Sunday, January 15, 2012

Business of Art Should Not Be All or Nothing

There have been editorial commentaries being forwarded about on Facebook encouraging artists to disavow ourselves of giving artwork to charity auctions and commission-based galleries. While I agree with some of the arguments, I will not be making any such pledges. There is room in my life for a less black and white approach to my business and here are some off the cuff things that come to mind in this debate.

"Genesis" My last fundraiser donation 

In my 30+ years as a potter, I've come to realize myself as the experiential/process oriented person I am. That means I will always try a little of this and a little of that, do it the wrong and slow way before learning the best and/or quicker way, and learn as I go.

Thus, I've consigned and wholesaled and had good and bad experiences with both. Most consignment galleries have paid on time within 30-days of the sale and in keeping places stocked with a good selection of my work I've formed nice relationships with gallery owners and managers. In the bad experiences side, I have had a gallery go out of business without telling me and before giving back work, and sometimes payments have been late or non-existent unless I press. 

I stay in the consignment galleries where I have good relationships with people. The better you know them, the more enthusiastic they are as ambassadors of your work. Giving them some of my inventory motivates me to make more work--especially if I don't have any orders from my wholesale shops. Wholesale galleries are great, but not a panacea when you visit and see your artwork on a bargain table because it was marked up triple your regular retail price and marked down to its normal one. It's best to have a mix of both if one can.

Donating to Charity Auctions has been the same hit and miss. When work has sold at value or higher it's felt like a good thing. If I've received my regular artist commission on the sale price, that has been even better. If it's a podunk event that doesn't bother to send a personalized letter or give a personal appeal and it's a cause that isn't necessarily mine, I've learned not to give because there is usually no follow-up, nor thanks. When it is a cause that I believe strongly in, I give artwork to them for their fundraising efforts because I can’t write a big check. No matter what the eventual sales price is, I figure that someone will purchase it and give this worthy organization more $$ than I could've given myself and am just ok with it. So there are limits to my largess.

I think we also need to reconsider that we need to be marketing our work as much as possible to make a living, and charity auctions and consignment galleries get our work out in front of people who we may not be able to reach all on our own. As social media activities show us, the emphasis now is on making relationships and maintaining them on this funny life journey. A donated pot to a charity event is a way to make new or cement old relationships, and consignment galleries have the potential of getting more frequent feedback from the people on the frontline pushing our work for us. If that gallery is in a tourist location there can be a constant new audience for our work. 

Traditional marketing/advertising meant printing expensive business cards and brochures, having multiple photographs and slide copies, placing expensive ads in publications. Social media activity and online internet shops means we can update images at the drop of a hat, and can meet many new people who are all sharing their interests with others. But a digital online photo of our pottery isn't the same as the real thing as a wonderfully made piece of pottery in the hand.

We need to make the most of all potential relationships however we are doing biz. When you donate a pot to a charity event, make sure you get a free invite to that event and then use the evening to meet potential new customers and see how people react to your work. It is an opportunity for people to see real art instead of just images on their computers. If you are in a consignment gallery, check in with their Facebook pages and repost things you think are of interest, and whenever you can, give a visit and get to know the people who are helping you sell your work.

So, I've toned down and tried to make coherent my reaction against the consignment and charity donation naysayers. Again, these are my semi-random thoughts . . . at least today.

I'm interested in hearing other people's thoughts on all of this. 


  1. Thanks, Cynthia. I appreciate your semi-random thoughts :-)

    I particularly liked your comment about donating art to an organization when "writing a big check" is not within the budget.

    Recently I rec'd a donation request from an organization. Before deciding what to do I checked out their web site. Turns out they have opposing views on issues important to me. I just wrote them back with a "thanks for asking...but I will pass as this time" email and wished them well with their auction.

    joyfully, Maureen

  2. So it goes... I'm a bit of a softie and wish to give to everyone, but know it just isn't possible and isn't always prudent.

  3. thoughtful comments, Cynthia. I've got a few organizations that I donate to, but for the most part have stopped. I haven't seen any of my charity donations result in gallery sales. So, even though it is suppose to help with "marketing" - that has not been the case for me. But, I agree, if it's a good cause, I'll donate something instead of writing a check.