((Excerpt from: "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal."))
This has happened to me so many times that I finally have to write about it.
Are some art world people just flat out rude, or is it me? I was just talking on the phone to a woman at an art center and I couldn't believe how rude she was. I was calling to ask a simple question about an exhibition and the woman was cold, terse and well, RUDE. It's not like I was calling just to shoot the breeze. The conversation didn't last long and I never really got an answer to my question.
This also happened recently when I called an art gallery. I won't say where because I don't want it to reflect on the city. But I asked the gallery manager about the availability of a painting. "If you didn't attend the opening I can't tell you that!" the guy said. What? Are you kidding me?
Okay. I'm not saying that all art people are rude. Art people are people too. They have pressures and deadlines and unrealistic expectations placed on them just like everyone else. And since I tend to do a lot of art things, it would stand to reason that I come into contact with a lot more art people than your Everyday Joe. You know, the whole mathematical probability thing. Anyone can be rude. Art people have good days and bad days. Still, what gives?
"I will NOT walk into an art gallery!" said a marketing woman who I spoke with about promoting my first book. "Why?" I asked? "It's too scary," she said. "I just think those people will make me feel stupid," she added, referring to gallery operators. I felt this woman's concern. After all, it was one of the major reasons why I wrote my book, "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal."
Speaking of my book, during its final galley stages, I sent out an email to all of "my artists" informing them on its progress. I had told everyone earlier about my uphill battle and the publishing restrictions that forced me to make changes to the manuscript. But not to worry, I said. I would be doing a series of these books and everyone would be included in some thematic project or another. Anyway, out of the blue I got an email from one of the artists whose work I absolutely love. Here's what the artist wrote: "Mike, Please take me off your email list. I don't believe you included me in your book and I'm not very interested (in) following its progress. Thanks."
Well, at least the artist said, "Thanks." I quickly replied and apologized profusely, although I didn't think that I did anything wrong. I misled no one. I explained that I had sent out an earlier email explaining my dilemma and that I would love to reproduce the artist's painting (which I owned) for a future book (with copyright permission, of course) and I asked for a response. I never heard back. I had every intention of buying more of this artist's work, but now it just seems like it would only create more bad blood. I love this person's work, but I'll respect their wishes and also avoid the stress of another terse email encounter.
On another occasion, I was having a nice, yet somewhat odd visit at a contemporary art museum. I was talking with one of the museum administrators. Very tense type of guy. I pulled my credit card out of my wallet, telling him that I would love to become a member and he said, "Oh, something is wrong with our register." "I think our computer system is down." Basically, the guy was being snobbish. Trust me. I've seen this before. "What?" I thought to myself. "Are you kidding me?" He didn't even ask for my information for their mailing list. Exclusive club, I suppose. In retrospect, I'm glad he revealed himself to me in that way. I don't need to be part of anything like that.
During a visit at an art center in New York City, I was looking at some pretty cool things. I walked by one of the administrative offices and spotted a spectacular view of Manhattan through the window. To be honest, it was actually the best thing I had seen at the center. "What a fantastic view you guys have here," I said, stopping for a second. I'm not kidding ... the women in the office looked at me and turned back around without saying a word. Clearly, they thought I was trying to hit on them, which I wasn't. Looking back, I should've just kept my mouth shut and moved along. Busy people don't just strike up conversations with complete strangers, especially while THEY'RE at work. There's too much pressure to get things done. Did I mention that both ladies (I guess) were wearing the color black? In the art world, black means, "I'm too slim and sophisticated to talk to you. Please leave my presence." Just kidding (I think).
The thing that's so jarring about rudeness is that no one expects anyone to be rude to THEM. Everybody sees themselves as nice people. I think that I'm one of the nicest people I know! So when someone is rude, you think, "Why was he so rude to ME?" "Why did she say that to ME?" A rude encounter is like being in the twilight zone for a split second. "No they didn't!" you think to yourself. But you know, it happens. We're all adults. These days, so many people are put upon and the last thing they need is someone wanting something FROM THEM. One thing that I think all consistently rude people have in common ... they've had great disappointment in their lives. But then, who hasn't? They lash out, sometimes without being aware of it. I'm sure I've done this, but I try to keep my own behavior in check. A complete stranger isn't to blame for my problems.
You know ... we don’t even have to examine rudeness in our society from a human perspective. How about an economic one? Business is STILL business. Some of these arts institutions that are always raising money need to remember that their staffers are their ambassadors. The customer is NOT always right, but they don't deserve rudeness either. No one does. Still, I can forgive rudeness. Because I have tough days myself, I can actually sympathize with other people who are rude. People sometimes deserve not just second chances, but third and fourth chances, too. I would sure like more chances to get things right. However, I must admit, the places that gave me shabby treatment will never see or hear from me again. I can spend my hard earned money someplace else. I really feel sad about saying this because art faces SO many challenges as it is.
Thank God for those little old ladies who sit at the front desks of some of the old art museums. They are some of the nicest people I ever meet. I haven't had a bad experience with any of them yet. God forbid. Quite frankly, they're from another time. A time when manners meant something and people said, "Hello" and "Thank you" at the very least. I'm not saying they're perfect. Who is? They just seem to know the value of civility. Good manners can take you practically anywhere in the world. Forget good manners. How about common decency? It doesn't cost a thing.
I felt somewhat frustrated after talking to the woman who told me that she won't walk into an art gallery. She is really missing out on how art can enrich her life. However, I felt her pain and found myself at a loss for words. Art people are people just like everyone else. They work hard and deserve some slack, but they can also be ...