I was recently reading an article on art fair etiquette and I thought I’d post my own thoughts on the subject. I will be attending a total of 9 shows this season and it would be nice to see attendees understand the following do’s and don’ts. After all, isn’t the point of the summer fairs, festivals and shows for everyone to see, enjoy and learn more about art? As with many public events, there are a few common rules of etiquette that often get overlooked. It only takes one to ruin the enriching experience of an art event. After years of attending art shows as a shopper, I am now on the other side of the table, as an artist. I’ve noticed this lack of etiquette and want to share my findings in the form of a quick go-to guide. Listed here are some basic etiquette rules that I believe attendees should follow while visiting an art-related event, comprised into simple do’s and don’ts.
1. DON’T have your group occupy a high-traffic spot or viewing space needlessly
At nearly every large public event, there will inevitably be groups of people who will stop to chat with each other in places where people need to be able to walk freely on. If you plan to attend an art fair with a group of friends or family, I highly encourage you to be courteous to your fellow fair attendees and artists and NOT block high-traffic areas. This includes spaces in booths where the artist is trying to display their products to passing viewers and the shade created by an artist’s booth. This is not the place to sit down with your friends and relax on the grass. Move to an area away from the artist’s booth and aisles.
2. DON’T touch any of the products without the artist’s permission
We artists appreciate it when you show interest in our work. However, that that doesn’t always mean it’s okay to touch it. We like to keep our products in mint condition for all potential customers, so some of us may not want you to handle our products. Even if you’re considering purchasing the item, be courteous to first ask before touching the art. Keep this rule in mind especially when you view or are around items like these:
- Fragile items like glass or pottery
- Paintings and photographs which include a frame
3. DO be mindful of the food and drink you carry with you to a booth
Artists understand people eat and drink at art events. However, they can be messy when handled carelessly in a booth and can also very easily ruin fine pieces of art. If possible, try to finish or put away your food and drink before entering any booths. The exception I would make here is a covered cup/mug or water bottle. Be mindful not to spill these either though as they can ruin a piece of art. Additionally, be mindful to not purposely set any of your food or drinks on their tables, especially drinks. Even a small water ring from your cold drink can stain furniture or make a booth table look unappealing. Lastly, out of courtesy, take care of your own garbage. Do not ask the artist of the booth to throw it away for you. There are usually garbage cans around the event.
4. DO be extra mindful of children.
Children can be enriched by an art fair as much as an adult. However, they naturally tend to move around more actively and be curious enough to want to pick things up. Keep your children close by and under control as you view booths—and better yet, take the experience as an opportunity to teach them to look, not touch. Children also like to poke with one finger and can leave fingerprints and dirt on pieces. Teach them the value of looking with their eyes. This might mean picking them up and holding them while viewing the art.
5. DON’T visit an art fair to critique the art
Artists are very unappreciative of people who come to view their products just to tell them that their work is amateur, or that you are able to do better, or other such criticism of the like. One of the purposes of a community art event is to learn about other people’s art, and going around criticizing other people’s work does not meet this purpose. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
6. DO make an effort to communicate with the artist, but to also be brief and specific
While criticism is frowned upon, artists do appreciate any questions you may have about their work. Feel free to ask us engaging and honest questions about our art, such as technique, tools, and how many hours are put into it, etc. I also get asked my favorite piece or favorite part of photography. Be aware if there is anyone else in the booth looking to talk with the artist as well. If so, keep your conversation to a minimum to allow the other guests to engage as well. Understandably, there’s a chance you may end up connecting with an artist and want to talk to us about other topics. Out of courtesy of our business and other shoppers, try to keep your discussion brief and only on their art. The artist is trying to work, and it’s impolite to keep us from communicating with other shoppers.
7. DON’T treat an art event like a flea market
An art fair isn’t meant to be an opportunity for you to haggle a cheap price on art. Artists work hard to create our products. Remember the artist is doing their best to match the price with the amount of work put into it. A small exception to this would be to kindly (and perhaps indirectly) suggest a grouped price for purchasing multiple pieces of work.
8. DO be decisive on your purchasing decisions
Artists like that you’re interested in our products, but it’s discouraging to hear from someone that they’re not ready to buy or they left their wallet at home. If you really like the product and can honestly afford it, we encourage you to make that crucial decision to purchase it. The transaction will not just provide profit to the artist, but it will also encourage the artist to continue their work. Similarly, don’t ask the artist to put a product on hold unless you are ready to put a deposit on it. Many people say they are interested and will return for a piece, but never do. It’s discouraging to hold a product for a customer who does not return and it does not allow for others to have a chance at buying it. Again, if you can afford it, go ahead and buy it.
9. DO be very aware of your dog, if you bring one to an art event
I love dogs and have two myself, but I wouldn’t bring one to a crowded outdoor event. All too often, pet owners are interested in looking at the art or chatting with someone and they aren’t paying attention to their dog. This allows the dog to confuse a tent, art, table, etc. for a lamppost. This unwanted present can ruin another attendee or artist’s experience. I have also seen art damaged when a dog pulls on a leash and knocks something down nearby. Crowded hot summer art events aren’t the best venue for your pet.
10. DON’T take pictures of the art
An artist works hard to create their products. Always ask the artist before photographing the art. If you insist on a photograph, give the artist the courtesy of telling them why you want to photograph it. Sometimes there are good reasons for a quick pic such as students working on a paper or asking a spouse if they like a piece. Better yet, buy the art or a reproduction of it, which is why the art and artist is there.
In short: be polite, mindful, courteous, and respectful of others attendees and all the artists and their work. Remember there are other people wanting to enjoy the event as much as you, and that artists want to do their best to both market their products and engage with all of our customers. By following these etiquette rules, you’ll be able to enhance your experience of a community art event as well as keep it enjoyable for everyone involved. Lastly, have fun and enjoy! You, as an attendee, help make the event what it is. Do you have any other suggestions for etiquette at art fairs, festivals and outdoor events?