Tell Me a Story: Prominence (Luann Udell)

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FineArtViews Daily Newsletter | Thursday, August 18, 2011 | Issue 1005
 • Tell Me a Story: Prominence  (Luann Udell)
 • Surprised by Sales (Lori Woodward), Revisited
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Tell Me a Story: Prominence
by Luann Udell
Dear ,
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft.  She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry).  Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.  She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art.  She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Are YOU famous?  Does someone famous like YOU?  Use it!
Let’s face it—we like to read about famous people.  We can deny it and try to resist it.  But most of us perk up our ears when we hear some news tidbit about our favorite celebrity, whether they be a baseball player, a movie star, a guru or a former president. 
Check out the newspaper or a tabloid, the evening news or a radio show.   The famous, the infamous, the eccentric, the very, very good people and especially the very, very bad people, all are dangled before us as extremely newsworthy and interesting.  I may sneer at PEOPLE magazine, but it is my guilty little pleasure to read it whenever I’m sitting in the waiting room at my dentist or doctor.
Scientists believe this tendency is rooted in group psychology, when we lived in small tribes and communities.  We tend to look to those with higher status, whether we love them or hate them. 
Like it or not, it is part of our human nature to look for leaders and celebrities, saints and bad boys.
Even in the most ‘scholarly’ artist bio or statement, you can see evidence of this tendency of ours.  Whenever we list a workshop or course of study with a more well-known artist, we are unconsciously trying to get our potential collectors to associate us with that more famous artist.  Unfortunately, the person who is ‘famous’ to us, often means someone that regular people have never heard of. 
We use this same principle of ‘worthiness’ when we list our prestigious shows, exhibitions and gallery representation on our resume or website.  “Look!  Someone who is important values my work!”  “You should, too!” is the unspoken message.  I have had people pay very little attention to my artwork, until I mention I am a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.  For many people in my region, this is a stamp of approval that’s almost impossible to ignore.
We may cringe when someone constantly indulges in name-dropping.  But you have to ask, why do so many people do it?  Again, it’s because, consciously or unconsciously, that person is hoping they will impress us by association. 
What are ways we can use this common, all-too-human tendency to look for the prominent?  More importantly, what are ways to do this that we can be comfortable with, that don’t feel manufactured or obsequious?
I believe when everybody wins, it’s easier.  We can use our art to support people, causes and change we believe in.  The causes benefit from our support.  The resulting publicity benefits us.  And our customers and collectors benefit, too, knowing they are part of the giving circle.
Amy Peters, owner of Amy Peters’ Studio, is a well-known designer of popular sterling silver jewelry.  Almost by accident, she discovered her jewelry was worn by one of the first “Survivor” reality TV series contestants.  The parents of Elisabeth Filarski gave her a necklace made by Amy just before she left for the show’s filming.  Elisabeth was a popular ‘Survivor’, and her necklace was seen in every episode.  Amy created lots of good press from this serendipitous opportunity. 
Amy’s connections to other people in show business created opportunities for her, too.  Some Hollywood stars create foundations or support organizations for many worthy causes.  Amy donates work regularly to these causes, for their fundraising.  Again, she has not only helped the causes, and her friends, but also generated good ‘buzz’ about her work.
And this, I think is key:  When such a connection or opportunity benefits everyone involved, I feel more comfortable using this popular (no pun intended) story hook.  My work is on exhibit by a state politician whose work and ethics I admire.  She’s delighted to have a beautiful piece of work by a New Hampshire artist on display for the people she represents.  She also happens to love my work, and is a valued customer.
I have a short list of people whose work I admire, and from time to time, I send them something—a piece of jewelry, a small sculpture.  I consider it a reward for what they’re doing.  If they were to become a valued customer, too?  Well, again, that would be win-win for everyone.  One fellow League member had a charming story about a very famous rock musician who admires and collects her work.  The story’s charm is not just his fame.  It’s the fact that his music style (I’ll just whisper, “Demon of Screamin’”) would not usually be associated with her aesthetic (nature, ecology, wildflowers).  And yet it spoke to him, powerfully. 
Isn’t that what we all hope to do with our art?
Sometimes the association can be even more subtle.  I owe the film maker Werner Herzog a big one for his latest film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”  Because of his fascination and reverence for prehistoric cave paintings, my work is now more accessible for many people.  At my recent big retail show, almost every other visitor to my booth mentioned his film in connection with my work, in a powerful way.  I no longer look like a kook with a thing about Paleolithic ponies.  I look like a creative talent whose body of work foreshadowed a famous director’s latest film.  That….was extremely gratifying!
So consider trying this powerful story hook in the stories you tell and publish about your work.  Try a wee bit of name-dropping.
Used with discretion and respect, it can be another way to connect your work with your audience.
Editor's Note:

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Related Articles:
Tell Me a Story: Eminence
Tell Me a Story: Conflict
Tell Me A Story: Sex & Romance
Tell Me A Story: Focus on the WHY
Tell Me a Story: Proximity
Tell Me a Story: Writing About Your Art
Tell Me A Story: Tell a Better Story
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Copyright 2011 - Luann Udell


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Surprised by Sales (Lori Woodward), Revisited
Here are the first five comments regarding yesterday's article:
Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors
I, too was surprised by sales this month. I sold 3 paintings in one week! One of the buyers has now purchased 3 different paintings from me.
I hope you like your new pottery.
jack white
Loved this piece. Your area has some great crafts-persons. You don't find NE quality in any other section of the country. They take pride in what they do and you can see the passion.
Marian Fortunati
GREAT GREAT post which points out some really important issues for those of us trying to make our way in the art marketing world.
Quality and uniqueness really say it all. That and pleasantly engaging with people who come by to see the work.
And so we paint paint paint....
Esther J. Williams
Lori, this is good to hear, I was reading a sixty year old book about design by an associate professor of Yale University. He declares that the creation of a designed object, whether it is art or sculpture, a song or a building fulfills a human need that is not only material, but is a visual, subjective relationship. Ancient Greek vases were utilitarian, but later became highly traded all over the Mediterranean world for whatever Athens lacked. Why? Because they were a joy to behold, they were unique in their painting designs of figures surrounding the black vase`s body. He went on to say that humans value a work of art because of our need for joy and honesty in the work and their expression in the work of that artist.
So, maybe it is the design of the work, the visual relationship that is highly subjective to people that attracts them to the unique creations. Craftsmanship of high quality holds value. People want value and are willing to pay for it.
I painted in public for five days last week. I created four paintings, the one that sold is the one that I spent three days on and someone watched me paint it. She was enthralled with all the detail and sense of place, plus we engaged in chats everyday. It was the hardest piece to paint, but a labor of love and I painted it from a relate-able viewpoint. My single day paintings got a lot of comments but that extra effort one received the most attention because I took the time to add more detail and designed it as a unique composition. This is not to say that I did not put all my effort into the other plein air pieces, I did and they will capture someone`s heart. I can`t expect to sell everything all at once. Although it would be nice. If I did, I would certainly think about doubling my prices if I can`t paint fast enough.
Years and years ago, thirty-five years I think, I designed leather wallets and apparel, I entered juried craft shows back east. I sold out of my inventory every time, my booth would be packed. It was crazy. My brother just showed me one that he saved and never used, it was a delight to see and he said he treasures it to this day and won`t let anyone use it or touch it. That is the highest compliment when someone values a creative work that much.
George De Chiara
Hi Lori,
I have a question about something you said. It sounds like there where a few booths there with similar looking items. One of them seemed to be very busy with sales, while the others did not. What set the one apart from the others? Was the busy booth that much better than the others?
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