Fine Words Butter No Parsnips (and artists have to eat, too…)

Some of our Somerset Arts Weeks artists
Some of our Somerset Arts Weeks artists.
(from left to right: Clio Graham, Jenny Graham, Nancy Farmer, Anne Farmer)

‘So, where do you get your inspiration from?’ …you’d be amazed how many times I have been asked that question this week:  it’s that perennial undertaking which we round here call Somerset Arts Weeks. Now, I’m not usually one to complain, but I would like it known that it is hard work, it is time-consuming, it does cost money, and it does involve talking to the general public for about a fortnight in the eager hope that they may be inspired to make a purchase.

And in the past, it has been worth all the effort.

Let me describe this event a little from my point of view: where I live it happens that we have several artists geographically very close to each other, though artistically very diverse. This is particularly good when it comes to Somerset Arts Weeks, because we get a lot of visitors, who, seeing on the map a group of artists that they can reach all at once, without getting back into their cars, often head for us and do the village art-crawl. So a lot of visitors come into my exhibition space, they look at my pictures (paintings, etchings, life drawings), and many of them have a lot of nice things to say about them. Many of the visitors ask me at great length about my artwork, ask me how it is done, ask me why it is done, ask me a lot of questions generally.

I often explain things at length, even sometimes going to the trouble of showing people some of my photos on the laptop of paintings in unfinished stages, explaining exactly how this and that was painted, describing my own particular invented techniques, etc, etc. Some people go away with a free half-hour art lesson to think about. And that is all they go away with. It is often the case that those who talk most, spend least, as if, having no money to spend, they are instead paying with their praise and appreciation. Now, please don’t misunderstand me on this point: I don’t mind this. It can be entertaining; it can be rewarding to feel that I may have helped people who have gone away with some new techniques to try; it is flattering to be told nice things abut one’s artwork.

The problem is, this year, everyone is doing it. In the past, the talkers have been offset by the spenders: one can talk all day and feel that it has been worth the effort because a few people have bought some artwork too. But although I have indeed made a few sales this year, the change in attitude is noticeable, and many visitors report that lots of artists are saying sales are way down. On the other hand I know that many of us offer for sale low priced items such as cards and other small creations, that would not break anyone’s budget and probably cost less than the entrance fee to a stately home or other similar Sunday afternoon entertainment.

Of course I don’t live under a rock, and yes, I have noticed there is a recession on, but I have been visited by a stream of enthusiastic people, eagerly doing the rounds and delighting at the wonderful free entertainment. I am not sure that many of them appreciate that it costs the artists quite a lot of money to take part in this event, and they do it in the hope that they will sell something. And I feel for those artists who are far off the beaten track and will not even be getting large visitor numbers.

I hesitated before writing this article, because I do not like to be negative and I don’t feel that it usually does any good, but I think that in part the problem lies right at the heart of the SAW organization. The Somerset Arts Weeks guide, a large full-colour publication proudly exclaiming ‘free guide’ on the front cover, has an endorsement on the inside in large letters that speaks of “ this glorious week of cultural exploration”. Passing briefly over the fact that it is actually slightly more than two weeks, there is a further introduction in smaller text on the opposite page that declares “It’s a chance for you to explore!”

Now, it is true that this secondary introduction goes on briefly to mention that “it’s a good time to buy at artists’ prices too” in what seems to me a slightly apologetic way as if the mention of commerce might sully this glorious cultural event, but even that lone statement is problematic in itself. Many artists, myself included, sell in local galleries, who take a commission for selling our artwork. Of course they take a commission: it pays for the existence of the galleries who, quite rightly, will take exception to the suggestion that all people have to do is wait for Somerset Arts Weeks to come along, and the public can buy cheap art. The gallery’s commission pays for the fact that it costs to run a gallery. During Arts Weeks it costs the artists to run their own exhibitions. No doubt a lot of artists charge a little less than gallery prices, but the public expectation should not be set to expect this as a given.

There is a growing trend to expect everything for free. I was particularly shocked to hear from a fellow artist, who had gone to the trouble of providing coffee and cake at their venue in aid of charity, that some people had been taking advantage of that and not even making a donation for their refreshments! And on a wider focus, this is not all free: the artists themselves are paying for their visitors because we pay to take part in the event, and we give up our time when we could be working.

The event could be better marketed as an event that exists to help artists to sell their work, be they well known or just starting out down the hard road of trying to make a living from something that they have a talent for. Would it be so very mean to try to nudge the public’s perception next year? I do not expect every visitor to buy from every venue, or even expect every visitor to buy, it is simply that I think the perception of what we are doing here has slipped far too far the wrong way.  Nothing is, after all, free… somebody is always paying.


  1. Nancy you know what I think – that you have said something that needs saying. As you say, no-one objects to talking about their work or giving advice; no-one expects sales every time. But when people think lavish praise is its own reward and all that is required, a gentle reminder that ‘fine words butter no parsips’, as Nancy says, is timely. After all there will be fewer and fewer artists available to welcome the art-loving public if those artists cannot afford to continue!

  2. Hi, Nancy. This is exceptionally well said. I totally agree. Having read this has made me angry and slightly sad. *huff* I even feel guilty for as much as you interact with me… ’cause I have not purchased any of your art…yet. Believe me, this has not gone unnoticed/felt by me (not having $ ain’t fun). I have looked at so much of your art so many times. It is wonderful. I love sooo much of it. I have links to your sites posted on several of my sites, hoping others who visit my sites will click links and visit your sites. 😀 Not only are you a great artist but you are an intelligent and wise person with heart. You are good stuff… and good to know!!! I feel fortunate. I hope this lookie-loo trend ends and the future blesses you with more sales…as you continue to bless us, your fans, with so many wonderful works of creativity that bring us delight, surprise, joy, smiles, grins, and even laughter! I admire you a great deal. Peace and prosperity to you and yours. -M

    1. Hi Mgon, don’t worry, I like to get your comments, makes me think that someone out there is actually paying attention to this stuff! There has been a change this year, though… out there in the real world!

  3. How much influence do you have with the organisers of SAW? Are you in a position to help make the change to “an event that exists to help artists to sell their work”? Or is it run by a “select” group who say “This is the way we’ve always done it, and if you don’t like it …”?

    1. Well, that’s the thing, we’ve never tried influencing things before… I think this is the year that we might have to find out if it can be done!

      1. ok, so, I may have misled people on the ‘we’ in my last comment: I mean me and the few others who originally had the conversation that started this article, not ‘we’ all of the artists who are taking part. Of course i know there are meetings and so on 😉

  4. I’m so glad you have written this – it takes nerve, and I’m feeling just like you. Thanks for putting it all into words so succinctly! You’re right on so many points and yes, it is very much down on previous years in my opinion. So much effort (and money) goes into making it a good, worthwhile experience for the public to enjoy and just to make ends meet would be nice this year! I do think SAW will need to re-visit the marketing/publicity etc…

  5. hi nancy..thanks for your blog…all you have said is true….I really enjoy showing my work and all the lovely feedback i get from people coming to visit ,but financially it has been not great ,so yes if you were to add up the hours spent and investment in participation it is not brilliant and yes this year has been less sales than previous!

  6. Well put Nancy. Thanks.

  7. I totally agree with you Nancy- numbers have been fairly good altho not as good as some years.Lots of compliments about our work ,secrets shared,and they are not even buying our cards!Very dissapointing. I doubt i will take part next year far too much work and effort for little reward! Oh dear i do sound grumpy- a long day- week!
    Hope things improve!Best regards Carole

    1. 😦

  8. hi Nancy,
    very well said! i have been finding visitor numbers way down this year – and people just aren’t spending. in fact i’m a little relieved it’s not just me!! i happen to be the only venue in my village, although there a a few close by it seems i am a little off the track for some people – there used to be lots more venues in my area than there are this year. i’m not sure that running art weeks yearly works – when you take out the groups from last year that leaves fewer open studios, especially here.
    i too love to get visitors and talk with people, and of course thats partly the point – but the event does cost a lot of money, time and preparation (i also have to take holiday from my day job to take part) and it would be nice to make a few more sales.
    thank you for voicing what i have been thinking for the last week 🙂

  9. This year’s Somerset Open Studio event has been, for the two of us in West Horrington, the most low-key I have ever experienced. Less visitors and less sales, although we have both sold work most days.
    I think that you are correct about the promotion of the event and it could be profiled more as a selling event – an opportunity to find a bargain even… if that is what most of the participants want. I don’t do the event as primarily as a selling event, but more a way of engaging with an audience and talking about art and about my work (making an impact – always good for those Art Council applications!).

    I have had some good conversations, met some interesting people, and made contacts with other artists. It’s a tough world out there right now and you can’t really blame people for being careful with the money. Selling is a bonus and I don’t really need to sell to still make it worthwhile. I have still been working in the studio when people come round, so it doesn’t feel as though I’m just sitting waiting for visitors.

    There are a lot of ‘open studio’ events now – Bristol has several and there are similar events on North Somerset and Bath. Maybe the public are ‘open studio’d-out’. Talking with the other artist who has a studio along side mine, we feel that the event is becoming stale and needs to be re-thought.

  10. Chris Brewchorne

    If you think Artweeks is hard work, expensive, and it’s disappointing that people ask lots of questions and don’t always buy, try making work and running a gallery 52 weeks of the year as I do and you’ll see what a comparative joy Arts week is compared to dealing with ‘average’ members of the public. I’ve done the last 8 consecutive Arts week’s and it’s the highlight of my year, in terms of sales, raising awareness, commissions, and meeting really well informed appreciative people. No event on this scale can suit everyone perfectly, but I think the starting point should be a huge thankyou to the SAW staff for providing this fantastic opportunity to showcase ourselves. Its no secret times are tough, if you have issues with the bottom line, take it up with Mr Osbourne, the banks or the ECB. The organisers have done their bit but can’t force the public to spend. The paintings market is dependent to a degree on the housing market, which is pretty ropey. As Oscar Wilde said, all art is quite useless, particularly when you need to eat or fill up your tank and it doesn’t leave much spare. As creative people, we should be grateful that we live in a stable prosperous country where there is any market at all for such luxuries as decorative items. I’m sure Artsweek isn’t going too well this year in Damascus or Athens………

    BTW, I seem to be doing pretty well, the power of positive thinking perhaps?

  11. Hello Nancy,
    My thoughts have been along the same lines recently, especially when sitting under a gazebo in torrential rain. I have been lucky, financially it hasn’t been too bad, but numbers are way down on previous years. I feel that I am being rather hypocritical since, if I could get away from my studio, I would go on the tourist trail too, even though I don’t have the money to buy anything. It is a very nice way to spend a day and maybe I just want people to spend their money on me without any reciprocation on my part,

    I think that you are right though. SAW needs to accentuate the commerce side of it. I am sure that many people don’t see it as shopping, or even browsing, but just a day out so I think that it needs to be stressed in the brochure that we actually pay for this. Some people seem surprised about this. Maybe they think we are chosen from a list of thousands and are grateful for the honour. I wouldn’t want people to feel compelled to buy, so maybe SAW are worried that people would be put off if it were like running the gauntlet of street hawkers.
    Not sure what the answer is. I shall mull over it tomorrow……. in the rain.

  12. Dear colleagues.
    I think we should calm down a bit. I personally think that the event is very well organised and advertised. The problem has nothing to do with advertising but mostly with a general feeling of economical insecurity. There are far so many people in the countryside that they have been affected by the dreadful wet summer and economy scenarios. I live in Glastonbury and I can see visitors numbers are half from last year plus they don’t spend nothing as much as they did a year ago. I think perhaps we should focus in other forms of income. For example running paid workshops during the SAW weeks. I recommend those workshops to be covered on the catalogue as art exhibitions for the same money. There is plenty of space if the page is properly managed.

    1. Hi Ioannis, I don’t really think that we are un-calm, but I think it is good to see what other people think. Yes the economic situation is dire, which is partly why I was asking for views on the situation. Workshops are a good idea, for those who have the space, and something they can easily demonstrate.

      1. I think this debate is a positive thing – not a negative – and this forum seems a healthy way for us to try to move forward, given adverse current climate/conditions – of which we are all well aware. It’s interesting to see other viewpoints. There does seem to be a call for change and SAW are interested in feedback as I spoke to a rep about tihs at the start of Artweeks.

        I have offered workshops in the past 3 Open Studios and disappointed with the very poor uptake this year – having previously had many bookings, school groups and an organised SAW bus tour – none of which have happened this time. A page in the catalogue dedicated to workshops would be good, but this needs to be backed up by loads of publicity about this (and the rest) to make it work. I’ve utilised social media/emails/invites to publicise and we’ve done a cluster group flyer to try to attract visitors to our venues in the sticks, but could do with more support eg on the SAW facebook page (I’ve tried to gain a presence with little success) etc..

        Visitors have all been lovely, respectful, interested people and I really enjoy connecting with them and getting feedback. It’s a rare opportunity. I always offer drinks, welcome them, chat & engage and of course appreciate those who come…

        Janette et al may be right – maybe people are Open Studio’d out.

  13. Christine Buckler

    Chris Brewchorne – can I just say I am with you on this one! I have done art weeks for the past 10 years or so and have enjoyed the whole experience from when we used to have Somerset split in half East and West participating on different weeks, then Open studios and Exhibitions one year on and the next off, then splitting the two to alternative years..I understand the splitting of the two was because it got ‘too big’!! I just don’t understand how that could be a bad thing..but hey ho we now have the format as present time! So I will add my comments:
    1) We should be overjoyed that the happy bands doing the rounds and exploring actually DO anything at all! I am proud to support the enthusiasms of the visiting public and the fantastic opportunity that SAW presents for me to participate in an event where I can get my work out there with very little effort on my part.What is two weeks in a year of our lives? I do not have to trawl galleries and shops to sell my wares, I have found interested parties come to me to source work for events, galleries, exhibitions etc…I have hardly broken sweat except for * see 5).
    2) You DO have a voice, a couple of years ago some ‘real artists’ wanted selection to SAW introduced to give SAW a more professional image – this did not happen due to adverse reaction. Just one but very important example.
    3) So yes you do have a voice in SAW, it exists for you. Be very clear what you are hoping to change, what you actually want and armed with the list of demands go to the AGM with the precise aims to put will find those attending will back you up if there is a consensus.
    4) My numbers are a little up and my takings twice the previous Open Studios..but I look at SAW as getting my art and name OUT THERE. Be very pleased that you have been visited. Share tea, chat, advice and compliments with good grace and gratitude. Use SAW as a stepping stone then you will not be so disappointed!! Keep the joy and passion in what you do and the delight in sharing with anyone who has made the effort to come and share in it with you.
    5) Negative comment now on SAW: Publicity is dire and needs a complete rethink to get SAW OUT THERE too!!. I recently said to a bemused and vaguely lost visitor that SAW is Somerset’s best kept secret!. *I do spend time publicizing myself with posters and post cards in libraries and other appropriate places that may be frequented by art loving public and that is my decision but I feel SAW should be doing this for us all with LARGE posters etc etc. The guide this years was very good; clear, great cover, nice quality paper so I am not knocking that at all but there should be a riot of awareness maybe like Lyme for there ART TRAIL..banners, flags enthusiasm, but for us – put a few yellow signs in the the ‘wrong’ places and old jobs-worth at the council threatens with a fine of £80 per sign (happened to me for Open Studios 2010 and put somewhat of a damper on the first day). Support and Pride for our achievements in the Arts in Somerset should be bywords.
    So I have had my say…you can make change, no one is going to ban you for wanting change, as far as I can see SAW is always changing!!
    Good luck with it all and the last few days of SAW 2012!

    1. Hi Christine, thank you for your very balanced list of views, and yes, I do know I have a voice, I have not felt moved to use it until now. Part of the reason for my emailing all of you, having tried to put my feelings down in words, was to see what everyone else thought, or whether it was just me. SAW is part of a mix for for me too, in how and where I market my artwork. But I do feel that the public do have a great time and often don’t know we pay to take part. Well, anyway, I already said what I feel, extensively… thanks for the reply.

  14. Chris Brewchorne

    Just to put things in context……

    The economy has shrank back to the same level as 2005. Disposable incomes are back to the same level as 2003. The recession is now the longest on record since the ‘long depression’ of the 1890’s, worse than the ‘great depression’ of the 1930’s. One in seven shops are now unoccupied. Private fuel consumption and driving have dropped by over 25%. The media have been predicting an imminent financial collapse in the Eurozone for months. The economy is predicted to shrink further and be stagnant at best next year, while energy and food prices are predicted to rise sharply.

    And you’re really surprised people aren’t spending as much on Art?

    1. No, Chris, of course I’m not surprised people aren’t spending much on art! But they are getting a great day out, at least to judge from the enthusiasm, and some don’t even realize we pay to take part – if they went to a stately home or whatever, they would expect to pay at least a few quid. And artists are affected by the recession just as much as the rest of the world, so I thought it was worth saying what I have done, in case saying nothing means some years down the line we find we have no arts weeks at all.

  15. Nancy – I totally agree with what you have said. Last year I sold as many paintings in 5 days as I have so far in 12 days. One man stayed for 45 minutes asking me questions and didn’t even buy a card. Another asked to be shown round the garden and did not buy a thing! It costs a lot of money and effort to put on an exhibition, and I am wondering if it is worth the effort to spend 7 hours every day on my feet talking to people and end the day with no sales to show for it. Well said, Nancy.

  16. Thanks very much Nancy for bringing this up. I thought your article very well put.

    I have had a good level of attendance, but it seems that people are interested in exploring The Levels as an area and are more interested in my house than my paintings. But I have always thought that the English prefer a good piece of furniture to a picture, unless the pic is of their daughter or their pet, or their horse. They come in in batches, saying ‘Just a whistle-stop tour’.

    Apart from the recession, the image has become free and fleeting. A TV programme gives three minutes to great paintings, great houses, Egyptian pyramids, wonderful gardens. We flick from one image to the other. People don’t pay for music any more and probably don’t see why they should spend on art. They don’t mind and probably can’t tell if it is a giclee print or an etching, or an oil painting. They would pay a jobbing builder £650 for a week’s work, but not for a painting that took the same amount of time.

    I have had five people tell me that they had done SAW in the past but that they wouldn’t do it again, as they felt the admin fee was too high and because it is too tying and expensive. I have spent about £1,200 on admin and framing. I could have done with a holiday. Of course it is good to revise one’s work and the frames are always there, but I shall not be doing it again either, unless we charge an entrance fee!

  17. This is my first year doing arts week, and yes, I have had very positive response to my work in my comments book although not so much in my pocket book. In the first two days, I had more postcards taken without paying than I have sold to date. I have been quizzed on how I make my work and what I use and although I do not want to be rude to anybody; I do not want to give away what has been a very long and expensive apprentiship in the development of it.
    It has been an expensive and emotionally draining experience that I would not repeat again in my own home. However, I probably would share a venue with fellow artists to share the cost and workload.
    I have had signs sawn off and left on the ground on an almost daily basis on the B3168 from the Curry Rival sign to Hambridge.
    I too have met some very interesting people that have made my days of being stuck here pleasurable. I of course have no way of knowing if it is worse than other years.

  18. Chris Brewchorne

    As these discussions are in the public domain, I really don’t see that there is anything to gain for taking a poke at the organisation of SAW or the general public. The event has gone well for many people. I have enjoyed it and have no complaints, visitor numbers and sales are quite good compared to the rest of the year. It is clear it is a selling event- Nancy puts her prices in the guide. I’d remind you Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, and Art is not a necessity. If you get back to what you’ve paid to do, talking to to the visitors and being positive about Art rather than looking for negatives, you might find there are actually people out there who respond positively. You can’t expect to sell out during a down-turn of this severity and thats no reflection on the public or SAW. Cheer up and be grateful you’re not is Syria! We live in a beautiful county, are lucky to be in a position to be creative, sales are a bonus but not everything. If you feel more could be done to perk up the event, I’m sure SAW will welcome positive suggestions, you have a feedback form.

    Still three 1/2 days left, good luck and try smiling!

  19. Nancy is one of the smiliest, engaged and painstaking people I know. I know becauese I share a venue within hearing distance and I am amazed at the quality and energy of her encounters with the public. She is being objective in saying that for many numbers are not down but sales certainly are. The lofty homilies from Chris Brewchorne are, indeed, fine (though obvious) words. But there’s still the matter of those unbuttered parsnips…

  20. Mark J Nesbit

    Reports I’m getting from those on my patch are very similar; sales considerably down on previous years, visitor numbers down also. Our own perspective is that visitors (based on conversations) are specifically targeting venues of interest rather than attempting blanket coverage. This makes some sense because the number of events has risen steeply; so many artists over a large county, cost of petrol, the economic climate etc etc means that many are doing just 5-6 per day and only looking at a particular genre (and generally only looking; there are no bulging wallets in sight), so unless you have a range of art to see or several other artists in your area you won’t get the footfall. Our numbers are considerably higher than the last time we did Art Weeks even though we have only been open for 6 days so far – but no sales to date as we have little in the way of smaller craft-type items at lower prices as seems to attract a greater hit rate elsewhere this year. In my opinion, as far as marketing is concerned, the key issue is the demographic which for us has been around 90% in the 60 years old or older bracket, so clearly some effort needs expending on viral e-marketing that makes what we do relevant to younger people with property, disposable income and attitudes for whom our work will be desirable. These people do exist but it is all about hitting the target (which isn’t happening), and this is not something that can be achieved in the context of Art Weeks individually. It is at times very hard not to get despondent because like everybody, we could do with sales or commissions to justify the effort, and I agree, no-one thinks twice about paying a fortune for designer goods when it suits them but won’t fork out a similar amount for a piece of art that will last a sight longer. Having said that, we have had loads of interest and if in some way this year helps our profile then that is something, I guess.

    1. I agree, hardly anyone in the younger age bracket has turned up. I think making the most of facebook and twitter – aimed at this demographic – would be helpful. Zoe has kindly re-posted my venue on the SAW FB page now. Am tweeting our event for this weekend in the hope…

  21. Chris Brewchorne is beginning to annoy me… It was a tragedy that Van Gogh died without selling but that his paintings sold for upwards of £50m in this century (which may prove to have been a turning point in painting history, that is, he became a myth and therefore sold), and it is a tragedy that Syria is divided and no-one can help them for fear of ghastly repercussions in the Middle East, but don’t tell me to smile, please. I have been smiling for a week and a half and meant it, and I really have liked my visitors. But we are talking about the structure of the organisation and whether anyone will go on contributing to it for no return, as we too are not rich.

  22. I’m with you Nancy. Perhaps some good will come out of this forum, I seem to remember from a few past meetings that the Committee doesn’t always hear or listen to the members

  23. Nicky Clarke

    Wooohaa people chill, all views are valued please save it for the feedback form………..positivity is needed now, we are all having the same experience. Definitely a case if it ain’t broke don’t fix it……. Lol love, light and blessings

  24. I don’t think that it is a matter of comparing ourselves with Syria or Van Gogh. It is in all our interests to make SAW the best it can be. I am certainly not in the business of SAW bashing. It is because these are hard times that we have to try extra hard to put ourselves forward.
    I think that a forum like this is an excellent idea, not just for Arts Week itself, but also for keeping in touch, sending back and forth ideas and keeping the ball rolling throughout the rest of the year.
    If one of us has in idea that has worked, it is no bad thing to be able to share it with others. Likewise, an idea that has been a complete waste of time.
    I have been thinking of doing some sort of art road show, taking the work of various artists to different village halls every week. I won’t bore you with the details but I am sure that other people have had ideas that mean getting other people involved and a forum of this nature will be ideal.
    Well done, Nancy for getting the thing started.

  25. Wendy Dunt

    Thank you so much for writing this, you have summed up what myself and several friends have been discussing for the last week. I have experienced people paying £5 for a cupcake and coffee at craft fairs and baulking at £10 for a hand thrown stoneware mug1

  26. I totally understand your argument and some of your frustrations, but I take the opposite view.
    SAW creates a high octane atmosphere for artists to exploit, revel in, and have fun showing all their work. Two weeks of visual awareness with interested visitors who have taken the trouble to choose your venue out of the 270 listed artists.
    Yes, this is my first SAW, hence the enthusiasm, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time, sold an appropriate amount of work, none of which would have been exposed otherwise.
    I was impressed with SAW’s organisation, the brochure, the signage, the website all working well, and we added posters and invitations too. There’s more to learn and to improve on, but a hugely positive experience.
    I spent my life in advertising, and know the lengths you have to go to capture markets, trawling large, expensive nets to sift the right customers. I appreciate the value of those I am able to talk to, they are warm in every sense.
    There are 50 weeks of the year for concentrated selling, two great weeks of giving and sharing, raising the profile, demonstrating your skills. Allow the ‘exploration’. Enjoy the increase in visual awareness SAW prompts.
    Chris Lee

  27. Mark J Nesbit

    Up to a point I agree with Chris Lee; we are artists and therefore have a need to express ourselves to anyone that cares to take an interest, and yes it is great for profile. However, in the context of Art Weeks, unless we can attract people that are of an age where owning art is important to them, whatever profile is created may have little worth in practical terms. We could do with experts with an understanding of the market place and getting people to it, helping us to reach useful groups, so how about it Chris, share what you know, tell us what else we need to do!

  28. We are a diverse group of Artist. There are many reasons why people will feel captivated to buy work. A good artwork to the right buyer to my experience usually sells itself. The rest need a lot of distraction techniques that won’t work easily in UK. You have to accept the fact that the group of people that SAW attracted this year might not be the kind of people who appreciates the artwork you doing so much as to buy. I personally think that the amount we pay for such a promotion is miniscule and isn’t enough for large campaigns. Still and I have to say SAW earned my admiration they have done incredible well to advertise to most of like minded magazines plus producing a very expensive catalogue in such numbers is close to economic miracle.

  29. Chris Brewchorne

    It does seem that most of the visitors have been ‘ladies that lunch’, 50+, with a friend, spending the money while hubby is at home reading the Telegraph.

    However, this age group or mature couples are my main age group of visitors throughout the whole year, I draw only a minority of the younger generation. Either the youngsters don’t have their own pad or their dosh goes on other things, like car insurance, travel and technology.
    I don’t tweet or facebook and all that stuff and don’t know what effort SAW put into the ‘new media’ that the younger generation use and whether this would bear fruit. All my sales have come from the SAW brochure and I find paying the extra for more images is always worth it to make the entry stand out. Last year my entry cost £800 with six images, but was well worth it.

    I respectfully suggest that while things are undoubtedly tight, this is the best annual opportunity we have for sales in Somerset, you have to approach it objectively, see what reaction there is, if sales are disappointing the starting point should be to look at your own approach and whether you are doing the most you can. Covering a wide price range, diversity of activities or creative fields and having an attractive SAW entry all help maximise the opportunity. If you’ve done your best and it still doesn’t work, thats just the way it is at the moment, accept it and decide whether another year is worth it.

    Visitor numbers have been down, but they have been for me all year in the gallery. Art just isnt on the shopping list for many people right now. Maybe it didnt help that during the first week we overlapped Devon Arts week -oops, lack of coordination there? Be better if we had got in first perhaps or the two were further apart on the calendar.

    I repeat, having been open for the last 500 weeks (yes, up to six days a week for nearly 10 years), this has been an exceptionally difficult year for everyone selling anything, and very different from last year. Its not down to the organisers, its just the way it is right now. Some of you seem to be in a bubble, welcome to reality; its tough out here and you have to look at the positives and accept selling Art is very tricky in this economic climate.

    That said, compared to the rest of the year, SAW may not be breaking records but its been flipping marvellous compared to the previous few months; try going six months without selling a picture !!

  30. Mark J Nesbit

    So are we saying that we can’t find ways of doing things better? Because I don’t think this is the case. And I’m not knocking SAW – just saying that we should be playing our part in encouraging ways of seeing things in a fresh light, evaluating our performance objectively (sorry, sounding just a bit corporate here), using our collective skills so that we can survive in an adverse market.

  31. Mark, you got there before me and exactly what I was going to say, too. I am also not knocking SAW. Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough that I think it is a great event, BUT, especially in these economic times it is useful to evaluate how it is presented to the public and question whether that can be bettered. And my reason for emailing out and asking for views is partly in case anyone else has bright ideas / suggestions as to what might improve things, as this year is clearly a hard arts week for a lot of people. The alternative is just to shrug and not care that a lot of people seem to be considering not dong it again next time.
    I shall say it again: I really enjoy Arts Weeks. That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to question things. For one thing the SAW team have said they are keen to have feedback, which presumably means they expect to hear a range of views and not just ‘everything is fine, carry on as you were’.
    And Chris, telling people that they are living in a bubble and welcome to reality is only slightly more useful than pointing out that we do not live in Syria. Lets be constructive here!

  32. Chris Brewchorne

    “the problem lies right at the heart of the SAW organization”

    “The event could be better marketed ”

    Sure sounds like SAW-knocking to me in your opening post, Nancy. ??

    I had a stonking Arts week last year, and this morning I’ve just surpassed the total. I’m surprised and delighted, thankyou SAW. The second week has been better, rather than fizzling out it has built. Hope others are doing OK too.

    1. Christine Buckler

      Chris I too have done very well with double numbers both in money and visitors and contacts to sell and exhibit my work, very positive feedback and am left motivated for SAW13. Of course there are changes needed and this is why the feedback form and SAW AGM. The very fact that you were able to access all our names, Nancy, shows you how many do invest their time and relatively small amount of money, in participating in this event. I have been saddened to ‘feel’ a negative attitude from some bloggers to the ladies who lunch mob. There are a lot of the baby boomers out there dipping their newly retired toes in the creative world they have forfeited due to work commitments, elderly parent commitments etc etc..they’re now free and finding their love of the arts revived and whilst many do not actually participate in an art they are tentatively chatting about maybe start pursuing their particular passion or beginning something new in the creative field..this is so wonderful and along with encouraging us by their visits we are, and should be, supporting them too..enjoy all who visit and if they don’t buy, well at least they have made the effort to find you. This blog of worms may run and run..maybe even until the AGM has long gone and the feed back form recycled.

  33. It seems to me that some members think that visitors should be obliged to spend money with us and reminded by SAW that we are here to sell.Everybody that visits me knows I am selling because everything has a price on it.If every visitor spent spent money with every member they would soon be broke.
    If it was me and I was made to feel I had to buy something I would not go to Art Weeks.
    This is my second time the last one being two years ago and I am more than pleased I have had less visitors than last time but taken nearly twice as much money.
    Sitting down and talking with a lot of my visitors many are saying there are far too many artists(and some being less than good I am told)and not enough variety.A lot of my visitors are saying how refreshing it is to see something different from paintings and textiles,For them that don’t know I am a woodturner.
    One thing I have learnt is that you have to be selling what people want to buy.I have produced a range of very high quality pieces that are affordable and that is what I am selling.It is no good trying to sell something because you like it you have to sell what your visitors like and are prepared to hand over their hard earned cash for. I think Saw are doing a great job and our local Rep Judith Champion has done a stirling job in organising our area and I for one am very happy.
    The one thing I have noted in our area Burnham on Sea is the support we are all giving each other .We are all making sure that our visitors are all being pointed in the direction of the rest of the venues in our area.

    1. i want to comment on a point made ,that if visitors felt they had to buy,then they wouldn’t come…..This is totally true,..even though it hasnt been amazingly abundant this year ,i have still sold work ,and will take part again. In a way it is more about showcaseing yourself as an artist and having the exposure and getting feedback,… with this in mind i am not so bothered about the financial reward ,as long as im covering my cost and time!
      I do feel that £200 is alot to put out there to take part ,especially in a recession where art is the first to go off peoples list ,and i suppose that is my main point that if it was a little bit cheaper to take part it would feel better ,but i really enjoy taking part ,and love those “ladies who lunch”….isnt it all about shareing and networking and getting your name out?

  34. Christine Buckler

    Nice to see some rational and positive comments. Getting ‘out there’ is possibly the most important aspect of ART WEEKS, selling yourself or your wares is so important if you want to finance your art. The age old dilemma is of course making stuff that sells when your art may not be so commercial. I believe we can all develope two sides to our art; that which is commercial and that which is ‘ours’ for example I am a potter and know full well that mugs sell, and small wares, so I make loads of these and each one, for me, is a little creation. I don’t just ‘churn them out’ as all along I enjoy the creative process which never fails to amaze me. But I do make larger individual pots that are ‘me’ and if someone responds to these and possibly even buys them, brilliant. I have made enough to keep the pottery afloat for another year and here and there are bodies who buy the bigger pieces. A friend, who is a traditional black and white photographer, makes very few sales during Art Weeks but sells tons of her smaller reproductions in card packs. Without fail she has buyers come back, sometimes months later, to purchase what they have seen during SAW. Her stuff is pricey and deserves to be so with technique and material but she is realistic about this and makes provision to cover her cost with fine quality cards which may be the nearest many can come to purchasing an original. I don’t see this as selling your soul, just feeing your soul so it can make more and better of what it loves.
    Roll on SAW 2013..making plans for Open Studios already.

  35. Spending 2weeks in my (cold) garage has been testing but I have met so many lovely people… most of whom have been genuinely interested I the making/thought process behind my work. I must admit that I became a bit despondent last week in the rain ….but I am finding many visitors have been returning during the last few days to buy paintings that have ‘called them back’! Buying art is not a spur of the moment decision and ArtWeeks is a great place to promote your art and make it accessible to the public. May this final day of artweeks be a great one for you all!

  36. Christine Buckler

    I did of course mean ‘feeding’ your soul and making plans for ‘exhibitions’ already!!

  37. Chris Brewchorne

    Freudian slip there Christine. I have found the market has accutely polarised this year, cheapies are going and the wealthy want the best, but the middle of the market has downshifted to cheapies. I seem to sell loads of £10 pieces and an equal value of £300, not so much in between. This means knuckling down to some repetitious work, then doing a few ‘pieces de resistance’ to stay sane, but these too go well to someone looking for something unique and prestigous.

    I didn’t go into this to get rich, but to be happy. I’ve lived off what I’ve created for 25 years now and had some very hard times, but the pleasure it gives me and the creative ‘bug’ keeps me going. Having been a marketing manager running a multibillion pound famous international brand, a consultant to the countries biggest craft fair organiser, and organiser of one of the UK’s biggest Craft events has given me the experience and tools to know what is going on out there and make the most opportunity of it, so the bottom line has been good during this Arts week and I know how to adapt to adverse conditions.

    But you know what, the bottom line is not what I enjoy most about Arts week, its the sense of being appreciated, meeting intelligent charming people, being newly re-inspired to try and be more creative, and the sense of satisfaction from feeling it feels good to be who I am. That is why we are Artists. The atmosphere during Arts Week reminds me of exhibiting during Art in Action at Waterperry, a public celebration of creativity and a contrast to the drudgery many people have to contend with in non-creative employment. I just wish it lasted all year.

  38. Well – this ‘blog of worms’ as you call it Christine, has certainly led to a discussion about what we have all experienced this year. I’m pleased for those who’ve done well financially, despite it all. Of course Art Weeks is not just about earning a crust. Exposure, communication, feedback, sharing, the opportunity to tidy one’s studio/garden, see one’s work together, maybe re-evaluate etc… are all important. We are coming from a whole range of disciplines – functional, craft, textiles, fine art etc…, some of us situated in quite remote areas, and we take part in Art Weeks for a number of different reasons. I didn’t see Nancy’s post as a stab at SAW. I saw it as a call for re-evaluating the public perception of art in general. There’s a slogan out at the moment: ‘Art is work – supporting the arts means paying the artists’, which is on SAW’s FB page. All the recent arts cuts have had a huge bearing on SAW and the arts generally. And SAW do a great job with that in mind – many of the team working far more than they are paid to work. I think we do all have to work much harder at making our life choice work as a living. But I also think it would help if we prompted the public and fought for something which much of the public loves, our world needs, but which is endangered if some of us can’t meet costs any longer.. We should be united on this, surely?

  39. Hi All
    I am glad that is over I am absolutely knackered.
    It has been a great two weeks for me ,good sales and an opportunity to meet lovely people.
    Some of my works are going to America Australia and Austria so that is good.
    Thank you SAW for the overall organisation and Judith Champion our local organiser.
    Mostly thank you to my lovely wife Sue who always supports me in these events.
    Do SAW have a Forum? If they do we should use it if not maybe they should start one this would help us to all work together for the benefit of crafts made in Somerset.

  40. Mark J Nesbit

    Well, I think it is just fantastic that some have achieved what they would wish and that is brilliant for them. However, not everyone is in that particular boat; many have yet to establish themselves and whilst SAW is an excellent time for exposure, those that have achieved low footfall (not me, I hasten to add) and poor sales not necessarily linked to poor work will be wondering what they must do to improve things. Yes, up to a point this is in their hands but surely as a community of artists we should be working together with the SAW team to make things better than they are against the backdrop of economic decline. In this respect I am entirely with Fiona. And whether you like or dislike the blog in which we are currently taking part, it has provoked a potentially very useful debate, thanks Nancy.

    1. Christine Buckler

      Quite right, all pull together if this is possible, or maybe in ‘clusters’ or something like that. SAW is of course only one way to unite and support artist or crafts people in the whole of Somerset. I have talked to a few artists who visited who had formed small groups and had, indeed, gone down the alternative arts weeks route. One particularly told me that she had taken on the marketing for her small group and had spent up to 9 days producing and distributing etc etc and the returns to their enterprise had been awful, I heard this story about 4 times, some had overlapped with SAW and some before SAW but all found it very very difficult so there is a lot to be said for being part of a large enterprise like SAW. Some were surprised at how inexpensive it actually was to be a lone artist in open studios and rather than lose members it looks to me that there will be new ones. So use the feed back and AGM and make some changes and help support SAW to continue.

  41. Well done Nancy for launching this debate. You have had the courage to stick your neck out and on the whole what you say has chimed with others’ experience. The debate has certainly enlivened the second week of the event.. Those who are totally satisfied with their own performance can sit back. The rest of us can I’m sure come up with some postive suggestions for change.

  42. Chris Brewchorne

    A final thought for you all.

    After a hard Arts Week with no work sold, Vincent Van Gogh decides to go down the pub to drown his sorrows. After a few minutes, Paul Gaugin walks in the door.

    “Hello Vincent me old mate, how was Arts Week for you?”

    “Rubbish”, says Van Gogh.

    “Never mind Vincent, can I buy you a drink?”

    “No thanks Paul, I’ve got one ‘ere”

  43. In answer to questions about a forum, so far as I know, no we don’t have one. There is a Facebook Page, but like most Pages, it’s more aimed at being the public face of an organization. For those not familiar with Facebook, there’s also the possibility of setting up a Group, which is more suited to general discussions. Seeing the enthusiasm that a lot of people showed in expressing their views, I thought perhaps it would be an idea to suggest it, so I set up one to see how it worked. It’s in a kind of embryonic state with 5 members. I was waiting from a comment from SAW that they have no issue with a separate Facebook entity before suggesting it as an idea to everyone.
    However, if anyone has a better idea and wants to set up something else, please go ahead! This is not MY discussion, I only started it, also I can quite understand many people’s aversion to Facebook as I share it too, it just can be a necessary evil sometimes…
    Anyway, the group is here:, but like I say, am waiting for comment from SAW.

    1. Mark J Nesbit

      As I understand it, it is not realistic to expect SAW to run such a forum because they would have to manage it, moderate, edit and monitor content. In the first place they only have enough staff – most of whom are part-time – to run the office and provide the services we now get and secondly this would place a degree of control that would limit the openness we enjoy here or on Facebook. Here we can pretty much say what we really think which I would hope will ultimately be productive.

      1. Quite agree, Mark, which is why I thought we could set one up ourselves. As i understand it, we can have a ‘closed’ group, which means that people have to ask to join, or be invited by existing members,which doesn’t seem like a problem… I just thought it would be polite to at least say to SAW that that’s what we wanted to do…. if that’s what we want to do…? Either that, or we just do it anyway!
        Either way, I think that most people here have found it interesting sharing views and experiences, and if we can keep it going through the year and add to it it might be that people feel more included, and perhaps some useful contacts and other such stuff comes out of it.

    2. Chris Brewchorne

      There is nothing to stop setting up a Yahoo Group as ‘Somerset Artists Network’, to discuss SAW and other local issues. I already belong to a couple of these groups (one as a coin collector, the other for woodland owners) We tend to be isolated as craftsmen/artists and it would be good to be able to all keep in touch and natter / moan / share opportunities / put the world to rights. ??? Others agree?

      1. Good idea Chris, but, since I don’t use Yahoo I thought Facebook would be simpler. Is Yahoo any less annoying? Since as of this afternoon we now have a dozen people on the Facebook group including the official SAW page, it might be an idea to give it a try now. Nothing to stop you setting up a Yahoo one but maybe wait to see if people take to Facebook…

        1. Chris Brewchorne

          With Yahoo groups you apply to a moderator/ group owner to join, then chose how you want to be notified of posts, either every individual comment immediately or a daily summary. You can pitch in a comment at any time, post photos to group files and do polls. There’s no advertising and you only need to supply as much info about yourself as you want. Works well, and you can use your ordinary email address, you don’t need a yahoo account.

          1. well you could try setting one up, see if people prefer it? I don’t need another thing to run just now, so that would be up to you, but I’ll join! If it were me I would still wait, though, see how the Facebook one goes. If nothing comes of that perhaps there is no demand…

        2. How do I join group I am already a facebook member

          1. Hi George, go to the page and there is somewhere there where you can ask to join. Alternatively, I can add you, but only if you first accept the friend request I just sent you. Or if you have another friend already in the group I think they can also add you.

  44. Fair play Nancy for starting this off. Perhaps some of the people who are having issue with what you say should realise it is easy to criticize a statement made by somebody else, not as easy to start a worthwhile conversation about a subject we are all passionate about. We all have valuable opinions and experience some may be pro SAW others not so. But the fact is that we are all members and are thus are entitled to an opinion.
    As well as being a potter i work in a highly commercial world and Chris is right that this year has been, on the whole pretty dismal and has included 2 rounds of redundancies for some of my friends and work mates. From where I sit art is a luxury item, and in the current climate there is no great slosh of money rolling about in people’s pockets to spend. That is not to say that there have not been successes. Well done to all those who sold well over the weeks.
    On to the constructive criticism
    1/ the cost of taking part in SAW art weeks is considerably higher than other County Art Weeks. Why?
    2/ the cost versus sales for me to exhibition in my own space is now similar to the commission I need to pay to a gallery/shop for displaying my work. Is this right?
    3/ SAW need to improve their marketing strategy. There is little point having a load of advertising in the week before and during, these needs to be steady throughout the year or at least in the months running up to SAW events. I, along with a number of other professional members, would be happy to advise them if they wanted assistance
    To finish SAW is a very good organisation and the art weeks are a brilliant opportunity to raise your profile as an artist and ultimately hope to sell some work. I will continue to support and take part and when the economy improves and if a couple of business basics were tidied up it will continue to be a success for some time to come.

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