Just got home from Krasl, my 7th show of the year. A great spot for an art fair, a little resort town on Lake Michigan, beautifully run, so it feels more like being on vacation. Easy. Got off to a great start on Saturday but then things fizzled out so my sales ended up being just adequate. Like most of 2017. 4 Bridges in Chattanooga (okay), Southlake in Dallas (hideously bad), Three Rivers Pittsburgh (an okay profit but not worth 5 long days in a difficult show), Old Town Chicago (horrible again), Boston Mills (not bad but down from last year), Cherry Creek ( okay, the outlier. My all time best sales. Well over 5 figures for a simple potter. Other worldly.) and then mediocre Krasl.
Not a great year so far, Cherry Creek notwithstanding. I’ve had the repeated experience of thinking that customers are ready to buy. I reach for my square, ready to swipe. And then they don’t pull the trigger. They say thanks and back away. Weird. Because this is only my third year of doing shows I don’t trust my own experience entirely, so I talk to a lot of artists, especially ceramic folks. And I hear the same thing. This is bad; as bad as 2008 some say. 30 year veterans are finding other sources of income, or looking for a total exit.
There are lots of theories about this. But eventually, in every conversation, there is a moment when the other artist has figured out my politics, and they begin to talk freely about the national anxiety and uncertainty sponsored by the current administration. Will people lose health care? Will we go to war? Will there be serious civil unrest? What will the next psychotic tweet say, or the next big lie ? And there is a sense that people in the middle to upper middle income bracket are now cautious and holding tight. Not buying even when they can afford to buy.
Beats me. I never bought the “it’s an election year” uncertainty theory, but now, yes, I feel the anxiety myself. I tend to buy more under such circumstances, especially good bourbon, but hey, that’s me. Other people may get restrictive. I do know that many more customers now spontaneously talk politics, mostly expressing alarm, which is a bit weird because they can’t know where I stand. But politics is on people’s minds. They talk but don’t buy.
I know that things tend to short circuit on this site when things turn to politics, but here we are. Consumer behavior has to be affected by the national mood, for lack of a better term, and the Current Occupant has elicited many feelings but confidence, calm, and security are not among them [insert right wing rebuttals here]. There are other theories too: young people not buying, technology, etc. etc. etc. But mostly they center on national politics and a general sense of foreboding that inhibits buying.
My politics are slightly left of Che Guevara so I’m surprised that people actually leave their houses to go to art fairs, let alone buy, given our national condition. But I’m also well aware of my biases. Are others having an unusually difficult year and if so, how do you understand it?