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.
Give Them Your Very Best
Your best work, your best attention, your best intention.
There was a time you could load your art stuff into a truck, drive to a show, set up a table, throw a cloth on it, and sell your stuff.
There was a time when an artist could sit in his chair, sniff at customers browsing at his book, look off into the distance disdainfully and say, “My art speaks for itself."
All you had to do was show up.
Those days are so over.
Now, even people with money want a reason to buy your work. They can go to any number of stores, websites, shows, and find well-made, beautiful stuff. So why should they buy yours?
They will buy your work if it’s good enough. But more importantly, they will buy your work if it speaks to them. And they’ll buy your work if YOU speak to them.
I’ve been discouraged about the market for art and fine craft. My sales first tanked at wholesale shows and then the major fine craft shows I tried. Awhile back, even the very loyal crowd at my beloved League of NH Craftsmen show had a muted attendance. I had my worst show in ten years a few years back. Even a hearteningly big sale on the very last day was overturned when, a week later, the customer insisted on returning her purchase. I was totally disheartened.
I’d come to the conclusion that, even if I had to go back to a day job, I was still going to make my stuff. Maybe I couldn’t afford to do a booth at the show anymore (almost $1,500 for a 10’x10’ space). But somehow, I would keep making it. My passion for what I have to say would not be stopped.
I decided to give it one last shot. Not to make a killing, but to say goodbye to my customers there. I treated my booth as a one-woman show. Using museum-like display and more signage, I shared what was in my heart when I made each piece. I displayed a beautiful poem for the first time, one that spoke of the purpose of my work. I’d always felt it was too “out there” for a craft show. But what the heck? I wore my proverbial heart on my literal sleeve and went for it.
Then a funny thing happened.
I had one of my best shows ever.
People came out in droves that year. Some were new visitors. Some were customers I hadn’t seen in years, even a decade or more. Some had already bought significant pieces from me.
But everyone said the same thing: “This is the year…..”
“I’ve been following your work for ages, and this is the year I’m going to get something.”
“I’ve bought your work as gifts for others, but this is the year I’m getting something for MYSELF.”
“I’ve had a horrible year, my savings are in shambles and I’ve been so depressed. But I don’t want to be in that place anymore. This is the year I promised myself I’d buy one of your beautiful horses.”
Something in my messages of hope rising out of the ashes of despair; my story of the importance of doing our heart’s work; my respect and attention to even the most modest collector—something spoke to these people. Something I said, or made, or shared, simply spoke to their heart. And they wanted a piece of it, to hold, to keep with them. To remind them to be brave, or patient, or bold. To reassure them that they have a place in the world. To teach them that they, too, have a story to tell.
People don’t buy our work because we explore the tension between light and shadow or because we balance fine line work vs. textured paint. They are attracted to it because they like how it looks. It reminds them of a remembered scene from their childhood or of a life-altering journey they made.
There may be people who love to be brow-beaten by a sullen artist who feels unappreciated by the masses. But it’s more likely they’ll be attracted to the passion you have for your work, to the enthusiasm you show for your subject.
There are high-concept artists who can lay down a line of art-speak and academese, garnering rave reviews from art critics. But most of our customers simply want something they can look at every day in their home or workspace, something that makes their heart sing.
Some artists may attain careers the rest of us can only dream of. The rest of us will have our own definition of success, individual to each of us. It may involve how much money we make or how many books and magazines cite our work.
But bottom line, I believe most of us make the work we do because it MEANS something profound to us. And our greatest success is when it connects on a similar level with someone else-- someone who used to be a stranger, but is now our collector. Someone who finds their life enriched, empowered, impassioned, CHANGED by our work.
That’s what we owe our collectors.
We owe them the most passion we can bring to our work. We owe them the courage it takes to keep moving forward with our work, taking it constantly to new heights and new challenges. We owe them our best effort to keep making the best work we can. We owe them the true power in our hearts, that comes from doing the work we were put on earth to do.
We owe it to ourselves to find the highest, best use of our artistic drive and energy.
Years ago, when I first met Lori Simons, she said something that’s always stayed with me. We were discussing what it took to be a successful artist. She said, “It HELPS to be a good artist.” I loved her little hesitation and the emphasis on “helps”.
Yes, it helps us tremendously to do good work, to be good at what we do, and to perfect our skills and techniques. But there are many other factors involved, including a little dash of luck. (Although remember, luck is opportunity plus preparedness!)
Respect your collectors by sharing the best of who you are and they will reward you many times over—and in many different ways.