Since I both exhibit at art shows and am a buyer at art shows I wanted to share a few ideas to make attending an art show fun and rewarding for both buyers and artists.
Tips for Art Show Patrons
Come Prepared. If you are looking for specific pieces to fill your home come with measurements. Use a ruler on those empty spaces, take inventory of empty shelves and places you want to add art for decor, think about what accessories you need to spice up your look, and set a budget. Don't forget your credit cards or cash. In addition consider the weather---bring an umbrella for rainy days, or water bottle for hot days. Wear comfy shoes and dress appropriately.
Buy what catches your eye. If you like something instantly, chances are good you'll still like it later. Those impulses where you stop right in your tracks are a good indication of your style. Keep in mind, while walking a show to see everything can be helpful, a piece you love also might not be there when you come back. It's a toss up whether to buy or check everything out but don't ask an artist to hold work while you decide. It may prevent them from making a sale to another person. By all means though if you are considering a heavy purchase, most artists will have no problem holding an already PAID for purchase for you while you check out the rest of a show.
Keep an open mind. Try not to prejudge a booth and walk right on by. Sometimes you may find something inside that truly surprises you or opens your eyes to a new style. Also, while you may have a list of things you are specifically looking for don't let that sway you from potentially interesting pieces you may have never considered before yet they suddenly "speak" to you.
Talk to the artist. If you are interested in a piece don't be afraid to ask the artist to tell you more about the work. While most artists do not like to go into step-by-step detail and give away their proprietary processes, they are more than happy to give you a general idea of the work that goes into various pieces. Feel free to ask what kind of paint, metal or clay is in a piece.
Definitely take the kids. It can be a great learning experience for them how to appreciate art. You may even want to set a small allowance for them and let them choose something special to take home. Just be sure to set some firm behavior and ground rules with them as well as make sure they have clean hands and only touch what they are allowed to by the artists.
Realize you are supporting a human being. Yes, when you purchase from an artist you are directly supporting that person, not a corporation. Artists typically support other small businesses as well stretching those dollars even further. Your purchase puts food on their table, a roof over their heads, and allows them to continue to be artists. You're doing a good thing.
Don't be afraid to snag a business card. If you can't afford something at the time, take a card and keep it in a safe place. Keep in contact by signing up for an artist mailing list, subscribing to their web-site or being a fan of their page on facebook. I've had artists I admired that I simply could not afford at the time, and was very happy to be able to purchase from down the road. Just don't collect business cards for the pretty pictures, or let your kids take a zillion for fun.
A Few Thoughts About Art Fair Etiquette
It is very important to remember when you are an an art show that most of the people are there to make a living. With the exception of some craft shows, most artists are not doing this as a hobby.
- Don't haggle. While some artists *may* discount for multiple items it can be rather insulting to an artist when they are asked for a discount. Most artists try to price their work as competitively and fairly as possible and often are making very little profit per item considering their time and labor.
- Don't steal ideas. An art show is not the place to walk around and ask artists a million questions to learn their process in detail. They are there to sell their art, not teach you a new skill. If you are interested in learning more about how to produce a particular art form, take a class.
- If you think someone's work really stinks, don't talk about it in public. Save that for home. In the same vein, if you or someone you know can do something similar the artist doesn't really need to know that.
- Don't block a tent or booth chit-chatting with friends, or with a stroller. It keeps other patrons from being able to see an artists work.
- Don't feel compelled to complement work you're not into. A simple nod or smile as you exit a booth is fine. You don't have to make up excuses for not purchasing either. If you can't afford something don't feel bad. Artists are just like you---they certainly can't afford everything at an art show either and also have their own tastes and preferences.