When Should an Artist Say "NO"?

Like an abundance of artists, I have a day job. It’s a cushy yet demanding office job where I sit for 8 hrs drafting up really cool construction stuff. I work with great people who like to celebrate just about anything with cake. We average one birthday per month but sometimes those birthdays fall in the same month so we end up having three cakes in a month! So if there’s a month without a birthday – heck, let’s have a potluck or a BBQ! -which usually includes cake. Or pie. Or cookies. Or all of the above. That doesn’t include the random treats people bring in just to be nice or the treats our customers bring in to say thanks. I love my coworkers but, I think they just might kill me. That is, if I want someone else to blame for my lack of self control.

Well today, I said “NO” to the donuts in the lunch room. I stared at the box. The I opened the box. And then I tried to decide which one had the least amount of sugar on it. Then I told those donuts where to go and that I’d be back to destroy their sprinkles if they ever showed up again.

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It’s not the first time I’ve said no to what tempts me. Saying “no”, needs practice. The word “no” has this negative connotation to it because it disappoints people. Sometimes, it downright offends people. And as Canadians….we don’t want to do that! (sarcasm). Our current society is so politically correct that if we say “no”, we just might lose our children, our jobs, our house, our money and everything else we hold dear. Or, atleast that’s how it feels.

But the word “no”, is necessary. It’s necessary in all sorts of scenerios which I’m sure you can dream up on your own. But it’s also necessary to use out of love. Can you imagine if I never said no to any of my children’s requests? “Mom, can I have that toy?”, “Mom can I have that candy” , “Mom, can I have icecream for supper” , “Mom can I play computer games all day?” , “Mom, can I go to school in my underwear?”. Yikes! I’d be broke with an obese naked child!

It’s easy to say no to children’s crazy requests, but what about what tempts us? Like that box of donuts in the lunchroom. Like that prestigious art fair that charges $5000 just for the booth but doesn’t guarantee any sales. Like those vanity galleries that charge for space but do nothing to promote you or sell your work. Like requests for free art in exchange for “exposure”. Any way to get into the public and sell your work is tempting, but we need to learn to say no to people and venues who will just take advantage of you.

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I received an email from a New York gallery admiring my work and asking me to show my work through them for only “X” amount of dollars in exchange for exposure in the New York art scene. As a little prairie girl in Western Canada, you’re heart beats faster than the wings on a hummingbird after simply reading the words “NEW YORK GALLERY LIKES YOUR WORK”.

And then you read the rest. I’d have to pay for the shipping to get my stuff out there, pay an obscene amount for the space daily, pay for the shipping back for artwork that may not sell, and hope that someone out there might contact me one day for a purchase after being exposed in New York.

I had the same experience right here in my hometown but the only difference was that I would have to be there to work the sales floor and do all the marketing. There was no one else there! It was marketed as a gallery but was really just a rental space. If I wanted that, I’d plan for a pop up art show or something. But no, it was a “gallery”. That might work for some, but when I’m doing all the giving and not getting anything in return, it’s time to say “NO”.

Based on each artist’s personal situation, you’ll definitely want to weigh your options before committing to those tempting donuts, or call for submissions, or collaborative artworks. Saying no might save you time, resources, bad relationships, money and obese naked children.