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The city where I live—Minneapolis, Minnesota—hosted its annual art festival this weekend.
Wait. That feels like an inadequate description.
Let me try again: this weekend, the largest open studio event in the country took place in my backyard, and I’m so beyond lucky to live here.
Artists of every medium wait all year for this event. Studio doors are opened, food trucks are out, bands are playing. It’s everywhere. You can’t escape the art all around you, and that’s perhaps the point—we live surrounded by art and artists and we don’t often see them, let alone recognize what they offer to our society.
Can you imagine a world without art?
So, three cheers for those brave humans who put themselves out there, heart on their sleeves, ready to swallow their fears and show others their art. And while we’re at it, three more cheers for those good humans who recognize the value of supporting local art and purchase it, giving it a life outside of the studio, hell—a life outside of the artist’s brain!
My mom is a mixed media artist. In her studio space, I’ve had years of experience watching interactions between artists and those who come into the studio. From my vantage point, it’s like watching a first date.
There’s an art to dating, and similarly, the dance between the artist and a potential buyer is just as much of a tango for two.
I watch to see if there’s an initial “first spark.” Sometimes it’s a long, slow burn. They sweep the room, walking slowly. They take it in, standing back a little, not committing. There’s usually one piece that calls their eye, and they circle it like a moth to a flame.
At other times, it’s fast—like lightning.
They walk in the door and it’s love at first sight. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. They’re quick to choose a work of art because they have this indescribable feeling that it was simply meant for them. Things just click.
Lightning bolts or not, you can tell the date is going well. The visitor begins to ask the artist questions. This is like the “getting to know you” part of the date. Someone is asking and someone is sharing. It’s a beautiful thing to watch because the artist’s face will light up every single time.
See, you’ve just found their kryptonite. The power now rests in your hands and it’s up to you to be gentle with that vulnerability now that they’ve allowed you to witness it.
Next time you find yourself in an artist’s studio, keep in mind these five tips to help do just that:
- The art is the reason you’re there. Enjoy yourself, but don’t forget that if you were at the opera, the spotlight would be on the walls.
- That artist is feeling all the feels right now. They have laid out all the parts of themselves that they like best—and some that they don’t particularly like—placed it on display, and now they’re going to talk to strangers about it for hours. They’re proud, scared, excited, nervous—I think you get the idea. Remember that what they’re doing is pretty damn brave and the least you can do is walk inside and take a look.
- They’ve been preparing the art that’s on display for months, sometimes years—not the food that’s on that table. That food is for you to enjoy, but really? Try your best not to head to that table first. Take a look around, see if you want to stay a little while. If you do, grab that mini glass of wine or that brownie. And if you do grab a bite, say thank you. I promise, most of the time the food is an afterthought.
- Popping your head in the doorway and turning around again is one of the most disheartening things you can do to that artist’s morale for the event. Even if it’s not your style, take a few moments to walk into the room and give it a fair chance. You might be surprised.
- Ask the artist the story behind their work. Odds are good that they’ve been waiting for someone to ask them to talk about that work of art ever since they looked at it and decided it was finally finished.
Be kind, for every artist you meet is on a merry-go-round, “Groundhog Day”-series of first dates.