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Respect Your Collectors Part 9

by Luann Udell on 3/31/2011 9:21:51 AM

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.

Listen to Them!


Sometimes they know better than you what’s special about your art.


I used to think there were two kinds of artists who sold their work: Those who talked about their art, and those who felt their art ‘spoke for itself’.


Now I’ve learned there’s a third kind:


Those who let their COLLECTORS talk about the work.


Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  After all, we’re the one who actually made it.  We know how hard we worked to learn the skills and perfect them, how we determined the perfect presentation and frames, what the subject matter means to us. 


But in fact, as much as I feel our collectors want to know OUR story about our work, I’ve learned it’s just as important to hear THEIR story.


There are several reasons for this:


The most well-known one is that when collectors talk about our work as if it’s already theirs, we know a powerful connection is taking place.  They are envisioning the artwork in their possession.  They may talk about how lovely it would work in a special spot in their living room, or wonder how it would work in a dining room. 


A way to spark this kind of conversation is to ask them about their home or office.  What kind of art do they collect?  What do they have on display now?  (This is a good opportunity to point out how well your work will go with their current collection.)  Of course, this can lead directly to one of the most effective sales techniques of all:  Offer to let them take the work home and try it out.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised how often it stays there!  (If you have misgivings about this open-hearted approach, secure the loan with their credit card number, promising to only run the ticket if the work doesn’t come back after 1-2 weeks.)


Here’s another reason, an interesting phenomenon:  Whatever your customers say about your work, others will perceive as even more true than what YOU say about it. 


Bruce Baker, an expert speaker on selling and displaying art and craft, talks about this.  He encourages artists to get customers talking about their art in their booth or at a show.  He says when WE talk about our art work, people will take it or leave it.  But what OTHER PEOPLE say about our art work will be perceived as ‘the truth’.  


Perhaps this is because most people assume we’d naturally be the biggest fans of our own work.  But when someone else enthuses about it, they are seen as an unbiased observer. 


Then, too, as humans, we are hard-wired to see what’s interested someone else.  (In a less artsy venue, such as traffic accidents, it’s easy to see this ‘rubbernecking’ attribute in ourselves….)  I’ve seen this at work in my booth (the non-car accident kind….)   One customer might note that the layers of fabric I use in my work is extremely labor intensive, and exclaim about the detail work.  When she moves away, another customer steps over to look, too.  People often ask to look at the earrings ‘that other woman was looking at.” 


Last, our customers often see something in the artwork we don’t.   When they do, they’ll say something deeply personal, sometimes incredibly powerful.   It may take you completely by surprise.  I still remember the woman who touched a wall hanging and said, “This is like a shrine—it is such peaceful, powerful work.  I can see it hanging on a wall, with a shelf full of precious mementoes beneath it.”  I’d never thought of my work that way, and I am grateful to that woman for her insights and words. 


You can expand on what others have said, too, to encourage people to say more.  Here’s an example:  My animal sculptures have unusual, mysterious markings on them.  People ask about them all the time.


If they only heard MY explanation (“No one really knows what they mean”) they may not feel it’s okay to offer their own thoughts.


But now I say, “One person said they thought they look like maps; a musician thinks they are song notes, and one little girl said they looked like constellations.  What do YOU think?”  Hearing the range of opinion gives people permission to expand their own ideas, and (again) engages them deeper with the work.   When people are hesitant, thinking I might be insulted or annoyed, I reassure them by saying, “I believe when the work leaves my hands and becomes part of someone else’s story, it’s part of my art’s journey.  And that is beautiful to me.”


That’s the greatest reason to listen to your collectors.  Art does not exist in a vacuum.  No matter why we make it, or what we intend for it, eventually, if we are fortunate, it outlives us and takes on the story given to it by others.  I like to think history is giving me a sneak preview of what those who come after, might say about it.


My prime inspiration, the cave paintings of Lascaux, embodies this.  My artist statement ends with the words, “…Ten thousand years from now, who will know the makings of OUR hands?  And who will know the mysteries of OUR hearts?” 


We cannot know for sure.  But we can bet someone will be telling a story about it!


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Related Posts:

Respect Your Collectors Part 8

Respect Your Collectors Part 1

Respect Your Collectors Part 7

Respect Your Collectors Part 2

Respect Your Collectors Part 3

Respect Your Collectors Part 4

Respect Your Collectors Part 6

Respect Your Collectors Part 5

Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews | sell art 

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Nithya Swaminathan
This is so true! What makes the collector resonate with a particular piece of art is as important as what inspired the artist create it. And if a piece of work makes an instant connect with a collector and makes them fall in love with it because they can relate to it, I am sure it will make the artist feel really good too.

Great post Luann!

Lorraine Khachatourians
This is perfectly timed Luann, as our annual group art show is next weekend. I am still rather awkward talking about my paintings and this gives me some very useful ideas to try. My working life was in the sciences, so I can explain the 'how' but the why and what are harder for me to articulate. I will definitely try listening and reflecting better this time.

Esther J. Williams
Thanks Luann, you have a way with words. I have an art fair next weekend and I will use the out on approval offer. How about asking for a 25 percent deposit instead? People are very leery about giving credit card info. I use PayPal and can send an invoice for the rest, all I need is their name and email address. But I got approached by a virtual credit card salesman the other day in our co-op gallery. For $20 a month, we can use this service without having a terminal and be charged lower fees than PayPal. I got all the information from him, it is legit. Saves having to buy or rent a terminal. They also have credit card swipers for the iPhone and iMac now, all you do is download an app for that. Technology is changing and it can help us to sell anywhere, anytime with a card.
Also, I am more receptive as I have grown more experienced in doing art shows. It is more enriching to having an engaging conversation with a person. We learn so much more and it makes the other person feel validated. That is what we all want isn`t it? We can`t just run around validating ourselves, we need to spread the love.

Donald Fox
It's always interesting to me what people say about my art. If I'm asked what it's about, I first turn the question around and say, "What do you think?" People usually know more than they think they do and many are hesitant to say. Only after will I add some of my own thoughts.

Virginia Giordano
“I believe when the work leaves my hands and becomes part of someone else's story, it's part of my art's journey. And that is beautiful to me.” So well put - art's journey, what a phrase - this encompasses the artist, the observer and the collector. I believe people add energy to our work and that also makes it. The analogy for me is an actor performing to an empty house or a full house, and what audience energy does to the performance. It is more subtle with art. I have experienced that when I move a piece from my studio to a show, when people interact with it, the piece takes on a new energy, I see/experience it differently myself.

Sharon Weaver
Just when I think you can't possibly have anything else to write about collectors you come up with #9. I think this is my favorite. If I learn nothing else from this series of articles I hope to remember this valuable lesson. Your examples of listening to your clients illustrate how useful this ability can be.

Barb Stachow
LOVE the article! nothing beats the repard a person can get from collectors. Listen up and take action!

Jo Allebach
Yes, yes. It does amaze me what people have to say about my art. They know exactly what they see or where it is. I find it very interesting to find out how the mind can bring pleasant good thought from memories by looking at a beautiful painting. There is so much truth to the thought that the art is not complete until it is out in the world.
And thinking about people 100's or thousands of years from now guessing the meaning is a very exciting idea.

Joanne Benson
Luannn, I like your approach! Everyone relates to art in a different way and it is fascinating to hear what others think about our art. Thanks for sharing!

Debra LePage
This is so very true-listening to visitors' opinions is the most rewarding experience. Though titles are listed on my website, I only number paintings hung in my studio so as not to influence anyone's thoughts/feelings about the work. This results in really interesting dialogue during monthly open studios. I find it fascinating and so helpful to have that feedback.

I definately have to put some time and efford into having a great newsletter, especially after seeing Diane Leonard's.

Marian Fortunati
I'm always surprised and delighted when I listen to what my collectors have to say about a piece of art they have chosen.
Each viewer comes with their own story and often bring their own special meaning which could be quite different than yours as the artist to a piece of art. Somehow I think this is what is most wonderful about art!

Donna Robillard
Yes, it is so interesting to listen to another person's story about a piece of art. Someone has a painting that I did, and when I was working on it, I had one thing in mind. But she shared with me what it meant to her - so the story goes on! It's really exciting to have another twist in the journey.


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