The most important person in the world.
Recently, I went to two talks which couldn’t have been more opposite—though not in the way they might first appear. On Saturday, I attended an artist’s lecture at a local gallery, and, the day before, I participated in Jeffrey Gitomer’s sales training seminar. Ironically, the former was a depressing example of how some art-marketeers have lost their way, while the latter was a motivating message to all artists and art-worlders everywhere about the way the art market can and should thrive.
The art dealer opened and closed the artist’s talk with the uninspiring call-to-action “support your local art galleries!” and trotted out every tired sales tactic that has never worked; Gitomer was excitement, education, and encouragement incarnate. He explained some of the basic tenants of the human condition* and how they apply to living in society—as well as how they might help you to sell a thing or two as you go!
A simple lesson gleaned from the seminar (it went something like this):
Gitomer: When you’re at a sales call, who’s the most important person in the room?
Audience member: The customer!
Gitomer: Wrong. Let me put it this way: if you and the customer were the last two people remaining on Earth, and one of you had to die, who would you rather see croak?
Gitomer: Now that we’ve established who the most important person in the room is, let’s take it one step further. You may be the most important person according to you, but the customer believes precisely the same thing.
This may seem obvious, but, when I look at art today and listen to an artist talk, I see very little acknowledgement of this fact. Artists tend to be more interested in their own navels than in anyone else, and their dealers promote the eccentric/fascinating/mysterious artist persona without thinking of the way in which this distances the communicator from her-his audience.
Without getting into why this is the case, I’ll put forward my version of the solution. Though I do sell the so-called “open market” work I make, I earn most of my living from the commission work I do. And I make most of those sales not to wealthy collectors but to the largely ignored middle class art buyers.
You might think it’s easier for me to do commission work than most artists since people naturally gravitate towards having their faces painted (except, of course, when they’re ridiculed for it), but I think developing the artist-patron relationship is possible in any genre. And, what’s more, if you do it right—listening carefully to the client’s input while also establishing that you are the sole decision-maker in your process—commission work is an excellent way to grow as an artist.
People want to be special. This is something which Gitomer gets but which the dealer and the artist do not. Both the gallery owner and the sculptor dumped their financial stress all over their audience, forgetting that the people who’d come to listen have worries of their own. After one short hour at the gallery, I was nauseated. Meanwhile, Gitomer held the attention of his audience of 500 for three hours straight and had fun the entire time. I know whom I’d rather be around—not to mention whom I’d rather be like!
*Aren’t artists supposed to be the ones who do that?