So I had a table in the 2016 Edmonton Expo Artist Alley...
Updated: May 31, 2020
I have an overwhelming fear that whenever I say something—anything—the listener will completely misunderstand the message I’m trying to convey. This is probably because, time and time again, this has proven to be true and, unfortunately, this time is no different. And so, in the hopes of clarifying my point, I've written a follow up to this piece, which I hope successfully explains what I was originally trying to say. You will find it below, right after the original piece.
[2018/02/07] Original Post
Alright. So I’m minding my own business ( pun intended ) when this energetic young boy comes up to my booth in artist alley. While he excitedly perused my art prints, his father ( I presumed ) lingered behind quietly and seemed miserable. I think. I didn’t have much time to take much more notice than that. The kid was chattering on as he touched everything on my display. Which was fine. All par the course. That is until he asked for my business card, because when I handed him one…
“Do you have a website? I never buy art. I take the business cards so I can look at the art online for free!”
It was like he splashed ice cold water into my face, he had caught me so completely off guard. My youngest sister, who was assisting me with the booth that day, was just as speechless as I was.
Until that very moment I have never in my life considered striking someone, much less experience an urgent impulse to physically follow through with the notion.
( If you're reading this and have absolutely no idea how this boy's statement could have offended us so, I encourage you to continue reading because it is my hope to enlighten you by the end of this post. )
But I couldn’t hit the kid, right? I mean, putting the fact that the act itself is 100% morally wrong aside, I was in a lose, lose, lose to the power of INFINITY situation: I’m in my late twenties and a complete stranger. He’s in his tweens—if I’m lucky, and I know I’m not—and though his dad looked like he wouldn’t disapprove of my slapping his child, I’d still end up being f*cked six ways from Sunday. Yet despite knowing ALL of this, I still really, really wanted to 'Gibbs smack' that little jerk.
In the end, I did not hit the child and my record remains pristine to this day.
Instead, not knowing how else to react, I bit my tongue and forced out a “I do have a website, thanks.” and watched him happily move on to the next victim— booth, trailed by the man that I thought was his miserable father. ( I thought that the man was the boy's father. I knew the man was miserable. ). In all this time, a year having passed, I still can't figure out how I could have handled that situation better. How I could have educated that kid without attempting to literally smack some sense into him. The following is the best response I've come up with so far, but I'm not sure if it would be effective or if it's professionally appropriate:
“Really? You don’t like paying for art because you can look at it online for free? Alright, then. Can’t say that I blame you."
"But before you go, I’d like you to take a seat. Here’s a pencil and paper. Now try drawing that illustration yourself. Really try. Go on. Come on, humor me.” *wait a minute or two* “Now take a minute to consider exactly how much time and effort you would need to invest in order to replicate this drawing perfectly. How long would it take you just to be able to draw this picture freehand? Never mind the time and effort required to come up with the idea in the first place and then the additional time and effort needed to figure out how best to execute your idea. How long would it take you to simply copy this picture?"
"How long, hm? Think about it."
"Now look me in the eye and tell me that you would do ALL of that work for free. Come on, now.”
“That’s what I thought. Enjoy the rest of the convention.”
Am I on the right track or am I way off base? Is my message clear and is the presentation professional? I honestly don’t know, anymore.
If anyone reading this has any feedback they can offer on the subject, like suggestions on how to navigate similar encounters or simply sharing their own personal experiences, I would really appreciate it.
[2018/10/25] Follow Up:
It took me a whole year after the fact to put into words a devastating social interaction I experienced at Edmonton Expo 2016 as a vendor in artist alley. A whole year. Yet, the one and only response I received after sharing this personal experience made it quite clear that—even with all that time—I still somehow managed to completely fail to properly express both what exactly occurred and why it impacted me in such a negative way. So I’m going to try and clarify:
The long and short of it is the concept of 'free publicity'.
I’m sure everyone’s has heard of the common expression 'starving artist'? And I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the too common narrative of a parent trying to convince their child to pursue ANY other career path because there’s no money, no prestige, no future in becoming an artist, right?
There’s this social stigma that just doesn’t want to let go of the arts as a profession. Back when I was in high school, I was talking to a friend about my plans for post-secondary education, and when her father overheard me saying that I wanted to go into the arts he scoffed “Bachelor of Fine Arts? More like a Bachelor of F**k All!”.
Though there are many factors that contributed to the genesis of this stigma, the negative stereotypes are still being perpetuated today because the art industry thrives AT THE EXPENSE OF the artist by actively diminishing the value of their time and effort in order to get MORE for LESS.
For example, some companies ( big and small, from big shot publishers to small non-profit organizations ) holding art contests in order to only have to pay ONE artist for the work of MANY ( by including a line in the fine print stating that the artist forfeits the rights to the work they submit to the contest, win or lose ) which is not only a shameless money grab, but also demeaning, as it reduces art to a childish pass time instead of the profession that it is.
Or worse, when a company and/or individual requests art that they can’t pay for but instead promise 'free publicity' ( which is a flat out lie unless the artist’s name is clearly legible on the art every single time the ‘client’ uses the art, and in every single format they use it in ).
Also, it doesn’t help that, on top of all of this, we have the internet fueling the growing social mentality of “If I found it on the internet ( video, music, photography, paintings, etc. ), therefore I can use it wherever, and for whatever the Hell I want.”.
By now, I’m sure that you’re all wondering “What on earth does any of his have to do with this ‘allegedly’ rude kid that you were originally talking about?” and rightfully so.
This has EVERYTHING to do with the kid, because through this encounter, I saw all of the fruit of this toxic stigma continuing into the next generation!
I’m paraphrasing, because it’s been almost two years now, but the kid said something along the lines of: “Do you have a website? I never buy art. I take the business cards so I can look at the art online for free!”.
Now, if he meant ‘I like to browse before I buy’ or ‘I like looking at the art online so I can send links to your pretty stuff to my friends/family’ that would mean that my art featured on my website is doing what it’s supposed to: catalog my work and advertise my wares. If he had said something like that then everything would be fine! I wouldn’t have been offended and I would never have bored you with this lengthy rant. But he didn’t say that, nor did he mean that. No. This kid was in artist alley telling an ARTIST, to their face, ‘why should I pay for your art when I can get it online for free?’ as casually as one would tell the time, or inform someone what day of the week it is.
In the kid’s defense, I’ll admit I probably took that harder than I should have ( taking into consideration my own personal experience with social detachment ) and that it’s very likely not the kid’s fault that he has no sense of respect toward art creators, but that didn’t change the fact that this kid clearly had no sense that art was not a right but a privilege produced by a valuable profession.
And that ain’t right.
I hope that clears up the point I was initially trying to make. Thanks for reading it all the way through.