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Stacey Cornelius
I'm a writer, jargon translator, idea junkie & creative entrepreneur with a Fine Art degree. I have years of professional experience in retail, theatre, fine craft and information technology.  Read More

Become a champion for your art

February 4, 2010

Not too long ago, I was talking to an artist about the way some people react to her prices. She was beyond frustrated. “Don’t they know how long this takes?”

Another artist was of the angry opinion that “People are stupid.”

There are way too many people in the industrialized world who have no idea where their food comes from. They think pizza comes out of a box. Why would they know about what you do? How could they even begin to know?

Don’t take knowledge for granted
We live in a society inundated with cheap, mass-produced, imported goods. Discount stores and sale signs are everywhere. We’ve come to expect factory prices, not lasting quality. We’re trained for consumption, not curiosity.

So no, they don’t know how long it takes to make something with your head, your heart, and your hands. They’ve been conditioned not to think about it.

Ironically, that conditioning gives you a perfect opportunity to open up a mind. To start a quiet revolution. To become a champion for your art.

Become a champion for your profession
You could call it arts advocacy, but that might make you think of structured activities organized by an institution. So let’s not go there. A champion is more exciting than an advocate, much livelier than a supporter, and way less annoying than a crusader. Plus you can picture yourself wearing a cape, or at least a team sweater, when you run into someone who makes an unfortunate comment and you need to keep your composure.

You shouldn’t try to convert every doubter or naysayer you come across. Some of them don’t want to listen. But if someone asks a question, you have the chance to start a real conversation, to introduce them to the mysterious world behind your studio doors.

You know the crowd that understands and appreciates what you do is smaller than you’d like. You want to find ways to expand your audience. Sometimes those opportunities land right at your feet. The people who take the time to ask questions are either on the fence, ready to be coaxed over to your side, or close to it. Give them a thoughtful invitation into your world, and you might get them hooked for life.

Over to you: what’s the strangest—or best—question anyone’s ever asked you about art? What’s the question you most want to ask people outside your artistic circle?

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Comments (14)

Perfectly said, “we’re trained for consumption, not curiosity.” Our economic model is antithetical to the appreciation of art and the artists’ work value.

The current rise of the handmade movement and the efforts to educate the public on the skills and time required to make a piece, can only help justify why an artist has the right to attach a value to his or her work.

Stacey Cornelius Reply:

Education is hugely important. People don’t even consider what happens in a factory, unless they work in one themselves. We can’t expect others to spread the word, either. We have to take charge ourselves.

This is a concept i’ve been dealing with for some time, that i now thoroughly enjoy.

From studio visits to conversations in the galleries… it’s always great to get other people’s perspectives on art and their values. To me, i leave it up to the viewer to decide whether or not they want to learn more about the art…. whether it’s the process, thoughts/inspirations, layers of time involved, etc that interests them…. If they show interest in more than their own personal take, or ask about what is behind the work, I include a packaged note with the art purchase that includes little glimpses of these elements that found their way into my creative process. Much of what i do is in preparation, a ritual of sorts that many of my collectors connect with. Sometimes it’s the lyrics to a song, symbolism, poetry, myths, the result of much journaling or simply an image from vogue.

I’ve decided to take it a step further and on my next exhibit i plan to address this concept of the hidden value/ meaning of art by including a closed note or scroll alongside each piece that the viewer can choose whether or not they want to pass the information by and stick with their own interpretation; or choose to open it and be made aware of my vision, the research and time involved to create such a work…. all for the sake of art value and appreciation of creation.

Stacey Cornelius Reply:

Amber, that’s a wonderful way to invite your audience to interact with you and your work.

Sometimes people feel embarrassed if they don’t understand the artist’s message or the motivation behind a piece. That creates barriers. Some artists don’t want to explain themselves, but that’s a topic for a different kind of art blog.

Nothing to add other than – I love “We’re trained for consumption, not curiosity.

So no, they don’t know how long it takes to make something with your head, your heart, and your hands. They’ve been conditioned not to think about it.”

So true…

Stacey Cornelius Reply:

Thanks, Rachel.

I’m curious to know if you encounter a similar mindset with potential garden design clients.

Rachel Mathews Reply:

Yes definitely. People have no idea how long it takes to design a great garden. And like many creatives out there, I have trouble charging what I should at the best of times… but that’s a whole other blog post!

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by thestudiosource: Creative quickie: Become a champion for your art: http://bit.ly/8YDqSa

I find I come up against this issue constantly in my work. People are able to get trendy decorative “art” at Ikea for ridiculously low costs. Communicating the value of one of a kind original art is difficult. Even articulating why it matters to me in difficult at times. Why is the connection to the creator of the work so important.

I love Amber’s idea of speaking to the viewer simply with a note. One think I strive for in my gallery is to be welcoming and assessable to a wide range of folks. Where my space is located I get people stopping in who appreciate the work on many levels. Teenagers on the way home from school often find it “Cool”. Working people will stop in after a hard day cleaning houses and all they want is some beauty to fill up their eyes and hearts. They don’t want to ponder that don’t want to work more, but they appreciate. I use these little opportunities to talk a little about what the y appreciate and try and just fork a little bit of deeper understanding. I also get highly educated art connoisseurs who are looking to experience the entire scope of the work.
I think that opening up the secretive and exclusive world to a wider group is key in communicating value. Those who have not had the experience of having their heart taken and eyes filled buy being in the room with an original work of art will never understand it’s intrinsic value.
Often I find artists and venues that seem to strive to be intimidating and exclusive and this practice hearts all but the top echelon of the art world.
I think the value of original art can be best communicated through the emotional connection that occurs. I seek to grease the path to that connection by making the over all experience a positive and welcoming expirience.

Stacey Cornelius Reply:

That’s a nice way to approach it, Eileen. The little opportunities mean a lot.

[...] At the very least, you can help one more person understand what you do for a living. [...]

[...] You know it and I know it—they have no idea what it’s really like. [...]

[...] People who buy their “art” at the mall aren’t interested in one of a kind pieces. Some might only need their horizons broadened, but others don’t get what you do and never will. Poor quality materials, bad design and [...]

[...] 3. Find and listen to your champions. Champions can come in many forms: from volunteers to colleagues to college professors. My champions always keep me abreast of what they are working on, know about and share passion in my projects. It’s refreshing to have a support system that is there for you time and time again. It’s another form of advocacy. [...]