Friday, May 24, 2013
Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Part 8: The Bitter Pill...
8. The Bitter Pill.
Let's be completely honest... rejection sucks. It's never fun to get your hopes up, only to be disappointed. In the first segment of this series, I mentioned "letting go of ego" and how this practice is important to prevent one from torturing themselves and how it can be a beneficial learning experience. The best way to discover why a particular space didn't pick your work up is to politely ask them for feedback on how you can improve your chances. BUT their response is optional and not mandatory. This article will address some of the possibilities of why they didn't take the plunge.
Space could be the issue. A store layout is kind of like a real estate map. If my years of living in New York City proved anything, it's that the less space there is to work with – the higher the prices are. For a shop, each square inch must be utilized to its fullest potential to produce the biggest return. This could translate into several different scenarios. One is that they have work that they purchased outright and want to sell it above consignment pieces where they only make a percentage and don't have any upfront money invested in the pieces. Another option is that they simply don't have the room to put another artist in.
I once applied for a three year graduate school program. The review committee raved about my work and I thought I had it in the bag! A few weeks later, I got a rejection letter. I called them up and asked them why I didn't get in, especially after such glowing reviews. They said that it had less to do with me and my work, but had more to do with the students that were already in the program. Their work was vastly different and the professors that they hired were tailored specifically to this group of students' work. Sometimes your work might be too different from the established artistic vision of the shop and they want to make a cohesive statement with the work they show.
Speaking of other artists, sometimes if they create work that consistently sells and is successful in a venue or are friendly with the owner, they can influence the outcome. In the transitional time between the height of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, the main artists strongly encouraged Leo Castelli to focus exclusively on Pop Art and Conceptual work. If he picked up an artist they didn't approve of, they'd threaten to walk. So sometimes your relationships with other artists in the community can either help or hinder your chances. I remember once when I had applied to teach a class at a large national show, my proposal was rejected because I had co-taught previously with a former (outspoken and overly aggressive) faculty member. So be careful with who you align yourself with (or make enemies with).
Sometimes the quality of the materials can effect your chances. I had one artist submit work that was made with the cheapest stuff possible (and wanted a pretty penny for it too). I couldn't in good conscience sell it; I was worried that the beads would break or components would fall apart. I always encourage artists to work with the best materials that they can afford. Or if they do use a material that doesn't have any intrinsic value, to embrace its inherent properties to the best possible advantage or use a technique that elevates and transforms the material. I've seen an artist take recycled bicycle inner-tubes and work magic on them and turn them into elegant, modern piece of jewelry.
The price is sometimes not right. Pricing work can be one of the more difficult aspects of selling one's work. Occasionally we've had to pass on selling someone's work, because it was simply priced too high. Looking at the pieces, I could see in my mind that I would be sitting on them for years without any interest and they'd just take up valuable space.
Along those same lines, if it's too cost prohibitive to display the work, that can effect the likelihood of it being shown. We worked with one artist who insisted that her pieces be overnighted from Asia and we would have to pick up the bill. (The shipping was more than what we would make on the pieces if they all sold.) She also wanted specific frames and special vellum mat boards. Again, it was just too expensive and we would lose money on the sales... that is, if they sold.
Hard sales pitches can have the opposite effect. One of my pet peeves is when someone walks in and they think they can "sell ice to an Eskimo" and try to use high pressure sales tactics to make me comply. Sometimes the best way to spark a working relationship is to let the work speak for itself and be helpful in answering any questions the shop owner might have. (Another problem comes from those who don't say anything. My mind-reading skills aren't that great and it can be frustrating trying to guess what the artist wants to convey.)
If you're difficult and you know it, raise your hand! Be honest with yourself. If you know that you have a prickly disposition, it might be wise to arrange for someone else to approach prospective galleries. There are agents/sales representatives out there who deal specifically with selling other's jewelry or artwork and act as a middleman that facilitate these deals. That opens another can of worms though. Sometimes you just need someone who is invested in your best interests to act on your behalf. Jackson Pollack is a household name; one of the main reasons is that his wife and fellow artist, Lee Krasner, was a strong advocate of his work while Pollack was alive and after he passed.
Timing can be an issue. Some creative spaces only accept new artists during certain times of the year or when they put a call for submissions out. A prospective shop might want to investigate the salability of an artist's work by doing a limited engagement or a trunk show event to test the waters out; if they are booked for several months, they might not be looking until there's an opening in their schedule.
These are just a few examples of why a relationship might not work out. There are countless others. Maybe they had a bad day? Maybe they didn't like the color of the shirt you wore when you walked in the door? It really is very subjective. It's hard swallowing the bitter pill of rejection, but if you must, try to learn from it and don't give up!