Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Should Artists be Obligated to Do Custom Work?

Shall I start a controversy?

I was recently on a forum and found a thread asking the question "Why would someone not want to do custom work?".

It seems everyone has a different opinion. I think this is great, we are different people. There are as many reasons to not do custom work as there are to do it. I think it is about who you are and why you create. It is the difference between being a crafter and being an artist. Both are legitimate perspectives, just with different needs and motivations.

Some of us just feel a need to express ourselves and our own vision, not someone else's. And many of us in this category will occasionally customize for size, etc. The problem with this for me is that I never make the exact same piece twice. It begins to get close to the line when I make say a bracelet in red, but someone wants one exactly like it in a larger size. If I do so, I will have made two bracelets very nearly the same... In fact, I recently accepted a custom request to make a bracelet in a larger size. I will be using a different button, and the original bracelet is not for sale. This way, I will not be putting two bracelets out there that are the same.

Sometimes, when in a creative lull, a custom request where the customer gives me some creative freedom can be a challenge. It can stir the creative energy. For me, it is about the creativity, not the manufacturing. That is why I do not use anyone else's patterns, I make my own.

There is a commitment that goes with accepting a custom order. The customer rightfully expects the item within a reasonable time frame. Some of us cannot make those kind of commitments. I think it is better to say no, than to say yes, and then not be able to comply.

Of course, there is a polite way to say no, but some people do not like to hear no even if said as diplomatically as possible.

The person who started the thread said that she had asked an artist to do a custom job. Apparently the artist refused, saying that she only worked on what she felt like working on. The artist offered to let this person know if/when she felt like doing it at a later date. The person seemed to feel this was a rude response. Another poster agreed, saying she would just take her business elsewhere, where it was appreciated! Sounds to me like she is "going off in a huff" because she did not get what she wanted. Disappointing, I am sure, but does it merit a huff?

What is wrong with saying I do not feel like it? Is it to say that if I don't have some reason why I cannot do it, then I should do it, regardless of how I feel? Do I not have a right to say no for my own reasons?

For me, feelings are very important to the creative process. In order to do a good job, I need to feel like it. I have read of many other artists who express this as well.

I put a note in my shop announcements about how I do not do custom work, with a convenient reason of already having too many projects. While it is true that I have way too many projects already that I want to do, I can't help but to wonder what I should say if that were not the case. That I simply do not want to? I am not very good at making up excuses, I am too direct for that.

There seems to be an expectation that if a customer wants something other than what is offered in a shop, the shop owner should jump through hoops to comply. That we should do whatever it takes to make a sale. That if we don't then we are somehow in the wrong, and will get criticized for it. Like being told we don't appreciate a customer's business just because we don't want to do custom work. I do appreciate every customer I get, even the customer with a request I cannot or will not fulfill. I appreciate the customer's interest in my work. When I say no, it is not lack of appreciation of the customer, it is simply that I am being true to myself. Certainly the customer has a right to shop elsewhere if they cannot get what they want from me. But why criticize me?

3 comments:

Carolyn said...

I agree with you...I like to create pieces that are one of a kind, and doing the same thing over and over is so ...uninspiring. I am not opposed to certain requests..but it seems sometimes once you open the door to a small customization the next thing you know you are being asked to make something specific that is not what you want, or like to do and often not even astethicly pleasing to you. I limit the 'custom' stuff I will do these days for those very reasons.

Melissa said...

This is such a thorny issue. I was actually talking about it yesterday with my friend Sarah, who makes clothing. Right now, accepting custom requests is expedient for me because I'm new, trying to earn money and can use the extra practice. But it's hard to not have my flow of work interrupted by a "dues-paying" custom job, even if it's 5 minutes of replacing a broken clasp.

I think the real problem is that jewelry artists have two things that the average potential customer doesn't -- technical skill and creative talent. When a customer requests "the same thing only bigger" or something to that effect, they're only thinking of the artist's technical skill. I think that's because to many non-artists, "creativity" is a kind of amorphous thing. It's hard to respect something you don't fully understand.

Knotgypsy said...

Thank you both for leaving comments! Indeed it is a thorny issue! That is one of the reasons I felt it should be aired. I was a little nervous however in posting it.

Perhaps we can help people to understand. Although, it may do no good. On the forum I referred to, many artists posted their reasons, but the "customer" posters still grumbled, and did not much acknowledge that the reasons were "good enough". Hence my expounding on "expectations" and "rights".

What I am hearing is that while there are many artists/crafters who love custom work, there are many other artists that don't.

For the ones that don't, to create and express oneself is a need of its own. Anything else takes away from that. But there is also the need to make money to pay the bills. So we sometimes take on custom work as a way to support ourselves. So we can afford to keep creating.

My personal fear is that custom work would become my job, leaving me no room to just create. Then I would no longer be working for myself, but for everyone else. So I limit what I will accept, in spite of the criticism. After all, it is my dream I am pursuing. Not someone else's dream.

Copyright 2007 Donna Littlewood