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Selling Craft Before Its Time

"Some things can't be rushed, good music, good wine,"*good craft, and finding your own artistic voice.

The recent Metalsmith Bench Talk discussion; The GOOD, The BAD, and the UGLY in the Age of the Internet was discussed by Ronna Sarvas Weltman on her Facebook page.

AncientmodernShe recounted an experience with a past student who had second thoughts about selling what was based on one of the projects from her book, Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay and Wire Jewelry.

Below is a quote from Weltman's post:
"If you are making things for yourself and/or friends and not selling it, people look upon that with more grace, since you’re not trying to profit from another artist’s ideas. But once money and the marketplace enters into the quotient, everything changes. And collectors can get really annoyed if they discover what they bought, thinking it was a fresh voice, was in fact copying or at least an obvious derivative of another artist’s work."

"Moreover, and even more important for you as you go forward, if you’re stopping at a place where your art is obviously imitative, then you’re selling yourself short by stopping before you’ve found your own voice in your art."

Aligned with Ronna Weltman's post, I want to focus on a recommendation from my interview and the lecture; The GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY in the Age of the Internet.

Do not sell or exhibit work derived from tutorials, workshops, or books.


Just like creating fine wine, creating good work, finding your own voice and cultivating a healthy, innovative, craft marketplace all require time.

A craft marketplace filled with derivative work does not present the consumer with the best of media, or the best of a maker. 

In addition to the collector's regret if purchased items are "derivative of another artist’s work" (which will likely to become public knowledge), the maker is selling prematurely before their time. Once an artist or maker enters the marketplace, the consumer ends up having a profound influence on your work.

I say this with the voice of experience, not judgement. Every time you sell work, no matter where, or at what level, the customer requests bigger, smaller, less expensive, and more or less they want to include their ideas. I'd say this happens 80% of the time. It takes a a lot of core strength to remember who you are, and why you make something to resist the lure and influence of ustomers/clients/collectors requests.
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander     Model: Stephanie Reisfeld

Here is a real life story:
I have been creating my work in a signature style and technique for 30+ years and yet, a well known gallery that I have worked with for many years approached me because a "collector" wanted an example of my work. They then proceeded to tell me exactly how big it could be, and that it had to have pictures of a particular animal on it.  Does anyone see the irony of a collector wanting an artist's work and then telling the artist what to make?

The point is that in the marketplace the client often wants to tell you what to make. Michelangelo regularly ran into this problem. John Singer Sargent stopped painting his fabulous portraits because he couldn't stand the customer telling him how and what to paint. Listen to this video about James Whistler's blue Peacock Room - a "clash of art and commerce."  "The birds faced each other, on ground strewn with silver shillings, as if about to fight."  Whistler titled the mural Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room as it became a physical embodiment of the struggle for the artists integrity while making a living.

The-Gold-ScabIf Whistler is experiencing the struggle, "the seemingly constant conflict between the desire of unfettered artistic liberty and the basic requirement to earn enough to have shelter and to put bread on the table" what will happen to the inexperienced maker prematurely selling their craft with undue influence from the marketplace?

Sell no craft before its time.*

P.S. This discussion topic is not a topic limited to the United States. It is fascinating that the topic is in Scotland as well. Quoting the words of The Justified Sinner in a discussion on Crafthaus. "I am suggesting that poorly-made and poorly-designed goods from anywhere are clouding the public perception of the marketplace for "handmade"."