Business is a combination of war and sport.”- Andre Maurois
You are looking at one very tired Artbitch. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on new photography and paintings, contributing to this blog, as well as organizing my past ones for a possibly collaborative book project. I need more hours in the day. Well, that… or I find some way to paint and write while I sleep.
Sleep? Oh look… I made myself laugh.
As I’ve gone through my past screeds, one thing has stood out: truly, I am one wordy bitch. The total word count for all of my online literary excursions (forums, blogs, etc.) from 2005 to now is well over 225,000 words.By way of comparison, the average short story is 7500 words, the average novella 15,000, and your typical novel clocks in at around 90,000 or so.
Over 225,000 words…. that is a lot of snark, and as long as I can still get annoyed at something, I see no end in sight to the distributing of my sugared venom. Lucky, lucky you.
When we last enjoyed each others cultured company, I had just given some gentle and heartfelt advice to my fellow Artists regarding our so called Patrons, and much to my surprise, the response was just shy of overwhelming- no sarcasm intended or implied. It seems that what I said resonated among a rather large group of my artistic peeps, to the point of an almost embarrassing amount of e-mail being received.
While many of these were well written and also full of warm regards, two comments stood head and shoulders above the rest: both were posted online, one on my photographer friend Martin Hazine’s FaceBook page, and the other via a message to my Model Mayhem account.
[Martin’s amazing (and easily purchased) work, is available at his website: http://www.Glossyworks.com is not to be missed, and after you’re done reading here, you should go visit his site ASAP.]
With all due respect, I like compliments just as much as the next guy, and it’s always nice to be told that you’re pretty, even if they only meant on the inside. So sue me, I can be flattered. Sadly, there’s no time to dwell on my obvious inner beauty, as there’s some serious advice that needs to be served along with the usual heaping helping of snark. But not until I show off the compliments I received, of course. So, what were they you ask, as I note the small hint of annoyance in your voice? Fair enough.
“Just wanted to drop a line and say that a: your paintings are fantastic, and b: your blog is brilliant. I am a long island/new york/philly transplant, and lets just say I was underwhelmed upon my first friday experiences here.’ This was followed by the incredibly nice: “I think he’s my new hero.“
I’m somebody’s possible “Hero”? That just makes me want to run out, buy a pair of black spandex tights, the red shirt with the Artbitch logo plastered right on the front, and a loyal teen sidekick, whom I’m pretty sure I can get for cheap at Wal-Mart.What was that? Oh- thanks for the offer, but I’m good… I already have a yellow cape, along with the matching boots, and several Arch-Enemies.
Isn’t it just amazing what can be bought over the Internet these days? You wouldn’t even begin to believe the deal I got on my Fortress of Snarkitude, and even better, they threw in the shipping and a Death Ray for free. Capitalism at it’s finest, and damn, I just f***ing love Capitalism. Adore it, worship it, revere it. Honestly, everything about it, in fact. The ups, the downs, the ins, the outs, and most importantly- the sheer Challenge of it all.
To wrest the platinum plated visage of Victory from the slime dripping jaws of Defeat, and then proceed to slap Defeat upside it’s ugly face using it’s own ripped out tongue. You know… like you do? From a very early age, it was deemed that Capitalism and I were gonna be really good friends by my successful small businessman father. One of my earliest memories was his saying that cash was the wrench as well as the lubricant, that moved almost everything on planet Earth.
I don’t recall everything about that life lesson, (I was six after all) but I do remember this- he informed that to live the life you wanted, there were two essential requirements: passion for what you do, and investment capital. One I’ve always had in buckets, the other… not so much as I would have liked.
I’m not complaining, mind you, I chose to be an Artist rather than your average cubicle monkey, and I’ve never truly regretted that decision, not even when I was living on Top Ramen and water. Which, by the way, I do not recommend. As a related side note, if you really want to bond with your blue collar Dad, tell him you’re gonna be either a jazz musician or an Artist.
Trust me, he will be thrilled like the dickens at your vibrant career choice. Go ahead and do it now. I’ll wait. But while you’re gone, I’m going to start gearing up to talk about the next group of people who are getting a few new regulations tossed their way, courtesy of this here Artbitch.
Patrons were the last intended recipients of my gentle suggestions for change that needs to occur within the PAC, and this time around, it’s all about the Galleries. Lucky, lucky them. At the present, when I say “gallery”, I’m not referring to the various places that show art, such as cafes or restaurants, nor am I referring to artists studios who on occasion, open up to the public for an event such as a showcase of their own (or others) individual work.
No, when I use the term, I am referring to those art spaces whose sole purpose is dedicated to the selling and promoting of Art, as well as their various creators of said work. The ones who by sheer force of marketing will, help establish the baseline of what is, and what isn’t, considered Art in PHX.
On the surface, my description of these committed and thoughtful art sanctuaries makes them sound professional and worthy of the public’s respect. When it comes to the PAC however, it’s an entirely different ball of wax. It’s like the local fraternity took a community college Art class and then decided they needed to go open a boutique. Ouch. Did I just say…? Yes, I just did.
With a few rare exceptions, the galleries in Downtown Phoenix bear little resemblance to an actual business. Odd hours, impotent marketing, and poor quality work are some of the issues that plague this badly managed industry. From an insider’s point of view, it seems that making a profit is almost an afterthought, and that’s a major dilemma for the scene, as well as its Artists.
As I’ve said many times, we Artists have bills to pay just like everyone else, and the majority of creatives have limited skills when it comes to marketing, hence the need for a gallery to sell and promote their work. Given the advent of social media, one could argue that the archetype has shifted, and a traditional gallery is no longer needed. I would strongly disagree. Despite the ability to travel around the world clad only in footy pajamas, one still needs to bond with the artistic world in the physical sense.
In my opinion, a video monitor is one poor surrogate for standing in front of work you find inspiring, and while you can easily purchase over the web, it’s just not the same. Artists still need Galleries, but when it comes to the PHX Art Scene, I almost think that your typical creative would be better off pimping their wares on FaceBook, since unlike the majority of our downtown galleries- it’s at least open when people come looking.
In a past blog, I reiterated the following suggestions that I had directed towards PHX’s Galleries, as a conduit to strengthening their business approach. To recap, they were:
1) Clean the f*****g place up.
2) Location, Location, Location.
3) Failure in presentation is not an option.
4) Be open more than two nights a month.
As you might imagine, the Artists took to these suggested rules far better than the Gallery owners, mainly due to the commonly acknowledged fact that in regards to their business dealings with Artists, galleries have held the upper hand for quite some time. That is no longer the case, if we Artists wish it to be. Do you remember the most important bolt in my argument for enacting radical culture change in the PAC?
“WITHOUT ART, THERE IS NO ART SCENE- HENCE, IT ALL STARTS AND ENDS WITH US.”
And that means as a whole, we Artists are the ones who hold ALL the power, and we should use it as effectively as possible, for the betterment of the PAC. No art means that there’s no reason for Galleries, no need for First Friday, and no rationale for the pointless yearly three day circle-jerk that is known as Art Detour. So how do we make this happen?
We grow a set, and dig in our heels. I feel it’s high time that the Artists demand the inherent issues within the PAC be corrected before we agree to show our work in any downtown PHX gallery, minus the rare exception here and there.
[For instance?Willo North. I LOVE them, and they “get it” where many seemingly do not.]
Originally, when I suggested the rules above, they were directed at the Galleries, with the hope that they would endeavor to fix the issues themselves. Since that isn’t seemingly going to happen anytime soon, I think I’m gonna tweak them a bit, and give the rules back to the Artists for use as bargaining tools instead.
My Blog. My Rules. My Way.
So my fellow Artists, let’s have some fun using our newly tweaked utensils of influence, and as with all things in Artbitch land- we’ll start with number one, and maybe add a new one or two along the way.
Clean the f*****g place up. It’s not Courtney Love’s house, after all.
Many moons ago, when I was just starting on the path to becoming a gallery artist, I would show almost anywhere: Bars, restaurants, coffee houses, doctor’s offices, conference rooms, retail stores, gyms, private parties, you get the idea. Clean, well-lit, and as a rule- very nice to spend time in.
And then there’s the gallery spaces of downtown Phoenix. As I’ve previously stated: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked into a downtown art space and have wanted a TyVek suit. Filthy floors, filthy walls, and lets not even think about the bathroom- if they have one, that is.
Having once dropped my car keys in an abattoir as described above, I actually gave serious thought to just leaving them there, mainly since they were stuck to the floor already. While I do understand that some of these businesses function on a very tight budget, there is no excuse for operating a space that looks like Charlie Sheen just spent the weekend there.
Because until you do the basics; wiping down the walls of dust, dirt, and cobwebs- sweeping the floor, taking out the trash, cleaning the windows, and making sure the air doesn’t smell like the sand under the Porta-Potties at a 4th of July Willie Nelson concert, know that I- and hopefully nobody else, will ever show work in your space until you’ve given the place a metaphorical flea dip.
And after you’re done with all those basic and necessary chores- the minute a show comes down, patch up the nail holes, slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls, and prepare to be amazed how good your space looks when it doesn’t resemble downtown Beirut after a Hamas mixer. If cleanliness is truly next to Godliness, then we Artists need to definitely make sure that we get all shades of Yahweh, Buddha, and Jesus up in these here galleries of theirs.
No Mop n’ Glow? Then count on no shows.
Location, Location, Location. Lex Luthor was right- It DOES make a difference.
One of the other large issues facing the PAS is the address of certain galleries- while there are a few located in the center of general blandness that is Roosevelt Row, most are located in a more, let’s say… gritty, part of town. Which from a certain point of view, can come across as an artistic demilitarized zone.
And therein lies the problem. We’re never going to see an influx of affluent Art buyers until the areas that these spaces are sited in improve, and traditionally- the landlords of these spaces do as little as possible to spend money on what they see as frivolous expenditures. You know, things like striking interiors, attractive facades, outside lighting, and central air conditioning?
Seriously. Some of the art spaces in Phoenix have no AC, just swamp coolers. In case you didn’t know, Arizona gets a tad hot during summer, so AC is a definite necessity for a public space where people gather. If the temperature outside goes up ten degrees every time you open up the door, that’s a clear sign that your building’s cooling system needs an upgrade.
Just a suggestion. From the perspective of an Artist, I am somewhat sympathetic, but still crushingly realistic- rest assured that transients, hookers, drug dealers, and the occasional crack-head will not add color or character to your space, and they definitely don’t add to your bottom line either. You want to run an Art Gallery, not a halfway house that masquerades as one.
The reality is that if you want to be successful, where you’re located has to be considered both attractive and safe to the average schmuck, and that’s just the way it goes. Now, before you start griping about how the space you’re in is all you can afford, my advice is that even if it’s smaller and possibly more expensive, you need to move somewhere that’s attractive to potential customers.
Want to be a gallery owner? Then start thinking more like a businessman, and less like an Artist, and you might just have a shot. It’s called a business model, and it works. Until then, I’ll be sitting outside your space with the AC blasting, the car doors locked, and the windows rolled up, because this part of town just freaks me the hell out.
Failure in presentation is not an option, but in Phoenix- very few got that memo.
When I started my career in NYC, if there was one thing hammered into my skull, it was this: when a Patron comes in, your objective was to make their decision to buy your work a no-brainer. The opposite appears to be true in the PAC, where amateurish (and uninteresting) presentation rules the day.
For some mysterious reasons, these methods seem to be perfectly acceptable among some of the PAC’s collective galleries. Once again, the well-worn refrain of “I / We have no money to…” rings out, its shrill pitch rising above the clamor of intelligent and focused conversation, much to the vexation of those of us who know better. Simply put, it’s a cop-out for being lazy, and we all know it.
What’s really annoying is that making your space impressive isn’t really that hard, or even that costly- if I can pull a professional show together with virtually no budget to speak of, so can you. Once your potential Patrons are inside, you can wow them with your professionalism even when you can’t with your location. So what do I mean by this, exactly?
As I noted earlier, having a clean and safe place is very important to your success, but there’s much more you can do to stack the deck in your favor. You’re an Art Gallery, so start behaving like one, or we Artists will make you. So as a complimentary Artbitch public service, I’ll start with some basic tips.
Feel free to take notes.
First up: Put out the Welcome Mat, but remember to place it behind the Velvet Rope. In my last blog, I introduced the concept of the “Velvet Rope” as a method of possible control over the mass of idiocy that without fail, surges forward every First Friday and generally mucks up the works.
The number of people who emailed me with pure hated for this idea I fronted? Zero. I may be on to something, methinks- perhaps I should reexamine my idea of a combination speakeasy & art gallery while I’m at it. Gah. Another idea for another time, I guess. Since it stands to reason that if you separate the wheat from the metaphorical chaff you’ll get a better base of Patrons, I’m all for it. Stop the “trash” before it even gets in the door, and you won’t have to take it out later that night.
Great, you say. Just what we need… more elitism. You bet’cha. Going to an art event should never be confused with going to the club, unless the art event actually IS in the club. I don’t want the cast of Jersey Shore ruining my show, and since I’m the one providing an entertainment of sorts, I’m the one who gets to pick the guest list, via my hand picked door guy.
Clad like crap? Adios. Staggering drunk in line? Dos Verdana. Being rude and disrespectful? Gutennacht. Attempting to cajole your way in? Vaya con Dios, mi amigo. Dressed in skin tight leather, wearing five inch heels and fishnet stockings, looking like an Asian Joan Jett? The wine bar is to the left, and help yourself to some caviar as well. My treat. BTW, did I mention that I’m the Artist showing here tonight?
Now, when it comes to the door guy, you’ll want someone who’s equivalently professional and intimidating- think of Mr. Rogers after a weekend tutorial in Chemistry taught by Hulk Hogan. As a rule, I usually don’t believe in any form of discrimination, but if someone is living out the “bro” stereotype full throttle, I’m all for kicking them to the curb at warp speed to save myself some serious aggravation later.
Stop it at the door, you keep it off the floor.
Second: Seek Enlightenment: if you want to showcase the Art in your gallery, it needs to be seen under the best conditions, and one simple way to do that is with the lighting that is paramount for your space. In most applications, some form of track lighting will usually do the trick. This type of lighting system features easily replaceable bulbs, positional fixtures (to change the angle or direction of the beam) and has become one of the more affordable systems as of late.
So lighten up, already. You and your space will feel (and look) so much better.
Third: I’m your Tour Guide and we’re going to have fun! For some people, an Art Gallery can be an intimidating experience- it’s your job to help lead the neophytes through the artistic minefields and show them the way to personal enlightenment. Your main purpose is to promote your Artists, of course, but within that context- you can also serve as a substitute teacher of sorts to the inexperienced. If we expect the PAC to transform, then we need to start sowing some metaphorical culture seeds, in my highly biased opinion.
Yes, you should talk about your represented Artists, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to educate your blissfully captive audience about the techniques and history behind their respective style as well. As a gallery owner, you must make the effort to demystify Art for the masses, and show them why one’s Life is so much richer when it’s presence is known. Everyone has had that one Teacher whom they liked as a kid- do you know why? It was because they made learning interesting, and that should be an integral part of your job at the present.
And if by enlightening the general public, you can sell a whole bunch of Art, well… that’s just additional icing on the kielbasa then, isn’t it?
Fourth: Looks Professional. Acts Professional. Must be Professional. When I was just starting out, my original Art Rep advised me that the initial perception of oneself had to strike first, your substance could follow somewhat afterward. Twenty some odd years later, its been my experience that she had a solid lead on a core marketing value.
First impressions really do count for a lot, especially when it comes to the world of business, and in the minds of many, success breeds confidence. Understanding that concept, and it’s inherent real world use, can make a key difference in how your gallery is perceived by both the Public and your established Patrons. An example from the desk of the Artbitch: ten years or so ago, things had really slowed down for my gallery career- I was so cold professionally that you could have chilled drinks on me. There were no bookings, no shows, and no interest in the new work I was doing at that point in time.
Nada, zip, el zilcherino.
For someone who was used to planning concurrent shows, this state of affairs had me as nervous as Rick Perry locked in a room with talkative Scientists. Fortunately for my flagging career, my old rep had a simple solution, one that women have used successfully for centuries: the art of faking it.
“It” in this case being the false perception that I was simply overflowing with success. Wherever I went, from art openings to my local Circle K, I put forth the fiction that I was simply slammed, with nary a chance to breathe. There was just no way possible that I could realistically accept any more private commissions, as I was just booked solid for months.
Oh… the agony and the burden of my beautiful talent. Within a month of my one man play, I was contacted by a new client who wanted a simple painting- I begged off, claiming that I was jammed up for at least a year, and couldn’t possibly accept his trifle, as I was just too damn popular. A $1000.00 commission was his offer and I actually said: “I won’t lift a pencil until I see five grand in my palm, so why don’t you come back when you’re all ready to play with the big boys?”
Seriously. And I wasn’t even drunk. The truly amazing part of my artistic arrogance was this: IT ACTUALLY WORKED. He came back the next day, greased my bank account with a very nice counteroffer, and then, THANKED me liberally for carving out the time for him. Calling me bowled over is putting it mildly, to say the very least. Naturally, I took almost two months to finish what normally takes two weeks. Didn’t want to seem too quick, you know. I learned that from watching Scotty on Star Trek: if they don’t think you work miracles, they’ll lose all respect for you.
So, the million dollar question I’d have to ask is this: why did it work? I have a theory, and it actually makes sense on a primal level. People love a winner, or more accurately- we love people whom we perceive as being successful, and at our inner primate core, we hope that some glimmer of what they’ve got rubs off on us. We all want to hang out with the cool kids, be a part of that intimate inner circle no one else can gain entry to, and then loft our conceit above the commoners, while claiming it’s not that big a deal. In the end, we’re all just a bunch of programmable monkeys, and you as a gallery owner can seize upon that by playing the part.
When potential Patrons walk into your gallery, present yourself as successful, and exude a quiet confidence- both in your manner and the way you dress, which should display the rock solid sense of the true professional. As far as their need to know, everything you touch turns to gold, and impress upon them that your place is THE place that they should come to and then proceed to spend money in. Confidence breeds success. Try some on for size, and I guarantee you’ll like the way it fits.
Fifth: Display Standards. Please get some… and right quick. One of the biggest problem areas that some of Phoenix’s galleries need to correct dramatically, is the overall quality of how their work is displayed. To be fair, these problematic issues can run the gamut, but when it all goes horribly wrong, the usually benign act of visiting a Gallery can mutate very rapidly into an artsy version of the Bataan Death March.
And while I am obviously joking, I’m really not exaggerating by much. As I said earlier, its like the local fraternity took a community college Art class and then decided they needed to go open a boutique- it’s just that painful. Brutal, in fact. The reality of marketing art is that if your work isn’t displayed in the best possible manner, it’s going to go home with you, and not with a potential Patron.
So as a favor from one artistic colleague to another, I’m going to share a few simple guidelines that I think would be beneficial to you. The end goal that you should aim for is this: Make it as easy as possible for someone to buy the work that you represent. The best way to do this is an iron-clad contract with your Artists that demands certain expectations from them and their to be presented works of Art.
If they’re going to be displaying prints, regardless of subject, note that they must be professionally printed, because color copies from Kinko’s look like crap, and the truly serious buyers you want to cultivate WILL know the difference, and call you and your Artists out on it. Art that is displayed with any thing other than professional materials makes it appear unprofessional and self-indulgent, plus- it also forces potential Patrons to have to do one more extra step, which they hate.
State in writing that all work to be displayed must be satisfactorily framed, unless it’s a gallery stretched painting or some other type of artistic media that does not require framing, such as a floor sculpture, for instance. Title cards should be clearly printed (not handwritten) for supreme legibility, and ought to list the title, size, media and price of the piece of art it represents, as well as the contact info for the Artist, except in those cases where the Gallery will be handling all aspects of the sale and future contact.
Clean smudges and fingerprints off the glass (if the work is framed) and make sure the art is hung level. Sculptures should be secured safely, as accidents sometimes can, and will- happen. Not too surprisingly, Patrons really are thankful for this sort of thing, and tend to show their appreciation by sales and spreading the word about your place.
And if you do your job right, that word of mouth won’t include the word “sucks”.
Be open more than two nights a month. You have 29 other days to play with, you know. This one has always aggravated the hell out of me. Why would you spend $1000.00 a month or more to rent a space, and then be open only two nights out of thirty-one? Maybe I’m missing some ethereal point, but does this business strategy make sense to anybody? If I were to look at this from a cost per usage ratio, it would be cheaper to just go blow that cash on hookers and pizza.
At least then you’d know that you really got your money’s worth.
I am sympathetic to the fact that many Gallery owners are forced to sometimes work two jobs to pay for their spaces, but I also know that if you want to be successful, you have to be accessible for when your potential customers are both ready and have the free time to come look at your gallery. This translates to being open at least on the weekends, when the crowds are downtown.
Friday and Saturday, you should endeavor to be open for at least a few hours during the night when people are more apt to be out and about, and as for Sunday, you can reserve it for previously set gallery appointments if you want that day off. Advertise this fact as much as possible, so that the general public is made aware of your expanded hours, and give serious thought to having some form of event happen weekly as well, whether it be music, a poetry slam, or even hosting a charity affair.
Let’s do the math. If you can manage to do this every week, your gallery will then be open eight times a month, versus two. Four times the possible exposure for the space and your Artists, four times the possible sales opportunities, four times more than what your competition currently offers.
However- you should be prepared to accept the cold reality that if you don’t have the energy to run an art gallery the way it should be, then maybe this line of work is not for you. I admire your passion, but if you aren’t moving Art and making a profit, you really aren’t helping us or yourself.
When all is said and done, your gallery should be perceived as a thriving business, and not as an expensive hobby that you like to dabble in from time to time. Unless you like throwing money away, in which case- just stay your course.
Whew. I don’t know about you, but I am beat- so, I think that we’ll take a well deserved break right about now, and when we come back, I think we’ll have a quiet little chat about my fellow tribesmen, the Artists, and how some of them need a good metaphorical kick in the ass.
Come to think of it… let’s just screw that metaphorical part.
“If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business” – BC Forbes