Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I Dread Open Studio Weekend

Back in February, when I committed to participate in it, Open Studio Weekend was just a wisp of a cloud in my otherwise sunny horizon.  As winter melted slowly into spring, the cloud grew larger and greyer.  This week it has ballooned to major thunderstorm dimensions.  It may even be a tornado.

Every year, on Memorial Day weekend, artists and craftspeople throughout Vermont open their studios to curious neighbors, to husbands dragged away from the golf course by their wives, and to devoted friends who don't mind sacrificing a spring weekend to encourage their artist pals.  I have participated in Open Studio in the past, and I remember rejoicing in the number of sales the last time I did it a couple of years ago.  It's not even that much work.  I take my stuff to my friend Dona's (she's an oil painter--click on http://www.artistseyestudio.com/) and we hang out together and walk through the beautiful gardens that she spruces up for the occasion.

But still, I dread it--and not just Open Studio, but craft shows and gallery openings as well.  I'd rather testify before Congress than stand before my work and make conversation with (let alone sell something to) the people who come to look at it.  I can speak before groups large or small, about things I know much or little about, with barely a tremor.  But let some hapless passerby wander over to my sculpture display, and it's all I can do to keep from diving under the tablecloth.

I'm not the only one to feel this way.  I know an artist of advanced years who has been supporting himself with his work for a long time, and who still refuses to be present at the openings of his own shows.  Van Gogh was probably this way too, which would explain why he didn't sell a single painting during his life.  Picasso, on the other hand, was not.

But those two are too far up in the stratosphere to be relevant to most of us.  Alongside the shy, reclusive artists, I have known seemingly ordinary souls who hang their stuff on a wall, hand you a glass of wine, and before you know it you've bought something, without the idea of "pressure" ever entering your mind.  How do they do it?

I'm aware that where talent (I'm talking about the sales, not the artistic, kind) is lacking, practice can fill the gap.  God knows I was nervous the first time that, as an English-challenged 11th grader, I entered an oratorical contest.  But that occasion was followed by interviews survived, courses taught and graduation speeches delivered, until speaking in front of people became as comfortable as chatting with a friend.

The answer, then, lies in aversion therapy--you know, where if you are afraid of spiders you are helped to get closer and closer to one until eventually you find yourself petting its eight hairy legs.  Not only should I be doing Open Studio, but I should join every arts organization that shows members' work, sign up for every crafts fair (and there are a lot of those around here), and enter my pieces in every competition for which they qualify.

My fantasy is that, if I follow this program faithfully, someday before I die I will be able to look the public in the eye, deliver a persuasive spiel, and then allow it to buy something I've made.  In the meantime, because the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single s., I'm girding my loins for Open Studio.  Wish me well.

5 comments :

  1. I wish you well.

    I don't have a problem standing in front of my work and I have trained myself to talk about it. The training consists mostly of not telling people what I really think which is either "This one is a godawful mess: the foot is too big, the light isn't right, and what was I thinking when I put in that pear?" or "This is a work of staggering genius that anyone in their right mind would mortgage their house to own" Instead I try to talk about process or inspiration or some such.

    I am also terrible at sales and have to work hard to keep myself from talking people out of buying things. My motto is Do No Harm: if someone offers a check, take it.

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  2. Oh Lali, I really wish I could come to your open studio on a spring Vermont day. I know that doesn't help you, so I'll just suggest that you imagine them all in their underwear.

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  3. Visiting with you and Dona is my favorite part of Open Studio. Cheers!

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  4. Mali, wouldn't it be fun if you showed up? Think about it--there's still time!

    Indigo, you of course are one of those devoted friends.

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  5. Elizabeth, I'll take your advice, and any checks that are offered. Not sure whether it's consoling or distressing to know that you have these troubles too.

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