Monday, May 13, 2013

Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Part 6: Playing Hardball...

In the last post, I went over some of the basics of outlining a business relationship and briefly touched (indirectly) on the subject of protecting oneself.  This segment sheds more light on what can be done to get the most out of the arrangement.

6.  Playing hardball.

It's tempting to mentally strap on your spiked shoulder pads, smear some warpaint under your eyes, and crank up the soundtrack of the main fight sequence in Gladiator before power walking into the prospective gallery's doors.   You might even think it's a good idea to channel the essence of Amanda Woodward from TV's Melrose Place (circa 1995) and crack some heads.  You are the artiste, after all!

However alluring this idea might be... just don't.

I see advice all the time that the only way to insure success is by playing hardball.  Unfortunately, however false it may be, this myth persists.

Here's the truth:
The prospective gallery is not obligated to show your work.  While your work may be unique and inventive, there are thousands of other artists who can take your place.  With the rise of the internet, it is even easier for the shop owner to replace an artist without batting an eyelash.

Personally, I would rather deal with someone who is personable, polite, and easy to get along with.  I have zero desire to deal with difficult personalities.  When someone gets an attitude and tries to force their position, I smile and show them the door.

The ramifications of being unpleasant don't just end with a single shop owner.  In many cases, they also know several other owners, are members of the local chamber of commerce, and/or belong to networking communities where they can share their experiences and potentially limit your abilities to grow your business.  People who are treated poorly tend to have good memories too.  So chances are, if you offend someone, they'll stay offended.

This is not to say that you should let a shop owner walk all over you and take advantage of you and your work.  But there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to handle it.  It is best to stay calm, collected and be respectful.  And... should things escalate, it is a good idea to call in a third party to not only moderate, but also to act as a witness.  This neutral third party can help alleviate instances where your word might be different than their's.  It is also helpful to document everything.  Make notations of every interaction.  This is a passive way to be proactive in defending yourself and your work without engaging in a direct fire fight that may adversely do more harm to your career than good.

The best business relationships are mutually beneficial and symbiotic.  I believe in the artists that I work with and their vision.  This belief helps me promote and sell their work.  I think that they believe in me and my vision as well.  I think that they understand that a venue is just a bunch of empty walls without a driving force behind the space.  This force holds everything together and transforms the gallery into more than just a place to buy things, but turns it into an experience and an event.  Rarely can this synergy be achieved out of dissonance and discord; it must be attained through a dynamic partnership and shared goals.

Sometimes it pays to be the nice guy.  (Sorry Heather Locklear!)


Jenn said...

Andrew, this series of posts is brilliant! I'd love to see a regular feature of this type of information. I like that you have points of view from both sides of the counter... as the artist and as the gallery owner.

Shel said...

You have such excellent points in all of these posts - this is a fantastic series. Thanks for putting everything in one spot for us all, too!

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