How to survive taking part in an art exhibition

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Blog post #148 Sticks and stones.

Having recovered from the exhibition I ran at Denbies Wine Estate recently, I thought you might like to hear my feedback on how it went.

Stephanie Thompson

First, though I have to tell you about the three people whose comments should have been kept to themselves but in the end said more about them than they did about the artwork on display.

At around 11.00 a.m. on Day One, a lady with a friend in the downstairs area of the exhibition space, looked up and said in a very loud voice, “God, I could do that. It’s just slinging paint at a canvas.” Her friend had the decency to look embarrassed and the artist whose work was being commented on was, thankfully, not fazed at all.

Sometime later in the week, the second person, who was probably an art student, thought he was entitled to make loud, unpleasant comments too. He didn’t comment on anyone’s art but did say in a very loud voice that he wouldn’t buy any of the work because the framing was “crap”.  Interestingly, many of the works on display weren’t actually framed. If you are painting on box canvases you wouldn’t frame them and as most people have their work professionally framed, it was clearly a case of taste rather than quality.

Alison G Saunders

The last remark was made about my artwork and is one of the funniest insults I have ever received. The lady in question looked at all my work and remarked, again in a very loud voice, “A psychologist would have a field day with the person who made these paintings.” Really? I wonder what was going on in her own life to make her think that I need help.

As most of you already know, my work is about colour and, in particular, the use of colour against colour.  I also love circles, lines and broken lines. I doubt a psychologist would have much to say about the inner workings of my mind but clearly the lady in question needs help.

Anna Clarke

I know I have written about this kind of thing before but if we are to survive as artists, we must grow thick skins and remind ourselves that these remarks say far more about the persons making them than they do about the work we are making. The Denbies exhibition was, in fact, a huge success, every artist sold works and we all went home feeling happy, given that we are all only just venturing out after Covid-19.

In a similar vein, a man I know in a group I am part of was asking advice on how he should deal with a client who wanted to keep making changes to the work he was making. I understand the difficulties of this situation when you have been contracted to make work for a specific purpose and the final article would be on show to a very large range of people and the commission fee could be quite large.

Carol Gillan

The man in question is thinking long-term. If he can get his work shown hopefully that will bring in much more business. The client is not someone he wants to fall out with, and the long-term benefits could be amazing. So, what to do? Bite the bullet and hope the exposure brings in the clients or stick to who you are, make work which makes you happy and potentially lose out on lots more sales?

Difficult! But just like the people who think it is OK to loudly criticise your artwork in an exhibition the client here is also criticising the artwork and expecting to force her changes on the artist. In my opinion this is not acceptable, and both situations are forms of bullying. Everyone who knows me knows how much I hate bullies. My immediate reaction is: “Don’t like it? Paint it yourself!” However, I also recognise that the client has so much influence and the artist doesn’t want to lose future business.

Emma Tweedie

My advice would be to say to the client, “I keep making the changes you ask for, this is not my work. This is your work. You have contracted me because of liking my work so can we come to an understanding here? I am happy to produce artwork for you and to work to a brief, but I can’t keep on changing the work to please you as, at some point, it is no longer a reflection of me and the work I produce.”

The trouble with bullies is that if we don’t stand up to them, they just keep on pushing people around and doing exactly what they want. Stand up to them and yes, you could lose a big contract or a sale in a gallery, so sometimes keeping quiet is the best way. Equally, sometimes enough is enough and you simply must stand up to these people for the good of yourself, your art and possibly the people around you, too.

I can’t give you the best answer. Generally, I just laugh it off because, as I said before, the comments say more about the person making them than they do about me, you or your artwork. Sometimes, though, when something goes on for too long or is just so far out of order, I will put my head above the parapet and then have to take the consequences of those actions. I never go looking for an argument, but I will not tolerate out and out bullying either.

Becca Clegg

If this ever happens to you don’t let it ruin your day, don’t let it make you change the work you love to make and, equally important, don’t hang onto it. Let it go and move on. Don’t hold a grudge; it is not worth it. It will be you who will suffer if in the long term if you do. Smiling sweetly and remembering all the nice comments is definitely your best bet.

The end result though is that over 30 visitors went home with artworks which made them happy, we had so many lovely supportive comments made in person and in the visitor’s book and there was a lot to be thankful for. The next exhibition I am running for Ginger Cactus Art at Denbies will be in February next year. Do sign up for my newsletter  if you want to know about other exhibitions I am either running or taking part in and please do come and say hello.

Maribel Monfort

Avril Jones

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