This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.
Many years ago, we participated in an art festival that was celebrating its 20-30-40-something year. It was well-known, prestigious, and, we were assured, a winning opportunity simply because it was so well-known and prestigious.
Confident declarations of guaranteed success aside, we agreed only when festival management offered us a risk-free deal: if we didn’t clear the price of the booth, we didn’t have to pay.
Okay, we said. It’s worth a try.
And it was an educational experience.
We did manage to clear the price of the booth with a buck or two beyond, resulting in our travel, food, and hotel being covered, but that’s it. There’s no kind way of putting it than to say that the show was a disappointment, and it wasn’t worth returning to.
“You’re just impatient!” festival coordinators told us. “When it comes to shows, you have to come back year after year, and after the fifth year or so, collectors get to know you and they start buying. Don’t give up so soon!”
During the multiple days of the show, we found ourselves wandering around the festival area -- one, so that it would look like there were people wandering around the festival area and two, so that we didn’t stand for hours in the booth, desperately trying to get the attention of the few bona fide wanderers there were in the festival area. (As a side note, considering how long the event had been in existence, it was surprising how little it was aggressively and efficiently publicized. Those people who did come through were regulars from years past, and they were pretty much focused on grabbing cheap art at the evening auctions.)
In the course of our wanderings, we stumbled upon an artist who had been attending the festival for most of its 20-30-40 year existence. Every time we saw him he was sitting on a folding chair, watching the world go by.
“How’s it going?” we asked.
“Miserable,” he replied. “No one’s buying.”
“But you’ve been coming here for 20-30-40 years,” we replied, remembering what the festival coordinators had told us. “Don’t people seek you out because they recognize your name?”
“No,” he replied. “That’s a myth. I’ve talked to people this year that I’ve seen year after year after year, and they’re not buying. Sales have been down for years.”
As I say, it was an educational experience.
Artists are told many things, by many people, to encourage them to participate in a show, purchase a magazine ad, enter a contest, or invest in a marketing program guaranteed (sort of) to catapult them to success. So encouraging and persuasive are the people pressuring the artist, that we forget they are essentially salespeople, whose primary purpose is to fill up booths, collect entry fees, keep their publication afloat, or sell their product -- and they look to artists as a source of money.
And while they would be happy to see you, or me, or Bob, sell a painting, this is not really paramount: what they really need is a bunch of somebodies -- you, me, and Bob -- writing them checks so that their event, publication, or product makes it.
Yes, this is cynical, and it doesn’t say much about human nature, but we operate under a lot of myths in our society, and the reason that the myths keep making it is because people keep buying into them: they believe the political candidate; they trust that the bond money will be efficiently used; they take the pills the doctor recommends, even though he’s admittedly not quite sure what’s wrong with them; they follow the steps of the millionaire guru’s book and are surprised when, nine months later, they are no closer to being millionaires than they were before.
We’re too trusting, too willing to accept what we’re confidently told without shooting back,
“Where’s the proof? Where are your records from last year’s show, who sold what, and how much did the artists make?”
(As a side note: I just received a Call to Artists letter from a show that, after years of slowly dying, took seriously the complaints and suggestions of its artist participants and made a series different, imaginative decisions -- “We are listening to YOU, the artists,” it said, and actually seems to be doing so. Something like this, we can support -- but something like this only began to happen because artists were pulling out. A team effort means just that -- everyone has a chance to play, and win, and we all shoot to win together.)
The reason it’s important to dispel myths -- not only those we face as artists but in all areas of our lives -- is because we will look for results based upon our belief in the truth of what we’re told. If what we’re told is a myth, then there’s no reason to waste time chasing it, expecting success from an area, or a method, that is not designed to give it.
From our personal business perspective, it saves us time, money, and energy not following myths, so we can take that same time, money, and energy to pursue ideas and opportunities that, though they may or may not work, are at least based on more than sales talk. Dispelling some of these myths is the focus of the next series of articles.
Join me next time for -- “Find Your Style and Stick with It!” Sigh . . .