on selling one’s art (or not)

I spent Friday night performing my music in the courtyard of a local store during the monthly Hamilton Art Crawl.  The Art Crawl typically falls on the second Friday night of each month where the art galleries, shops and restaurants of James St. North in Hamilton stay open late in a celebration of art and community.

One of the stores has acted as a catalyst, connecting artists, artisans, craftspeople and other local businesses to the community.  The Hamilton Store has been very supportive of my music career as well, providing opportunities for me to perform in a relaxed, calm environment.

During my time in the Hamilton Store’s courtyard, I have had the pleasure of meeting local artists and makers and have been inspired by their art.  One such artist, Bernie Hudecki, has provided artwork for my CD table for one. and also another work that inspires me daily in my studio.  The owner of the Hamilton Store provides a space where artists can display their work and talk about their artistic vision to a crowd of engaged art fans and shoppers.

This Friday, I was exposed to a digital artist whose work celebrated the City of Hamilton while also providing a unique filter to view the environs that surround us all.  I was inspired by certain works and considered adding a print or two to my collection.

But.

The courtyard housed the work of this artist on the walls that fenced in the area.  The back portion of the courtyard, furthest from the rear of the store housed a local maker who was ebullient, creative, friendly and a joy to be around.  I chose the back corner in which to perch on my tall stool with my guitar and music stand.

I arrived shortly after 6pm in order to be set up and ready by 7pm.  My stool and table were in use by the artist, to hold various pieces of artwork and her purse.  We were introduced and she brusquely acknowledged me and then went back to hanging her work.

Both the store owner and I indicated that the table and stool needed to be cleared in order for me to set up.  I had asked again at 6:30 also ensuring her husband knew that I needed the items to set up.  By 6:45, they both were still occupied, so I took it upon myself to clear and move the stool and moved a different table to my area.

Both the maker and I were up and running at 7pm while the artist and her husband were still setting up, hammering nails, dropping framed prints and yelling at each other over who was at fault.  Meanwhile the crowd was beginning to filter in, having to make their way around the fallen art, the empty bags and bubble wrap and, yes the artist and her husband.

Once the art was set up, the artist retreated to the store, where she was seen to be  rummaging through the store’s stock, having her husband take pictures of various items for sale and photographing pages of books “for future” work.  Hmmm.

Once she and her husband had ransacked the store (the owner unobtrusively followed behind to tidy up things while dealing with customers), the photographer sat in a chair behind the counter and spent the evening looking glumly at the floor or in her purse.  Her husband popped out a few times to photograph the artwork on the courtyard walls while the maker and I greeted guests and customers and sold our wares.

Many asked if the artist was here – we commented that yes she was and indicated who she was in the store.  When they went to engage, she often greeted them with an uncomfortable stare and what looked like to be terse conversation.  Most walked away after a very brief conversation.

When the evening was done, I had noted two works “spoke” to me and I went to find the artist to request a card.  Stating that I was interested in two pieces, however they weren’t in my budget at the moment – a mid-scale digital print in an IKEA frame was priced at just under $300.

After rolling her eyes and groaning, she told me, “It would be nice if you had the money for them now, as I just have to take them home.  It’s bad enough I only sold one piece tonight and the store offered to take one on commission, but call me when you have enough money to buy them.”

Wow.  I can’t understand why she didn’t sell more art…the whole evening it was clear that she wanted to be anywhere but there.  She was unavailable throughout most of the night and when people did go search her out, she was standoffish (at best) to down right rude (at worst) to potential customers.

Most artists understand that festival nights such as this don’t result in actual sales of product.  What they do result in is a chance for a creator/maker to sell themselves as an artist.  I sold 1 CD and a few downloads all night long, however gave out several business cards and discussed potential bookings.  Since Friday, several downloads have been purchased.

The hardest thing for any artist to do is to sell themselves.  The second hardest thing is to sell their work.  The artist Friday night was clearly unwilling to do either and drove at least this potential customer away.

Perhaps next time, she should have someone available who is willing to be available, be open and willing to talk about her art for her.  She might find the evening had gone differently for her.