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.
My last article in this series created another question.
I said that in my humble experience, most people who demand a detailed, in-depth explanation of my techniques aren’t actually customers—they’re either fellow artists, or teachers.
I didn’t intend to insult or dishonor teachers. Almost everyone in my family (both on my side and my husband’s side) is a teacher. Aunts, parents, sisters, brothers. I’ve been a teacher. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold, and I am grateful for them.
I’ve met lots of teachers during shows. Some have provided me amazing opportunities to share and talk about my work. Sometimes I even get paid! Sometimes they’ve shared information, suggested good books, or linked me up with other resources.
But there are a few bad apples in the bunch. And it may have sounded like I had it in for teachers. Then a reader, who is an artist and an art teacher, wrote to ask more about the topic.
IS it rude for her, a teacher, to ask artists about their techniques? After all, as an artist, she is naturally curious and inquisitive about other artists’ methods and techniques. And, as an art teacher, sharing these techniques with her students helps groom a new generation of potential artists, and art collectors.
She asks, “How can I be a better art viewer and appreciator without offending my fellow artists?”
I have to say, anyone who expresses concerns about being a noodge, probably isn’t one. So rest assured, Amy, you are probably a very nice teacher to talk to! But to answer your questions…..
There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, inquiry, and appreciation for others’ work and techniques. Often teachers are a-brim with same, and that’s why I said they tend to be the folks that ask lots of questions. I love it when people marvel about the detail in my work, my color choices, and my display.
Some people, though, go too far. And that will feel differently for different people.
Here are a few of my guidelines. But I can only speak for myself, and I hope others will chime in with their own ‘parameters of respect.’
First, I would say BE UPFRONT ABOUT YOUR INTENTIONS. If you will not be making a purchase, because of your budget or whatever, make that clear. If you are only asking out of curiosity, or to do educational research, let me know. It’s exasperating to think someone is a hot prospect, or a potential collector, only to discover half an hour later that the person has no intention of buying anything—especially if I’ve passed up a chance to sell to someone else who came in. (Of course, it’s also my responsibility to ‘qualify’ you as a potential customer. That’s why, in the last article, I suggest we ASK our inquisitive customers why all the questions.)
Second, BE AWARE AND BE RESPECTFUL. No two artists are alike, after all. Just pay attention to the signals you get as you ask.
Some people are highly offended if you even ask a simple question. I once angered a craftsperson by asking if his painted sculptures were wood or tin. He was so offended, he turned his back on me and walked away. (And I wanted to BUY one! Go figure….) That’s one extreme.
Other people are happy to talk your ear off about their work. I once offered to write an artist statement for a wood worker. He sent me pages and pages and pages of information about his technique, and dozens of photographs. After page two, my head was swimming. He was happy to tell anyone and everyone, everything about this work.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle—willing to share to a certain extent, if our arms aren’t being twisted. If someone is sharing, but they seem agitated, understand it may be because they are uncomfortable, but they aren’t sure how to say no, or how to keep it short.
Next, understand that I DO NOT ‘OWE’ YOU AN EXPLANATION.
You are free to ask me questions. And I am free to decide what I want to share, when, and how much. I promise to be courteous and friendly, and I will always give you something, as I promised in my last article—an overview, a book you can read or a class you can take, depending on your need. And depending how courteous YOU are. :^D
Please, BE RESPECTFUL OF MY TIME. At least wait for a slow spell in my booth. If my booth is busy, then please respect the fact that I am at that show to sell my work. Please don’t interrupt a sale (and yes, some people have done that!) Follow my lead. If I wax eloquent, fine. If I suggest you contact me after the show, then respect the fact that it works better for me that way.
In fact, THE BEST WAY TO RESPECT MY TIME IS TO PAY ME FOR IT. You get paid to teach, right? Buy my work. Invite me to speak to your local arts organization. Invite me to do an artist-in-residency with your school. Take a class from me. (I love the person who suggested that in the comments section last time!) Or at least take me out to dinner! (Just kidding.) (Wait, yes, at least buy me dinner!) Refer me to a local gallery, tell your wealthy art collecting friend about me, sing my praises on Facebook. I love making my art, but I love making money with it, too.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but I’m gonna say this flat-out:
I DON’T OWE YOU A LESSON PLAN. Your comment, “have you ever thought about the impact that a teacher can have on your marketing? If a child (tries) a technique (like yours), is it possible they may appreciate your process all the more and become a future collector?” A good point. Yes! Some of my most appealing collectors are children, and I’ve never regretted the time I’ve spent talking with them about my work. I agree whole-heartedly that sharing our art with young people instills them with a love and respect for art and craft.
Just don’t assume I’m not already doing that! :^) I’VE ALREADY DONATED HUNDREDS OF HOURS OF MY TIME teaching and supporting young people in the arts. In fact, I have a volunteer teaching gig right now. It takes up a lot of time, but I love it. Um….would you like to buy something so I can purchase more supplies for them? :^)
I want your students to have a wonderful experience with art, too. But ultimately, that’s your job that you get paid to do—not mine. I may be able to help you, but maybe not. Fair enough?
In closing, when in doubt, ASK if the artist is willing to share, and if so, when/how/under what circumstances and for how much. BE GRATEFUL when they say yes. RESPECT them if they say no. Try to make it WIN/WIN for all concerned.