Arts Etiquette: Art Crawls

Art crawls are a treasure. If you haven't been to one, I highly recommend that you put on some comfortable shoes and go explore one. They are usually held in art districts where working artists open their doors and welcome people into their homes and studios to see their creations. In the Twin Cities they are held in the Lowertown Arts District of Saint Paul in April and October, spreading outward to individual arts building along University or near Harriet Island. In Minneapolis, they are held primarily around the Northeast Arts District. Art-a-Whirl is held in May. Unlike art street fairs, where the vendor booth fees are astronomical and prohibitive to newer artists, you get to see more artists who are just starting out, who are less commercial, or who sell less low-priced kitch than the street fairs (much of which is imported filler and not original work...I get the same catalogs they do). There is an intimacy and vulnerability in the the open studios that you rarely find in a gallery opening.

How to be a good guest:

1. Don't be a cheese hunter. These are the bane of the artist's existence. Many people attend art crawls for a free meal and to get hammered on cheap boxed wine. The artists want to be good hosts, so they put out a good spread. However, the quality of food offered and the public availability of that had declined this past decade due to the cheese hunters. These are the people who will poke their head in a studio just to look for food, not to look at the art or interact with the artist. It is not unheard of for an artist to spend more money on feeding their guests than they actually take in. If you are looking for a meal, you can at least buy a post card or keychain from the person hosting you. It is discouraging to an artist to think that their work can be upstaged by a deli-tray when people ignore the work and make a bee-line to the food table.

2. Respect the space. You are walking into someone's studio or home. You are a potential customer, but you are also a guest. Be gracious. Don't be nosey if they've curtained off areas like their sleeping quarters. Don't steal. Don't leave litter around for them to pick up. Don't be so drunk that you crash into things.

3. You don't have to understand or like every piece, but don't be a dick about it either. I have given many a hard look to people who wanted me to commiserate with them on how "awful" an artist's piece was or how "their five-year-old could do it". What art have you created lately? It takes guts to put it out there on display. That said, yes, there is bad work out there, but unless they are soliciting a critique, it is rude to dish on the artist in their home.  Almost every artist has heard some nasty little person say "I can make that". Really? Then why aren't you?

4. Don't touch. We all learned as toddlers that we can look with our eyes. Don't touch an artist's work unless it is something that is clearly marked as okay to touch or something that is understood to be handled like some clothing or accessories. You break it, you buy it.

5. Acknowledge the artist. It is only polite to say hello, or at the very least to acknowledge that you have been greeted. Little courtesies really do matter, and they cost you nothing. They do, however, keep an artist from becoming jaded about the event, ensuring their studio doors will be open next year. 

6. Don't judge a book by it's cover. There are a lot of would-be fashion experts out there who have watched too much reality TV and think that they need to be bitchy to have any cred. However, a real working artist will probably have spent the night before prepping for this event, and if they are working though it, they will likely be in clothes that they don't mind getting dirty. Sometimes artists have dealt with their own demons, and it shows in social awkwardness. Be prepared to interact with a wide variety of people. Does the work move you? Is the talent there or just starting to blossom? That is what matters more than the posturing.

7. Come to buy. This is how the artists make their livelihood. While it is good to create out of love of art, that is not what pays their rent or puts food on their table. Even when I have been at my starving-artist poorest, I could afford to buy SOMETHING. That is the rule my husband and I have. We always buy SOMETHING. It may be  a small print, or it may be a large painting, depending on our budget. These little things add to our experience, add rich variety to our home, and put money directly in the pockets of artists.

8. Don't haggle. This is not a market in Marrakesh. Haggling with an artist is just tacky. Sometimes artists may be willing to cut a deal (especially if it is toward the end of the event) but don't expect it, and certainly don't be pushy about it.  If it is close to your budget, you can always make an offer, but don't be insulting by asking them to take a huge chunk off. Artists already tend to undercharge and devalue their work on their own. They don't need you doing it for them. In order to have a working industry, they need to be paid a fair rate.

How to be a good artist:

1. Copying a well-known photo or album cover is an exercise, not your own art to sell. You may love that image, but so does the original copyright holder. You may have learned light and shadow and texture by copying it, and that knowledge is valuable, but is still doesn't make it an original piece, at least not without significant alteration. Selling a copycat work is the classic mark of an amateur, and it is not what people are attending the event to see.

2. Internet tutorials are inspiration, not original works. Creativity is not optional, it is essential. Take the ideas and use them as seeds to grow your own works, not as something to copy (see #1). I thought that melted crayon piece was neat when I saw it on pinterest as well...before I saw it several more times in person with people trying to sell that craft as their original creative work. Take some risks and try something new.

3. Label your work with prices. Don't get a possible patron's hopes up if a piece is not for sale, or is a commission in progress. Don't make them have to fight their way through a crowd or come back just to ask the price. Let them see it and figure out if it is near their budget. If you take the guesswork out of it, they will be more likely to buy. Sometimes people want to give you their money; let them.

4. Be available, or have an available representative.  There are few things as frustrating to a patron as an artist who can't be found when they want to make a purchase or ask a question. However, you are human, and you can get overwhelmed or need to eat or pee. Be available to answer questions when you can, and when you can't, have someone to back you up. Give them a basic rundown of your work, and an interesting talking-point about the pieces. This could be about your method, the inspiration, your materials...People love a story, and they want to feel a small connection to the artist they are buying from.

5. Be genuine, or at least entertaining. Don't be this artist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZRj3CPtC9I People are not dumb. They can tell if you are trivializing a serious subject for your own notoriety, or if you are pontificating about a completely BS artists statement. They can also tell if you are an "artist" because you just wanted cheaper rent on a loft.

6. As I listed for guests above, don't judge a book by it's cover. There are times I hit a crawl dolled-up and dressed to the nines. There are times I come in blue jeans from working in my own studio. There are times that I come in biker leathers and carrying a helmet. I have always been a chameleon. As I stated above, I always come to buy. I also only buy from a genuine and gracious host. I like my artists real. Not pandering because I look rich, or giving me the side-eye because I look poor, or getting snotty because leather offends them. None of these outer trappings affect what should really matter to the artist: I have a lifetime of arts education as a student, muse, coach, and instructor. I appreciate the work, and my cash is green. That is what is important. You never know who your next dedicated patron will be.

Cheap boxed wine? Nope I only serve the finest "Three Buck Chuck" at a crawl.

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