Archive for July, 2012

As a full-fledged, self-supporting, fedora-sporting member of the growing creative class, I present these 12 tips in the best ways to buy from and deal with street artists or market vendors…

Do not devalue the art.
One can try to bring the price of a piece down by pointing out what they perceive as flaws in it. What they actually do is demean their own taste. Why would they want to hang something sub-par on their wall (or worse, give as as a gift)?

Don’t say, “I’ll be back” as a way of saying “I’m not interested.”
Many people don’t want to hurt the feelings of an artist by showing interest in the work but not buying. So they say, “I’ll be back” even though they have no intention of doing so. Just say, “Thanks, it’s beautiful.” The problem is the artist sometimes expects the person to be back and may even wait on them. It can be especially uncomfortable when someone forgets they told the artist they would be back and then by chance happens on by again and the artist sees them and says, “You’re back!” and the person embarrassingly has to sort of slip away. Awkward.

Especially don’t say,”I am coming back to buy this one, can you hold it for me?”
I never hold a piece unless there is some money down but some artists do. A better plan would be to just pay for it all and then have the artist put a “sold” sign on it. “Sold” signs up the value of the art. Otherwise, inevitably the piece that is being held with no money down is wanted by someone with money in hand and the artist has a dilemma. Worst case scenario, they pass on the person who wanted to buy it and the first party doesn’t return. Second worst, they go ahead and sell it and the first person returns and questions their ethics.

Never say, “I could do that.”
Pardon me for slipping into first person here. I mean them, not you reader.

First off, you couldn’t. Not without the artist having presented the composition for you to copy. It’s not your original idea and original ideas are where much of the value in the art is.

Second, You may think you could do it but, it won’t look as good. There are many details in most art. Much of that detail is discovered little by little by little as the artist develops their craft. Whatever bullshit attempt at the piece you are making will lack several of those details because you haven’t put in the time and not look as good.

Third off, I am assuming you know how to cook a steak too. So does that mean you have never bought one? You’re paying someone else to present a finished product to you. It’s not a competition between your skills and theirs. The artist could probably be a desk clerk or whatever the hell it is you do also.

Fourth, I make my stuff in a messy shop with tools I have bought one by one. You will need this shop and these tools to make the piece. It’s not cost effective to buy all this to make one piece. If you happen to have a chop saw, scroll saw, jig saw, clear coat, several bottles of spray paint, sandpaper, brad nails, floral wire, a staple gun with staples, and wood salvaged right here in New Orleans which might be hundreds of years old, go ahead.

But…

… I aint planning on living forever but I do plan on promoting myself and my art until the day I die and with luck that will make this stuff go up in value while your bullshit knockoff never will.

“I’ve got $50 CASH.”
At some point in the past, having folding money may have been preferable to a check that may not clear or a knuckle-busted credit card that would have to be phoned in and then not be approved. But these days, credit card transactions are instant through smart phones and go right into an artist’s bank account for a 2.7% fee. So if what the buyer if offering as an incentive is a greater amount than that percentage point, the CASH isn’t an incentive at all. It seems more like a way of saying, “Look you fool I am trying to give you MONEY here!” But honestly, there are all sorts of people who are offering money who aren’t trying use pejoratives to do so. Perhaps it’s like a wink, wink, nod, nod that I may not have to claim the cash on my tax return but it would look pretty funny if a street artist reported nothing but credit card sales wouldn’t it? Like there is no one using cash in this mostly cash business.

Carpe Diem
Never just leave it up to the Universe to make the decision. It is the will of the Universe if civilization gets destroyed by Planet X. It is not the will of the Universe that is deciding this art purchase. Horace said “SEIZE the day.” He didn’t say “Seize the day if it is there when you get back from Cafe Du Monde.” See more here.

How much is this? $100? How about 25?
As a rule, I will never go below a two-thirds of my asking price and only then under extenuating circumstances such as the piece being particularly heavy and difficult to schlep, or particularly delicate and in danger of being ruined, or having been in inventory a particularly long time. But I don’t go below that for anyone except a client who has been generous in the past, or a friend, or someone buying multiple items from me at one time. To just expect some vast discount of 50% or more, again, shows the attempt at a pejorative and is always shot down, often in a reverse pejorative that belittles the person and makes them look cheap. “I do take food stamps” and “Awww, $100 IS a lot of money for you isn’t it?” are favorites.

The art is priced at what it is because it has been proven to sell at that price.
If there are multiple pieces hanging that are similar in size and detail, it is usually because this item is not some lone artistic effort but rather a proven seller. It has a specific look, takes a specific amount of time and effort to create, requires a specific amount of effort to present and has a specific price. If one customer doesn’t buy it, another one will. So asking for money off of these pieces is akin to just asking the artist for $20 and then walking away. Some artists entire inventory is composed of art that all looks somewhat similar with slight differences. These artists are more calculated in their inventory and are less likely to just give money away. I often start certain types of pieces low and based on the comments I hear and how quickly they begin to sell, move them up to a price that seems to be reasonable for the clients and me.

Never treat money as “bait.”
Never, EVER, ever, ever, ever, ever, wave money around in front of the artist in an attempt to hypnotize them with its allure. It’s just not that enticing and especially isn’t in the hands of the individual who would do so. The artist has chosen to utilize their beautiful mind to beautify the world, if they were so seduced by money they would have run a 900 number or been a preacher something. ;)

A “starving” artist looks like one.
Most good artists aren’t “starving.” Romantic notion but not so common. They either have another job on the side or, if they don’t, can pay all their monthly bills with what they make from art which, by definition, includes groceries. A starving, or just broke-ass, artist will show their desperation early and won’t be asking much for their work in the first place.

If you are looking for some special deal…
…approach after the artist has just set up or on the verge of breaking down. Sometime they like to “break the ice” quickly. Sometimes they want to finish up with a sale and lighten the load.

More affordable prices can not be found anywhere.
If one encounters an artist on the street or at a market, they are getting direct-from-artist prices. Galleries often feature art marked-up by 40% to 60%. That’s acceptable, sure. Galleries (well, some galleries) promote the artist, provide a more stationary point of sale and so on. But if the opportunity presents itself at a market or on the street to buy the piece direct from the person who created it. Do so. There will be no middle man. You get to meet the artist and ask them questions and find out more about your piece than one normally would at a gallery or shop. And more money goes to the artist. I price my pieces the same in the gallery or out so, I do pay out to the gallery 40%. It’s worth it to me because they do some of the work. But the best place to get the art is drirect from the artist.

A principle ethic of humanism is dignities, the natural-born right for any person to live a dignified and worthy life of their choosing and unmolested by those stronger, more powerful or with a greater willingness toward cruelty. The prevailing philosophy is, if each person always considered essential human dignity in their worldly actions, human rights ills like slavery, genocides and all forms of oppression would cease. Lofty.

Some say that we humans have an inherent selflessness hardwired into the collective species that should prevent us from the continued harm of others, a biological altruism. This is shown by individuals putting themselves in harm’s way when a child runs in front of a car or a person saving someone from committing suicide. See how this man describes his actions at the end of this video.

But of course, recent and distant history shows this isn’t precisely so. But it isn’t so because somewhere in the philosophies of the oppressors, this focus on human dignity is reasoned with and dispatched, leaving the perpetrator with what they often claim is, “no choice,” or that the ones who suffer at their hands are somehow less than human.

And while this drought of dignity seems as if it occurs only on dark continents and in third worlds, it doesn’t. In fact, it often happens within a few dozen miles of our homes. It isn’t a genocide or an ethnic cleansing. Not even close. But is an indignity that exists in the here and now and the spiritual reasoning that enables those indignities is implicit in our culture…

Podcast:

On Point with Tom Ashbrook Podcast: Exploited Labor In The USA
The story out of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana sounded Third World. Guest workers in a seafood processing plant allegedly forced to work 24-hour shifts. 80-hour weeks. Barricaded in so they couldn’t escape. Threatened with beatings to work faster. Bullied. Underpaid. Families threatened. Forced labor.

Last month, Wal-Mart suspended the supplier of crawfish, and the horror stories ricocheted around the country. But in a bad economy, with the pressure on, exploited labor doesn’t just happen on the bayou.

This hour, On Point: On the bottom rung. Exploited labor in America.

NY Times: Wal-Mart Suspends Supplier of Seafood

“The Good Thing About Showers At A Second Line Is, Everyone Already Has Their Parasols.”

The rain began at 4:30 p.m. in the metro area and continued unabated for an hour and a half. A group of Jackson Square artists and I met up at Matassa’s to get “warmed up” and then crossed over Rampart to the shooting side and made our way through Treme to Tuba Fats Square.

No one in my group would be recognized by Uncle Lionel Baptist except possibly in passing but we were all affected by his his graceful Tao. Conversations were often had between us over the years about where he had been seen, what he was doing and perhaps most importantly, what he was wearing. So his presence was always noted in our lives in the Square and the blocks surrounding it where we live out our working lives on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. He was like some sort of astronomical or meteorological phenomenon.

“I saw a shooting star last night”
“There was a rainbow this afternoon”
“I saw Uncle Lionel outside Three Muses yesterday. He was wearing a gorgeous caramel colored coat.”

At Tuba Fats Square, we waited for 45 minutes for the second line to start and in that time the rain poured more and more and the umbrellas stopped doing much good as the rain either blew under them or concentrated waterfalls of it from the eaves of houses overwhelmed them. So many just accepted that they would be soaked and stood in the rain.

“Whoever thought to dress all these women in white during a heavy rain was a genius.”
“It was probably some divine intervention from Uncle Lionel.”

A man came by with sandwich bags for people’s cell phones. Another with a rolling cooler full of beers. The cooler bar even had a price structure. Domestics were $2 and imports were $3. A woman in a laundry mat was selling photos of Unc.

An old time artist told me a man had been shot at Tuba Fats’ funeral for selling water from a cooler in front of another man’s business. He died and the business owner went to jail. I guess it’s a kinder New Orleans after the “blank slate.”

The crowd looked full of New Orlenians. We would later see a crowd that did not look like New Orleanians standing on the side of the street as we passed by. But here at the Square we didn’t see so many.

The rain drenched scene became beatific when the downpour became a drizzle and the sun began to show through. It occurred to me recently that that heavenly scene that happens after an afternoon shower comes from the slanted sunlight reflecting off of the still damp environment and the puddles on the ground. All this reflected, refracted light couples with long shadows of negative space and creates a blessing aesthetic. This happened just as the brass bands began to play. As the environment, emotion and spirits all seemed to converge, we were underway.

Two teen-agers who seemed at a glance in unison but were each executing utterly different moves to the same rythym danced in front of the doors of a raised double shotgun. A weathered woman we dubbed “Mello Yello” with shorts mostly up her ass and a little halter top blew the lid off. A man in a motorized wheelchair kept pace. My fellow artist Justin was cutting loose and drenched in perspiration and precipitation. My flip-flops and the density of the crowd limited my down-getting but I was doing my best. We were nestled just behind the drummers so it was quite easy to be seduced by the music and sort of, just let go.

A few times our group was able to juke our way up to the brass and it is there where one can authentically bask in the sound of a second line. Brass is very loud, but it’s a full and especially fine sound. Not like a feedback amplifier with electric guitar, this is not a technological creation. This is not an electronic sound. It’s a true sound. An ancient sound. A triumphant sound with a brilliant visual aesthetic of curves and shiny iridescence to accompany it.

By the time we made it to Rampart, the slant of Sun was quite glorified and the golden coloring of the whole experience became almost absurd, like Thomas Kincade absurd. Perhaps it was my orange-tinted sunglasses. Some even reported a rainbow.

The line was quite long and spirited and the numbers were hard to estimate from the inside. French Quarter tourists who came upon the scene unawares bore astonished looks, stopped in their tracks.

We continued down Rampart to St. Claude where the line became a two headed snake and halted traffic in both directions. Some on the stopped city bus enjoyed the scene from inside, others, not so much.

“In New Orleans, crowd dispersal techniques only require brass bands moving in opposite directions.”

After a final I’ll Fly Away was sung on the streets by anyone who knew the words, a sousaphone heavy contingent splintered and made its way toward Frenchmen and our group obediently followed. It broke up along the way and spilled loosely organized alluvial groups into the Marigny to finish off their evenings.

Ours was pretty much finished already. We reveled all the way home.

Though the catharsis of the event was exhilarating. It still exists as only a placeholder on a shelf inside the mansion of our hearts. When the loss of the iconic Uncle Lionel Baptiste is thought of in the future, the events of this Friday the 13th and any future events to honor him will be duly noted. They serve as apt punctuation, true, but the loss remains. Hopefully, as sons become fathers, more of us can stay true to our bliss and follow it to the level of respect and love reached by this man, this great Uncle.

(Some images used in this post were taken by Derek Bridges. See the gallery here.)

On Jackson Square, the worst thing that can happen to an artist who has set up for the day is to “blank,” not sell a single piece. The entire effort being financially meaningless. Sure, the artist may have passed out some cards, met some nice folks, visited with some friends, took in the sights and so on but not for any sort of monetary reward. No pieces sold despite the carefully laid plans of the artist. Sometimes this is accompanied by long, strange hours as well.

Every artist has probably done it. It happens. Not frequently for me. I even had a bit of a streak going until this Saturday past when I was finally revisited by the blank. Worse days are when you are blanked and then rained on. This also was the case on Saturday.

But it wasn’t the blank or the soaking rain that hung with me as much as it was a particular customer who wanted a piece. She had all the ingredients of a match made in Heaven, the swooning, the special look in her eyes, the touching. She wanted the piece. Then, inexplicably she said, “I am going to go eat lunch and if it’s here when I get back, it was meant to be.”

I wanted to tell her, “Precious sister, in the vastness of the Universe almost everything that exists is dictated to us by chance. Your existence, mine, the circumstances that placed you in front of this fence, your death and the deaths of all those around you will be meted out by circumstances through which you really have no control over. Physics will decide. Chaos will decides. Government will decide. The cosmos will decide. But you? You probably won’t decide. So here you are in front of this piece of art that you admittedly want very badly, that has been made available to you. Here you are, with complete control in the matter. So why, sister, WHY would you simply toss your rare moment of control out there and see fit to attribute it to chance once again? Because it isn’t chance this time. It’s you and your unwillingness to stir.”

In marching bands, the bass drummers are usually big fellas. Not always, but often. It isn’t an absolute but it frequently works out this way. Big guys are drawn to big instruments. They bring up the back of the band like anchormen, guys who set the musical pace and thus the timing and mood of the whole damn march.

So it was notable that Uncle Lionel Batiste, a man who looked to weigh perhaps a hundred and some change, with twiggy arms and legs and a waist seemingly smaller than a supermodel’s, carried his bass drum up and down and through the streets of New Orleans and all over the world for much of his 81 year life. With sloping shoulders perhaps pulled downward by the lifelong weight of his drum, Uncle Lionel gigged all the best weddings and funerals New Orleans has seen for generations. One couldn’t help but notice him there in the midst of all the cacophony and chaos of a suitable second line. Where one may expect to find a six-foot, 250 pound musician bombastically hammering the bass drum, there was Uncle Lionel, a little old guy defying expectations with a big drum and an even bigger influence.

Kermit Ruffins, who with little argument stands as the de facto living New Orleans musician’s ambassador to the Universe said Uncle Lionel taught him “how to act, how to dress, how to feel about life.” This is grandiose. This is the Tao of Uncle Lionel and it exists not only within Kermit but in the minds of any rash soul, from here or out of town, who has succumbed to the spirits and danced in the streets of New Orleans to brass band music. The complete experience and archetype of the second line parade flowed into Uncle Lionel from his forebearers and then, with more influence and a certainly more enriched style, flowed out of him and into the rest of us. All around the world, he was the high priest of New Orleans street music’s form, mode and method.

But let’s not get too caught up in the legend because that would be disingenuous to the man on the street that he was. Often alone, Uncle Lionel would dress to the nines and make the rounds around town. It was not a strange occurrence to be caught up in some conversation or another at Harry’s Bar and reach for your drink to see Uncle Lionel had quietly placed himself in the stool next to you, or for him to be in front of you in line at Sidney’s, or walking past with a carved wooden cane while you parallel parked in Treme, or peering through a window, looking in on a Frenchmen street show. He was our personal superstar like so many New Orleans musicians are. So when one happened to encounter him in a pedestrian way, we all felt a private sort of starstruck. These were cherished moments that only happenstance can deliver to us but Uncle Lionel made possible simply by who he was.

He died this sabbath Sunday. He leaves a public life that will surpass any attempt at imitation. After 81 years in a city that does indeed give back to those who give to it, he leaves an ever-lasting legacy and a vast void far bigger than his slight and slender frame.