10 Things You Should Never Say to an Artist – or Should You?

I found this meme running around on Facebook today and I read over it. As I understood it, this list of questions is supposed to be offensive to artists but I found that most of these questions don’t offend me as an artist at all and I thought I’d take a little time to share my thoughts. First I’ll present the list and then address them below.

10 questions not to ask an artist

I’m going to address the questions in the order they are listed in the meme, starting with number 10.

10) “l’ll just get my friend to make me one of those.”

Well, let’s face it. That one’s just rude. There’s no way to make this one a positive thing. Just acknowledge that such a remark says far more about the individual than it does you or your work. Try not to take it personally – we all know there’s some really classless people in the world with no filter. They’re the ones you move on from and don’t waste your time with. They’ve just announced to you that they’re not your customer after all.

9) “You know what you should make?”

I actually like number nine. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from customers. I always listen to the customer’s suggestion and thank them for offering it. Of course there are many suggestions that I don’t use, but a few have been very helpful and inspiring. Some suggestions are ideas that I’ve already had – sometimes I say so, sometimes I don’t. If I say so I make sure to say it in a positive way that reaffirms that I think the customer had a great idea. I’m certain these people don’t mean to be offensive in any way. They were just inspired by something they saw on your table, thought they had a great idea and shared it with you. It’s valuable feedback from your customer, they’re telling you what they want. Thank you for your suggestions! That’s my attitude.

8) “Do I get a price break if I buy two?”

I understand that a good many artists are offended by this. I am not. I usually have some kind of special in my booth to direct them to if they’re looking for a sale. For example, I often offer a buy two get one free earring sale. This works well for me. I’ve had someone who only intended to buy one pair of earrings buy two – doubling my sales. I’ve had someone buy two lower priced earrings and decide to splurge on themselves to get a pair of luxury higher end earrings. Since the lowest priced one is the free pair this is good for me too as again it’s taken the sale up a notch for me and made the customer feel good about splurging on themselves at the same time. Win/win. Also in the above scenario the redirection is better than saying no. While it’s not always possible I try to avoid using negative language that ends a conversation. ‘No’ is certainly one of the most definitive enders in the English language.

7) “I can make that myself.”

Again, people who do not possess filters are everywhere. See number 10 above.

6) “Why does it cost so much?”

I am most comfortable when I’m in the studio working or when I have the opportunity to talk about my art with an interested party. While I find talking about the money the most uncomfortable part of my job I do not shy away from this question. I use it as an opportunity to tell a little bit of my story and tell them exactly how much work and skill has gone into the piece. Sometimes I talk about what inspired individual elements which gives me the opportunity to engage them fully in the details of the piece. This one hasn’t happened very often. Only twice that I recall. But I didn’t get offended, I took it as a sign they were really interested in the piece. Both conversations resulted in making the sale – at full price.

5) “How do you make this?”

I LOVE question number five. I love to tell people about the techniques I use. Not only that but I see this is a green light. The customer just gave me permission to try to sell them. I especially love telling people about my cloisonné work. I even keep a small sign on my table with pictures of various stages of a cloisonne piece in progress to provide a visual aid as I describe my technique. I try to use descriptive words that allow them to visualize me working on the piece in my studio – a little window into the life of the artist. This can be a very effective selling tool. A lot of serious buyers are often sold on the artist’s story and the story or inspiration behind the piece before they’re actually sold on the piece.

4) “Can you donate your art to our event? We can’t pay you but it will be great exposure.”

I donate my work to charities often. Not so much for the exposure (because I’ve never really had a sale result from a donation that I know of) but because I like to feel like I’m giving back and contributing to my community. However sometimes the sheer volume of donation requests an artist gets can be overwhelming. I can’t accommodate every request but I do give careful consideration to each request and the cause. Just in case you’re one of the people out there who works to gather donations, please understand that this kind of request is made all of the time of us artists and while I am happy to give I have to draw the line somewhere. If I don’t donate to your cause this time, check back with me next year. However, also know that if I donate to your cause and find myself immediately contacted by two other people seeking donations for other events who tell me that you gave them my information right behind my donation to you I will feel like I’m being pimped out and strike you off of my list next year. Don’t pass my name around on the ‘sucker’ list. Trust me when I say I am already inundated with a multitude of donation requests. Realize that just because I gave to your cause doesn’t mean I’m a bottomless well of free jewelry. I’m an independent artist who is trying to support three children and maintain a home. Don’t abuse my generosity.

3) “My nine year old makes this stuff too.”

I’ve never had anyone compare my work to their nine year olds craft. Rather, in my experience, this question usually goes something like this: ‘My (insert relative) makes this kind of stuff too.’ Now in this case, I do want to distinguish myself and my work from your niece’s hobby so I have to address this. I am going to remind you politely that I’m a professional. I usually respond something like “Really? That’s great! What galleries does your niece show in?’ (thanks for that one Bruce Baker!)  In this way I have responded in a positive manner and managed to distinguished myself as a professional all at once. Of course, on occasion you’ll find that her niece is also a professional. Keep the dialog positive and know that your customer is probably just proud of her niece and wanting to brag on her as any good auntie would.

2) “Kids, this is what happens when you don’t go to college.”

Okay, so we all know that’s not intended to be a compliment – but take it as one anyway. It’s either that or you accept the poison stinger the wasp just extended. I just respond exuberantly “That’s right! You get to earn a living being creative and doing what you love instead of being stuck in an office or a job you hate.” And by the way Mrs. Wasp, you shouldn’t assume that an artist hasn’t been to college. Some of us may be better educated than you! I know brilliant engineers, scientist and technological innovators who are artists.

1) “I can buy that at Walmart for $3.99”

If you’ve ever said this to an artist you really should be ashamed. The fact that someone doesn’t know that already tells me a great deal about the individual. The first thing you should take away from such a remark is that this person just announced to you that they are not your customer. Thank you for the heads up! That’s what you should be thinking. Move on and don’t waste your time on them. As I said before, there are a lot of classless people in the world without filters. Yes, some ARE actually out to get a rise out of you – and that’s exactly why you shouldn’t let that happen. Don’t reward and reinforce the negative behavior in any way. Sometimes they just want attention and this is their way of trying to get it. I rob these individuals of the attention they seek by leaving them to be their own audience.

In the end, I suppose what I want other artists to take away from this is that ALMOST all questions are good questions. Most can be used as a tool to engage your customer further, to humanize yourself to them, to tell them your story and ultimately to make the sale. The term ‘green light question’ was coined by Bruce Baker. He defines it as any question that gives the artist the go ahead to begin to sell the customer on your work. As Bruce Baker says, it’s important to recognize the green light questions and act on them. I also think it’s important to recognize that a yellow light question is an opportunity to turn it around into green light question and close the sale and possibly build a relationship with a soon to be repeat customer.

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