Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

Bearing Bad News–the Emotional Content

A friend of mine recently received bad news about an opportunity—-a potentially big opportunity—and it set me thinking about how, as artists, we experience these letdowns. In every business there are successes and failures, but since we are often at the end of string of folks who are making the decisions (collector-designer-gallereist-artist, for example) we can get left out of the loop.

Odd, because we have generated the artwork that everyone is fussing about!

Any seasoned professional artist understands that there is some kind of ratio of nibble to sale, and it is never 100%. For example, the piece below, recently sold, had quite a busy time of it this year before reaching its new home. In March, it went to Chicago, where it was selected for viewing in a home. Much as they would have liked it, the piece didn’t fit the budget at that time, so a smaller piece was settled upon. Then, it was vetted for a possible swap with one of my dealers for a coveted Milton Avery print. But before I could bring it to her for her to decide, a private dealer asked me to hold it back for a likely sale through a designer. Months later and no word, I let it back out again to my gallery in Rhinebeck, and from there it again went out to a home (through an architect, this time) where it looked as if I had painted it for the room in question.

Winter Brilliance, 40"x50".

Winter Brilliance, 40″x50″.

This story leads me to the real point of this blog post, which is how all of this feels from the artist’s perspective. “Months later and no word…”  How is that possible, that a dealer with whom I have had a decades-long relationship would not have the courtesy to tell me when the deal was off? And after she had requested that I hold this painting back from another gallery?

As for my friend, he was notified via email at the last minute that the anticipated visit to his studio was cancelled. The visit was coordinated by someone who might not have had any control over this, but what hurt was that there was was no heartfelt apology, no acknowledgement of his effort to prepare for the visit or for his disappointment.

In my world, the galleriest/dealer/designer always says, “I will let you know what happens either way”, but if the answer is no, they often don’t, leaving it up to the artist to wait and eventually inquire.

This leaves the artist with the double-whammy of the original disappointment (which can’t be helped) and the debilitating feeling of being treated with disregard (which can). And the galleriest still has to address the situation when the artist inquires, so sending a quick note when they know that the sale is off  is just as efficient.

Avoidance behavior is human nature. Who wants to tackle an unpleasant task? And yet, doing the right thing keeps us human. An apology, if required (and this does not have to imply guilt, just sympathy) or a simple communication that a deal is off is not so very hard (man up!! I might say, much as this expression has a sexist bias). That rejections and disappointments happen is just business. Handling that with courtesy and kindness both maintains the relationship (for future business) and, very importantly, sends compassion out into the world.

6 responses

  1. It’s not just the fine art world. Add to all you said the general Sturm und Drang we experience in the wider business community, and the result is so often objectionable behavior. As a commercial advertising and corporate photographer, I have come to expect the scenario you describe as the norm in corporate life. I won’t bore you with numerous examples, but I could. Bottom line: there is little or no loyalty left in our American psyche. So I try to not take it personally. ML

    September 12, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    • Yes, there has been an erosion in many arenas. For artists, it is very schitzy—one minute you are the creative genius and being bowed down to, and the next not worth being replied to! I’d settle for the happy medium of respect. But mostly, I must say, my galleries and collectors are lovely. And this is one of the reasons that I show where I show—it is a quality of life issue.

      September 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm

  2. Dear Christie, I’ve always been a pessimist (guess I repeatedly try to protect myself from disappointment). Right now I have something major happening in my art life and I feel myself on the edge of my seat, so to speak, waiting for it to fall through while hoping it doesn’t. The Director of the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center has offered me the opportunity to exhibit my work (solo) at the theater for a full year and she believes that those who attend during the next year (fall to fall) will welcome it with open arms (and pocketbooks). The last time an opportunity such as this presented itself to me was when Smith & Lowensky Steak House bought over a hundred of my pieces to decorate new
    restaurants they were building across the country. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed and looking forward to a positive reality. Wish me luck. Lenny

    September 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    • Oh, yes, best of luck with that, Lenny—and why wouldn’t they want you?!

      September 14, 2013 at 10:49 pm

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