Sunday, May 26, 2013

Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Part 10: Mind Your Business...

In the previous section of this series, I covered what an artist can do to help a shop owner and briefly outlined how they can be proactive in their working relationship.  In this post, I'll discuss when and where it is important to draw the line.  (The title comes from something that Byron Katie teaches, but isn't directly reflective of her methods or "The Work".)

This is also the last official installment of the Notes from the Other Side of the Counter series.  If there are any questions that were not covered in the ten-part feature, leave them as a comment and I'll do a follow-up post to answer them.

10.  Mind Your Business.

Sometimes the proverb, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" couldn't be more true.  While the best working relationships between a gallery and an artist are ones built on a dynamic synergy and hard work from both parties, sometimes too much "help" can be a bad thing.  It's important to remind yourself, from time to time, of the roles each of you outlined when you both initiated the arrangement.

When you agree to work with a particular shop, you're making a deal with them to represent your work in the way that they operate.  Each shop is different and you have to honor how they conduct their business.  If you don't like it or don't approve, it is best to forego working together in the first place and find another venue that suits you better.  If you have questions about your role or what you should do, you should ALWAYS go directly to your contact person in that establishment unless informed otherwise.  Deal directly with the source.  Do not take it upon yourself to go above their heads or involve outside forces unless absolutely necessary and it is completely unavoidable.  It can cause a lot of frustration and sour a good thing.  Trust who you are working with and keep an open line of communication.

Make sure that you are both on the same page.  For instance, it might be tempting to run your own promotional campaign separate from the store, but you should check with the shop owner first and get their feedback.  They might have a very particular vision of how to market and brand the pieces within their store based on their experience, and by taking it upon yourself to do it yourself, you may be undermining their efforts.  I had a friend once create a flier (in Comic Sans font, no less) for the store that said we had "cheap crafty stuff".  Even though she meant it in a good way and only had the best intentions for the shop, it was not inline with how we wanted to market ourselves.  For instance, Dean & Deluca markets themselves as purveyors of gourmet grocery items and although they certainly have "yummy grub"– that particular phrasing doesn't match up with the image that they've built their business upon and probably won't make it into any official ad campaigns in the foreseeable future.

I often hear horror stories (usually from disgruntled artists) about shop owners who are making mountains of money off of the hard work of maltreated artists.  A dangerous "us" against "them" mindset is bandied about.  The truth of the matter is that there are far more lucrative ways to make a living.  Most shop owners are in the business because they love art and want to perpetuate beauty.  I can't think of anyone who runs a creative space who has purposefully set out to mistreat or take advantage of others.  Don't make assumptions about someone else's motivations or assume the worst about them until they've given you definitive reasons.  Most conflicts come from a lack of communication and poor clarity.  Not everyone is out to screw you over and make a buck off of you.

Remember that as an artist, it is not your responsibility to run the creative space.  Unless your help is requested, it's important to respect the shop owner's vision.  You can offer assistance and give feedback, but ultimately the shop is their baby.  And if you want to play with their baby, you've got to play by their rules.  When we opened our shop, it seemed like everyone who walked in the door had an opinion of how we should run it.  After awhile, I would cringe when I would hear statements that began with the words, "You should....".  I understand that they were just trying to be helpful and wanted to give advice that they thought would make us successful.  But when we opened the gallery, it wasn't to fulfill what others had envisioned, but to actualize our own hopes and dreams.  Cue Aretha Franklin and R-E-S-P-E-C-T that!

10.2:  Notes from the Other Side of the Counter.

When I began writing this series of posts, it began as a list of suggestions for a friend who was worried about approaching a gallery.  I wanted to give support and demystify a process that can sometimes be intimidating.  My advice is based upon my observations and experiences and is often times merely applied common sense.  The words that I have written are by no means the be-all and end-all authority. Every business operates differently and I invite readers of this series to take what is useful and disregard what isn't.  For those of you who have experience running a creative space or have experience as an artist working with the stores and galleries to sell and consign your work, I encourage you to share your knowledge and advice.  We were all beginners once.  And for those of you who are just starting out, I applaud you for taking the next step and wish you much success in your future endeavors!


Anonymous said...

Great series of posts, Andrew! I really enjoyed reading each installment, and picked up several great tips!

Barbara said...

Thank you for posting all of this information Andrew. Having learned all this through trial and error as an artist and being on both sides of the counter in my career....This is all relevant and candid advice that will be valuable to so many artists out there! A wonderful series of articles you've written!

Anonymous said...

I thought this was an sightful, thus informative series of posts. I found it most helpful.

Unknown said...

What a great serie, thank you so much for sharing all these insights. Very helpful and well written.

To your health and continued success,