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by Luann Udell on 6/9/2017 6:10:02 PM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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.




Win them over to YOUR side, and you’ll have a cheerleader for life!


We continue on with a series on how to get grounded, and deal with comments or questions that would otherwise throw us off balance. But before we get started, here are my guidelines for building a bridge, and growing an audience.


First, I want to start out with your highest priority in these situations: YOUR HAPPY PLACE.


Second, PRACTICE these responses. They should flow easily and naturally. Otherwise, we can be caught off-guard, and say nothing. That’s better than being mean or confrontational, but not much better if it leaves you flustered and fuming.


Third, OBSERVE the results. Do they get flustered and walk away? Do they laugh nervously and leave soon after? Or do they lean in, and look deeper? Here’s your easy answer for today: You want them to lean in, to stay, to look more carefully, to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. And eventually, to decide they need a piece of your work for themselves.


Fourth, FRAMING. No, not picture framing! When artists get lots of comments like the ones we’ve been talking about, sometimes it’s a sign you’re at the wrong show. If you’re at a show that’s more about EDUTAINMENT: An activity that focuses more on teaching, with an entertainment component. Demonstrating is edutainment. I was at a show, the focus of which was music, wine, and food. Partway through, I realized we artists were edutainment, an added bonus for the visitors. For the artists? Not so much.


Or the show features a lot of craftsy artisans (as opposed to fine art and fine craft). Or a lot of new artisans, new to the biz, who either underprice their work, or don’t understand HOW to price their work.


Another frame: What is it you are selling? If it’s a Do-It-Yourself type of thing, or something that’s extremely trendy, or something that takes very little time to make, or very inexpensive materials, or extremely accessible materials, or simply has a very low price point, you should expect this kind of remark. Because DIY is all about…well, how easy it IS to do-it-yourself. You may have taken all this to another level, you may be extremely good at it, your design and color skills might be awesome. But you are still competing with everyone else who does the same kind of thing.


There are ways around all these factors, of course, and some of these work-arounds are your responses to this comment. All the more reason to practice them!


At my very first high-end retail show, a woman went crazy over my fiber collages. She ooohed and ahhhhhed for several minutes, and even asked if she could take a closer look. I said, “Of course!” She looked at the reverse, to see how I’d finished it, and made a comment. I can’t remember what I said next, but her response was the dreaded, “Oh, I’m not going to BUY one! I’m going to go home and make some just like these!”


I could have made a snippy remark. I could have told her to get outta there. I could have said, “Well, sure, go ahead and TRY.  Haha.”


But I remembered that seminary, and I remembered the suggested remark, and I made it, calmly, pleasantly, peacefully:


“Well, these are for the people who aren’t as creative as you!”


And I moved away.


She was one who was truly oblivious, and kept looking. But she eventually left. And then, several other people came up to me and remarked, “Can you believe her?! I can’t believe how well you responded! You were so professional!”


And they were soon actively engaged with my work, asking about the artifacts, the stitching technique, where I got my ideas, etc.


Here is why you need to practice your responses. Remember when I said, pretend other people are listening?


These folks were either a few feet away, behind me, or arrived while I was engaged with the “crafty one”. I didn’t notice they were there until after I’d spoken.


If I hadn’t practiced my response, if I hadn’t PREPARED a response, then yes, they still would have thought the woman was rude.


But if I’d responded in kind, I would have discouraged them from asking THEIR questions. Or they would have beat a cautious retreat.


Instead, they felt safe. And so they continued to look, and ask, and listen, and engage with me.


At the next year’s show, when I had my own booth, something similar happened. An older woman entered my booth and took in my work. I greeted her, introduced myself briefly, and told her if she had any questions to just let me know.


After a good look at all my work, she said she was a quilter, too. She really liked my work. She asked if she could buy a single horse artifact. She wanted to use my artifact to make her own quilt.


Wait for it.


I didn’t sell my artifacts separately in those days, and I am still especially cautious about doing that. But I breathed (in, out) and calmly, quietly, said that I was honored that she liked my work. But that I didn’t sell my artifacts separately. They were very personal to me. They were the very heart of my entire body of work.


Undaunted, she replied, “Well, if I bought a pair of horse earrings, I could just take them apart, and use them, right?”


Again, I breathed in, and out.  


Was she being rude? Was she being disparaging? I considered this. Not really. She was simply being honest about her intentions. She wasn’t really saying she could do what I do. She was saying she loved what I did, but she would like to use a horse in her own work. (I don’t know why this made a difference, but it did. Subtle, I know!)


I think what really made me pause was, she TOLD me her intentions—not defiantly, not in a rude way. She was being HONEST with me. A less scrupulous person would have simply bought the earrings and gloated about how they’d put one over on me.


So I gave her the benefit of the doubt. (Wait for it.)


I told her yes, once she bought a pair of earrings, what she did with them was HER business. I said it evenly, with no rancor or sarcasm. She nodded, and continue to look around.


She stayed in my booth for over an hour. She would occasionally ask another question, about the horses, about the quilting techniques, about the story, etc. As other visitors (and customers—YAY!) came and went, she would step back to give me space, always looking, watching me interact with people, listening to the answers I gave to THEIR questions.


Sometimes I could feel my dander rise again and again, as she asked more questions: How long had I been in the League? Had I been to art school? How had I arrived at this unique fiber art?--but I always caught myself. She was inquisitive, but respectful. I would remind myself, over and over, that she had not crossed the line, really.


Finally, she stood in the middle of my booth, arms folded, standing tall (she was a very short woman) and declared, “I’ll take those earrings.”


I nodded and started to wrap them up, when she continued, “I think you’re going to be big. What’s your best piece in here?”


And yes, she bought my best wall hanging ($900!!), and the earrings. With a check that had no address or phone number on it, no less. (She did write them in for me when I asked, but I didn’t even check her driver’s license.) (YES, a huge leap of trust on my part.)


Ruth's purchase on that fortuitous occasion.


Ruth continued to come to my booth every year, for the next 14 years, except for the year her dog was dying. (She sent me a sweet notecard apologizing, letting me know why she wouldn’t be in.)  She bought several major pieces over the years, and always bought something—earrings, necklaces, smaller framed pieces, for herself, and for others—over the years. Her daughter began to accompany her, and SHE bought work from me, too. When they came to my open studios (several hours’ drive for them), they stayed and talked, and oohed and ahhhed over my fabric stash, my drawers full of odds and ends, had a glass of wine, etc. She always asked how I was progressing with my art.  And the year I left, she said when she died, she would have my work donated to a regional quilt art museum in New Hampshire.


She never took the earrings apart. Instead, she realized she could wear them in her “aquasizing” classes, as they wouldn’t be damaged by the chlorine in the pool. She continued to add to her collection of water exercising jewelry til I left New Hampshire.


Stop now, and imagine what would have happened if I’d responded to her comment in a different way... !!


Her questions were her way of determining if I were someone worth investing in. Someone to encourage, to support, with her purchase. Someone who would stay the course, who had what it takes to “get big”. (I don’t know if I have, or if I ever will. But I do know I have what it takes, and I’ve done all the right things.) Ruth was my very first patron of my art. I treasure her friendship, her respect, her patronage.


Now, MY gaffe is that sometimes I share the story of that first encounter, until I finally realized she feels a little uncomfortable about it. Which shows me that she really had no idea how obnoxious it could have appeared to me. She had NO IDEA she was creating tension, or frustration, for me. She had NO INTENTION of insulting me, or using me to make herself look special.


And I am forever grateful I didn’t act on my assumptions!




How have you handled this comment? If you share, I want you to be open to feedback, tweaking, suggestions. (If it’s perfect, I’ll tell you that, too!)


And, as always, if you prefer to handle this comment differently, that’s your prerogative. If that’s right for you, if it works for you, fine. But also understand that I prefer to choose a higher road, for my sake, if not for the customer’s sake, and the other people around us.


I prefer to feel good at the end of the day. I hate it when I let go of my happy place, and seethe. Yes, my lizard brain would have enjoyed telling both of these two visitors exactly what I was REALLY thinking.


But that’s the power of our choices.


We GET to choose!


P.S. Thanks to Susan Vignola, who shared this Facebook post:





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Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art collectors | art criticism | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell 

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Mark Brockman
Sometimes, some people have to say what's in their mind. My mother was like that, if she was thinking it, she had to say it.

I go with the philosophy of live and let live, that we each have an opinion. I learned a long time ago that there are artists not as good as me and many far better. There will be those who say or think I'm not as good as so and so, and that's ok with me. I am what I am and I do what I do to the best of my ability. So comments of a negative nature in regards to my work don't bother me.

As to what someone might do to one of my paintings after they purchase it? I like to think it will be a charished possession passed down from generation to generation. Could be it will be used to cover a hole in a chicken coop (I believe they found a Van Gogh covering a hole in a chicken coop so I'd be in good company). So I don't worry about it.

I have never had someone say 'I can make (paint) that.' I have had them say, 'I could never be an artist, I can't even draw a straight line.' I smile and respond, 'Me either, that's why they make rulers.'

If you are going to be in this art business you need to be confident in what you do (even if you don't feel confident), be proud of what you do, be kind, professional and understanding of others ignorance (most negative comments are born out of ignorance), and most of all, develope a very, very, thick skin.

Patricia Stafford
I like the comment that you use, Luann, and will have to keep it in mind.

Having sold fine art photography at craft fairs, when people stop by my booth and basically say "I can do that ... " they keep talking before I have a chance to respond and generally follow up with " ... when I was on vacation ... " then they name the spot they traveled to, then they smile, at which point I generally say something nice about their vacation spot and then do my best to describe one of my photos that has something in common with their favorite place.

Or if they say the really similar "My daughter is into photography." I can say something like, "That's cool, has she shown her work in any art galleries?" At which point, many times they tell me about the art school their daughter is attending, and I can then smile and offer some words of encouragement.

I will admit there was one time when someone kept going on and on about how she could do what I do, and how her daughter could too, such that I gave a more competitive answer along the lines of "Well, I look forward to seeing you here next year ... you can set up a table next to mine." And hey, if someone really can do something as good as I can, they have every right to sell their wares alongside of me ... and if I like their artwork, I might even buy something from them. I've bought from other photographers at craft shows in the past, and from other card makers and painters online.

Linda Star Landon
Wow Luann! What an experience! And what a lesson for all of us. Thank you for sharing this. You always have such good insights and advice.

Marilyn Rose
What a heartwarming story! Luanne, that lifted you WAY up on the highest road. Who would have guessed? Back in the day when I did art fairs I never experienced this comment, but once in a while someone in my booth would say, "I should get out my oil paints again." And I'd smile and say sincerely "I hope you do, for it certainly gives me a lot of pleasure." Nowadays I would say "I teach two weekly classes in case you're interested!"

Sylvia Larkin
Luann, thank you for that wonderful, insightful article.My favorite part was:"Well, these are for the people who aren't as creative as you!"I will remember that the next time someone says:"I can do this myself".As artists we hear all kinds of remarks, and you are right, most of the time the people who utter them have no clue how impolite they are.Your work is incredible by the way!

Dear Luann,

Your insightful articles are very valuable to me, every time.

When I started creating with polymer clay just over 5 years ago, I was attracted to the works of many famous artists in the field (including you!). As a beginner, I needed other artists works as examples for me to learn from and to build up my knowledge. I must have appeared rude and reckless more than once without this having been my intention at all. I only realize this now, after all these years and since I am beginning to have "my own voice", how annoying I must have been.

Now, when I am faced with beginners who ask me silly questions, or even do things (everything is visible on Facebook!) which I feel are stepping over my boundaries, I just stay polite or say nothing. Because most of the times it turned out that these people are just simply admiring my work the way I was admiring other artists works some years ago. Most of the time there are no bad intentions at all.

I think what is so annoying and scary about overly curious admirers is that you as an artist have put so much of your time into developing something authentic (no copies - respecting the others) that you find it unfair that someone just walks along and comes to copy your authenticity, your soul.

Keep up your good work, Luann! Looking forward to your articles every time!

Love from France.


Marilyn Rose
I can relate very well to Sonya's comment. For all of the 25+ years I have painted I have taken workshops with and studied the work of many really fine artists in hopes of gaining that intangible something that their paintings touch in me. Now I realize with great joy that through those years of study I have developed my own intangible something, and it is uniquely mine, not a copy of anyone else's style. But I never would have found it if not for that quest to learn from others. The true artists will never be able to (or want to) really duplicate your work. The ones who just want to have what you make at a cheaper price, well, they are not a threat to you. True, you haven't made that sale, but you'll have that silent knowing. Great discussion, everyone! Thanks Luann, for opening it up.

Marilyn Rose
Well said, Mark! I have to give a different twist to your great reply about the ruler. I was an electromechanical, civil and architectural draftsman all my working life, and believe me, I can draw a straight line. I've worked hard to kill that tendency as a painter. Now when someone say they can't draw a straight line I say "You are so lucky! You could be an artist!"

Luann Udell
Mark, sounds like you have it all figured out already, so no homework for you! :^D

Luann Udell
Patricia, sounds like you're on solid ground, too! You just gave away one of the lines for next week, so shhhhh! Just kidding, the more we share, the more great responses we'll generate. :^)

And yes, sometimes there's no getting around people whose own agenda will simply not bow to yours. Just last week I was cornered not once, but my open studio, by chronic complainers. My heart goes out to them, and I always try to support them. But it is NOT the right thing to do. (Another topic for this series.)

Luann Udell
Thank you, Linda! Other artists shared their insights while I was "coming up the ranks", and I'm glad I can continue the tradition.

Luann Udell
Marilyn, both of your responses get an A. Kind, encouraging, and circling back to what YOU do. Excellent!

Luann Udell
So glad you found a take-away from this article, Sylvia, thank you for letting me know.
And thank you for the compliment, too!

Luann Udell
Sonya, first I have to say, I am a HUGE fan of your work! I had no idea I was any part of your inspiration in your early days--WOW~! Thank you for sharing that!!

You've touched on a very emotion-laden topic, especially in the polymer clay medium, and yes, it can be a painful one.

On one hand, we are ALL attracted to the new, the beautiful, the unusual, especially if it speaks to us on a deep level. And we ALL are inspired by the work of others, and often yearn to echo it in our own work. We explore and "play around" with that new technique, construction, finishing. It's exciting, and it often opens new doors, and takes us down new paths.

In fact, in one of the few art classes I had in college, part of our training was to "copy the masters", to recreate their work so we could understand WHAT they were doing, and HOW they were doing it.

Some techniques are also fair game. They are pretty obvious, or so commonly practiced that feeling we "own" that technique is ludicrous. Once an artist teaches that technique, it would usually be expected that their students are free to employ it themselves. Same as with techniques published in a book, or online, or in a tutorial.

And yet, the first time I saw an image of a faux ivory primitive horse (not very well made, at that), I felt like I'd been punched in the heart.

And I have had more than a few people declare to me that they were going to make little ivory horses, too, because they really like them but they don't want to purchase mine.

I go up and down on this. Sometimes it's plain to see that these folks are deeply....troubled in some way. That everything we make is up for grabs, to them.

In the end, a truly creative person takes an idea, a technique they've seen, a design that intrigues them--and then they take it further. They adapts it to their own use, transforming what they've seen into something uniquely theirs.

The copycat gets "stuck". They can't go further than that one idea, that one technique or process they've taken from someone else. When you look at their work, it may look like twelve different people made it. There is no "their" there. (Pun intended!) :^)

I've also learned that there are people who want, or will make, whatever looks like something I've made, who don't care about the authenticity, the attention to detail, certainly not the powerful narrative I bring to my work. They were probably not my customer anyway.

And then there are the people who want something I've made, who appreciate the work, who respect what I've put into it, and honor the price.

Those are the people I cherish!

You are an evolved person to recognize yourself in those people who are following after you. Sometimes, when I sense someone is in that space, I'll tell them that I didn't invent the faux ivory technique, I'm not the only person inspired by the Cave of Lascaux, I'm not the only person who makes little horses.

But, I tell them, I hope when they've gone further down their path, they recognize the power of THEIR choices, and the importance of telling THEIR story. And I encourage them to do that right from the start, so they will enjoy the benefits of that.

Luann Udell
Marilyn, I did not read your comment before responding to Sonya, but what you said is AWESOME!! Dang, and you said it in ONE paragraph, while it took mind. :^D

And I love your response on the straight line--brilliant, funny, and light. Perfect!

I love your line--"These are for the people who aren't as creative as you!" That's a good one to remember! :)

My own line has been more like, "Oh, I'm so *glad*! Then you know firsthand how much fun it is! Do you have any pictures of your work? I'd love to see it!"


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