Last night our regional arts guild hosted the county Chamber of Commerce. We have our meetings at a local inn and the owner of the inn consented to having the Chamber as guests. This is an unusual move for a bunch of artists. Lately, though, art sales have been very slow.
It was the Inn owner’s idea to have us display work in the lobby and dining room. The Inn would get a modest commission for sales and “spruce the place up”. A few pieces have sold there, but the restaurant is closed now for a number of reasons that don’t all have to do with a flagging economy.
Guild members thought that by meeting and talking with local business owners a mutual exchange of ideas about building sales and improving local business activity might happen. So, we made hors d’oeuvres and served them with lemonade and champagne. A crew spent the afternoon rearranging tables and hanging pieces just for the event. A couple of representatives from the C. of C. came by for planning and offered suggestions for the meeting.
They asked me to bring my guitar and provide soft background music, the kind that doesn’t intrude on schmoozing conversations. And I did. We looked forward to a convivial evening of entertaining and meeting new people.
What we experienced was somewhat different from our expectations.
The guests started arriving at the agreed upon time. They went directly to the hors d’oeuvres, loaded up with food and drink and then went out onto the veranda of the Inn and talked to each other. Most had no interest in the art. We gave away gift certificates during a “Jeopardy” game, and the only art sold was a small piece that could be purchased within the value of the gift certificate. The Jeopardy questions concerned our art. Most didn’t seem to know where they were, much less the difference between watercolor and pen and ink. The few people I talked with (it’s hard to talk and play the guitar) seemed uncomfortable making conversation or even eye contact.
This, I guess, is about as much as one can expect when people with such different interests are put into a room together.
In my previous life as a physician I went to a lot of cocktail parties given by physicians and business leaders. The conversations were about the things that interested the attendees. The physicians talked about medical issues; problem patients, hospital politics, government intrusion, headaches dealing with insurance companies, and the issues faced running a medical office.
Businessmen talked about business. They were singularly uninterested in talking about anything else except sports, the second home they were buying, and the problems in getting good help (help that will work cheap, demand no benefits, show up on time, and not complain). Their political discussions tended to be local, how to get the right county commissioner elected and stop the move to increase property taxes on businesses.
The wives talked about schools, kids, how busy they were – soccer, ballet, church camp – and how catty someone was at the bridge party last week.
On a number of occasions, either my wife or I, made the mistake of trying to talk about ideas. Wrong move. They were there to see and be seen. So, over the years we went to fewer and fewer parties, held fewer, and then the invitations stopped coming.
You might think that the divide is along political lines, but it is not just that. True, business people tend to be conservative and artists liberal, but we have some art guild members that can’t talk politics with each other. The divide is more along the lines of what the group’s interests are.
One of the things that we found was that there were some closet artists in the business community. They seemed willing to talk art.
From past experience I have had the experience of finding that in some business people’s minds artists are not on their level. They BUY art. They don’t MAKE it. These tend to be the same people who want to know if you have a blue painting. The drapes are blue. “You do? You want how much for that? I can get something a lot cheaper at Pier One Imports!” Yes, you can.