13 Things Never to Say to an Artist

I caught most of PBS's new series of Crafts in America (and taped the rest), which premiered this past week. They were exceedingly well done. In fact the only fault I could find with them was that of all the people I've asked, no one seems to have watched them. The series does a great job depicting what makes artists inspired to work in different materials and techniques, ones that only the ignorant and the dreadfully postmodern don't define as the stuff of Art.

Ever since I got out of college I've had a lot of trouble with the word 'craft.' In school, I was in an atmosphere so demanding that I never experienced any snobbery from those majoring in what I'd later learn was 'fine art.' The trouble with the word 'craft' is that it puts people, who create painfully exquisite one-of-a-kind works lower down on the heirarchy than, oh, gee, I don't know, some dude, who thinks art is putting a shark in a tank of formaldehyde (not that I'm naming any names or anything). In fact, it puts our work in a category lower down than 'artisan cheese.' The day I heard the term, 'rap recording artist' I'd had enough. "Move over, Prince," I said. "I am permanently known as the Artist Known as Victoria."

Alas, though, such declaration did little for what I would still encounter at parties when people would ask what I do. Despite the throngs of people, who get into flame throwing as a hobby or even a profession, the way I do what I do, and the level (of intensity and insanity) at which I do it remains obscure and off the radar of a culture steeped in Wallmart and Targzhay.

As I was admiring the handmade books by a fellow exhibitor at a show last year, their creator handed me a fan book with a smirk and said, "Here, as another artist you'll enjoy this one." It was titled 13 Things Never to Say to an Artist." (The text was quoted from I forgot where, so if anyone could give me a source, I'd be greatful.) On each page was the kind of tactless and clueless line that makes people like me consider the merits of permanent seclusion, followed by what most artists wish they could really reply. My favorite was, "I really like your work, but it doesn't go with my sofa. Could you paint another one it in magenta, teal, and puce?" In smaller type below was, "Get a new sofa!"

The book has inspired me to write a list of my own. Upon meeting someone, whose profession was as obscure to me as mine is to most, I asked a question so stupid and patronizing that I have actually blocked it from my memory, and so in the name of helping others not to endure such embarrassment as well as my peers and myself to have a better time at parties, may I present

13 Things Never to Say to a Metalsmith

1. I have a piece JUST like that that I bought in Mexico!
No, you really don't. If you think you do, you're not actually looking at my work.

2. I have a piece I bought on my trip to _____ that you would just LOVE to see.
Not as in "come see my etchings," but as in sometimes people feel compelled to relate by... well... just talking rather than actually looking at the art of the artist to whom they are speaking.

3. I really like your work and would buy it for my wife, but she likes platinum and diamonds.
I make art men can wear too. (At least your wife had good taste in picking out you.)

4. This is my friend, Victoria. She's a jewelry designer.
I know you're wondering what's wrong with this one, so let me explain. Technically a designer is someone, who draws what something should look like, so that other people can make it, as opposed to an artist/smith, who might or might not draw an idea on paper first, but creates the work him/herself. Unfortunately, every person, who puts 2 beads on a string now calls themselves a "jewelry designer." (I'm not knocking bead people here! Be assured that people, who put flame to glass or weave intricate complex compositions from tiny spheres are rolling their eyes right along with me.)

Being introduced as a jewelry designer at parties with few artists attending will produce a lot #1, 2, 3, and 9, and a cacophony of #5 and 8. (The last time this happened to me, some strange woman, who disapproved of my prices, began lovingly fondling my rings, a very understandable reaction, which would have been appreciated had I not been wearing them at the time.)

While we're at it, I don't consider myself a jeweler either. A jeweler is usually someone, who sits hunched over a bench, soldering replacement prongs on depressingly unartful and mass produced diamond rings or maybe carves wax to order for custom work (or more likely orders such things out of catalogs). If some smiths want to call themselves jewelers as well, fine; they certainly can, but you'll note that no where on this entire site have I ever used the word until now.

5. Someone told me you 'do' jewelry. Can you fix every broken thing in my jewelry box and convert my earrings from posts to clips (or clips to posts)?
I don't mind referring someone in need to a repair place. Hey, we all break stuff. I'm annoyed when people I don't even know act put out and start arguing with me as to why I won't fix their stuff when I've patiently explained that I don't do repairs and don't even possess the necessary equipment. If I were to tell someone I was a painter, would their next sentence be, "I have this painting that got ripped; can you fix it?" Probably not.

6. Did you cast that?
Ugh, no. Ok, I admit there are one or two smiths out there, who do some cool things with one of a kind castings (no mold is made), but for the most part cast = mass produced = junk = dude, who will probably never buy anything while trying to impress me that he knows the name of an actual metal technique.

7. Ooo, ya know what you should make?
Yes, that's part of why I work all the time. I get these ideas you see... One friend used to say this me all the time until she took a painting class, and with a big grin I said, "Hey, ya know what you ought to paint?" It's good we can laugh about it now. (I know your reading this!) ;-)

8. Why is you're work so expensive?!?
Because it takes a bloody long time to make! Do you feel the need to be monetarily compensated for what you do? Me too. A friend once overheard another artist at a show reply to this questions by saying, "Quality isn't for everyone." I wish I had that kind of nerve.

9. How long did it take you to make that?
A fair question, but one for which the only honest answer is my entire lifetime thus far. If you put your soul and the sum total of your experience into something...

10.What gauge is it?!?
This is only funny to my students, who have been known frequently to yell the question as they pop their heads up from their diligent and furious note taking like demented prairie dogs to inquire the thickness of the metal I'm using in a demonstration. The problem isn't that they ask but that 3 people have already asked, 3 more will ask within the next 5 minutes, and I'm still struggling to say without interruption, "Hi, today we're making a..."

11. Where do you get your stones?
It's not that weird a question, and I usually amuse people by telling them about my opal dealer, who owns his own mine in Australia and tells tales of sitting around the campfire at night, trading kangaroo marinade recipes with other miners. (I know, I know, but apparently they are like deer there.) Unfortunately this question makes the list because, when asked right away, it is an indication that someone regards all my very hard work and artistry as merely being a way to make stones stick on your fingers, neck, or earlobes.

12. You make jewelry? I have some ______ (usually lapis) at home.
I never know why I'm supposed to be impressed by this. Not that there's anything wrong with lapis or whatever someone has on hand, in fact, odds are I have or have had way more of it laying around my house than they do (unless they're talking crystals). Unlike #2, however, this is usually uttered in the spirit of come see my etchings, and really if this is the best a guy can do...

13. You just need to get _________ (usually Sara Jessica Parker or Atl resident, Jane Fonda) to wear your stuff.
If they want to buy it, I'm thrilled. They'll go to the top of the Selected Collectors and Collections section on my resume. If, however, I'm just supposed to lend or give work away to get it moving down a red carpet, I'd be doomed. Within a week jewelry designers (no, the other kind) would be sending orders off to China or Indonesia for bad knock off versions of what little of my work could actually be reproduced. In a month the Style Channel would be showing Voguers where to buy that look for less, and all my serious collectors would instead collect other artists, whose work is still one-of-a-kind. No, far better the person with the marketing schemes pulls out his/her credit card and buys my work. That always impresses me.

Call me a bitch, but if I were a guy, you'd just say I have artistic integrity.

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