Gubbart staff reports and views: Mike Lee on defying the odds…
A fantastic trip to the northern California coast over a recent weekend included browsing in some of the many, quaint, hopeful, boutique/gallery/gift shops in one of the many, quaint, hopeful towns that dot the rugged coastline. Along with the clever, affordable and familiar items made by larger manufacturers or outlets, every shop had some very approachable souvenirs, jewelry and other crafts that were more regional, even local in some cases. Bookmarks of wire or burn-stenciled wood, sloganed t-shirts, witty signs, greeting cards or bumper stickers about getting old, alcohol or pets, beaded and sea glass-ed ear hangings, necklaces with small wire cages containing “air” plants, real bees wax candles, hippie-inspired flowing ceramics, and much more. One or two establishments even had formidable, framed oil paintings and other traditional “fine” art.
I know that behind each of those creations and its included marketing/packaging was a face, a person hopeful that he or she would be the beneficiary of a faceless tourist benefactor with a pocketful of free time and expendable income. The craftspersons knew they had a better chance if they kept their price point low—just beneath the impulse shoppers’ instinctual ceiling. For the painter/precious metal jeweler, I would think the real hope is future business. I understand there are many people with tons of cash. Still it would seem that unless Mr. or Ms. Welloff downed 3 or 4 cocktails already and/or is desperately trying to impress someone, he or she doesn’t wander into a random shop on a Saturday afternoon intending to drop $2,000.
Certainly, I’d like to hear if you’ve done that, or have been on the receiving end of that sort of credit card transplant.
Craftspeople and artists I know who “make a living” doing their art/craft are quite few. There is usually a supplemental non-related income involved. Or as one of my favorite sayings spells it out: “I’m a professional artist (musician) is a euphemism for ‘my spouse has a full-time job.’”
How much the artist makes is not important to me; it’s that they do it at all. Faced with the amount of competition for that handmade dollar the artisan chases, and the short end of the risk/reward stick most of us get instead, the words “why bother” do come to mind.
Most of us give up childlike dreams at some point. We hear we’re too short for the NBA, too principled for advertising, too tone deaf for Asylum records, too dense for Harvard, or too homely for Hollywood. So the majority give up chasing the dream,”grow up” and get a job. Apparently they are good at that. A side effect is they can go to the coast on a weekend and browse in the shops of a small town before dinner. And when they do, they want to see a shop full of fanciful, gleaming, well-made trinkets and novelties.
Thankfully, my fellow and sister artisans shove all common sense aside and say, “Hey, I better get busy!”