When you are an artist and you do shows where you sell your work in person, you tell a lot of stories. I talk about the designs I make and where they come from. Sometimes, I tell stories about the reason I am a computer geek is because I wrote computer games with my dad when I was a kid. Sometimes I talk about someone’s new puppy. I even got interviewed before this show by Make It Minnesota and they posted some of my stories as an artist profile on their website. That’s part of how people relate to art and how they make a connection to it, by finding a story that resonates with them.
I did a big show this weekend and I always buy myself a small present at this particular show. I am a junkie for colorful costume jewelry, so usually it’s a bracelet or a pair of earrings. Last year I got an awesome bright green aluminum cuff and the year before it was a pair of enameled scribble earrings. Both of which I love and wear all the time. This year I had a 5 minute break to grab some hot tea and a bracelet caught my eye as I was cruising past the booth. It was my colors, the design was unusual, it had caught my eye from the aisle and the price range was just right. Perfect. I had found my treat.
Unfortunately, the story that goes along with this one doesn’t match that initial love-at-first-sight reaction. As I handed it to the artist to pay for it, we got to chatting. He said something about babysitting the booth because his mom broke herself and I chuckled at what I thought was a joke. I obviously misheard because he immediately snapped back at me and said “I don’t know why you are laughing. It isn’t funny.” Embarrassed, I commented that it was so nice of him to take over since she couldn’t be there. And the response was “Well she’s paying me, so it’s not that nice.” Given his previous reaction, I assume this isn’t a joke. He sees my nametag and asks about my art and I show him the skirt I am wearing, which is one I designed. He asks if I do menswear and I tell him that I actually do have bow ties for this show and they are getting a lot of really positive reactions. He makes a face and then says,
You should make mens swim trunks. I totally wouldn’t wear that but I could see it as mens swim trunks.
Not “Oh that’s nice.” or “That’s interesting.” (which is Minnesota code for “I think that’s whack-a-doodle but I am too polite to say so.”) But “let me tell you what you should be doing instead”.
I can’t imagine making and selling swim trunks. That’s not the kind of thing you think of as a handmade item. It’s totally a mismatch to my whole design aesthetic. They would be totally impractical. They would be expensive. This all flashed through my mind as one of the weirder things that someone has ever told me I should make and I couldn’t help it but I laughed. Before I had a chance to say anything more, he jumped in and scolded me again. “I don’t know why you are laughing. I am serious. You keep laughing at everything I say.” I felt like I couldn’t say anything without him criticizing me for it and I was really wishing he would just hurry up so I could go get my tea.
Another artist in my shared booth had a long conversation with a couple of ladies about a particular piece in her jewelry collection. The customer tried it on, asked a lot of questions and had a great conversation. She left without purchasing it, but with a big smile on her face. As she walked by me, I heard her say to her friend “Well that was just a showstopper for me. Wow. I can’t believe how cool that was.” What a different experience those visitors had.
So I look at this bracelet now and instead of my happy art show souvenir, all I can think of is the weird not-the-artist-but-her-rude-son and the conversation where he kept scolding me. I’m not sure I want to wear it now. The story matters.