Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931
UNIVERSAL PRATFALLS - and the Avoidance Thereof
elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.










- Art Marketing 101
- Gallery Diplomacy
- Fair Fun & Profit
- How Long It Took
- Pratfall Avoidance
- Start on Shoestring
- Working at Home




by Elizabeth Berrien, Ac.Z

pratfall, n. [slang], a fall on the buttocks.

Failing to Come to Grips with Reality: Spoken in icy tones usually reserved for "I Vant to Be Alone", the best-known Pratfall Mantra is: "I Refuse to Taint Myself with Business!" This Implied Spiritual Purity is tarnished when the self-same person chronically complains: "My work is pure genius, so naturally I'm starving! How come I gotta die first before this stuff gets appreciated? Why don't the museums and foundations come looking for me NOW?"

Solution: Release yourself from Old Moldy Stereotypes, which would have you believe that If Thou Art an Artist of Worthy Output, the World Will Seek Thee Out and Make Much of You. Sorry, but waiting for the Enlightened Tycoon to stumble in by accident is worse odds than Monkeys & Typewriters. Only by learning enough Business Basics to approach galleries in a frictionless, businesslike manner can you consistently place your works where the right people can find them. Give as much dedication to getting your work out in the world as you do to creating it. After all your hard work, doesn't it deserve to be seen?

Showing Up Without an Appointment: This is the simplest and most effective way to let the person you are interrupting know that you think your time and priorities are infinitely more important than theirs. Persons Being Interrupted, having discerned your basic ignorance of the custom of Calling Ahead for an Appointment, may recognize the extent of your inexperience, and either a) decide they can't work with you because you'll probably need babysitting, or b) decide they WILL work with you, because you're acting Ignorant Enough to Exploit.

Solution: Cut down a tad on your natural Artistic Spontaneity; instead of marching straight for the counter when you come across a store you're excited about scout it quietly, depart, and call from somewhere else to ask for an appointment. It creates a very professional first impression.

Showing Up Unprepared: Almost as good. There are zillions of variations on Unprepared; once you've made an appointment to meet with your gallery or client, you still have ample room to forget anything from your business cards to your entire portfolio! Nothing quite like getting someone to set aside a special chunk of time just for you and then disappointing them by not bringing everything you need to get your business done... you can puncture your aura of smooth professionalism easily by borrowing a pencil, asking the time, waving your arms wildly to describe the "Just Fantastic" work you forgot to bring a picture of, or being unable to provide a ball park estimate of the project a client would like to commission. Every craft fair has at least one frantic person running around looking to bum a staple gun; make sure it ain't you!

Solution: The night before a meeting, prepare everything you can imagine needing for your event, from your outfit to your neatly arranged artwork to your Minimalist Portable Office (pen, Day Book, Tot Stapler, business letterhead). If you're going to help hang a show, bring a comprehensive toolkit with hammer, nails, picture wire, etc; saving the Exhibit Crew a last-minute trip to the hardware store gives a quietly competent impression.

Showing Up Improperly Dressed: Not Dressed Up Enough for a business meeting, or Too Dressed Up to Be Useful at exhibit hanging time. Or Too Casual in city stores, Too Formal in the boonies, too Artsy Fartsy around conservative clientele.

Solution: Research ahead of time where you're going to be, whom you'll be dealing with, what you'll be doing, and how other artists in similar circumstances tend to dress.

Bringing Along the Kids: Just about as good for your professional image as taking the family dog: storekeepers must anticipate the possibility of your offspring Lifting a Metaphorical Leg, and can't give you (or anyone) their full attention.

Solution: Leave the kids at home, in school or at day care unless they're old enough to be a valid part of your business AND well-mannered enough to favorably impress the storekeeper.

Bringing Along a Bored or Cranky Partner: Same as above, only more so.

Not Knowing When it's Time to Leave: So you've opened your jewelry sample case, and the Gallery Guy is going "Ooh and Ahh", so you take it all out and spread it over every available surface, lovingly reciting the story behind each creation, and it oozes up slowly on you that he's sneaking peeks at his watch and wondering if you'll maybe wind up before Closing Time... at the Corporate Presentation, the Stuffed Suits that welcomed you so warmly and thanked you for your presentation are now twitching little hand signals at each other...

Solution: Pride yourself on developing a compact Basic Presentation of 15 minutes or less, expanding it ONLY if the client expresses genuine interest in your doing so. Instead of forcing your clients to indicate the end of a session, wind it up early yourself. Better to leave them slightly hungry than excessively glutted...

Competing Directly With Your Home Gallery: When you decide to make a quick killing by getting a street fair booth in front of the gallery that carries your work, and proceed to price your works at half what the gallery is charging, you've gained a few short-term sales and lost forever the sympathy and support of that gallery. Likewise, when you pepper several stores and galleries in one neighborhood with your works, you've diminished the motivation for any one store to give you special consideration.

Solution: If you've got too much art stock for one store to handle, lucky you! Instead of inundating your local scene with works in so many places it becomes commonplace, narrow your field down to one location per region, and let that outlet know you are granting it Territorial Exclusive! Your Home Gallery will appreciate this greatly, and by expanding to out-of-town galleries and/or fairs, you'll take on that lovely Patina of Exoticity.

Expending Valuable Creativity on Bogus Excuses: So you bit off more than you could chew, or partied too hearty the night before your deadline, and now you ain't gonna show up on time with the goods! Instead, you call in with a phony sore throat and a case of Estonian Mumps, or give a big long spiel about how YOU shipped it on time, but the Post Awful ate it, or you would've been on time but your car broke down. Strangely enough, the more lovingly complex and exquisitely crafted your Repeating Loop Tales of Tragedy, the more convinced your no-show victims will become that you are either a) a chronic liar, or b) a helpless, hapless and hopeless human being...

Solution: I cut down on Circumstance Beyond Control excuses after the Karma Angels decided to gift me with REAL cases of what I'd originally conjured up as pure fantasy... sitting in my stalled car by the freeway in the pelting rain, ruefully connecting the dots with the Dead Battery Excuse I'd pulled the day before, I decided to bite the bullet and start saying, "I really blew it. But doing business with you is important, so I'm going to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Attempting to Build Yourself Up by Pulling Others Down: A most deplorable habit. If you ever catch yourself saying something like "Well yes, I suppose Zelda's fantods have a certain naive charm, but if you're SERIOUS art collectors, I think I have a responsibility to show you how much more intensely involved my little blivets over here are..." swat yourself on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. You're coming across much more blatantly than you think, sabotaging yourself & Zelda both by slamming her work out of Professional Jealousy.

Solution: You're better off converting jealousy to Good-Natured Envy, which you can at least tastefully admit to out loud. If someone's work is getting more attention than yours, resist the temptation to judge whether it deserves it; the most important person to compete against is YOU. Continue to upgrade the caliber of your work, and you'll get your own Moment of Glory in due time.


Dear Auntie Social: I'm meeting soon with people in a position to give me a Big Breakthrough Commission. The deadline schedule is brutal and I suspect there's not much money in it, but like they keep telling me, the exposure I'll be getting is fantastic and guaranteed to lead to jobs that pay real money! Any advice on the way in?

My Child: Within the world of Art, the person who proclaims "Just think of all the exposure we can give you" should be viewed in the same light as those who say "Trust Me." One-shot exposure rarely if ever leads to success or even a directly related gig within the same year; if you examine the resumes of most established artist you will find their success is founded on a steady, progressive curve of increasingly visible gigs rather than any one breakthrough. Weigh this project WITHOUT the distraction of Hypothetical Fame and Glory, and set limits for yourself on how much bad pay and inconvenience you can tolerate while making your "benefactors" look great. Stick within those limits and avoid the pratfall, "Not Knowing When It's Time to Let Go".

This article was first published in the news letter of the Ink People Center for the Arts in the 1990's.

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World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2009 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Oct 22, 2009 · this page valid HTML 4.01

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