The Artful Collector: Handling Difficult People Part 2: The Collector (or) Why I Can’t Sell Art to You

Do you think artists have a monopoly on “crazy”?  Heh.  You ain’t seen nothin, till you’ve had to handle the people who buy SF/F art. Not for nothin’ do corporations send employees for special training to develop their “customer service skills” 🙂   Collectors can be among the most “high maintenance” people you’ll ever encounter.

Crazy for Collecting . . .

Does your family think you’re just a little bit batty when it comes to your collection? I am thankful for the difficult people in my lifeDo your friends just shake their heads when you start talking about your latest eBay find?  Do you look forward to conventions, because that’s one of the few places where you can feel truly at home, mingling with other collectors?  It doesn’t really matter whether your obsession is for Stamps and Coins, Antiques, Pottery and Glass, or Art (just to borrow a few eBay categories), if you are obsessive, picky, and demanding about it, you qualify for “difficult” status.

I wasn’t always impatient with other collectors who fit the “high maintenance” profile. When we started off collecting in this field, I’m sure these same difficult people were out there, but for some reason they weren’t as obvious to me – or irritating.  They may have been my peers, often were my friends, and sometimes were my competitors.  But so long as their nutty ways didn’t interfere with our own efforts to acquire art, we were just amused.   But then, in 1991, I started up Worlds of Wonder – with the idea of helping artists sell the kind of original illustrative art (and even 3-D art) I collected – and practically overnight I found myself acting on a much larger stage, having to play multiple parts, sometimes simultaneously.   And where I previously had exposure to only one or two “high maintenance” collectors, and only sporadically, I now found myself a major conduit for horror stories and gossip among artists, collectors and other dealers, relating to “collectors from hell.”

And I can attest: they are out there.  In fact, YOU COULD BE ONE OF THEM.

Yes, just like artists who become too “difficult” to handle – to the point where art directors won’t hire them, collectors won’t buy from them, and agents won’t represent them – collectors can become toxic, too, with gossip about them spreading throughout an entire collecting community.  And in the same way I get to choose who to represent, in selling art……I get to choose my customers.   So – If you find me less than enthusiastic as a source for finding art you want to buy; if you find me not returning your emails or telephone messages; If you find me less than totally cooperative when it comes to negotiating a purchase – you may want to take a close look at what follows.

Why I can’t sell art to you (why I don’t want you as a customer)


1. No matter what price I put on the art, you will ask me for the “real” price, or offer me less.  Every time.  And no matter what price I’ve asked.  I’m not averse to negotiating, but there are times when the price being asked is REALLY the lowest I can accept, there are even times when I am not taking any commission to make the sale, just doing a favor for the seller.  I’m talking about customers who just must get it for less or feel they’ve overpaid, yet could not tell you what a ‘fair market” price would be, let alone what a bargain would look like, if it fell in their lap.  This is a customer that makes every sale unpleasant.

2. You tell me how to run my business:  whom I should represent, what I should be charging for the art, and how I should be marketing it.  Without me asking for your advice.

3. You expect me to be humble and always agree with your opinions, no matter how subjective. I don’t feel it’s helpful for experienced dealers to subscribe to the dictum that “the customer is always right.”  I consider it part of my job to inform, educate and explain – why one artist commands $ for their work while another gets $$$ when a customer says “there’s no reason why X should get more than Y – his work is just as good”.  I will maybe agree with an inexperienced collector with poor taste and a lousy eye if it results in a sale for an artist who is desperate for one.  Otherwise: if you’re expecting a suck-just to make a buck, take your business elsewhere.

4. You compare me to other dealers, by methods, price, personality (or any other variable)  I don’t have competitors.  So it’s gonna be hard to convince me haha  But the very fact that you’d try to get your way by comparing me to anyone else on earth, would persuade me to stop doing business with you

5. Act totally interested in something, ask me question after question, drive me down in price, then not buy it.  You can do this once or twice.  Then I will ignore you.

6. Can never seem to make up their mind when it comes to a purchase or commission.  A little indecision can be a good thing, when you’re buying something expensive.  It’s called being thoughtful and prudent.  I’m talking about endless vacillation . . . until, of course, the piece gets sold to someone else.  Then you are inconsolable, and nothing but “the one that got away” will please you.  So I will not bother trying.  Some people never learn: when it comes to unique items, you either act when they’re available or resign yourself to a life of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” . . .

7. You sweet talk me into selling art to you for less, only to turn around and sell it for more, to other collectors or on eBay.

8. Won’t disclose their tastes or holdings for fear that I will use that information to their disadvantage (learning what they can afford) rather than advantage (offering them something they will like). I can’t help you if don’t know you.

9. You expect me to buy back paintings, fix damages for you, or give you your money back, years after I’ve sold art to you

10. Have tastes in art that “cross the line” for me.  I’m not talking about sexy or violent or scary. If I had a problem with big boobs or barbarians wielding bloody axes I wouldn’t be selling SF/F/H art.  ;-)[/one]

Terry Oakes "Maggots" cover art in gouache on illustration board, commissioned for the horror novel by Edward Jarvis, published by Arrow (UK) 1987.
Terry Oakes “Maggots” cover art in gouache on illustration board, commissioned for the horror novel by Edward Jarvis, published by Arrow (UK) 1987.

But everyone has their “line in the sand” and for me that’s a collector who wants me to find artists for “special” private commissions for paintings that glorify their fetishes and kinky imaginations, perhaps featuring: torture/serious bondage; glorification of Nazis symbols of racism, anti-semitism etc; anti-religious imagery like upside down crosses or nuns getting raped.  If you can’t find something explicit enough, or gory enough, or weird enough, to suit you in the form of an already existing published illustrative work – I really don’t want your business.  This field is infamous for outrageous imagery – there’s no shortage of supply.  So I see no real need to help you go even further down that road. . . .

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