This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
One of the many hats I wear is that of dragon, and yes, I do know that dragons don’t wear hats.
(I also recognize that dragons don’t technically exist, but if we keep bogging ourselves down in details we’ll never get to the important stuff which is this):
Whether you are the artist yourself or whether you are the person managing the artist (e.g., the spouse), you need to connect with this inner dragon.
Now dragons, according to people like C.S. Lewis (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit) spend a lot of time outside their cave, guarding their ill begotten treasure, and their major goal, other than accumulating more treasure, is to ensure that nobody gets into the cave with the treasure.
Specifically this means that somebody in your fine art business – whether it’s a separate person who manages for you or whether it’s a portion of your personality – needs to be good at saying the word “no” – firmly, politely, tactfully, graciously, but decidedly definitely, because if you haven’t experienced this already, you will shortly learn that a lot of people want something from you that isn’t necessarily your art.
“Will you take a quick look over my art portfolio and let me know what you think of my paintings?”
While people mean well, they often don’t recognize that they are asking the artist to consult, for free, and there is no such thing as a “quick look.” There are three options for dealing with this one:
Saying yes to everyone who asks.
Saying no to everyone who asks.
Setting up a consulting option, charging fairly for the service.
“Would you consider donating a piece of your lovely work for this benefiting auction?”
This has been discussed in this forum before, and the best answer I heard was, “Certainly. I will charge you wholesale/reduced rate/sufficient to cover my expenses and you are welcome to choose from a selection that I provide.”
“Can you come to our art group meeting and do a short demo?”
I don’t know about you, but I watch my Norwegian Artist, and he puts prep time into EVERYTHING. That short demo may represent three hours in all, and I want to make sure that he is compensated for his time. So I’ll name a fee.
“There’s a new bakery opening and they want some art. Can you put up a few pieces here and there?”
This qualifies as a show to us, and as such, we’ll review it for effectiveness, sales probability, and security. If it passes, we’ll pursue the matter and formalize it. We never slap up work on the wall and walk off for the weekend.
My major function as dragon is to act as a buffer between outside requests like these and the artist, and this is where the advantage of having two people in the same business comes in: he paints; I field phone calls and e-mails.
If it’s up to you to do both, however, don’t despair – you just need to connect with that inner dragon. If someone calls you in the midst of your painting and asks you to do something, you are not obligated to say yes and feel bad about it later.
“Well, that’s an interesting idea, and I need to give it some thought. Let me do so and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
Hang up. Go back to painting. Later, think seriously over the proposition and see if it’s something that 1) you really want to do and 2) benefits you by doing so.
If the answer’s yes, then do it. If the answer’s so-so, see if there is a way to turn it to your advantage, and offer your customization ideas to the asker.
And if the answer’s no, just say no – politely, firmly, graciously, and guilt-free.
Keep that treasure safe.