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Artist Tip: Tailoring for an Audience

December 7, 2011

I am getting my donations ready for Raven Theatre’s annual fundraiser more than a half a year in advance.  I am going to work strictly in oil paints and make sure everything is framed or otherwise ready to hang. The crowd response to the biggest piece I donated last year was underwhelming.  By “underwhelming” I mean that no one among the entire crowd wanted it.  This is the blue haired set; what my friend Pam, recently and hilariously, called “OLD, WHITE FOLKS”.  They are fine with their season tickets to the theater but wound up being a group particularly disinterested in two dimensional visual arts.

The crowd wanted some sparkly Swarovski crystal earrings, regional vacations, gift baskets and there was a heck of a bidding war for the pro hockey sky box.  Not a single soul bid on the painting I put a week into.  Two of the actors with the theater wanted it and bid against each other.  Actors are only sightly less broke than painters are [having the social skills to wait tables and be bartenders combined with the acting abilities needed to flirt for tips] so the final amount of the closing bid was heartbreaking.

I congratulated the winning bidder somewhere around two in the morning, assuring him he got a great piece of work for a low price.  He enthusiastically agreed, because he bought it for a girl he is trying to get with, an English major.  My painting was the upscale equivalent of a box of chocolates in one lad’s quest to get laid.  If the girl in question loves the work of Edgar Allen Poe, then maybe the lad stood a chance at success.  If you have this painting and you are an English major, the guy that gave it to you wants to be more than friends.

Poetry of a Raven Night by Shellie Lewis, acrylics and metallic acrylics on canvas, 16” x 20”

Some sloppy painting of a barn that I could have made with my left hand while drunk went for double the amount of the Poe portrait.  A lot of people bid on the barn and bidding accelerates the more drunk the crowd gets.  (Open bar and an auction, the peanut butter and jelly of fund-raising.)  The night wore on, and I kept checking to see if anyone had bid again on my painting, as they had for the crappy barn painting.  No one did.  The two actors had called it quits in the double digits.  This made me realize I needed to come up with themes that were more banal boring trite accessible and tailor my works to the type of buyer attending this fund-raising event.  I try to only do the work I want to do, but my style fell flat with this crowd.  I strive to only do the work I want to do and would not comprise this point for personal financial gain, but I now understand I need to be more flexible in this situation.  If my donations are to help the theater at all, they need to pull in more money than the retail cost of a box of merlot.

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