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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