Collective Wisdom | The Artists Who Won’t Go Away While I’m Trying to Sell

On RedDotBlog, we’ve often talked about different scenarios in which you might be trying to sell your work. For many of you the opportunity will come at an open studio event, an art festival, or a gallery opening. I’ve received a number of interesting questions from artists related to the sales process, including this one via email:

This last weekend I had the best day in terms of sales I have ever had at open studio.

This is all great and I want to get your advice on a certain dynamic.

Perhaps you remember the old Saturday Night Live skit called “The Thing that wouldn’t leave” Basically about a friend visiting the house who overstays their welcome.

There are some fellow photographers who visit my open studios to check out my latest work and talk shop. I suppose they are not really customers since they don’t buy work. When I started I didn’t buy work either but now I feel as though it’s good to buy other artists work as it creates good karma. So occasionally my wife and I do buy and collect art. It’s fun!!!

Anyway, these visitors tend to stay longer and I do enjoy talking shop, and am flattered they keep coming back, but I noticed when collectors walk in to the studio they seem to feel they are interrupting. At this point my friends the fellow photographers sort of shut up to watch what happens. Then I feel like I can’t connect as well with the customer while my fellow photographer is watching. I feel it is generally not conducive to my making a sale.

On the other hand I find its generally better if someone is in my studio talking and looking vs. me there alone when things are slow. I find if people are walking by and see only me there they tend to think nothing is happening and walk by. When there are a few people shopping it attracts more people. So with this in mind its sort of good to have the thing that wouldn’t leave there so it helps attract more people to the studio.

Carl C

Great question Carl, and I think many artists have run into a similar challenge, whether at an open studio event, at an art festival, or during a gallery opening. I run into over-stayers in the gallery almost weekly.

My approach in the gallery is simple. Though I try to extend courtesy and warmth to everyone who visits the gallery (after all, you never know who is going to turn into a buyer, as you mention), I feel no compunction about interrupting someone mid-sentence to say, “Oh, excuse me for a moment, I need to go and say hello to this collector.” I then briskly stride away to greet the customer. Usually, once the over-stayer sees me engaging with the collector, he will continue browsing through the gallery, and, if I become very engaged, may leave before I ever return.

It sounds to me like you don’t necessarily have a problem with the getting away, but rather with the ensuing awkwardness when you have the artist hanging on to every word of the conversation you are trying to have with your customer. This would certainly be a bigger problem in your studio or in a show booth that it is in my gallery, but my suggested approach is the same no matter where you find yourself: ignore everyone except your customer.  I know it can feel awkward to have someone listening and watching what you are doing, but if you act like it isn’t awkward, your customer will very quickly forget about the other artists and you can engage as if you were in an empty studio. This will take some practice on your part, and a conscious effort not to feel self-conscious, but I can tell you from experience that it can be done.

There is often a natural flow in a conversation with a collector. You will greet the customer and introduce yourself and then invite them to explore your work. Now you can step back and let them look. When you do this (AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!) don’t return to your conversation with the artist. Try and step back to an unoccupied corner of your studio, booth, or gallery. If the artist tries to approach you, wave them off with an “I’ll be with you just as soon as I’m finished,” and then step back over to the customer to tell them about a piece or to ask a question. The artist will get the picture and will either wait or wander off.

I think you are right that it’s good to have some warm bodies in the studio to attract potential buyers in, so I don’t see these artists as a problem, I just feel it’s very important to assert control over the situation in kind but strong way so that your priorities are clear. Hopefully a fellow artist will understand.

You could also try letting these artists know what to expect by explaining when they first come in that you aren’t trying to be rude, but if a customer comes in you are going to focus 100 percent of your attention on the customer.

What Do You Do When You Encounter “the Artist Who Won’t Go Away”?

Have you run into a similar situation with artists who get in the way of sales? What have you done to deal with the situation? What advice would you give to Carl and other artists in a similar scenario? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

9 Comments

  1. This can become a sticky situation if you allow it to become one. I will occasionally have artists come into my gallery to check out the walls, and at times sit down to chat with me. I am fine with that if it is quiet in the gallery, however whenever someone walks in I simply stand up and say: “It was great chatting with you, however you will have to excuse me, as I need to get to work.” If they don’t get the message at that point, I say something like” “Perhaps we could connect over cocktails or something some time. I’m not rude about it, however the gallery is a place of work and requires a great deal of focus. Every person walking in is a prospective buyer, and therefore they take priority. My experience with artists visiting the gallery is that they are not looking for artwork.

  2. In my experience that other-artist scenario is very real, and Jason’s businesslike solution is the only one I’ve found. Other artists who are disrespectful of the purpose of the gathering in that way are in the minority, but some have even promoted their own work at my opening. A more serious problem for me has been couples who visit my sculpting studio, which has many visible tools and works in progress. Wives tend to be much more interested than their husbands in everything about the art, including buying it. Husbands, who tend also to dominate conversations, tend to be much more interested in tools and in how to carve stone than anything about the art itself. Several imminent and many potential sales have disappeared in that dynamic. Fortunately, some wives return later by themselves!

  3. I think that some artists attend gallery openings with the feeling that they are supporting their fellow artist. That is good in itself, although it can cause other problems as noted above. I guess it is all a matter of learning, and become more skillful, about marketing and selling.

  4. It’s so wonderful when people make the effort to come to an opening however the question that I’d like to ask is what to do about this scenario…
    Some acquaintances tend to stand and talk to each other and sometimes draw in other people (by their voice or physically ) and are standing around chatting about something has nothing to do with my art and blocking the path of other people.
    .. It’s simply rude.
    I have used humour to move them away from the art .
    Any other suggestions?

  5. Great post! Coming from the other side of the coin: I’ve been the “victim” (hehe) of this type of scenario very frequently. Your suggestions on how to handle it are spot-on and very much what I tend to do, myself. On the other hand, I’ve been the “visitor” before! When I’ve done shows (especially the long-term, artist-in-residence, “big tent” kind) It’s nice every once in a while to take a spin around and see what your fellow artist friends are up to. I try to be a best-practices person in these situations and this is what I do: I won’t enter if my friend has a customer. I don’t want to distract them. If there’s no one around I’ll pop in and say hi & visit a minute (but not too long), but I always consider whether they seem to want to chat or not. If a customer comes in, I leave right away (not rushing out, but leaving normally) and as I leave I say loud-ishly something like “These new paintings are really stunning. I really love how you’ve made the light glow” so something positive is planted in the customer’s head. Seeing my friends sell well is a joy!

  6. I’ve found that having good food & wine at openings brings a lot of people in, but they have a tendency to graze at the table, drink all the wine, chat with their friends, & leave without buying anything. Minimal snacks helps cut this activity down.

  7. Good advice, while I do say excuse me a minute, I like the term ” I need to get back to work” it is not offensive and right to the point . Another good tip, love your blog

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