This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world. Jack authored seven Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
It’s strange how one line from a movie will stick in our minds. Like Dirty Harry saying, “Make my day.” Or, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well do you?” I really like one from the Superman where Gene Hackman played the villain Lex Luther and Ned Beatty was his sidekick. Lex looked at his security screen, saw Ned walking and commented, “How does that little brain move that big body.” Every time I see Ned Beatty, I recall that line with a smile.
But my all-time favorite was Burl Ives playing Big Daddy in A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Big Daddy shouted in his bellicose voice, “Mendacity. All is mendacity.” At the time I saw the movie, I didn’t have a clue what that meant. I’ve told you many times I graduated from college with a fifth grade education. When I got out of school and into the real world, I was ashamed of how little I knew. I purchased a pocket dictionary, keeping it with me at all times. I clearly remember looking up mendacity after the movie. I found the word meant misrepresentation, deception, deceit, falsehood, dishonesty, or in plain English, a bald faced lie. We use words to soften the blow by saying he/she fibbed. In truth, a fib is still a lie. Politicians tend to sugar coat a lie by saying my opponent misspoke. If they were honest, they would say that rotten so and so told a through his teeth, slap in your face, downright lie. I also love the way people cover a lie by using the word prevaricate. In Proverbs there are six things that God hates - one is a lying tongue. The courts will send you to prison for perjury - a nice word for lying under oath.
My youngest son used a “white” lie to get items from the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was about six when he wrote them, without our knowledge, saying they were his favorite team and that he was dying. He asked them to send him something before he died. He addressed his note to Tampa Bucs, Tampa, Florida and somehow the note reached them. They were a new team with few fans so they sent him a box full of stuff including a football, helmet, jersey, photos and all sorts of things. I had no idea what he said in his note until he confessed when he was grown. I just assumed he had written a fan letter saying he was in the first grade.
Some artists are guilty of puffery which can be a form of lying. That’s when you expand the truth about your career. One of the quickest ways of losing credibility is using puffery in your promotional material. I often see in an artist’s literature, “Internationally known teacher or artist.” The truth is there are very few internationally known artists. I suspect Thomas Kinkade comes the closest to being an internationally known artist than any of this century.
I think of puffery in advertising. There is no little blue haired Sara Lee, that’s a mega company implying a little old lady is baking the sweets. Sam Adams beer makes people think they are a small Boston brewery, but in truth they have giant operations all over the country. There is not just one Hamburglar, but dozens scattered all across the world. Colonel Sanders has been dead for years, but the company still implies he is behind the stove cooking. These are examples of puffery lies in advertising.
No one likes to hear people brag on themselves. Trust me it’s much better if the potential client learns about your greatness from someone else.
An artist I know promised people if they purchased his prints, they would double in value in three years. The artist gave them a certificate saying he would buy the art back at double the price in three years. He was selling his prints as an investment. He sold a jillion prints until he was forced to file for bankruptcy. A majority of people buying his prints came back wanting him to make good on his contract. They expected him to pay $600 on a $300 print. He lost everything, because he was not honest at the front end. I suspect he believed his falsehood, but he made a promise impossible to achieve. When you build your career on falsehoods, you can expect to go off course. It’s like a railroad track. If one of the tracks is a millimeter off, eventually the two tracks will be too far apart for a train to use.
Have I ever lied? Way too many times. I’m not proud of being guilty of distorting the truth. I lied to my kids when I told them about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. I’m guilty of lying to highway patrolmen when I was speeding. I broke my ex-wife’s favorite vase and lied, blaming the cat. As a freshman in high school, one group ate in the cafeteria and the other brought their lunches for a picnic underneath the bleachers. If the cafeteria group asked me to eat with them, I’d lie and say I’m going to eat under the bleachers. If the bleacher bunch asked I’d lie again, saying I was going to the cafeteria. The truth was I didn’t have money for the cafeteria and my uncle couldn’t afford to fix me a sack lunch. I skipped lunch all together. I’m in no way a perfect man. I’m like the guy whose wife caught him in bed with another woman. He asked, “Who are you going to believe; me or your lying eyes?”
I’m ashamed to admit I’ve told more than my share of lies, but on my mother’s grave, I’ve never lied to Mikki. I’ve also never lied to make a sale. Have I expanded the truth in closing a sale? Probably, but I can’t remember any. I have made a conscious effort to remain honest in selling art. There were many times early in my career when the temptation to lie was great. My children were hungry and we were past due on the utilities and mortgage. One little fib to close the sale was certainly on my mind. Somehow I knew the importance of being honest if I was going to ever have a successful career. When the potential customer asked, “Can I expect you to be famous one day?” I’d answer, “I hope so but I wouldn’t take that to the bank.” Another question I faced, “How will this gold leaf hold up over the years?” I was truthful by saying I didn’t know. Since I only did the gold leaf for eight years, I had no way of knowing its longevity. This week, I got three emails from people who purchased those gold leafs almost forty years ago. One was the brother of the lady who made the purchases and another was a granddaughter who inherited the art. They sent me images and the art looks as if I had just placed them in the frame.
I think I told you readers a lie. I said I started in oils at 43. Actually I was 46. I miss calculated my numbers. So sometimes we are being honest when we lie. It dawned on me writing this article I started the gold leaf at the age of 38 and did it for eight years. That means I couldn’t have started painting in oils until I was 46. Beat me with a pepper stick.
I have never promised that collectors can expect a nice return. I tell the client, “Not many artists’ work increases in value after they are gone.” I then recommend they make the purchase only if they love the work. We do the same with Mikki’s art. People buying a George Rodrigue Blue Dog in the early stages of his career had no clue that one day the dogs would be famous. They simply loved the big, yellow-eyed blue dogs.
Listen to me. I’ve been in this business longer than the majority of you have lived. Don’t give in to the temptation to use mendacity to close the sale. The problem with lying is you need a great memory. You have to remember the lie in the event you meet those folks a few years later. Think about me dealing with clients who purchased way back in 1972. That’s forty years of remembering what I said. I don’t know about you, but my memory is not that great.
I have to say this in my defense; I sell very well. Not bragging, just a fact. Many think I do so by not being truthful. Selling is very easy if you know how. It’s simply a matter of asking editorial questions and waiting for the prospect to answer. If you listen, they will tell you how to close the sale. I sit in awe as I listen to Mikki work with a prospect over the phone. She is silk smooth in asking great questions. This week, a lady phoned to discuss the possibility of Mikki painting her a very large commission. I carefully listened as Mikki asked about her email address, “Is that ‘R’ like in Rose?” The lady answered, “Yes, my middle name is Rose.”
Mikki answered back with excitement in her voice. “Oh, that’s great. We will definitely need to put a rose somewhere in your painting. Maybe even on a tile on the wall.” Naturally the client was elated. Mikki closed the sale.
The most difficult thing I have these days is being honest with those who send images of their work to judge. I know if I tell them the raw truth they will be crushed. If I’m not honest, then they are not getting help. Don’t write if you want me to lie.
There is still a place for the truth in this world. Replace puffery with honesty. Let’s work to do away with mendacity and bring forth the truth.