June 20, 2012
Recently I received an invitation from a person who covers art (an umbrella term for things artistic I suppose.) for the newspaper in the little town where I live. (I am proud to say I am not from there, but sadly, I do live there.) The invitation was to send suggestions to him regarding ideas on how to view or relate the magnificient “art weekend” there to his readers.
This kind of got the ball rolling, I suppose.
I’ve been reading some shockingly self-serving comments by artists regarding shows under the guise of some kind of protection a Facebook group might somehow provide if the membership was sealed. This group of “turks”, as my east coast friend calls them, allows very little, if any, dissent within their hallowed halls. Funny stuff, but not very savvy when it comes to giving shows a chance to improve and or clean up their act. I haven’t expressed my view very much because it is more fun to watch them wrap themselves tighter and tighter into a groupthink. It has been difficult to see so much energy and passion go – down the drain.
There has been an attempt by the owner of another art-show/artist-related website to encourage dialogue where many people have already left or claim to have left – citing either frustration with some ideas there or if not the actual writing, then the censorship that may or may not take place over there depending on one’s perspective. In addition, the comments pinned to the owner’s essay generally kowtow to the middle-of-the-road mentality that has infected the sight from people with selfish agendi. Don’t rock the boat, don’t let anyone feel like an idiot – even though they may be one. Facts is facts. She’s a friend, but the site has been taken over by agendized pseudo-artists with rose-colored glasses and a penchant for the positive – all day, every day – unless they are on that secret Facebook site, then it’s a different story.
Another website where I am fairly active and fully support (http://www.thecornerbooth.proboards.com) has put forth an interesting premise. In a nutshell, and using some round numbers here for simplicity’s sake: The idea has been put forth to consider that in order to make $100,000 a year as an artist doing shows – $10,000 at a minimum must be made at 10 shows – individually. Even if they do 20 shows a year – the magic number is $5000 at each show – at a minimum. Of course we have not addressed overhead: insurance, taxes, retirement, hotels, travel, repairs, etc. – which could easily take a third of that 100K. So, to take home $66,000 – 5K needs to come in from 20 shows each year.
That is quite a task and does give one a pause . . . something to think about when you are sitting at $1800 during a supposed 5 star show with a $500 booth fee, a $45 jury fee and 5 nights in hotels with 2 days driving each way – with only 2 hours to go and some guy wants to tell you how much he used to enjoy painting when he got back from Korea in 1962 while people walk by and thank you for “sharing your work with them this weekend” on their way to the concert with a couple of $12 beers in each hand and looking so forward to seeing those fireworks – for free!
(pssst: It’s even more fun when you are across from some supposed artist selling Chinese birdhouses – handpainted, to be sure for $19.99 and your in-laws bought six for Christmas presents this year because they are “soooooooo cute”.)
A perfect storm indeed – especially during a recession and when so many know so little about art at art fairs.
What are my suggestions for the newspaperman?
Outside of asking him to learn as much about the visual arts as he knows about things like the theater (he rocks on theater stuff) and also who is playing in what golf tournament in California – I would ask him to consider the same things I would ask of anyone involved in the art show world – either as an artist, visitor, patron, promoter, writer, or stalker at any art show in the country. These are some of my perspectives based on ten years of shows.
Some will disagree.
Some will agree.
The sun will rise tomorrow anyway.
Here they are:
Go to the show. Don’t read about it. Don’t take pictures from a helicopter. Don’t ask your friends on Monday. Go. Take a friend, take an enemy. Go.
Recognize and do not forget, even for a moment that the artists are there to sell their work – if not to you, then to someone else. It’s what we do. We make beautiful things and sell them.
Most bona fide art shows are juried. They are not free for the artists. The artists pay a jury fee and a booth fee. The fees are not cheap. The shows do not provide the individual tents. Some of the shows have large circus-type tents that are provided as a building would be provided for some “indoor” shows. But those vanilla, stamped out white tents? They are not free. The artists buy those when they start their businesses. It is a privilege to be juried into an art show. Usually 2 or 3 people were rejected for every one artist accepted.
Sometimes it is a curse to be accepted into a show. The artist rarely returns if there are too few sales – no matter how cool the concerts were or how beautiful the day was.
Some shows are shady and border on criminal. Some are outstanding. The average visitor has no way of knowing how disgustingly or wonderfully the artists are treated at some venues. This is not a reflection on the artists or the artists’ work. The purpose of a show is not the show, it is the customer. Buy the art, not the show. By the way, artists generally hate the Friday night VIP mixers that they get to decorate with their booths. It basically means an extra hotel day and three days in the booth for very little payoff. I know some disagree, but it’s my list.
Promoters and Directors: Stop asking for mandatory donations of artwork. We don’t get a tax break on anything other than the cost of materials and that raises a red flag anyway. Stop demanding. Artists can, will, and do make donations to the charities of their own choosing. Charity auctions cheapen the value of the artists’ work. Patrons please recognize the artist is truly giving of their own free will. If bidders/patrons are not sure, then please ask if the donations were freely given or were they wrung out of each accepted artist.
If you are bidding on a donated piece and you win – please don’t go running up to the artist to thank them as loudly as you possibly can because you just got a $900 painting for $23.00.
Enjoy yourself at the show. Buy a beer. Walk around. Talk to your friends with your backs to the booths, but at some point – visit the booths. Go in. Say “hi”. You don’t have to buy anything. You don’t have to tell them who you are. Believe me, they don’t care. They are just glad you came in and said “hi”. So come in, look around. Very few of us are high-pressure types. We want you to see how good our work is.
When you leave, please leave with a smile or a nod. No need to promise anything. If you have a question, please ask. If you don’t, then don’t. If you have a comment or a criticism, make it brief and please, please, please understand not one of the artists gives a damn what you think – but you are still a pretty nice person and you are welcome to re-visit anytime. If you want to leave quietly, that’s fine. It’s ok. No need to tell us you’ll “be back”. Most of the time, we already know. We already know.
Please don’t ask if we were drunk or what drugs we take when we create. It’s condescending, rude, presumptive, and insulting to a professional artist. Go ask the portfolio manager you had in 2008 instead.
When you engage an artist in a conversation about a piece and show interest in the artist’s work, you may ask for a card. If you are looking for a way out of the booth without obligating yourself, just walk out – believe me, we are glad to see you go rather than ask for a card you don’t want anyway. Newsflash: we know when you are looking for a way out of the booth without appearing cheap. We know you are not cheap, just go. It’s ok.
Free card with every purchase at my booth.
If you are looking for free entertainment, please walk in, enjoy, and then walk out of the booth quietly. If you really need to step up that need to be entertained, please enjoy one of the free events – like a stiltwalker or a fireworks show. Try watching the crowd (or lack thereof), after all – it’s what we do too.
If you are drunk or loaded. Enjoy yourself in the aisle or with the police and come back tomorrow to visit the booths.
Not one of the artists wants to see your work, or critique it, or tell you that you have talent, or hear how you had to quit painting because you just couldn’t think of what to paint. They may pretend they do, but trust me – they are there for sales.
We spent a lifetime making each piece. It took years to get to the level to make whatever it is you are looking at. Please don’t ask how long it took to make it. We have 15 timeclocks all going at once – just like you do in your profession.
If you see something you like, talk to the artist about it. Ask about it. Tell them what it means to you. Buy the work if you can afford it and you are in love with it. If not, then walk away. No hard feelings. Ask for a card at that time. We’ll know you are sincere.
If you are a newspaper writer, for the love of God, stop picking (or receiving pre-picked) artist statements and photos that look good in print. It’s old, it’s been done, it’s yesterday. It’s boring. The last thing the shows need right now is – boring.
If you feel you must bargain, realize many artists will not do so. But if you must, be prepared to state your offer and accept the counter – or don’t.
If you are in the media, a sponsor, a promoter, a visitor, whatever – recognize that the show is about the art, not the show. No sales = No artists = No visitors = No More Show. It’s always about the art and the customers.
Ask about layaway – many will work with you.
Cash is NOT a determining factor. If you are a dentist and someone offers you cash for a procedure, does that alter the price? How about at the grocery store? Try the utility company on that one.
Walk around the booths, not through them. Would you want that artist to walk through your back office on Monday?
Don’t ask us about other artists on the circuit. Chances are we know them or know of them. Chances are even greater that we don’t want to talk about them. Odds are really good we don’t like them. Name-dropping works only as an ice-breaker with us. Maybe.
As artists, we know that 93% of all dog walkers at a show are not going to buy a piece of artwork – not ever in their lifetime. We also know that 100% of the dogs will not do so. We also know that 12% will whizz in our booth and their owner will pretend nothing happened. 2% will leave a deuce on the street in front of someone’s booth and both the dog and owner will walk away. 100 % of the artists that love dogs will wince at the sight of the poor dogs trying to get in the shade while their very shallow owner ignores the dog’s burning pads on the pavement. 100% of artists that don’t love dogs will think the same thing. If you must bring Ruffie the Dog, please come barefoot so you can understand how it feels.
Artists: Do not stack your stuff out in the aisle. It’s shallow and rude. The only thing worse is confronting another artist and accusing them of plagiarism in their own booth. Douchery 101.
Please leave your monkey or your parrot or your goldfish in a fishbowl at home. Really. Leave them at home. Really.
If you must say: “Who the hell would buy that?”, say it at home or better yet, in your next therapy session where you will probably see that particular piece anyway.
Do not try to sell anything to an artist at a show. We already have a credit card purveyor. We don’t want your damn Sourcebook. Just don’t. We are there to sell, not buy. Sell.
We will probably deliver a painting or a sculpture to your home. Understand that someone knows we are going to be there and for how long. Sometimes we will even agree to let you decide on your purchase once it’s on your wall. Please be a good host and offer a soda or something, it’s been a long day. Please no haggling on your turf. Lastly, if you don’t want us in your home, don’t ask to have it brought over.
If you suspect some work may be imported junk, please tell the show staff. A good sign is the pile of Made in China boxes under a table in the booth or the Made in Mexico stickers on those yard art things.
When you walk down the aisle proudly displaying your new piece of yard art (aka: Shit on a Stick) – please know that damn near everyone from the guy who sold it to you to the kids pulling the water cart are practically having an embolism from silently laughing at you.
If you are with the media, lose the old Marketing/Newsroom delineation line. No one ever believed it. Ever. (See embolism comment above.)
Media people: we don’t need you as much as we used to because now we have the internet. So, shape up. No more “a great time was had by all” journalism. We’re not as stupid as you used to think we were.
Shows, Customers, Artists, and Just About Everyone Else.
Artists: stay away from my booth when I am working with my customers and please don’t tell me what to paint.
Customers: Please don’t tell me what to paint, unless you are making a custom order.
Do not ever, ever, ever follow an artist to their hotel or on the highway after a show. Ever.
Regarding awards. Take them or leave them. They are usually presented by a judge who has no business judging work that had no business winning – but not always. Buy the art, not the ribbon.
If there are two or more competing shows in your community during the same time period, please treat them all fairly as members of the media, patrons, and competing artists. It’s all so juvenile otherwise. The shows are there, they exist, they are competing. Nobody is “complementing” anything. Deal with it.
Please do not believe for even one moment that when you say “I love this, but I just don’t have ANY room in my house because of all the art I have collected.” or some variation of that sentence – that we have never heard that before. Just smile and go to the next booth. It’ll save us all the embarrassment.
Everyone: Please ask before you photograph a booth or the work of an artist inside. Just ask. If they say “Sure.” then fire away, but “no” means “no”.
Photographers walking around with the huge-lensed cameras and the correspondent’s vests: Just don’t. Leave them at home. Again, really.
Photographers: Don’t cry or complain when your camera is smashed on the pavement because you insisted on your rights to photograph original artwork when asked not to do so by the artist. Just saying.
Media, Shows, Patrons: Talk to the artists. Listen to them. Be sincere.
If you or maybe you and someone close to you come into a booth and are overcome with emotion about about a piece, tell the artist why, you’ll make his or her day.
Times may be tough for some, but as artists we refuse to participate in a recession.
Buy the art, not the show – it’s between you and the artist. It always has been and always will be.
Come to the shows, talk to the artists, have fun. Buy works of art from genuine artists this summer.
Buy real art.