COPING WITH THE WORD “NO” AND UNDERSTANDING IT’S BUSINESS
There comes a point in all aspects of life, where we all must come to grips with the word “no”. “No” comes in many different forms, and call it whatever you want to: rejected, not accepted, un-liked, [no response], sorry no, fuck off, unfortunately no, not interested, (door closing sound), and the latest in fashion: ghosting. In German, the word “nein“, was famously told to a struggling artist, who as we all know, didn’t end well. The human mind is so varying in complexity, emotions, and different responses and interactions that with any individual, will elicit different responses. How we each choose to interpret and cope with these responses and emotions is solely the responsibility of the self. Lately, the media trend (and downfall of society) would like us all to believe that the latter is not the case, but let’s stick to art or go 50/50 on bad parenting. Coming to stability with the reality of art and business, and managing emotions such as anger, can be challenging, especially when dealing with something as personal as your own art. If you read no further, remember the golden rule: take nothing personally. Second, remember that nobody will book an asshole.
(Disclaimer: the purpose of this article is not to shame or belittle anyone, it’s a free column of advice designed to help you).
So You’re An Artist? Who Cares? (Ok- We Do, It’s Our Job)
You’ve at whatever point practiced something (or had a stroke of genius) and perhaps created a work of art or a series of artwork. Great? So what’s next? If you live in a “yes” bubble and have decent self esteem, your family, close friends, and you yourself are all your immediate champions. Their role is to support you because they have to, which is unfortunately not the case of the rest of the 99.9% of the world. Sad fact: The world owes you nothing and if your friends are lying to you, you need new friends. With most artists (and musicians, etc.), there comes a time where you begin to feel the desire to show your work in a public space. Stepping into this space, you need to be equipped with extremely thick skin, some degree of determination and/or motivation, a sense of business, and most importantly, knowledge. However, don’t confuse any of these things with the greatest evil of all, and the common thread of aspiring mass shooters: entitlement. Creating a work of art doesn’t mean that you are entitled to something or that anyone should automatically pay attention.
Ego, Entitlement, and Empathy
Having some Ego is perfectly normal and we all need a healthy Ego to survive. It gives us purpose, and when used in the right ways, motivation. Having too much ego means by psychological definition that you are a Narcissist and in more extreme circumstances, this often leads to manipulative behavior and Machiavellianism (e.g. win by any means necessary). Entitlement on the other hand, is used broadly across the spectrum. As opposed to the “I think therefore I am” in the classic philosophical sense, entitlement is a complete blunderfuck whereas “I am, therefore I deserve“. In the art world (and in particular, galleries), this would mean that John/Jane Doe Gallery Owner worked his/her whole life to start a business just waiting for the magical day for you to walk through the door. Ironically enough, John/Jane Doe were just minding their own business when you suddenly came in unannounced. That’s not to say that there are a wide variety of nice or mean John’s and Jane’s in galleries and shops across the world.
Any time anyone or anything enters the public sphere, you are subject to the cutthroat rules of the street. Being cutthroat does not mean being a dick though. Some higher end galleries may not ever let you in their door without an appointment, and may even have a security guard. Humble John and Jane Doe Main Street USA however, seem to be nice folks and their doors are open with a cute little sign, because they like to be there, and they enjoy the business. However, don’t get the wrong impression that simply because they are nice to you, this means that you are entitled to something from them. News flash: They have to be nice to potential customers, or they go out of business. Everyone is a potential customer, until they’re not. Now, unless John or Jane has the stone-cold personality like the Great Wall of China, this means, that like any wandering homeless person, they’ll probably listen to your story and have some slight modicum of empathy for who you are, and why you are there. If you’re not buying something, the longer you carry on, the longer it is you are probably wasting their time (But hey, maybe it’s a slow day?) In short, empathy is cheap and wears off quickly when you turn into an entitled ass. Using empathy to one’s advantage is nothing new, so if you’ve read this far, let’s talk business.
The Meanings of Unsolicited and Untested
In it’s most basic sense, the word unsolicited means that nobody asked you to be there, and that you are trying to either sell or scam your way into something, for financial gain, a handout, exposure, or otherwise. As a physical shop, the shopkeeper is more or less bound to being there, as described in the previous paragraph. In the world of Email and Social Media, this notion of unsolicited is amplified to the millionth degree. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try! Plenty of salespeople, inventors, politicians, and artist-types have gone down the dark and dusty unsolicited road since the dawn of time. The point of this article is to say that you need to be strong enough mentally not to shoot up a daycare center when somebody tells you the word “no”.
In email and digital forms, the gross assumption is that the recipient is sitting there waiting for your message at all hours of the day and night, and that you are entitled to access them and entitled to an immediate response.
In it’s purest and most simplest form, answers to unsolicited (and solicited) people and materials boil down to a simple yes, or no. If the person receiving it (who by the way, always has the advantage), has a “maybe” policy- tread lightly, and don’t lose your mind following up every single second of the day. Remember, a “no” can also be “no response at all” (including ghosted), and that “maybe” has no specific meaning at all. Too many maybes means that you’re being strung along, and yes, you should deserve an answer, or just stop wasting your energy and move on.
Unless you are at the top of your art game, making a salary from that alone, and/or have some sort of notoriety outside of your neighborhood, this means one description: untested. Untested means exactly what it looks like: nobody, including myself, knows who you are, how you perform, or if you will sell. The majority of artists, musicians, writers, etc., are untested no matter if you want to call yourself “emerging”, “student”, early/mid career, or otherwise. You may be mid-career in California, but not in Vermont. Also, just because you paid for a booth at a fancy arts convention doesn’t mean anything. What compelling reason should somebody take a chance on you?
Calls For Artists
Let’s face it, with millions of untested artists in the world, it’s no big secret that many arts (including music and writing) related organizations use open calls as a way to discover new talent. Moreover, that these same organizations (including Vestige) charge a nominal fee to apply. Why is the fee a good way to go? If you really wanted to dig that deep into consumer laws, the fact that you paid for something means that in theory (or the USA at least) you should receive something in return. It’s a two-way, voluntary solicitation, and nobody is forced into anything that they don’t want to participate in. While we can only speak for our gallery and track record, this means that you should ideally receive a yes, no, or maybe. That small fee also goes towards all of the other services that you receive in the contract, and the time, effort, costs, and everything else that John and Jane Doe need to go through to give you the treatment that you signed up for. If no or maybe, that’s unfortunately all that you might get, albeit you might get onto somebody’s radar and potentially a critique if you have the stomach for it. Point being, before you go tell the Gallery to go fuck themselves, maybe stop for a second because from time to time, unexpected things might happen. If you think this all sucks, you’re still free to find out some sort of other alternative.
The simple reason that you never go spouting off to someone who says “no” to you, is that you really have no idea what is going on on the other side. Call it reverse empathy. From time to time, unknown things happen where people drop out, more art may be needed, etc. and maybe something might happen. As it stands, with opening a business and an application to show art, the Gallery receives shitty messages and emails. Without saying much, this most certainly will get you nowhere. What you don’t know when you send off an unsolicited email is whether the person on the other end may suddenly have had an emergency, or just isn’t on the computer 24/7 waiting anxiously for your message, especially if it involves a show that is months in the future. Great that you have the idea that you are going to do XYZ at some gallery, but the same can’t be said in the opposite (after all, they own the gallery and get to decide). The strangest part is, that some people write “fuck you”, “you’re unprofessional”, or “eat shit”, before the Gallery even has a chance to reply! That’s a bit self-defeatist now isn’t it? It proves without a doubt that you’re too unstable to work with. Game over.
The similar “surprise surprise” situation is the entitled line-jumper. This is the person that walked, drove (or emailed) to the shop or gallery, and as such, their entitlement level has gone up like inlflation under Joe Biden. This person now expects to show you on their phone all of their artwork and get you commit on the spot to having them in a show- and better yet, a full feature or solo. They don’t want to be bothered by the application process, and are either way too amazing (in their mind) for that, or claim they don’t have a computer, or the money (or both). But how they found out about you on a computer, and paid for the nice clothes they are wearing, and car they showed up in, remains a total mystery. Admittingly, this is a ballsy move, and sure, bravo for trying (maybe in some universe, it has worked before). “I don’t have the money” doesn’t cut muster either, because if you are that broke, you should honestly be more worried about something other than an art show. Student? Ask.
REAL LIFE SCENARIOS
ARTIST A: (aka: Lesson In What Not To Do)
Gallery gets a call on a random weekday from another shop nearby saying that “there is a guy who knows you” pacing around his shop asking why the gallery isn’t open at 4 PM. (Unforeseen life circumstance: Gallery worker is picking up car from the mechanic and says kindly that they will be there at 4:30). Gallery worker arrives at 4:15 to get the place opened up, wondering who this person is that says that he knows them? Could be an old friend? Stranger shows up at 4:20 instead of 4:30 and proceeds to question why the 4 PM advertised time was not adhered to. Gallery worker has no idea who this guy is (it’s not an old friend). They proceed to talk and immediately guy comes out asking for a solo art show while telling a sad story and shit talking every other art gallery around town. Gallery worker explains that this is not possible, but offers a link to a group show opportunity as a way to get tested out. Guy proceeds to pull out phone and starts showing the now uncomfortable gallery worker pictures of his artwork. Nodding their head, the Gallery worker tries to remain nice and talk about art, and the guy continues to question why he cannot have a solo show. Says he has the perfect vision for the space. Explanations ensue, and Gallery worker again suggests nicely that he leave his information and get on the mailing list. After Artist leaves, he immediately follows the Gallery on IG and the Gallery worker’s personal IG page.
A week or two later, Artist DM’s the Gallery asking again for specific wall space in an upcoming show, and says that he will only apply if given a certain space. Gallery is too busy to respond for whatever the reason, and after no response, Gallery gets a shitty message at 5:56 AM:
ARTIST B: (aka: The Respectful Professional)
Gallery’s latest show opens up and the day after the Opening Reception, a visitor enters the Gallery and is taking his time, looking at the exhibit. Gallery worker begins talking with the guy, who as it turns out is also an Artist. Artist admits with some humility that he applied for this particular art show, but was not selected. He says that he wanted to see the show anyway, for personal enjoyment, and to see where to make future improvements. After some professional conversation, Gallery says that his work was a “maybe” consideration (there were different curators), and the Artist asks for feedback, which the Gallery worker provides. After more conversation about art and other local galleries in the area, Gallery asks if it is ok to see more things on the Artist’s website. Artist says “sure” and they sit down together at the desk to look at the computer. As it turns out, the Artist’s other work was a strong fit for another opportunity coming up later. Gallery and Artist agree to continue the conversation at a later time. (Fist bump)
As you may have guessed by these two different examples, one has acted more professionally and will be on the radar for upcoming opportunities. This isn’t to say that every person is perfect, and neither are we, and that all results of being a nice person are guaranteed. Fortunately in the USA, we all have the freedom to choose who we work with. While nobody books an asshole, you don’t have to work with an asshole booker either. Entitlement on the other hand, will get you nowhere although it may falsely look like it gets some people somewhere. If some Master’s Art Student seems entitled because they have access to fancy university galleries or museums, just remember that somebody is paying a lot of money for them to be there. For the $28 odd bucks you can spend to enter a show, it sure seems like a lot less. Just make sure that you have the sense to both win and lose gracefully. The rest falls under tact.