THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Miriam Schulman: When people are shopping, a lot of times what they are buying is not just the thing. So that’s why it’s totally false to say “make good art”. Art sells itself. Just focus on the making of the art. What people are buying, especially in situations like what I’m in, is they are really buying a souvenir of how they feel in that moment.
Speaker 2: It’s the Inspiration Place podcast with artist Miriam Schulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place Podcast, an Art World Insider podcast for artists, by an artist, where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art. And now, your host, Miriam Shulman.
Miriam Schulman: Well, hello there, Artpreneur. Welcome to The Inspiration Place. This is Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration, and this is episode number 256. So, I just got back from a week in Israel. My whole family, my daughter Talia, my husband Ron, and I spent the week of Passover visiting our son who moved there right after college. And it was such a wonderful time for me to reconnect with them. I left my laptop at home, which is probably the first time I traveled without my laptop in over 66 years. And I powered down my phone during the holidays. So, it was a real vacation and it definitely filled up my creative well. It was very meaningful also for me emotionally and spiritually, not just to be together for my entire family, but something that we say during our Seder is at the end, we always say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” and this year we were in Jerusalem. So, some of the things that I did there, I did a lot of writing, I bought new books, I bought new art supplies, which is something I like to do when I’m traveling because I’ll bring my art journal and my internal GPS always seems to manage to find art supply stores, which is so amazing. And even though a lot of the supplies can be found anywhere in the world, when I’m in a new place, it’s easier for me to be open to discovering new things rather than just going to the same sections of the shop.
So, one of the supplies I want to tell you about were these amazing pens, and you definitely can get them on Amazon. I did look it up. I probably will have to buy more. I made two different trips to this art supply store. I bought a bunch of them the first time, and I loved them so much. I went back and got different colors, and now I see on Amazon you can get the complete set of every single color. And I don’t know if you know me or if you’re anything like me, I like to have every single color, every single color. So, I definitely will be getting more of that. I think I put in my notes to talk about the pens later on, so I will do that. But I also spent a lot of time, as I mentioned, writing. I started planting the seeds for a new book, which I never thought that I was going to write a second book. The whole time I was writing the first book, I said, “This is a big mistake and I’m never doing this again.” But now I do have a lot of ideas of what I want to put into my next book, and it most likely will be about creativity and spirituality. But that is not what this episode is about. This episode is going to be mostly about the lessons learned from shopping.
So I’m calling this “The Tale of Two Shops” or two shopkeepers, and one of them successfully had me walking away with not just one, but two purchases that I didn’t even know I wanted. And the second place I left empty-handed. And no, the first place is not the art supply store because I really don’t need any help in there. I think I dropped $75 the first time and when I returned a few days later, I spent about the same amount of money. So I don’t want to hold you in suspense in case you want to know what these pens are. They are these pens by Karin, K-A-R-I-N and they come in a range of colors. They’re similar to Posca pens, except like I said they have a brush tip. The thing that I don’t like about Posca pens is that if you press down on them, a lot of times they’ll just spill ink all over your page and these pens don’t do that. So we will make sure to leave a link to them in the show notes, and this is episode number 256. So if you go to SchulmanArt.com/256.
The first store I went into was actually an artist studio. Now this is part of a famous block of artist studios just outside the Old City. And I’ve been there every time I visited. This was my third trip to Israel, but this is the first time I left empty-handed. Now I’m not going to embarrass the artist, so I’m not going to say who it was, the person I’m about to criticize. And he was a visiting artist, so perhaps it wasn’t completely his fault the way his art was displayed or communicated. But regardless of who’s to blame for it, there are definitely lessons here for you. Like I said, this was just before Passover. We were visiting this artist studio and the studio had a studio/gallery, had an assortment of Haggadahs for sale. Some of the Haggadahs were by this visiting artist, and some were different Haggadahs from around the world. And in case you don’t know, a Haggadah is an illustrated prayer book that we use during Passover. It tells the story of the Jews being freed as slaves from Egypt.
Now, because of the diaspora, Haggadahs have been made throughout the centuries in different styles, and these styles have cross-cultural influences from around the world. So there may be a Haggadah from Sarajevo, there may be a Haggadah from medieval times. So they all have their different artistic influences, different languages other than Hebrew, wherever it was. So lots of beautiful art made because of these Haggadahs. Now, for this exhibit, in addition to the different Haggadahs that were for sale, as well as this particular artist’s Haggadah, the artist in residence had framed, hand-embellished number prints on the wall, and they were really beautiful, and I definitely wanted one. But there were no prices on the wall. And worse yet, the assistant in the gallery couldn’t tell me. I said, “How much are these?” There were three, in particular, I wanted to buy, and she couldn’t get the price. And she suggested that I come back the next day to find out how much they were and talk to the artist. So the next day was the day before Passover, which is the busiest travel time in Israel. It’s kind of like how it is here in the United States the day before Thanksgiving, and we had to travel. I didn’t really have time to go back. So like I said, this is the equivalent of finding something you love the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the shopkeeper saying, “No, you have to come back on Wednesday,” which is the busiest travel time of the year.
And in the moment, I still genuinely wanted one, though. I genuinely wanted one. I figured it was probably $1,000 each. I don’t know if I was going to get one or two. There were three I liked. The assistant took pictures of them, and I left them with my WhatsApp phone number, asking them to please message me with the prices and the shipping information to the United States. Okay, so we left the art studio empty-handed, and next, we came to a hat store. Now, in Israel, most women do wear hats and cover their heads. And how much of their hair gets covered depends on how religious they are. And this is both Jewish women and Muslim women, of course. Now, since my son is part of a religious community, I wanted to be respectful of both him and his community, but I still wanted to look cool. When I stepped in, I was very confused. Most of the hats I saw looked like something Queen Elizabeth would wear at a wedding. But luckily, the shopkeeper spoke English. In fact, most people do speak English in Israel, especially in Jerusalem. So that was never the problem. The only place they didn’t really speak English, by the way, was in the art supply store, and I had no problem shopping there. It was just like, “I want these. Here’s my credit card.”
All right, so the shopkeeper saw I was open to being helped. Actually, I put a hat on and I asked her about it. I said, “I just don’t think this is quite right for the occasion.” And she told me, based on what I was wearing and the hat I had on, that I looked like an American in Israel rather than an Israeli. And then, of course, she immediately apologized for saying that Israelis in general, their culture is they’re very forthright, which actually I appreciate because I’m the type of person you should know by now. I’m also very forthright. I don’t like to second guess what people are thinking. I’m not that great always at reading what people are thinking, feeling, and mean. So I like when they just say what they mean. But she, of course, is used to Americans who maybe don’t feel that way, maybe who aren’t from New York. But I really appreciated that. I said, “Okay, I want to look like an Israeli. Help me pick out a hat.” So she showed me a few hats, and better yet, she taught me how to wear them, and I ended up buying not just one, but two hats. Now I have to tell you that I really got used to covering my hair, so I didn’t cover all my hair. I just covered kind of the front, the part where all my roots were showing.
And it was such a shortcut every morning to getting ready. I could definitely get used to it. And one of the hats that I bought looked so cool that I could probably get away with wearing it in New York. Now, the first hat was practical, so I know you may be thinking, “Oh, hats are practical and art isn’t.” But here’s the truth. The hats I may wear once in a while. One of the hats I bought I may only wear once or at most twice a year. And it’s not like I buy hats on the regular the way I buy art or art supplies. But the experience that I was having in that hat shop was so positive, I wanted to capture the feeling I had of being happy and being on vacation with my family and really enjoying that experience. And I can imagine myself now adding hats to my collection next time I’m traveling. So it might actually take the place of something I collect rather than painting. And by the way, hats are art, don’t you think? Alright. And here’s the other thing I want you to know. I also wanted to capture that experience through the artwork of being in Israel during Passover. That’s what really made me want to have that art. So let me just finish the story. So here’s what I also want you to know, what I feel are the lessons that you can learn.
This salesperson made the sale because she helped me. She wasn’t being pushy. She was being helpful by talking to me and showing me how to wear a hat. All the prices were clearly labeled on every hat, but she had me focused more on the hat, on how the hat looked on me, less on the price. In other words, she focused on the experience. She never said, “Oh, this hat is cheaper.” She never said that. I wasn’t focused on the prices at all during the time. I was only focused on how the hat looked on me. So she helped me focus on the experience, not the transaction she made shopping and ultimately purchasing, buying, easy for me. Okay, so I have a few words from someone you’re going to meet in a minute named Chaz. And when we come back, I’m going to finish the story of the art gallery. So stay tuned.
Okay, welcome back. So the next day I got a message on my WhatsApp. So remember now the next day was Wednesday, which was—the Passover was going to be that night and we were traveling and I just wasn’t in the mood anymore.
But the artist introduced himself and he wanted me to meet him in the gallery. He was still trying to push the idea of meeting him in the gallery. He did not answer my question about any of the prices. I thought maybe the shopkeeper didn’t communicate to him that that’s what I wanted. But by then, we were already on our way out of town and I didn’t have time to go. Certainly didn’t have time to go back.
Now, here’s what I want you to know. There’s probably nothing wrong with what he said in that message. But when I was admiring the art on Tuesday and I was caught up in the experience of shopping, I was caught up in the heat of the moment. I definitely would have made an impulse purchase on the spot like I did in my prior trips to the artist studios and like I did in the hat shop. But by the time I heard from him, my love affair with the art had cooled off and so I was just no longer in the mood.
It sounds like I’m talking about sex, but it kind of is. When you have a passion for something, you have to stoke that passion when your collector is in the throes of it. Like you can’t say, “Okay, you know, tomorrow I’ll talk to you about it,” when you’re in the grocery store.
And it sort of annoyed me that I had to go back and forth and kind of beg him to tell me how I could buy this, which eventually I did. And by the time I asked him for the price, I kind of figured, “I don’t think I’m going to buy this anymore,” because I was no longer like in that throes of passion, in that heat of the moment. But I was curious. I wanted to know how much it cost.
Now, here’s the kicker. The art was actually less than I had anticipated. Less, not more. But that didn’t make me want the art any more than I did before because price was not the deciding factor. Here’s the thing. In the throes of that, I would have gladly whipped out my credit card just to capture that feeling I had standing in front of the glimmering artwork. And it wasn’t even original art, which is unusual for me to purchase prints, but they were, and I know a lot of my artist clients do this, they were hand-embellished, and some of them had hand-embellished gold on it. They were printed on this gorgeous, like handmade paper. I think they had a watermark on it. Like, I don’t know if it’s called a watermark, but the paper had this beautiful handmade feel, even though I knew it was a numbered print.
But because I had to practically beg the artist to sell it to me, I was just not that interested in him anymore. It kind of reminds me of a dating experience my daughter had. She had this crush on a boy and she liked him. They went out, nothing happened, and then a few months later, he came back to her. Now he was interested in her, and it kind of pissed her off that now he’s interested, and she wasn’t sure if she was so interested in him and why wasn’t he interested in her before. And I think it kind of hurt the relationship a little bit. So, and she’s not with him anymore. And she would probably kill me if she knew I was talking about this on the air, by the way. So I am so sorry, dear Talia.
But anyway, the point that you need to know is that when people are shopping, a lot of times what they are buying is not just the thing. So, that’s why it’s totally false to say, “Make good art, art sells itself. Just focus on the making of the art.” What people are buying, especially in situations like what I’m in, is they are really buying a souvenir of how they feel in that moment. Even with the hat, when I wear that hat, it’s about capturing that feeling I had in Israel.
And I don’t have to wear the thing to capture the feeling because if I had that artwork and I hung it on my wall, every time I looked at it, it would capture that feeling I had in Israel, and that’s why I wanted it. But the feeling got diluted, and I no longer had that feeling anymore. So buying the thing wouldn’t have brought me back to that place. It would have brought me back to the place where I was annoyed and messaging back and forth on an app. So here are the lessons for you: don’t put obstacles up for your customers. Put prices on your art, whether that’s in person at a show, online, or on your website. Be sure e-commerce is enabled. Don’t make your customers have to email you and ask you to buy the art. If you want more sales, make shopping easy and let your collectors make an impulse purchase. All right, when we come back, I’m introducing a new segment to the podcast called “Art the Art World Remembers.” But first, here’s another message from Chaz.
All right, my friend. I’m introducing a new segment today called “The Art World Remembers.” This will be highlighting obituaries of artists, either famous or overlooked and should have been famous. This one is about one of my favorite cartoonists, who I never even knew was my favorite cartoonist until I saw his obituary in the April New York Times.
Al Jaffee, who passed away at age 102, was the genius behind the Mad Magazine Fold-ins. At a time when most magazines were doing foldouts like Paper Boy Centerfolds, Jaffee approached his bosses at Mad Magazine with this crazy idea that he never thought they’d go for about doing a Fold-in. So, those of you who don’t know the Fold-in, which always appeared at the back of the magazine, looked like one kind of picture at first glance but then completely transformed once the picture was folded in. For example, in November, and by the way, they always had a very leftist progressive tone, just warning you. Okay. So, for example, in November 2001, the issue asked, “What mind-altering experience is leaving more and more people out of touch with reality?” The flat unfolded image shows a crowd of people snorting and popping various things. But once you folded the image, you discovered that the image transformed into the Fox newsdesk.
Now, a couple of fun facts I loved about Jaffee’s life included that his parents emigrated from Lithuania, which, by the way, is where my great-grandparents from my grandmother’s side came from. My grandmother’s mother, his family all came from actually Vilnius and Lithuania. Now, for reasons not completely clear in the obituary, the mother never quite adjusted to life in America. And so when Al, whose original name, by the way, was Abraham, was six years old, she took him and his brothers back to the shuttle in Lithuania.
Now that visit was supposed to last a month, but it stretched into a custody battle between she and her husband that lasted six years. So no wonder Al developed a sense of humor. Those of us with traumatic childhoods and perhaps off-kilter mothers definitely need humor to get through life. When he finally returned to New York, he was admitted to the very first class of the High School of Music and Art. That is the high school that was featured in the movie Fame, and it was definitely a golden age for a budding comic. One little fun fact I didn’t mention was that when he lived in Lithuania, which I believe at the time was part of Russia, his father would send him comics in the mail. So that was something that he really grew to love. One of his first comics, which was sold to Will Eisner, was called “Inferior Man,” and it was a spoof of Superman, except Inferior Man goes into the phone booth to change back into his street clothes whenever the stress of being a superhero gets too much for him. All right. We can kind of relate to that. I wish I sometimes change back into my street clothes when I’m feeling like things are a little too much. All right. So when we come back, I’ll have some final thoughts. But before we get there, here’s Chaz again.
All right, so to wrap things up I wanted to share with you a question that I got from one of my Artist Incubator clients on our monthly “Ask Miriam Anything” call. It’s a great question. It’s one that comes up quite a bit. The first part of the question I’ve heard before, but the way she put it, I really want to share the question and my answer to you because there are such important lessons here. And I’m just paraphrasing her, the question went something like this: “Because of these economic times,” and whenever the question begins with “due to economic uncertainty,” just know that that is a thought that a lot of people are thinking, and it doesn’t necessarily affect the art world. In fact, I will be doing a different episode about how the red chip art market, as opposed to the blue chip art market, is expanding faster right now. But anyway, her question was, “Because of these economic times, a lot of artists are focusing on smaller works to increase their sales. What do you think of this?” Okay, so here’s what I want you to know. Imagine this: Let’s pretend somebody has an empty living room.
It’s completely empty. Which do you think they’re going to buy for their empty living room? A $400 end table or a $4,000 couch? And of course, couches can be much more. I’m basing this on West Elm. So a $400 end table or a $4,000 couch for their empty living room. And the answer should be obvious that they’re more likely to make the purchase on the couch than the less needed small end table. Now let’s take this metaphor, which is not really even a metaphor, but this is really how people think. Now, we have bought a couch for our empty living room. So the only thing in this empty living room is a couch. Which do you think this homeowner is more likely going to buy: a $2,000 painting to hang over the couch? Which, by the way, I did see that on Blue Thumb, which is an Australian website. The best-selling artist on that website sells paintings for roughly $2,000 to $3,000 that fit over the sofa, just so you know. Okay. So are they more likely to buy a $2,000 painting to go over the couch or a $400 painting that goes in the corner? Remember, the homeowner just has an empty room with the only thing in it is a couch. Is she going to buy a painting to go over the couch or a painting for the corner? And when you think that way, you’ll start to realize that the large paintings are things people are more likely to buy when money is tight.
Those extra paintings that go in the corner, those are the luxury purchases that people are less likely to buy because they don’t really need them yet. They can do without them. So unless it’s that experience that I was having in Israel where it’s like, I mean, I already have a painting over my couch, so for me, that is a luxury purchase and I’m going to buy it or not, but I have the means to buy it. So that is not the issue. So in terms of economic uncertainty, people are less likely to buy the $400 paintings than they are to buy the investment pieces, the $2,000 ones, the $3,000 ones, the ones that really make a statement.
All right, my friend. I hope you got so much out of this episode. If you liked what you heard today, leave me a review or hit the subscribe button to make sure you don’t miss out on a thing. And don’t forget, just as Chaz came around, order Artpreneur. If you go to ArtpreneurBook.com, we have a lot of bonuses for you that are worth way more than the cost of a paperback book or an Audible. And if you happen to have an Audible credit, this is what you should use it for. The audiobook is outstanding, if I do say so myself as I hair flip.
All right, my friend. I’ll see you same time, same place next week. Until then, stay inspired.
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