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Studio visits are part of the practice of most artists. It is a way for the viewer to get a behind-the-scene look at what artist does day to day. So some basic etiquette applies to make this experience successful for both parties. A positive studio experience is a way to create a dialog in an intimate setting. If this dialogue goes well it can create a public experience for finished art works, i.e. get a show, or sell some work, or most importantly get some feedback on the work.
These “studio” visits can range in the spectrum from personal/casual to highly professional/super-formal. It is always a personal experience for the artist to give you a behind the scenes look at their private reality, and no matter how impersonal the studio setting is, even with it hundreds of assistants, studio managers, secretaries, archivists, or other artist; the studio visit is a direct link one on one with the artist and his freshly created art work. Some artists even give guests a background into the process of how works are made, personal items that inspired the artist sometimes occupy the studio, and all of this is the advantage of being generous with your time to go to and visit an artist’s studio. For the viewer agreeing to do a studio this is a sign of good faith from a curator, collector, dealer, or other artist to the artist.
Here are a few tips to make this exciting and intimate experience go as smoothly as possible for you and the artist you are visiting.
1. Try to be on time. If you are going to be late please notify the artist, in this heyday of modern communication a quick text message will suffice. Most artists can’t work before a studio visit, but giving them an exact time frame will allow them to do mundane tasks such as updating databases, or reading online magazine at ease knowing they are just killing time because you are tardy.
2. Don’t cancel at last minute. This is really annoying and it usual screws up the rest of the artist’s day, especially if it’s a career visit: museum curator, successful art dealer, or collector. Especially don’t cancel one hour before when the artist is cooking you lunch as part of the studio visit, this is very tacky.
3. Take your time, if you can. Most studio visits start with phatic communication, or small talk about the weather and the studio space. Don’t just rush into talking about artworks. I once had a curator come and say I have 15 minutes to show him work, what’s the point of doing a studio visit when you (curator) are so insecure with your own position that you have instantly put the artist on edge?
4. Don’t make the artist feel guilty for taking up your time for coming to see their work. Why did you set up a studio visit in the first place? This is more power tripping that really does neither party any good. You can always ask the artist to send a few images to get an idea of what he or she is up to, or a google image search can be revealing as well, plus most studio artists have websites.
5. Don’t proselytize your opinions about the artist’s work to the artist with programmatic criticism. A few examples: “ These would be great if you could make them into paintings.” “Have you ever tried making these bigger?” “Have you ever tied making these smaller?” “”I’m really curious to see what you do if you had a smaller studio.” “Do these really have to be framed?” “Why would I sell these works for 500.00 dollars, when I could sell a Miro for 5 million dollars?” “I’m really interested in what you are going to do next.” This last one usually means goodbye, but remember this is all feedback, something that not ever artist gets.
5.5 To be fair the “studio-visitor” is going out on a limb to put his or herself in such an intimate and intense space. Don’t take things too personally as an artist, and stay positive. Some of the worst studio visits reveal that the people you thought you wanted to work worth are the wrong one’s to promote and sell the work. This is useful information.
6. Don’t ask about things in the studio that appear not to be on show, it’s not a treasure hunt. Let the artist take you through the artwork and let them show you what they want. Some artists do not want you to see unfinished work. Some obvious advice to artists, don’t show unfinished works or have anything in sight that you don’t want to comment on.
7. Don’t ask how much something costs unless you’re interested in buying the work, some artists prefer to leave this to their dealers (if they have a dealer), so only talk about the work itself and not as commodity, unless it seems right.
8. Some artists sell work directly out of their studio and are much more savvy and relaxed with the financial side of art, so you can even get a deal by dealing directly with artist, even getting first chance at work that others haven’t seen.
9. IF possible give some sort of feedback to the artist about where this studio visit will lead to or won’t lead to, don’t leave artists on the hook, because it is convenient. Particularly dealers like to do this, to keep a “wait and see,” stance. Which is fine, but this can be frustrating to artists.
10. Visitors of the studio don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you are trying to impress the artist, make something happen that you can make happen. This is enough, and artists don’t expect too much from the art world.
11. Finally on a pedantic note my father-in-law who once interviewed Andy Warhol in his famous studio the Factory for Interview magazine (Warhol only talked about his brand new watch) recommends keeping a keen expression on the visitor’s brow is crucial. Hands in front body language and always looking at as many works at possible and not focusing too much I one in particular. He also suggests that artist offer the use of the urinal faculties before the work is presented and a beverage or snack doesn't hurt either.