In spite of the fact that the campaigning for this year’s presidential election has been going on for well over a year (actually, did it ever really end after the last election?) we still have eight tumultuous months of electioneering ahead.
Election season is always a complicated time for the country, but it seems especially so during this cycle. Emotions run high, and even friends and families sometimes divide down party lines. Lawn signs and bumper stickers abound and the election is front and center in every newspaper and cable news show.
We almost can’t help ourselves – we’re Americans and we love a good political fight.
While politics permeate almost every aspect of our daily lives, I would argue that there is one place where it doesn’t belong, and that is in the conversation of any artist or gallery professional engaged in the sales process.
The art sales process is, as you probably already know, a very delicate undertaking. During a sale, everything has to line up perfectly. First, you have to be in the right place to encounter a willing buyer. Second, you have to interest them in your art and persuade them that buying a piece is a good idea. You have to ask them for the sale and often resolve doubts that stand in the way of commitment. Fourth, you have to process the sale and deal with the logistics of physically transferring ownership of the piece of art.
Any distraction can throw the process off track, and once you are off the track it is nearly impossible to get back on.
A political conversation is going to be just such a distraction. You might think you actually help your cause if you and your potential buyer share political opinions – wouldn’t sharing a common interest strengthen your relationship and trust with the customer? While you might expect this to be the case, it simply isn’t so. Politics stir up such profound emotions and passions that even when you are agreeing with one another, the political conversation has filled up your buyer’s mind (and probably yours as well) and again, you are off the tracks.
Of course, it is going to be even worse if you disagree. Several year ago, I overheard a conversation of an artist who had some strong political opinions. While I don’t remember the exact conversation, it was clear that her sentiment lined up with the “Occupy” movement and that she felt the rich were too rich and that they needed to give more back to “the people”. It was clear she had put a lot of thought into her position, and she made some interesting arguments. I wondered, however, if she had stopped to realize that in all likelihood, most of her buyers would fit into the class she was railing against. While she probably never would have expressed these opinions in a setting where buyers might be present (I hope!) I would be concerned that her view might prejudice her feelings toward her buyers.
Remember, people are far more than the labels with which we might try to paint them. You might have a difficult time agreeing with a customer’s political views, but you will likely find that you share other common interests (especially art related interests) and can communicate successfully around those common interests without your political persuasions getting in the way.
So with that in mind, declare your art business a politics-free zone.
- Avoid posting political thoughts, images or even humor on your website, blog or social media if there is any possibility a potential buyer will see it.
- Don’t place signs in your yard or bumper stickers on your car if clients might see them (at a studio tour or on a delivery, for example).
- Don’t ask your client’s who they support, and decline to engage in a conversation if they try find out who you support. I guess you might call this the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I simply state that I find that politics and business don’t mix and that I have declared the gallery a politics-free zone.
Please don’t get me wrong, I feel that political engagement is a critical civic duty and I feel that we should all be educated and informed when it comes to making important decisions about the direction of our country. I simply advocate creating a firewall between your politics and your art sales.
I recognize that some artists are political artists and that social consciousness and politics are a critical element of their work. For these artists it’s impossible not to have politics enter into the conversation. These artists have already come to terms with the fact that their work may alienate members of one political movement or the other.
What do you think? Do you agree that politics and business don’t mix, or do you think there is a place for political discussion even in your business? Have you had positive or negative experiences engaging in political conversations with your potential buyers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.