Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why Do We Like Something?

Last week, I sat across from another artist, who had various pieces of her work spread out on a black cloth. It was an eye-catching blend of color and sparkle, and it drew many people over to look and touch.

In this display was an inexpensive wood bracelet she had picked up at a flea market or street fair. It was in shades of blue, and had a simple but elegant design. She bought the piece to imitate in polymer clay, and had several pieces on display that were inspired by this wood bracelet. But each time someone went to pick up a bracelet, it was the blue, wooden one they would reach for. Over, and over, I watched this happen. Why would people be drawn to the inexpensive, wood bracelet, over the handcrafted ones?
I was reminded of this when I read about another artist's attempt to educate her audience at a craft show in the Design Diary blog. Quoting from an e-mail sent to Nicolette Tallmadge, and appearing in her blog:

"......I had placed a laminated sign titled “Buy from American Artisans: Here’s Why” which very simply stated, with easy-to-read bullet points, the reasons why handmade artisan jewelry is preferable to cheap mass-produced junk……During the course of the show, there were maybe seven or eight people who commented that they liked the exhibit and several wanted to buy my exhibit bracelet.
However, to my dismay, at least half a dozen people totally ignored the exhibit’s sign, picked up the cheap junk bracelet (which as part of the exhibit had its original pricetag of $3.99 on it) and wanted to buy it! ....

Two different artists, two different settings...and yet people
are reaching for an inexpensive, mass-produced bracelet, over the handcrafted one.


We could say it was price, but in the case of the artist sitting across from me, the price tag was not present. I do not have a picture of the bracelets in the exhibit by the other artist.

I am going to put myself out on a limb and hazard a guess here. I think that we are drawn to well-executed design. If we look closely we may see that the less expensive piece is made of inferior material, and may not hold up long term. But at a quick glance, we do get a sense of the

In the case of the bracelets across the table, the wood bracelet looked, and felt, lighter than the other pieces. The way the elements tapered, and had a slight curve was visually appealing. By contrast, the other bracelets had elements that were the same width all the way through, giving them a heavier appearance. You can also see the cords the bracelets had been strung with were not yet been finished. While we may want to believe that this detail won't be noticed by others, and we intend to finish it later...., people do notice. And their actions showed this.

Handcrafted in an of itself does not imply quality. Without a good design, execution, and finishing, our potential customers will go for an alternative. The reason people shop at some of the big box stores and purchase the cheap imports is because in many cases they do incorporate good design, and adequate finishing. They may fall apart after a few
wearings, but they do provide immediate gratification with little

If we want people to pay the price we need and want for a handcrafted item, we must give them a good reason to do so. We need to make sure the item is well-executed. We need to make sure that it is well designed. The artist across from me was still working out the design. She did not
have them out to be sold. But I could not help but notice the behavior,
again, and again. When we pick up a piece to study it more closely,
we are saying the piece is interesting to us. We like it.

Putting your work out with a mass produced item is risky. I am not
sure it is a good strategy at a show, even when the intent is to educate. It may invite conflict, or question. I would rather keep any and all competition away from my work at a show. I may wear another artist's work outside of a show, but when I am selling my work, it will be my work I wear.

These observations have taught me to continue to work on refining my designs, and my execution. I want my work to capture the imagination of those who see it. Not to make them compare it to what they can find in other venues. How about you?


Barbara said...

Another thing I noticed about the cheap mass-made blue bracelet in your picture is that the elements are different shades of blue, while the artist's versions were much more uniform. That, plus the tapered forms you mentioned, make it look much more interesting. This is a very useful study! Thank you for publishing it.

Barbara J Carter

Tejae said...

i think part of the appeal is a worn (non shiny) look verses a shiny finish. It's subtle but I think we are drawn to the tactile well worn colors. We want to touch it because it looks like it has already been touched.

Mandy said...


I'm a first-time visitor of your interesting log. And I think your observation is pretty acurate!

Last Sunday I was on an art show myself and I noticed again and again how people picked up my perfect pieces. The less perfect pieces (that I had decided to bring along to make sure my table would be well filled) were never picked up. At the end of the afternoon I put those away, giving more space to my good pieces. Should have done that straight away. For indeed, even flaws in detail are noticed by your customers.

So from last weekend's Art show I learned that it is indeed not a good idea to bring unfinished or imperfect items but make sure your work stands out in quality and perfection indeed!

We live, we learn.

But I also noticed the cheap bracelet to be in different shades of blue which gives the bracelet a much lighter look...light of colour, light of weight. I would also be attracted to it.

I'm tempted to say which technique would be useful to get this effect, but as you also rightfully point out: protecting your work, skill and technique is very important as well!

artandtea said...

Hi Judy, Thanks for this eye-opening, interesting post. I too, found my eye drawn to the wooden bracelet in the photo. I think because the colors were softer and muted with variations of tint and tone that it interested my visual sense. I agree with Tejae. The piece invites one to look closer at its subtleties and want to touch its well worn surface. -Karen

Judy said...

This is what I love about blogs! All the comments enrich what I have written with your personal observations. Whether it was the finish, the colors, the execution or the designs.....the blue bracelet is the one nearly everyone wants to touch.

SL Savarick said...

Hey Judy ,

This is exactly what I have been teaching in my Refinements workshops. it is the subtle details of a design that makes a design successful. its all in the details.

Great post.

SL Savarick

Judy said...

Hi Seth,
Thanks for your comment! I am looking forward to your presentations at Synergy. It seems like a simple thing, but execution is not so easy, is it?

tammy vitale said...

Great piece - very provocative: handmade is not necessary better just by being handmade. And you're right. Meanwhile, I have to agree with others here that the color variations in the cheap bracelet, along with it's movement (the wavy look) would catch me eye too. It's a color thing as much as anything else for me. Thanks for making me think!

Polka Dot Creations said...

I wonder, could the wood bracelet have been handled more because of artistic curiosity? I think if I had seen that bracelet in among a pile of clay pieces, I'd have assumed it, too, was clay, and picked it up for a closer examination - I'd have been curious to see how she managed to make the clay look so much like stained wood!