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VISUAL ARTS

ETIQUETTE

Arthur Benjamins

ETIQUETTE

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I would like to highlight some of the bad behavior of far too many show visitors.


Despite entrance fees sometimes being as high as $10, it does not stop certain people from driving half an hour to shuffle around a working exhibition because they have nothing else to do that day.

Some shows are off the beaten track and are not convenient 'stop-offs' to waste an hour or so because the husband or wife wants to spend some time in a store without being rushed.

This is where the matter of etiquette comes to play. The manner in which a visitor behaves towards the working artist who is there to present his/her work alongside many other artists in order to sell or take commissions – i.e. - to put food on the table.

There is no other way to express the following and a great many visitors appear to be tragically ignorant.

These points are totally based on bitter - and ongoing – experiences.


THE ARTIST.

All shows will have an influx of amateur artists who like nothing more than to talk about their own work, their uncle's, grand fathers' and everyone else they care to remember. During their missive, they'll take out their cell phones and tediously scroll past you sometimes quite atrocious work they feel you should fall in love with.

Beware that during these impromptu showings, they'll try and elicit advice from you.

Another trap the inexperienced can fall into are by the visitors who ask all the right questions, sounding sincere and very knowledgeable. They sound like they could be buyers but if they are honest, they can initiate a conversation by stating up front that they, too, are artists and would like some advice.

It is only when you ask them outright if they are artists – they will sometimes hesitate before they say, yes.


THE WANNABE ARTIST.

These will pump you for every single possible detail about your work. They've never pointed a brush or pencil at anything in their lives but will tell you to the nth degree how much they love art and how much they longed to become one. I tell many such visitors that it is never too late to start painting, but they all whinge that it is.


TIME WASTERS AND POSERS.

They come to shows because they have nothing else to do that day. They are neither buyers, artists or interested in art. They treat their outing like a leisurely stroll which they may repeat the following day if the weather is nice. They will have forgotten you and everyone else by the time they leave the show. They'll leave your – and others' business cards/details on the kitchen table for a day or so, and then bin them all.

If you're exhibiting at an outdoor show, they will come up with their pets. I've seen them with a week-old husky in their arms – this sweetest looking creation understandably garnering loving comments from other visitors, who have taken THEIR pets with them, too. These people are there just to strut and pose at your expense with their own little 'exhibitions' happening right outside your booth and preventing others from getting near your work.


THE POACHER.

All their conversations start with an innocent sounding, “How do you do that?, How long does it take?, What style do you call this?”

In the beginning you speak readily and freely about your techniques while all the time their brains are sucking up everything you say like a bone dry sponge. They are skilled in keeping the art of conversation going. Once you're on a roll, they'll just keep feeding you little questions until they know enough of your technique, after which they'll just walk away.

One of their techniques is surreptitiously taking photographs of your booth.


THE FLATTERER.

These are the people who genuinely think all artists can live off hot air alone. They are exceptionally and effusively complimentary about your work and deliver their words with great relish. The problem is that they think their words and your bank account are connected.

Of course it feels great if your work is praised to high heaven, but after a few shows the feeling swiftly wears off and you want to ask them to put their money where their mouth is.

These are the most prolific at all show your will participate in. I've been tempted to make a sign, - “Well Done & Great Work don't pay the mortgage”


THE WALTER MITTY.

They will 'own' a slew of galleries or know people who do. They will spend a good deal of your time telling you how much of your works they want to own, how good they are and how important they can become to your career. They'll give you their business card with promises of untold wealth and that they'll contact you shortly. Of course they never do. Once they are finished with you, they will zoom in on another doomed artist with the same story.


THE TALENTLESS.

A lady come onto my booth smilingly admitting that she absolutely NO talent but that she always came to these shows to get ideas. There are many more like this who are not so stupid to actually admit this.

Another breezily told me one day that she liked going to art shows but that she never had any intention of buying. My astonished agent answered that if every visitor acted the same way, soon there would be no more art shows left for her to go to. “Oh” - she muttered, “I never thought of that!”


THE ILL-MANNERED.

  • They will stand in front of your booth with their arms crossed or in their pockets. They will be with friends because they need to showboat – and speak loudly of your work as if you simply don't exist. Looking up at them will have no result.

    They will point and guffaw, and then walk on, still giggling like pre-pubescent schoolgirls until they find another victim.

  • Other visitors will be totally distracted and spend absolutely no time looking at art. They'll be chatting with each other, texting or talking on the cell phones.

  • Meeting and greeting friends right in front of your booth, crowding and blocking it.

  • Coming over to greet/distract a visitor/friend on your booth and with whom you're having a conversation about your art. In one fell swoop, their attention has swung to their friends who may just have lost you a sale.

  • Some longer shows will have an artists' appreciation evening to where all potentials and previous buyers are invited for an open evening of canapes and drinks provided by the artists themselves. You can tell well in advance who's there just for the food. They hang around waiting for everything to be set up – swoop like vultures, load up their plates to capacity and stand well away from the booths in order not to be 'disturbed' by the artists whose food they are scoffing down.

  • I recently had a couple on my booth. The wife animatedly began to talk about another artist she had just seen at the other side of the show area – and that she was seriously considering buying from him.

    Suddenly she spotted another artist to my right – and leaving her husband on my booth, she bought a large original and also proceeded to commission this artist for many thousands of Dollars. When she realized that we lived a stone’s throw from them, she asked if we would be so kind to drop their new painting at their house because their car was too small!


THE ‘BE-BACK'

Only a very small % of the visitors who promise faithfully that they'll 'be back' – actually do return to buy your work.

It is seen as a standard, innocent throw-away line to get away after they've spent some time with you. However, it is far from innocent and should be considered as despicable.

One year, a fellow artist in the booth next to me, asked outright from a 'be back', if he would really be coming back? He told him that all artists came to the show to sell and that many had mortgages, kids in school, and needed to put food on the table. This 'be-back' - promise would only fill them with hope, only to be disappointed if the buyer never returned.

The 'be back' guiltily slunk off into the distance.


THE CRIMINALS.

The following really happened and I have no words as how to describe the following 'visitors'.

A couple approached a lady artist to discuss her work. After a little while they began to negotiate a price for several of her pieces and pushed her ever lower. Eventually, she gave in and agreed on the final price they offered.

The couple burst out laughing and smirked that they regularly had these bets with each other to see just HOW much they could get an artist to lower his/her prices.

The story spread through the show like wildfire prompting several burly artists to drop what they were doing to try and look for them, but mercifully for everyone, the perpetrators had already slithered away.

—oOo—

After the amount of shows and exhibitions I've had over the 40 years, There are boatloads of events that have unfolded over those years – and they are still happening all the time.

A great many visitors have absolutely NO idea of the decorum they should exhibit when they go to shows. They think it is a museum, a circus, a comedy club act where are are free to react in any way they see fit. The artist in front of them is to be poked with a stick, heckled and ridiculed. The problem is that they would definitely not appreciate the justified response they'd deserve as a stand-up comedian would deliver. I've been very close, believe me!

I suggested a tongue-in-cheek I.Q. test for all visitors whereby they have to say their names three times. If they get it right, they're allowed in! LOL.

It is my sincere belief that being an artist is difficult enough and need not be made contentious by the frivolous and contentious behavior from thoughtless visitors.

Arthur Benjamins