Respect Your Collectors Part 7by Luann Udell
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...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Your collectors rely on your artistic integrity
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” “Always do your best.” We hear these comments from the time we’re very young.
Me? I try not to get too hung up with perfection. Being human means sometimes “good enough” is…well, good enough.
However, I do try to have integrity, in my art and in my dealings with my collectors.
Integrity means you strive to do your best work. By ‘best work’, I mean all aspects of making, exhibiting and marketing your work, including who you are as a person.
Have integrity in your creative process: You keep your skills sharp. You take classes from time to time to update your techniques, or learn new ones. You will find inspiration in the work of other artists. That’s normal and expected. But always strive to keep your own unique vision at the forefront. Try not to be easily swayed about pursuing a subject or style that’s selling like gangbusters for another artist. Find a way to make it your own.
You can have integrity with your materials: Use the best materials for the project at hand. Unless the art is by nature conceptual and fleeting, make art that lasts, using quality paints and archival materials. When a collector buys my work, I want them to be assured it will give them many years of enjoyment. I make repairs to items that get damaged without making too much of a fuss. In fact, when customers bring back a beloved necklace that’s come apart for whatever reason, I thank them for the opportunity to set things right again.
Have integrity in where your work is exhibited, and how. Years ago, I had an opportunity to participate in a huge gift show with our state craft guild. I met a newspaper reporter who’d done an article on me years earlier, who had also purchased a wall hanging from me. I’ll never forget her look of astonishment, and her words. “You’re HERE?! At the gift show??!!” I explained I hoped to make contacts with buyers and curators from the city’s art museums. She thought that made sense. And I did meet those people there. But I’ll never forget the look on her face. She thought I was pursuing a path that could water down my vision. I never want to see that look on a collector’s face again. I think carefully about where I want my work to be displayed now, and what company I want to keep.
Oh, gosh, I hope that doesn’t sound snooty! But just as your credentials can be raised by participating in high-quality shows, they can be compromised by your participation in less esteemed venues. You may hope you’ll be seen as the ‘best artist’ there. But you may also be seen as someone who doesn’t know better.
Not all small, modest shows are beneath us, either. Sometimes our participation supports a worthy cause dear to our hearts—a fundraiser show for the Humane Society or our child’s school, for example. But “dress appropriately”. Bring work related to that cause, or priced for that venue.
Have integrity as a person. As a collector, I don’t care for artists who “let their art speak for itself.” I want to have a relationship with the artist, as well as with the work. Someone who’s being snotty or snobby, trying to make me feel uncouth or unlettered, isn’t really elevating themselves, in my book. They are not respecting me as a fellow human being.
Have integrity even as someone seems to be insulting you or your work. Even if someone says something rude about your work, remember—you don’t have to respond. So many discussions among artists revolve around snappy retorts we can make to the ‘stupid things’ customers say. I hate that. “Putting someone in their place” says as much about you as it does about them. Let it go. Understand that some people mean well, but just don’t know what to say about a work of art. Other people in your venue are listening to you, and watching your response. Show them you are gracious and can rise above the moment. (If someone is being deliberately rude, a) they usually aren’t your collector anyway, and b) being gracious can be even more irritating for them. Personally, I like to move such people on to other artists I don’t like.) (I never said I was I was a better person than you.)
Likewise, deal honorably with collectors. If you have to lower your prices during hard times, find a way to do it that doesn’t devalue the work they’ve already purchased from you. (Introduce the prices only with new work, smaller work, simpler work, etc.) Understand that they want to feel your work is still worth what they paid for it.
If you do commissions, respect that it may be as tenuous and scary for them as it is for you. You’re afraid they won’t like the finished work? They’re afraid they won’t like the finished work, too. Especially if this is their first commission. Guide them through the process gently, find out what gives you the best results. For example, some artists find that sending images of the work as you go works well. Others find that making it a complete finished piece works best. What works best for you?
Lastly, have integrity as an artist and being yourself. Take care of yourself. It’s hard to make the work of our heart and then put it out in the world for all to judge. Protect yourself from people who are envious, from people who are so damaged, they can not celebrate your work and your successes.
No need to be smug about what we do, either. Everyone has a gift. Respect others’ gifts. But demand respect for yours, too. Oprah says we teach other people how to love us. That means we have a choice when we encounter people who don’t love us, or our art. Know that you and your art have a place in this world. It’s up to you to do the best you can to make that place for it.
We have a gift. We are put on this planet to use it. We have an obligation to share it with the world in some way, whether with the art itself, with what we teach about it, with what we cause we support with it, with the example we set for others. We have a chance to be a hero, sometimes to our collectors, but also to people we may never meet nor never know. Someone is watching us as we make our own unique artistic journey through life. Be that hero.
As a new dog owner, I finally get to say, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.”
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