Thursday, January 10, 2013

Art on Demand

I was speaking with an artist/friend of mine recently and we got on the subject of artist commissions. For those who may not be familiar with the concept, a commission is a specific request that a customer makes of an artist. The artist is tasked to create a customized piece of art work for a client which they are paid for. 
Commission work may be more expensive than the artist's regular creations. If you want something special, often you recognize that you will be paying a premium. 

We were chatting about how many people make special requests of artists and how often people just don't understand that, what seems like a simple request to them, may not be simple for an artist to create. It got me thinking about what this concept is really like. If you are willing to pay a premium for your special request then most working artists will happily work with you on whatever it is you envision. But for those who like to make "helpful suggestions", the concept falls apart. 

I think it is important to remember that artists, the ones who actually create art to make a living or work towards making a living, deserve the same respect as anyone else who performs a job or service. An artist is skilled and educated, be it college or specialized classes, to learn and fine tune their craft. They have spent hours and hours learning new techniques, making the process of creating what they do a more efficient one, and producing work that they hope is pleasing to others. Although artists generally create for themselves first, they do hope that someone else (or many others) identify with what they create enough to want to buy it. Art is a business to a working artist. Most are open to a suggestion or two but the ones I know best like to create from their own place and not from what others come up with. They are not a circus act or a trained dog that does tricks when called upon to perform. Asking them to do so can be trying and sometimes, it can be perceived as even rude. 

If you were working with an artist on a commission you are not who I am referring to. But for anyone who isn't a commission client--I know you didn't mean to be rude when asking if an artist could produce/adjust or change something about their work. Let's say you are an accomplished cook who loves the art of preparing a good meal for your family, for guests, etc. Think about how you would feel if every time you cooked something in your home, someone was there with a critique for you.  That someone was not a good cook--in fact, they couldn't really cook well at all. Their critique is intended to be helpful. The critique would be more of a curious one. Could you make this with a different flour? How about with this type of vegetable instead of the one you used? Or another kind of meat? Or could you move the meat over on the plate a little? What if someone were in your kitchen right as you cooked dinner each night offering this "helpful advice"? After a while, might it grate on your nerves? Might it make you want to focus on your own view of how the meal should look. Might you want to say to the person "go cook your own meal, the way you want it?"

I think most artists are way too interested in fostering their creativity to focus on things like this. But I know from speaking to many of them over the past ten years that they feel this way, even if they are too polite to say it out loud. 

The lesson in all of this is to respect those who do what you cannot do. And if you CAN do what someone else does, I would think it would foster even greater respect between you and that other person. I feel fortunate to have plenty of artists and people in general in my work life who I respect but also who respect me and what I do as I run my art gallery. These are people who work with me to create a positive working relationship and to promote my business as much as I promote theirs. The artists that I have a positive working relationship with don't do tricks for others-they simply do what they do and they do it well while operating from a place of honesty and integrity. I think of them as partnering with me and looking out for my business. 

They deserve every award and reward they receive because they know not only how to create their art but also how to create working relationships that move them forward and allow them to help move others forward. Win-win!

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