Studio Etiquette

Jay Batlle
Studio Etiquette

from I like your work: art and etiquette, available August 1. Order it here.

Studio visits are part of the practice of most artists. They enable the viewer to get a behind-the-scenes look at what artists do on a day-to-day basis. A positive studio experience generates a uniquely intimate dialogue. If it goes well, you might offer the artist a show, buy a piece, or, most significantly, provide critical feedback. Studio visits range in spectrum from casual to super formal. Either way, sharing his or her sanctuary is always a very personal experience for an artist, no matter how impersonal the setting—even if the place is swarming with assistants. A studio visit exposes the direct link between the artist and his work. You might learn about the process behind the artist’s work, or be made aware of artifacts that inspired him. Either way, it works to your advantage to be generous in this manner with your time. It is a sign of good faith towards the artist, whether you are a curator, collector, dealer, or fellow artist. As a visitor, adhering to some basic rules of etiquette can go a long way in making this exciting and intimate experience go as smoothly as possible for both you and the artist.

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. Many artists find it hard to work before a studio visit. Giving them an exact time frame will allow them to kill time with mundane tasks while awaiting your arrival.

2. Don’t cancel at the last minute. Under any circumstances, this is a really annoying thing to do. For an artist, it can screw up their whole day. Bear in mind that it takes time and effort—both physical and emotional—to prepare for a visit, especially if it is high profile. Especially if the artist has offered to cook you lunch as part of the studio visit, canceling 10 minutes before the meeting is very tacky.

3. Take your time, if you can. It helps to start with phatic communication, or small talk about the weather, the space, etc. Don’t just rush into talking about artworks. Telling the artist you are in a rush only puts both of you on edge. Nothing constructive can be achieved in this manner.

4. Don’t make the artist feel guilty for taking up your time by coming to see their work. Why did you set up a studio visit in the first place? This is just power tripping, and 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 ahead of time. A Google image search can be revealing as well, and most studio artists have websites.

5. Don’t proselytize your opinions about the work, and don’t bombard the artist with programmatic criticism. A few samples: “These would be great if you could make them into paintings.” “Have you ever tried making these bigger?” “I’m really curious to see what you’d do if you had a smaller studio.” “Do these really have to be framed?” “Why would I sell these works for $5,000, when I could sell a Miró for $5 million?” “I’m really interested to see what you do next.”

5.5 This said, the artist also knows that you are going out on a limb by putting yourself in such an intimate and intense space, and thus won’t take your comments too personally (or at least pretend not too). Any criticism is and should be viewed as useful information.

6. It is 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 (and should therefore not have anything in sight that they don’t want you 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 a 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 them. You might even get first dibs at work that others haven’t yet seen.

9. If at all possible, give some sort of feedback to the artist about where this studio visit will lead to, or won’t. Don’t leave artists on the hook because it is convenient for you. Dealers like to do this, to keep a “wait and see” stance. While this is fine, it can be frustrating to artists.

10. 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 at the Factory for Interview magazine (Warhol only talked about his brand new watch), recommends keeping a keen expression on your interlocutor’s brow. Hands before you makes for good body language, and try to look at as many works as possible, not focusing too much on one in particular. He also suggests that the artist offer the use of the urinal faculties before the work is presented, and a beverage.