more likely, they are confused, overwhelmed or exhausted.
If you want your customers to become owners, treat them with courtesy. With kindness. With respect.
That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?
Here’s a link to the column I wrote for the art marketing blog at Fine Art Views:
I hope it helps you with your next studio housekeeping chore!
Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?
There are pros and cons to being a ‘local artist’, and many artists opt to ‘get out of Denver’ as quickly as they can. But there are deep reasons to building a local audience first.
I got an email newsletter from artist and writer Robert Genn. I always enjoy his thoughts on making and selling art. He’s a good writer, and a thoughtful one.
Today (insert link here) he tells why he decided to skip a local market, and developed more distant venues to sell his paintings.
I felt the same way when I started out with my art. I feared that ancient ponies and bone awls would never find a hold in a traditional New England marketplace. I did a few local shows, just to prove to myself I needed to go further afield. And then I did just that.
But I’m here today to eat my words. (I do that a lot.) There are lots of good reasons to start local. And I’ll give you suggestions on how to make it work.
You’ll learn how to talk about your work.
“I hate talking about my work!” “I don’t know what to say.” “My work speaks for itself.” “I’m shy–I just can’t talk to people!” I’ve heard–and said–these words so many times. Let’s cut to the chase. Art rarely ‘sells itself’. Somebody has to talk about it. If it’s not you, then it has to be your gallery or sales rep.
And how are they going to know what to say about it unless you give them a clue? If a thousand artists paint a picture of a tree in a field, then how will someone decide yours is the one that goes home with them?
If you believe that artistically knowledgeable people can tell the difference between your tree and 99 others, or a thousand others, or 10,000, then you’re going to have to be the absolute best painter out there.
In reality, many collectors aren’t looking for ‘the best out there’. They want to believe the one they like best, is the best one.
And your job is to tell them why your painting is the best for them.
You can do it with credentialing–art school degrees, awards, honors, solo shows, etc. You can do it with publicity–press releases, getting your work published and exhibited, etc.
The easiest thing, of course, is to just tell them. You share your technique, your process, your story. Whatever works best to connect them to your work. (You know I vote for ‘story’, but if it feels safer to start with ‘process’, go for it.)
Of course, a gallery will do this for you. But who tells the gallery? Yup. Y-O-U. I got practice talking to my customers. By the time I talked to gallery owners, I was comfortable and confident.
You’ll discover what people love about your work.
I talked easily and readily about why I loved my work, once I got used to the notion. It’s when I shut up and listened that I found out why others loved it.
What other people say about your work is powerful. People overhearing someone else saying something wonderful, is even more powerful.
People saw things in my work that astonished me. As they told me how it affected them, what it meant to them, I became even more dedicated to making it. I realized I need to make it. And others need to see it.
That’s hard to do when your work–and your audience–is a thousand miles away.
And it’s powerful to be able to say to a prospective gallery, “This is what people say about my work….”
You’ll perfect your booth, your display, your signage, your entire presentation.
Let’s say you do get that perfect out-of-state show with the oh-so-sophisticated audience, or the super duper gallery with the big name artists roster. What will they say when they see your awkward framing? Your lack of support materials?
What do you do when your far from home and realize you’re missing a critical piece of your booth? It’s one thing to run home and grab it. It’s another to be looking for the nearest Home Depot at night, in a cab.
Doing local shows was an education. I learned the hard way how to streamline my set-up and breakdown (as much as I can with jewelry cases, table top AND wall displayed items!) I learned they hard way what was essential and what wasn’t. I learned through practice the best ways to display my work.
And then I did my first big out-of-state show. When I did, I hit the ground running. (Well. Running, yes. But there was still a lot I had to learn!)
You’ll generate enough money to keep going.
Getting into an out-of-state art exhibit was exhilarating. It forced me to get good images of my work, and to go looking for opportunity.
But it wasn’t great for sales.
It was a small but steady stream of local sales that kept me going. My local collectors supported me just enough for me to always take the next step. And that was really all I needed.
You’ll learn that you are responsible for your success.
Local market or farther afield, it still takes dedication and work to build your name as an artist. It’s easy to say, “Oh, no one around here appreciates good art” or “People here are too cheap to buy real art.”
I would have an easier time believing that, if I didn’t hear artists from around the world say this. All. THE. TIME.
We all like to blame others when our efforts don’t fly. I do! I want to blame everybody except myself.
I know we can’t control everything. I know we can’t command success. I know sometimes even the best efforts fail.
But we are responsible for doing the best we can.
As I learned how to do better–as I knew better–I did better, and I got better. My presentation improved. My ideas grew. My self-promotion got better. I learned how to believe in myself, and my art.
And I found it a lot easier to learn how to do that, with local venues and local customers.
The biggest reason I’m glad I started local?
When times got hard, I had a safety net.
When the recession hit, and the sales at big shows fell off, when galleries were closing left and right, my local audience saved my ass.
In all the years I’d bemoaned the lack of a ‘local audience’, my small band of collectors and supporters was actually growing quietly and steadily.
My open studios became more successful. My sales at state craft venues climbed–the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair; the League shops: the Sharon Arts Center. Each year, just as sales tapered off at one venue, another would leap ahead. (For various reasons, my work tends to ‘cycle’ in popularity. Instead of despairing when sales falter, I now know to sit tight and come back with new work in a year or two.)
I now feel honored and supported by my local community.
As I said in my article about local self-promotion, publicizing your successes goes a long way to building that local audience. But I’ve learned it’s well worth the effort.
With the ease of discovering new markets and venues on the Internet, I don’t feel any artist is limited anymore to a local market. But I wouldn’t discount them, either.
Put your eggs in both baskets, and see what happens.
This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.
Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”
Don’t leave your early collectors behind.
Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.
In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.
In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.
Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.
I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.
There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.
She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”
I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.
For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.
When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.
To my dismay, things had changed.
Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.
It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.
Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.
The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.
Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.
She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.
She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”
She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.
I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.
Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.
I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.
In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.
At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.
I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.
I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.
I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.
I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.
As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.
I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.
They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.
Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.
But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.
Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.