Open studio gone wrong–learn from this artist’s mistakes

My friend and I went to an artist’s studio recently as part of an open studio tour. I’ve attended a number of these and can share that this artist’s studio stood out–and not for good reasons.

We went to the door, which was around back. There was no sign at the door and no one to greet us. We thought maybe we’d just go in. So we walk in to a living-room area that is stuffed with furniture and large paintings. A table to the left held a plethora of snacks and there was wine and other drinks at a small wet bar. Lovely music was playing over the stereo. But . . . no one was in sight.

We said, “Hello?” The artist came from around the corner wearing a painter’s apron and carrying her brush. She shook our hands, invited us to look around and have some snacks or something to drink, told us everything was downstairs (which ended up being that one room) and then disappeared.

We circled around the room and came to a turn. A quick glance around the corner revealed an intimate niche where a man was sitting at the computer. He didn’t look up. I felt like an invader.

Another corner took me by the artist’s studio, but she had her back to me and was painting away. I didn’t feel like engaging her in conversation. Nothing about the situation enticed me to find out more. All I wanted to do was bug out.

Antonia Ruppert, Dreaming of Stars. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. ©The Artist
Toni Ruppert, Dreaming of Stars. 24 x 46 inches. ©The Artist

Think About It

1. If you invite people into your studio and you’re not standing by the door, at least have a welcome sign that tells them to knock or come in. Be a good host or hostess!

2. If you plan on continuing your work while your guests are there, tell them! This artist should have said upon meeting us, “As you can see, I’m painting! I’ll be in my studio, which is just around the corner. I’d love for you to come in. I’ll show you what I’m working on.”

3. If your spouse is going to be in the room where your guests are invited to look at your art, teach him or her how to be welcoming.

4. I have no idea whether or not this person had work on exhibit anywhere else. She could have handed us her card and maybe even an invitation to upcoming events. She missed a golden opportunity to make us fans (or, frankly, to even like her a little).

I’ve never felt so unwelcome or awkward in an open studio situation. We left as quietly as we arrived–without saying goodbye.


Be an awesome host or hostess, part 1

Be an awesome host or hostess, part 2

Open Studio Guidelines (from Society of North American Goldsmiths’ Professional Guidelines)

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19 thoughts on “Open studio gone wrong–learn from this artist’s mistakes”

  1. I’m the friend that visited this open studio with you, Alyson. I have to say it was in stark contrast to the other studio we’d been to that day, and other studios I’ve visited in years past. I was looking forward to this drop-in for a couple of reasons – to see the art AND to meet a neighbor as this studio is less than a mile from my home. The artist missed out on both counts – I’m not inclined to follow her art work, and she’s missed the opportunity to befriend a neighbor!
    Thanks for visiting the studios with me, Alyson, and we’ll know for next year which to not put on our list!

  2. Oh boy! it sounds the open studio was a complete disaster! how could someone be painting and not taking care of the patrons? pamper them, talk with them, show them around, answer questions?! what kind of open studio was that?…

    An open studio should be the same as a gallery opening. The artist in this case is not only performing as artist, it should be a good host and a sales person. Forget about painting for that night it’s just plain rude! people is coming to meet the artist, to understand better why the artist creates whatever he/she creates, to buy directly from the artist! it makes a direct connection that is automatically broken by the cold relationship the internet provides. Patrons should be taken care of, at all times, both online and offline. If as an artist you think is a wonderful idea to paint while your guests are there, then have at least 2-3 people attending your guests and capable of making sales otherwise you are missing the entire purpose of an open studio. There are so many great thing that can come out of an open studio.

    Sorry you fell so uncomfortable! you should come to mine next time, I promise you will love it and have a great time! ;o)

  3. Reading this post made me cringe!!! You have an open invite to my studio which is in my garage and I will be more than welcoming, my hot wife is charming and our 3 boys ages 4,2 and 11 months will swarm you with hugs and smiles.

  4. I say give her another chance…Sometimes the best things come from giving something or someone another chance…Women, as you know, and especially artists are a moody bunch, and some times they are up and some times they are down…Character in both artist and collector is built from forgiveness…Maybe someone could subtly get this lady to start following ArtBizBlog & turn a crisis into an opportunity…This would be a perfect opportunity to send an email saying listen I think you could brush up your presentation a bit, let me offer you some free advice…

  5. An open studio is an opportunity to meet the artist and their work. If one had an open house party wouldn’t the homeowner be present to greet their guests, not in the basement doing the laundry?

  6. Thanks for the story.

    Another perspective. The open studios event I participate in requires artists to provide an educational experience for visitors and strongly encourages art-making demonstrations. “Gallery-like” studio setups are actively discouraged.

    It’s possible this artist was responding to pressure from her organizers and thought she was doing the exact right thing by being “in process” when you arrived.

  7. Kelly: I started to identify you, then thought perhaps I shouldn’t. Thanks for sharing your experience here.

    M and Zachary: I’m sure I’d love to see your studios!

    Sari: I’d give her another chance, but she has no idea who I am. She didn’t get my information or get to know me. I’m not going to go knocking on her door and quite frankly, why would I want to? There are lots of other artists out there that I’d rather hang out with.

    Laura: Thank you for bringing that perspective. Yes, this would be great. EXCEPT for the fact that the artist didn’t tell us she was painting or demonstrating and invite us into her studio. She just disappeared! As a former museum educator, I’m all for education wherever I can get it, but you have to engage me.

    Marie: Wouldn’t that be painful to watch?

  8. Thank you so much for this timely blog post Alyson! I am hosting an Open Studio for the first time in a week and a half. My studio is in my house, so the event will be too. Your links provided me with some suggestions that I hadn’t thought of and that I know will improve my event. This is why I read your blog. I always learn so much!!

  9. Oh dear! That sounds completely awkward! I’ve never done an open studio, but if I ever do, I’ll make sure I don’t make these mistakes! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  10. Louise in SW Saskatchewan

    Thanks for this timely posting. I am about to hold an open studio event in November along with others in my building. Good info to think about how NOT to have one. I am making note of all the good things to do for an open studio. Thanks again.

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  12. I felt I had to write and say, there are always reasons for people to behave the way they do, and I’m sure the artist has hers. Shy people are constantly misunderstood, and while I agree it did seem like a wasted opportunity and not a comfortable situation for visitors, I wonder if she and her husband are just very shy private people? This may have been a very courageous thing for her to do. Alternatively, she may have felt that approach may take the pressure off visitors so they can browse at leisure and not be pressured into buying. I was at an exhibition where the artist had cornered a couple and I made a quick exit in case I was next! Perhaps giving her some feedback will be help her from repeating the mistake – she may be shocked she came across that way.

  13. What I can’t imagine is trying to work while I knew people might be wandering around my house! Talk about distracting – in all the years I have sporadically had my studio door open during First Fridays, I have never even considered trying to work while simultaneously attempting to engage folks, or answer questions. At the very least, it’s rude to have your back to people! At the very worst, you can’t get into any kind of mindful attentiveness if someone is going to interrupt you in the process.

    When having an event in one’s home, it really makes sense to have kids, spouse, good friends, someone- help you manage the traffic and help create a more convivial atmosphere. Then afterward, make sure they know you appreciate their help.

    Perhaps, there is so much generalized pressure for artists to be selling themselves and their work, that some folks feel they “ought” to be doing things for which they are not temperamentally suited.

  14. The question I have is just why do people attend open studios? Is it to see the artist’s work? Is it to see the artist AT work? Is it to get some free instruction? Or is it just to amuse themselves?
    Visual art viewing is probably the last completely free art activity. You have to “pay” to hear a song or watch a TV show …pay by absorbing advertising. On the other hand you can go to a gallery for nothing. So, why do people assume that visiting an artist studio is somehow something they are not only entitled to but need to be be entertained by the artist at the same time.
    This is the artist side of the story. I am busy, but I occasionally allow open studios. My studio is in a very busy location and if I have the door open for air, people are hanging through the door asking if they can come in. If I leave the door open, again for air ( I work in encaustic) but run a rope across it to keep people out, they frequently come in anyway or whine that they should be able to come in. On the occasions that I permit them to come in they treat me as if I am there to give them lessons and tell them how to become an artist. They pepper me with questions, not giving me a chance to answer about some complicated part of the process, call ME rude for not giving them an immediate private lesson and flounce out. No kidding. I have put up with rudeness. I have put up with people yelling at me in foreign languages. I have put up with people whipping out their cameras and taking pictures. I have put up with people loudly talking on their cell phones, yelling at their kids, pushing strollers up against fragile work, and asking stupid questions. “Is this your work?”… “how long did it take you to do this?”… “tell me how you did that”… “Can we use your bathroom?… “Can I use your phone?” and my personal favourite… “will you call me a taxi?” Open studios…hate em.

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