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The rantings and ramblings of Kimberly Allison

Monday, May 20, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

I was at the check-out line of my favorite thrift store, you know... popping tags... when I decided to check out The Good Stuff.  This is where all the expensive, 'too-good-for-a-common-mortal" items are kept.  Tucked behind the cash registers, where one-at-a-time, us eager shoppers are allowed access to see if something is worth the extra dough.  It's where they keep the Coach bags or the really expensive designer duds.  And that's where I saw him.  David.  As in "THE DAVID".  Michelangelo's masterpiece of male perfection.  Of course, me being me, I started wondering if it would be worth painting the 4 ft tall statue as a zombie.  But figuring my hubby would resent the extra weight to lug around from show to show, I talked myself out of the unexpected purchase.

But, of course, you can't see David without peeking at his... ahem... short-comings.  Because Ron Jeremy has nothing to fear from good ol' Dave.  That's when I noticed the 8x11 standard copy paper fastened with masking tape, effectively censoring him.  A thrift store loin cloth. 

With my indulgent "Where does management get these hair-brained ideas" smile, I asked my cashier if there really were that many complaints over the classic statue.  To my amazement, the cashier, instead of joining my amusement, became defensive.

"There are sometimes children back here!"  She huffed.  My smile froze.  Then, I spoke up.  "But children shouldn't be censored from this.  It's a classical piece.  A masterpiece, in fact.  And trust me.  Little boys have already discovered that part of their anatomy already on their own."  Her response was to mumble the amount of change she tossed into my hand, and to turn her back on me, refusing to meet my eyes.


It brought to mind something my cousin had once told me.  She took her elementary school-aged children to California's Hearst Castle.  By the pool, her young son pointed to the lush female bodies of the marble statues and commented "Mom, why are all the woman pregnant?"  She later shared this story as we spoke about the true tragedy of his innocent remark. What was once considered lush and inviting is now fat.  And in modern times, women and men are expected to be perfect.   Waists whittled to sizes and flatness that would have demanded a girdle a few years ago.  Boobs, and now butts, augmented to super-size.  Perfectly straight, even and snowy white teeth share the dental art of veneers.  And let's not forget the long and lush hair, compliments of extensions.  Truly a modern barbie doll. 

But that is where I feel we are doing are children a grave disservice.  Because the message is loud and clear.  So long as you are the model of artificial perfection, you are encouraged to show it off.  In skirts that may be as long as a wide belt.  And if you are flashing those silicone globes, let's tape down those embarrassing nipples (and thus hide the natural purpose of those mammary glands) to further along the illusion.  However, if you lack the funds for surgical "enhancements" there are plenty of "quick fixes" of Wonder Bras and Spanx.   And if age, size, or other imperfection should make the illusions impossible, Ambercrombie and Fitch would like you, the wallflower that you are, to sulk back into the shadows.  Modern society has no use for you.

Recently, I came across an old music video. Rick James' "Super Freak".  Wow.  I remember how, back in those early days, just how HOT that video was.  Sexy models.  Rick acting freaky.  But go look at it now and you will see how your perceptions have changed.  None of those "sexy models" would pass muster these days.  Sagging breasts.  Ordinary faces. Frizzy hair.  Even Rick himself suffers from dental challenges.   It really shook me.  Here in front of me, on Youtube, were ordinary people.  But I found myself critiquing their very human appearance.  It was a wake up call.

I now find myself saying this:  If you are going to censore our "shortcomings" then do it for everyone.  I'm not interested in Nicki Manaj's Bubblelicious Boobs and Butt if you are not going to show me the sultry beauty of Gauduin's tropical temptresses.

And take that tape off David and let the man BREATHE.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

OK.  I will do it.  I will break the promise that I made to myself about NEVER posting about this subject.  I have always read these kinds of posts over the years and thought:  "Wow.  How whiny is this person.  It can't possibly be that bad."  But over the past few years I have had to confess it really isn't that bad.  Nope.  It's actually worse.

Another day:  another lady.  This one was well up in her years.  A shopping bag firmly clasped in one hand, her fingers of the other deftly examining one of my creations in another.  In a "Just-Say-It-Quickly" voice, she asked me the price on a tiny Dia di los Muertos ornament.  I smiled and said "It's $10".  Faster than a sonic boom, her lips pursed and pouted, and her disgust and disdain shot across my meager 10 x 10 foot space.  She gave me a little huff, then stomped away.

I took a deep breath.  Took a sip of water.  Outward, I seemed calm.  But inside I started swearing like the daughter of a sailor that I am.

 I blame this mentality of the "99 Cents Store Effect".  Once upon a time, not so long ago, all goods were handmade.  Craftsmanship was expected, and those that excelled could expect fair price for their labor.  But now, cheap overseas labor and manufactured goods have over-ran our markets like so many cockroaches in a garbage dump.  With reduced quality and the prices to match, it seems that we calmly accept a poorer quality of work in exchange for a cheaper price.  I get it.  Times are tough and it makes perfect sense to cut corners here and there, in order to save a few shillings.

But, this comes at a price to artists and craftspeople like myself.   Suddenly, it's the cheaper goods that are on the pedestal.  It's us who has to reach the benchmark of higher expectations of a lower price.  With that in mind, let's clear the air a bit.

I am a business:   There are a lot of craftspeople who do one or two shows a year, with the thought of "Let's try selling a few things.  It could be fun".  You will often find these crafters at a church bazaars or a school function.  Their work will often be very simple and priced inexpensively.  Truthfully, they are only charging, sometimes even partially, for the supplies it cost to make that item.  But, they are not a true business.  A couple of shows might be all they wish to do before they decide it's just "too much work".

But true art businesses will charge a fair price.  Like any other business.   You may be surprised to know we have to pay for licensing and fees.  Taxes and insurance.  Booth space and show fees.  And this is before we calculate the cost of the supplies we use.  It doesn't matter if you walk away with a piece of my work or not.  I still have expenses to pay and bills to settle. 

It's fun... but it is still work:   Several times a day, someone will walk into my booth and take down a soft sculpture.  It's obvious that they like what they see and then comes the inevitable question:  "How much is it?"   My heart always skips a beat before I answer.  Because sometimes,  they will not like the answer I give them.

"$100 for THIS?!!!"  They yelp.  And they slap it back onto the shelf.  As I calmly explain that this particular piece took me a painstaking 12 hours to finish, it seems to fall on deaf ears.   Perhaps I could best explain it to them in this way

"Image going to work.  Your boss calls you into his office and sits you down.  He is wearing a broad grin.  'Congratulations!' he says.  ' My superiors and I have discussed your work and have decided that we are so happy with your performance that we have decided to give you an advancement.   From now on, you are taking a PAY CUT.   You will now work for $1 dollar an hour...  maybe $2.  Isn't that wonderful news?  But, it gets better!   We have decided that you will now fully support this company out of your own pocket!  You and you alone are now responsible for all business expenses.  You will pay for all supplies, taxes, fees and payroll.  All expenses, both big and small are now in your capable hands!   Ummmm.... excuse me.  Why are you balled up into a fetal position and sobbing?  You have earned this promotion!  We are thrilled with you!"   

Ok.  I have never said that, but it frequently plays out in my daydreams.

There is a fine line between offers and insults.   I find it difficult to watch some of these "flea market hunter" type shows.  The stars wheel, deal, beg and plead, trying to get the best deal possible.  I cringe every time I see this.  When you bargain with an artist, you are not merely trying to get a deal on an object, you are putting a price on someone's work.  In effect, you are deciding if someone is the difference between a skilled artisan or a sweat shop laborer.  It's hard not to be offended when someone grabs some of my newest work and 'generously' offers me 25% of my asking price.  (It's actually happened!)  No matter how fair I am with my pricing, there is always someone hoping to "pull a fast one on me".  So, now a secret.  Many, if not most, artists are now pricing their work higher simply because it gives us wiggle room when someone tries to chew down our price.  So, maybe you aren't getting away with a deal after all.

The Tax-Man commeth... and good luck stopping him.    Yep.  Death and taxes are inevitable.  To us as well.  So, it doesn't pay to get all huffy when we add that percentage to your purchase.   You see, almost all shows require us to have a reseller's number on file.  The Tax Man knows we are there and is going to demand his fair share.  As artists, we have 2 choices:  we can consult our city sales tax schedule for the correct percentage OR we can add the tax to our asking price and round that figure up to the next dollar and "not" charge you tax.  (See how that works?).  Either way, the customer is footing the bill.  But, it's amazing that some people think that any purchase at a craft show, market or festival is somehow immune to the Tax Man's grasp.  It's not.  So please be gracious and understanding, as neither you or I have control over this fact of life.  And please... don't wink at me and whisper conspiratorially "But I don't pay sales tax."  Because you must... and a twitchy eyelid doesn't stop it.

Small businesses do not operate like large retailers.  Ooohhh... and here is where some people, especially negligent parents, hate me.  Large stores buy in bulk.  And, they understand that, somewhere in that shipment of 5,000 mass produced teddy bears, some will meet a painful (albeit loving) end.   A sudden dismemberment perhaps.  Or a candy-covered hug by a quick child.  A large box retailer knows that there will be losses and damage, and these often end up in a clearance bin... or worse, the back-room incinerator.  But, hey!  It's a couple or three teddies out of THOUSANDS.  We artists don't get that luxury.  A damaged piece not only means lost revenue... it's also time lovingly spent that I can never get back.  So, I do have to (regretfully) charge you for damage done.  Don't hate on me because it's nothing personal.  But when you have  a "one-of-a-kind" piece, there aren't thousands of identical copies to offset a loss.  So parents:  suck it up, apologize, pay for the piece and chalk it up to a lesson learned.  Then use it for potential blackmail to your kid when they are parents themselves.

Thank you for the vent, my dear readers.