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“WIT OF THE STAIRCASE”

By Booth Malone

 

In France ‘what I should have said’ is known as l’esprit d’escalier: “Wit of the Staircase.” Coming up with the perfect reply too late. The door has been shut behind you, just when you have that “Yes, but…” moment).

And boy, let me tell you: do I have a bunch of them saved up––waiting for that door to fly open––ready for my zinger––lemme at that second chance…

Yeah…that almost never happens.

But wait! Americans love second chances! We love Mulligans! Driving Tests! Susan Lucci! Spell-Check! It’s all there in a wonderful movie called Groundhog’s Day (Jour de la Marmotte for our French-Canadian friends; don’t rent Jour de la Chacal (that’s something else entirely).

Hear me out: In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character––a despicable, jaded, big-city TV weatherman––gets stuck reporting from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, re-living one single day in his life. Every morning the alarm clock rings, and everything, everyone––from the Mayor to the groundhog––is exactly as it was his first morning in the town. He is in an endless limbo. All the things he fouled up on that one day, he keeps fouling up, because the problem isn’t in the events; it’s him. Eventually he realizes he has been given the opportunity to make things right. By acting differently, he can re-live that one day…perfectly.

All right, this is an art blog, right?

Right You Are. However…as artists, we also are (at times) vendors, entrepreneurs, negotiators, salesmen, packers, personnel directors, deliverymen, marketers, publicists…you name it. We are constantly thrown into situations and conversations we have had before: remember the customer who insisted she should not have to pay sales tax? Remember the man who felt you owed him money for painting his Kentucky Derby winner? The decorator who wanted a kickback? The surgeon’s wife who thinks your work is way too expensive? The charities that wish you to donate a painting? For free? “But it’s for a good cause…plus you can deduct it from your income tax.”

Argh…that last one.

We lie awake at night, replaying these conversations in our head. “Am I a bad person? I must be, to turn down a charity…”

I can’t give you all the answers in one short blog. You have to do some of the work, after all. But I can tell you this: after all this time I only get stumped by situations that are new––and they are increasingly rare.

Here are some easy ‘what you should have saids’ (always delivered with a smile):

Sales Tax: “All the Governor’s chillin’ get to pay sales tax––you AND me––it’s a privilege, don’t you think? Clothes, groceries, gas in your car…And artwork is not exempt. I send the taxes on to the State, every quarter without fail.” (‘Word to the wise:’ If you don’t have a Sales Tax number…you really need to get one).

Painting a Derby Winner: “Public figures (including horses) performing in a public arena can be photographed and published in magazines. Have you tried collecting from Sports Illustrated yet? No? Well, I’ll pay whatever they pay.”

Decorator kickbacks: “No.”

Surgeon’s Wife: “Yes. It is expensive…if you think of it only as a painting. It’s pretty inexpensive as an heirloom, though. Like that baby-grand piano you have over there, something to hand down your grandchildren.”

Charities: “I support several charities of my own choice. I would be happy to donate some amount to yours…I know it’s difficult to call up people and ask them for things…you may not know this: only the buyer of the artwork gets the charitable deduction––not the artist. The IRS only allows me to deduct the cost of my materials––which, of course, I already write off.”

Try it––it’s fun! ‘The next time he/she says this…I will say…”

This advice isn’t meant to be: “Mister Scrooge 101.” It is offered as a means to stand your ground. Learn to anticipate your (potential) customer’s objections, to overcome them or to counter them, easily and professionally, without loss of face by either side.

Then you (and Punxsutawney Phil) can get some sleep.

Comment(1)

  1. REPLY
    C.W. Nave says

    Love the ideas, Booth. Of course, delivered with a smile is the kicker. I know that the charities are working for a good cause, so I put them in another category from the people who just want to self-enrich. Bless ’em, they have kids to send to college and weddings to pay for. But the charities, depends….I’ve been donating a painting a year to an animal shelter in Central Kentucky for quite a while. The quality of others donations have gone down from original art to photographs and prints. Some have declared that the painting donation will cheapen the price of your work in the long run. I never had the false notion that my work would get me more business, I know that is a laugh. But it was a way I could help the little guys in the shelter. I want to contribute, so will probably just send the cost of the frames, because that’s the amount of excitement the whole art event is generating now.

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