People really do NEED art.

As an art fair outsider, I aspire to be an insider someday soon. I create designs that are screen printed on t-shirts, magnets and stickers and cater to mostly pet lovers. I’ve been doing this full-time for 10 years. I’m resigned to the fact that my business is relatively microscopic to the marketplace and it’s certainly not changing anyone’s life. But I spoke to a customer the other day that made me re-think what I do…

An older woman, Nancy had left a message on voice mail frantically looking for two of my stickers, an Akita and Golden Retriever. She said she spent the better part of her Sunday looking for me. She just totaled her van days prior and had to replace the stickers immediately! She even located two of my retail store customers in Michigan and was going to have her husband stop at one. Unfortunately neither store carried my stickers.

I was puzzled. Bewildered as to why in the world would someone go to all that trouble to buy two of my dog stickers especially after being in a serious car accident? Go to any pet boutique. You can find something similar most anywhere. Admittedly, I didn’t have my ‘customer service’ hat on. I had my ‘this lady must be crazy!’ hat on.

So I call her back and find out she just loves the designs and hasn’t seen anything else like it. That’s flattering I thought but doesn’t explain the urgency. So she goes on to explain the two designs represent her love for the two dog breeds she’s ever owned. And when she walks out to a parking lot looking at the sea of cars and sees those stickers on the rear window, she knows she’s found her car.

Now that she’s going to be driving a new vehicle and after going through the trauma of last week’s accident, she’s just trying to get some normalcy back… so that’s why she needed those stickers. Dumbfounded, I clumsily took her order and got off the phone.

I sat and pondered about my phone call. Sometimes because we get into a routine, things become insignificant to us. We start to push aside some of our work as mundane or less than worthy, things become less about art and meaning and more about business. We forget why people buy our art, maybe it’s not just decorative, maybe there’s some connection, some meaning and they make a purchase because of some relationship to our art that we could never begin to know. But often especially with the low dollar items, we just see it as something we printed on paper, on canvas or to hang on a wall. We forget that art can be about relationships. And we all need relationships.

Votes: 0
E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of Art Fair Insiders to add comments!

Join Art Fair Insiders


  • I am so happy to have stopped and read the stories here.

    I believe no matter what we sell ... postage stamps, to high dollar art, to whittled whistles, it's about relationships.  That is what people--including our customers--are looking for.  This has been the harder part of my business for me to develop.  However, I am looking forward to some shows this year that will give me time to develop some relationships.

  • Nice story and thanks for sharing Loc Tran.

  • I often hear people comment in my booth about saddle making and the leather work I do as a "dying art". True, there are fewer of us old survivors around but there is no shortage of new talent, but definitely a lack of business acumen among the young turks from not having worked in successful shops. So, some of my clients feel they are buying a piece of history of me and the art form.

  • Peter and Darcy - Thank you. Don't ever underestimate your value as artists. Let your art tell your story.
    Peggy - If your art can provoke such an emotional response, that is key. If the art didn't sell that well, maybe you could re-tweek the medium, size or price point but it sounds like the substance is there.
    Connie - Thank you. Such a powerful story. That should exemplify what all artists aspire to.

  • Oh, so true. Making the connection, rather than just matching the couch, has much meaning. These buyers remember you and your work is part of their lives. They can become fans and bring you more buyers. Hopefully we all have stories from our sales.

    One of my favorites was a woman who came back to Ann Arbor and burst into tears in our booth. The previous year she had purchased a photo of our grandchildren holding hands walking into the woods (I know it sounds schlocky, but honest, it wasn't) because it reminder her of her little kids. That winter Norm created a new image in a cool old loft with beautiful light, (his photos kind of told stories, or at least they told him stories) and used our grandchildren again, but this time they were costumed, toddlers with angel wings, and I got to be the guardian angel. 

    She purchased this one also. Her little ones had been killed in a car accident in the intervening year.

    Connecting and building relationships is good for everyone's soul. Thanks for this post, Loc.

  • I used to put inspirational sayings & poetry on some of my work.  I had reactions such as someone bursting into tears and other strong emotions, and they would buy the work.  I stopped making it because sales were slow for it overall, and a friend who's very successful in the business advised against it; but I have thought seriously lately about reviving it.

  • So beautifully said. Thank you for this reminder! :)

  • OMG! Here's a person, apparently an outsider to our august field, who has nailed the single most important mantra that all of us more "seasoned" street artist need as a reminder when things are looking glum! He's correct, of course, and the "shrinking middle class" can surprise to the upside when we respond with sympathy to this need that is absolutely fundamental to human nature. 

This reply was deleted.