Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On the Trials and Tribulations of Gallery Adventures

The Night Flight of Peter Pan and Wendy - by Mab Graves

Dearly Beloved: Mab Speaks.

So as an artist, when you show in a gallery there are pretty much 3 things you will hear quite often.
 In my time of both showing at and attending openings I have heard these same three things over and over, and I really feel like they need to be addressed.
Gallery etiquette and conversation is something that mostly has to be experienced and learned, and I meet so many young artists I want to pull aside and say “Oh don’t say that!”
So here we go. ^_^

Question: “How long did it take you to make this”
        It really drives me crazy when I hear an artist say “It took me like, 15 minutes!”……
Okay let’s break it down. Firstly: If said piece did indeed take you 15 minutes, please immediately remove it from the wall and hide it someplace secret. There is no possible way that a 15 minute piece is any good at all. 
Nope – don’t try to argue with me. Take it down.
That’s out of the way. So now: when I person asks me how long a piece took to create, my answer is always:
“My entire life”.
There is really no more correct response than that. Every piece I create is a culmination of my whole life’s experiences and mistakes. While each one of my pieces takes anywhere from dozens to hundreds of hours to create there is SO much more that goes into it and the value of your piece should never be gauged by something as silly as the amount of hours taken to execute it.

Comment: “I love your work”
*Queue awkward moment noise*
        No, this is actually a very sweet - if not well thought out - comment to make.
The reason this isn’t a good thing to say? There is really only one possible answer: “Thank you” followed immediately by staring at shoes and pretending to need more wine.
There is no where to go from there.
It’s a conversation kamikaze.
I have had shows where someone will come up to me and (very sweetly) say that, then look at me hopefully as if waiting to see pearls of wisdom fall or a witty comment from my lips.
I am a pretty dreadful conversationalist, and painfully shy in public so I usually end up mumbling some gibberish that needs to be repeated multiple times in order to eventually be translated into “umthankyousoverymuch”
Now, often openings are so busy that there is really no time for anything other than a quick comment and handshake –but if you are in a situation where the gallery is quiet and you would like to have an actual conversation with the artist, here are a few brilliant things I have heard that ended up striking interesting conversations and even friendships:
 “I really love the darkness and depth of your pieces. They actually make me taste grey”

 “What in the world possessed you to paint this”

 “ When I walked into the gallery and saw this piece, I went from drunk to sober” (this guy wins the award! – and I let him name the price on the piece ^_^)

Mainly – give your artist something to grab onto. A springboard for somewhere to take the conversation.

Eavesdropping over-hearing comment: “His work is overpriced”
    Whoa! Okay, so maybe I am not the biggest fan of this particular show, but it is never –ever- okay to comment on how another artist prices his pieces.
Party foul.
As artists, we each have our own market and collectorship and some are much higher than others. You obviously have no idea.
Maybe I would never buy a piece from this guy, but there is no way I am ever going to publicly comment on the pricing of his work.
Hopefully he is being honest (and not ridiculous) in his pricing but as artists we need to stick together and uphold the belief that what we create has a valid, valuable and important place in our history and generation.
Keep those comments to your mind ^_^

Art is struggling right now. Our generation can’t imagine spending $400 on an original piece of art when they can get a print from Target for $10. They don’t comprehend the honor and thrill of owing an original piece. It is up to us to change the mindset. It is our duty to support one another and struggle to keep creation alive.

Okay, so those are the main ones I have heard that I felt really needed to be talked about but I want to hear from you, Are there other tragic art mis-steps that you have encountered?

Let’s hear it.


  1. This is amazing. I'm so glad you posted this. I think the question i've encountered most is "where did you come up with this? You must have been on drugs". You're fantastic, and I still want to do that short little interview I emailed you about ages ago. I have the questions written up in a book somewhere :)

  2. I have the most amazing daughters.

  3. Finally, someone with a (smart!) head on their shoulders has written & posted some useable and (queue angels singing...) truthfully honest information on what really happens as a result of comments & conversation in art gallery exhibits and shows! The average person doesn't understand that certain things are socially "off-limits" in this environments. Thank you for posting this witty & mindful list of gallery do's and don'ts. You are not only talented, but fabulously funny! Oh! I just thought of another "comment from the mouth's of the inexperienced show-goer". As a jeweler doing shows with a full spread of sparkling gems displayed on my table with my business cards, tags that list the types of stones, metal or supplies used attached to an item, -let's say a necklace, and brochures or flyers from said show saying, "Support Handmade", I still get groups of ooglers that just stand there, blocking other shoppers, asking one after the other, all 5 of them down the line, "You really MADE this??". Wow. They didn't get the hint they were at an ART show? Um...yes. I really don't understand how to make it more clear. Yes. Yes, I made this. Also, I made this one, and this one too! In fact, I made everything that says "handmade" on this table. Wow, lol, good golly!! ;)

  4. I make mosaics and I loathe the question "what does this do"? (ie: mosaic cupcake) hmmmmmmm let's see.................

  5. This is a great article! I'm always conflicted by the "how long did it take you" question so I'm glad to hear your thoughts. My biggest pet peeve comment is when some incorrectly identifies the materials/techniques used. I'm a textile artist and flinch when people are looking at crochet lace and tell me that quilt is great. I never know if it's appropriate to correct and educate them or just say "thanks".