In Part 1 we explored some definitions, the underlying nature of the game of showing model horses, and some general sentiments that rest in the minds of many players. Now that we have that under our belt, let's explore further. In this Part 2 then, we'll take a look at how the term "hobby" directly affects artists and their work.
So let's get to it!...
So let's get to it!...
Brass Tacks Issues
Clearly, “hobby” has serious repercussions for artists. So let’s discuss some specific problems we’ll encounter as a result so we can implement appropriate strategies.
For starters, a casual participant has no real vested interest in solving systemic problems within this activity simply because there’s little concern for the future. They just don’t have to take it seriously enough because it’s only “for fun”—they can walk away at any time. In contrast, the future is everything to an invested artist. Being established can make all the difference in the world. This creates a lop–sided push for interests as artists tend to seek change whereas participants tend to favor the status quo. This can create friction, making an artist’s position within the venue even more tenuous. For instance, not only are we an exclusive source for highly–desired game pieces, but now our interests can appear in opposition to those of the player base.
What’s more, while our art is most definitely admired, its primary function is that of a game piece. Yes—many collect our work as art pieces, but at some point most of them will still be shown since those who purchase without the intention of showing are rare indeed.
The model horse venue is also unique in that it’s populated largely by non–artistic types dependent on artistic types to provide them with the means necessary to play the game. Add in the unstructured, random setting of this game and our position within the activity can become tricky indeed.
For instance, there tends to be difficulty comprehending life behind the studio door, creating a kind of imbalance between the expectations of the artists and players. In this, our creations tend to also be viewed as functional, utilitarian objects so be prepared for these scenarios:
- If a player cannot show something such as a bust or bas–relief, that kind of work becomes marginalized.
- A player may immediately sell a piece or demand a refund if out piece isn't a winner.
- Many players scramble after those pieces they believe are sure winners regardless if they love the piece itself.
- The demand for winning artists is highly competitive, and so this demand may shift dramatically with the debut of each new anticipated piece.
This explains the venue’s general relative disinterest towards the creative journey, narrative, or process so important to artists. Not that it’s completely ambivalent, mind you, but in comparison to other art venues, it does have a more blasé attitude. So if we find ourselves asking, “Why don’t showers just buy the models they love instead of those that win ribbons?,” we need to remember the reality of this venue. Now this isn’t to say that showers don’t love their pieces—many do, and quite a bit—but we should remember that our game pieces have a purpose, and that’s to perform well in the ring. To that end, it’s smart to invest 100% of ourselves into each piece to help ensure a shower finds success—that’s our obligation to the game.
In this light, we might also come across the attitude that an artist’s work is that of a service nature, as though we were hired help, something that can be common with commission work. While it’s easy to get offended by this, we must remember the nature of this market. In a very real sense, we are hired help because it’s only through us that a player can acquire her game piece to play. For this reason, some participants can become downright pushy or manipulative as they try to steer outcomes to their best advantage, even when such tactics are disadvantageous to us. So be patient and have fixed boundaries and policies to protect yourself.
This can also fuel a prevailing sense of entitlement among players since they truly want to play the game successfully—and who can blame them? Careful though! This sentiment can quickly morph into a belief that artists owe all players equal access to their works, especially if they’re believed to be winners. This desire can be so myopic, in fact, that it can dismiss our financial and logistical realities that present limiting factors in production, things an artist has to carefully balance. For example, we may hear the complaint that our pricing is “too high,” or that our sales methods are “unfair” despite the realities of our situation. It’s all about access, so anything interpreted as compromising can sometimes be regarded as unjust. So take it as a kind of backwards compliment. That said, however, we should find ways to mediate this effect without compromising our own limitations because who wants to antagonize collectors?
Yet this can also inspire apathy for our reality as self–employed artists. For example, we’ll be expected to operate as a business, but we won’t be treated like one. AWOL payments, excuses, and having to police our own customers are just some examples, and these things can compel us to enact stricter codes. Yet when we do—when we actually start acting more like a business—we may get harsher complaints! Some people simply want the deck stacked in their favor, so be firm and consistent.
We may also not encounter much recognition that our self–employed situation lacks the army of employees or the corporate departmental structure that does all the busy work for us. For example, our shipping may be slow simply because we lack employees that could take over for us in our busy, productive–oriented lives, or through times of hardship or health problems. We also don’t get paid if we don’t work, and we certainly don’t have someone to fill in for us on a sick day. We also don’t get paid vacations, benefits packages, or retirement plans. Yet some can become downright presumptuous in what they expect from us in terms of time, attention, and energy. Some simply won’t care that we have to wear all the hats in our business or that near every minute of our lives is usually filled by studio work, so being able to devote undue attention to any one customer is difficult at best. Again, we should be patient and make it clear that our time is best spent in the studio creating the work so many seek.
Being a self–employed artist based on a highly–specialized, highly–skilled, very–laborious, and time–intensive art form isn’t like working on a graphics project in a corporate setting either. The time management equation is radically different. For instance, the application of deadlines in our work schedule isn’t so simple and is prone to unforeseen obstacles since we’re the only one at the helm. So we should be extra mindful of our work habits and commitments. What we think will take a week will most likely take a month, and what will take a month will most likely take four. And that’s if everything goes as planned…and we all know they rarely do. So make appropriate adjustments and allot plenty of time for each project, especially when dealing with commissions.
We used to routinely hear about deep–pocket collectors ruining the hobby in the past, but this has subsided for the most part as quality has skyrocketed upward these last ten years. But every once and awhile we’ll hear it again, as “hobby” burbles up to demand more “reasonable” prices for the casual participant. But the truth is quality costs money, and generally the higher the quality, the higher the cost. Granted this isn’t always the case as plenty of fabulous, less–expensive pieces testify, but as a general rule it holds true. Subsequently, we can be described as “nice” and “fair” if we keep our prices “reasonable” while, conversely, we can be labeled as “arrogant” and “greedy” if we actually charge a living wage for our labor. Remember, what we do is intensely laborious and demanding of extreme levels of highly developed skills—it definitely doesn’t come to us overnight! The mere hours alone spent creating our works can jack up the price beyond the grasp of many. The best way to mediate all this is to offer a variety of pieces at different price brackets for as many pocketbooks as possible. For instance, various scales is a great way to achieve this since “minis” tend to be less expensive, generally speaking.
Moreover, as we start to create and implement protective policies, we might find ourselves labeled as “unreasonable,” or “difficult to deal with.” Keep in mind, however, that those who intend to play nice generally won’t have a problem with our policies and will seek to operate within them. Only those who tend to become problems chafe at our boundaries, so pay attention and act accordingly. We don’t need that kind of headache in our lives.
This also applies to how an we choose to sell our work. For example, in the past, lotteries were perceived as more fair while auctions tended to be interpreted as greedy. However, nowadays, lotteries have fallen out of favor in large part due to Paypal interpreting them as gambling and shutting down Paypal accounts as a result. For that reason, lotteries are discouraged as a means to sell work in favor of first–come–first–served or auctions. Indeed, auctions are now interpreted as the “most fair” means to sell work since it’s the buyers who essentially establish the price of the piece. So paying attention to how we sell our work can go far in helping our work sell well.
Nonetheless, this venue can be strangely presumptuous when it comes to the pricing of our work, with important implications for the artist. For instance, because this activity is supposed to be a “hobby,” no one is supposed to be making “too much.” For example, we may be accused of being “greedy” when we sell our work at good prices, even when our work clearly merits them. Clearly, such accusations don’t recognize the percentage taken out as a function of commerce—taxes, materials, and fees take a goodly chunk, then break it down to an hourly wage and, truly, one might be surprised just how little these “big ticket” pieces actually fund the artist. We may also encounter people asking us how long it took to create a piece. However, all they’re doing is breaking down the hourly cost to determine whether that cost is “reasonable.” So keep in mind that no matter how we price our piece according to our needs, we’ll encounter some complaints in some form. Just roll with it. Our realities just aren’t the same.
However, artists can be just as guilty. For instance, upon seeing the prices established artists make with their work sometimes compels new artists to expect that same prestige with their own creations, even when the quality of their work doesn’t warrant it. Earning respectable prices doesn’t happen overnight—an artist must earn her dues through hard work and sacrifice to achieve that kind of status. The value of our work can only be determined by what the market will pay for it, and sometimes what it will pay makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t. Even the most successful artists experience wonky sales at times.
But along those lines, if a fabulous new artist comes onto the scene, don’t be surprised to see their prices hit the sky! One (of the many) good things about this venue is that it really doesn’t care about much else than the final product. The number of years we’ve been at this, our past successes (or failures), or our current status is of little relevant interest. What only matters is the quality of our last piece, and if it’s really good, then sales will be good. This is why putting 100% of ourselves into each piece is so critically important—we’re only as good as our latest piece! This is another reason why artistic plateaus can be so problematic for our long–term success.
Nonetheless, pricing is a tricky matter for any artist in any venue, but perhaps it’s trickier still within the “hobby.” That’s because pricing is determined—for the most part—by the value hierarchy gauged by random competition. So it’s best not to make any assumptions, but seek advice from experienced artists when it comes to pricing. And experimenting with a variety of sales methods can help us get a general bearing on the value of our work. For example, auctions can be particularly illuminating, given they’re presented and advertised well enough.
This brings us to an odd by–product of the pricing issues within the venue. We may find at times that some collectors (especially inexperienced collectors) assume that the amount of zeros on a price tag is a kind of guarantee of show wins. Sure, high quality is usually associated with higher prices, but it’s still no guarantee due to the randomized judging criteria. In turn, we may experience a collector’s disappointment in the show ring despite a piece’s price—and that’s always an awkward place to be. There’s really no solution, so the best we can do is offer support and encouragement for the next show. There’s always another show and another judge.
Indeed, this assumption puts us in a precarious position because what wins in the show ring is beyond our control, let alone our ability to predict. Indeed, it’s lack of structure practically guarantees that even the best piece ever created won’t win consistently. Yet if our piece fails in the show ring, the artist (in addition to the judge) is typically the one who’s blamed. This effect is difficult to mediate, and so the best we can do is continue to produce the very best work we can—and have very clear return policies to protect ourselves. It’s not so uncommon for someone to quickly want to return a piece (or sell it) after it didn’t place well at its first show.
Speaking of which, some buyers will purchase our work “on spec” for the express purpose of reselling it—sometimes almost immediately—on the secondary market, and at highly inflated, profiteering prices. Sometimes this is the only motivation for the sale! On the other hand, some people will buy “on spec” in anticipation of the expected championships a piece is predicted to win. Yet when these wins aren’t forthcoming, we’ll probably see our piece on the secondary market, quickly and at a deep discount. Have this happen enough times, and the value of our work can suffer catastrophically. And beware! “Spec” buying and selling can happen even before the piece is finished! This is most common with commission work. Sometimes the new selling price is inflated, obligating us to terms we didn’t agree to or get paid for. If this is a problem for us, it’s time to rethink our business policies. There’s little that can be done while this happens, so it’s best to take note of which customers engage in this behavior and refrain from selling to them in the future. It may even warrant a refund and cancellation of an order.
Despite everything else with spec buying, what’s particularly most alarming is that our pieces have little to no value outside the model horse venue. If the model horse market crashes then, so does the value of all the works within it—and that should give anyone pause. Here we see the wisdom of attracting many new participants—and keeping them—since they would help to stabilize the market, and make it more robust. Such a deliberately insular activity may improve the odds for the participants, but it does decrease them for all the works created for it.
This in mind, it’s important to protect the resale value of our work on the secondary market. If our work’s value tanks there, our primary sales will suffer as people perceive a lost investment. Now while we can’t directly intercede in these sales, we can hedge our bets. How? First is to put 100% into each piece, to make it the very best we can make it. In other words, try to create a piece that can hold its value through its quality alone. Create a timeless piece. Second, don’t price work so high that only a couple of people will buy it. “Maxing out” a piece’s value may be great in the short–term, but it can be counterproductive in the long–term value of our work. Every buyer expects to sell a piece for at least what they paid for it, but if only one or two other people are willing to shell that out, chances are the piece will have to be discounted on the secondary market. Third, at the same time we shouldn’t price it so low that a horde is scrambling for it. Having too many buyers competing for the same piece is flattering—yes—but it does indicate that our pricing is too low. There’s a Goldilocks Zone of about ten eager buyers who would happily purchase the piece, especially on the secondary market, that indicates the right price point. So, fourth, pay attention to the interest level every piece generates because that’s valuable information for pricing.
And paying attention in general is important. Artists are a primary source of participation in the game and this can create some awkward scenarios with the more audacious players. For example, if we’ve been creating really great work, especially early on when we’re a bit more trusting and wide–eyed, we can be vulnerable to certain tactics designed to increase access to our work. For instance, some will try to ingratiate themselves, creating potentially exploitative conditions under the guise of “friendship.” First dibs on new work, discounts, special orders, or other conditional requests are common in this, but when we try to stick to our policies we find an upset or angry person who may use the friendship as leverage. Sadly, many artists have experienced a torn relationship for this very reason. At some point we’ll have to protect our interests, and that almost always means an unpleasant confrontation. Our only recourse is to be aware this can happen, and stick to our policies religiously without exception. Keep business and friendship separate. Yet don’t expect to find much sympathy in the general community. Because the issue of access is so touchy, there’s a shared sympathy among players with little left over for the artist. So keep business as business from Day One, with everyone.
Now this doesn’t mean we can’t find real friendships in the venue—we certainly can! There are great people involved in this activity who become terrific, respectful customers and wonderful friends. It’s important to identify and cater to them enthusiastically then filter out the rest with our policies. It also doesn’t mean that every person trying to be friendly with us will be exploitative either. Model horse people are a friendly bunch, eager to make new friends and contacts. So never spoil an opportunity to make new friends in this venue! But it does mean this: because we’re a means to an end, we should be very careful with whom we chose to associate as close friends. Often it’s like–minded colleagues or our most considerate customers who are the best candidates. There are plenty of friendships to be made…just be extra careful when making them.
This brings us to another peculiar phenomenon unique to the model horse venue. Because successful participation can be bought from an artist, players don’t necessary need the degree of Sight required to create such works. They can simply take it for granted in many cases. Instead, they buy what they like or what they think will win and expect the artist to, essentially, See for them, to do the work for them, in a sense.
While this seems like a trivial situation, it actually presents a real problem for artists by amplifying the chaos in the venue. When someone doesn’t experience the studio, they may be unable to See the features that differentiate good work from problematic work on their own. For instance, some participants cannot See the complex structure and flexions of the stifle joint or the neck, and so choose pieces with serious flaws in these areas. Many get muscles confused or aren’t aware of their natural planing, and so choose pieces with errors in these features. Likewise, they may not See all the hide details on a real horse so how can they be expected to See the same in a sculpture? Some participants don’t even know how the equine skeleton is built or actually functions, and so simply cannot See the fatal errors in some pieces. Many aspects of equine anatomy and biomechanics, as well as color genetics, are simply invisible to many participants and they get confused when certain pieces place and when others don’t. If such things are invisible to them, how can they determine which is more accurate? And this problem bleeds into buying and showing, which only heightens their frustration and bewilderment.
What this also means then is that work of a more cursory or less realistic nature can have an equal shot at market popularity as work that was thoughtfully crafted. Furthermore, this effect contributes to the apparent inability to define top quality judging criteria and also probably why consensus on “quality” has been so hard to reconcile. Indeed, when enough participants cannot See factual, actual quality in the same depth and breath a quality artist must, how can they form a consensual definition? Oddly enough, however, success in the game depends precisely on recognizing this kind of knowledge yet at the same time it’s precisely this that’s dampened by the interest of ensured mass access to desired works. That’s because the number of artists who create works with the least flaws are relatively low in number and so would dominate the show ring almost exclusively if such knowledge was applied, even codified en masse—and it seems the venue would rather avoid this.
So until the community decides on a solution, we must accept a setting in which our exacting perceptions may not match others who are engaged in the game. For example, we may take great pains to make sure the neck and stifle are articulating correctly for an equine, yet the judge may be unable to See this accuracy and award the prize to a piece riddled with anatomical flaws which the judge cannot See. Or we may diligently create an in–scale, meticulously ticked, accurate roan, but the judge will overlook this in favor of a pinto with an inaccurate—but flashy—pattern. There’s no rhyme or reason to it despite all our hard work, so be ready for confusion and frustration as our efforts aren’t consistently rewarded in the show ring, if at all. Certainly this isn’t “fair” to us, or to the owner who was savvy enough to recognize our quality, but it’s simply the nature of randomly applied, inconsistent criteria in judging. So we should just do the best work we can, and help other artists create their best work, too. When the artists work to elevate the pieces in competition, those raised stakes tend to ask others to rise to the occasion, and the whole activity benefits. And, in the end, being competitive against ourselves is often a better approach in the long–run by providing us with more fixed criteria and clearer goals.
Above all, however, we should know that our work won’t be judged by formally–trained, qualified, tested, or certified judges. Literally, anyone will do. While this may not seem like an issue—and it’s often a great way to introduce new people to the art of judging—it does mean that how our work is received in the venue, i.e. how healthy our sales are, isn’t necessarily a function of the quality of our work. Again, we have no control here, so the best we can do is create the best work we can, all the time. Really great work doesn’t just speak well for us as artists, but it presents some serious questions to each judge and shower each time it’s placed on the show table. It presses issues and gets people thinking on the nature of good work. When that happens, we help to advance this activity and help to educate. Good work not only speaks for itself, it speaks for all of us!
This unconscious conflict produces some interesting consequences for an artist. For starters, the division between “now” judges and “historical” judges is a common manifestation. “Now” judges maintain that models should duplicate current show ring conditions and requirements whereas “historical” judges claim that models should mirror the full scope of equine experience, even those outside the show ring or not qualified by registries. Essentially, if it’s happened, it’s showable. For the artist, this means that whenever we create a piece, we’ll either get people complaining it’s not “show ring appropriate,” or "it's not performance–friendly," or conversely, “Not another boring show horse!” It also means that despite the quality of our work, its success or failure in the show ring can be based on criteria completely out of our control, a result that certainly can test our sensibilities. The only solution is to create pieces from our heart and let everything else work itself out.
Likewise, there’s a disparity in how our pieces are perceived. One faction tends to judge on the BCCs (Breed type, Conformation, and Color Correctness) whereas another faction tends to judge on the ABCs (Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Color Correctness). This creates a split in the community regarding the expectations our creations are supposed to fulfill. Granted it could be argued that a quality piece has all of this, from both categories, but the truth is that many pieces tend to best fulfill one or the other. So be ready for confusion. Our anatomically meticulous piece may not place well under a BCC judge whereas our breed–exemplary piece may not place well under an ABC judge. Until these two factions are rectified, artists will simply have to decide which “type” they wish to cater to, or cater to both simultaneously. Ideally, it’s the latter, but there’s no fault in catering to only one when there’s an apparent division.
What’s more, the model horse venue usually doesn’t value the “arty” aspect of the creation of their game pieces as a general rule. Players primarily want pieces that succeed in the game, which makes it a demanding and literal venue in which to create. It’s no mystery why artists here require skin twice as thick as any other! Our work will be compared and critiqued openly and competitively, even openly rated against other work. People can be quite vocal about our perceived creative deficiencies regardless of our feelings or priorities, too. This presents a challenging condition to artists, particularly to those who are sensitive or are insecure about their creations. Indeed, it can be brutal working conditions for any artist.
All personal convictions aside, however, this is exactly what buyers and judges are doing already—comparing our work against others—whether we like it or not. The show ring is a harsh taskmaster, and it’s often hardest on artists. So we should try not to take anything personally and distance ourselves from show placings so we don’t become unduly upset. Always remember that when we display our work in this harsh environment, we’re essentially putting a big target smack–dab in the middle of our foreheads. Can we dodge the arrows? Can we take a hit? Critics are often loud and not so sympathetic so can we cope well enough to keep working enthusiastically?
Unfortunately, new artists often fail to understand this aspect of the game. They cannot recognize that it’s a crocodile, not a kitten! And this beast is alarmingly quick to bite—and hard. In fact, for a highly–sensitive artist prone to self–doubt, this venue can be downright cruel. On the other hand, it’s important to notice that those artists who prosper have a “can–do” attitude. They don’t waste their energy bemoaning given situations, but get to fixing any genuine problems in their work. It’s definitely not easy, though! It does take a peculiar creative mind to thrive in this business because it’s certainly not for everyone.
Having said that, it should be noted that a “woe is me” attitude tends to drive away seasoned artists who could offer the most help. So if we want guidance, it’s more effective to adopt a similar “can–do” attitude when soliciting advice. There are many in the venue who can help, but we must first convey the impression that we can help ourselves. “Hand–holding” is exhausting and tedious, and not many successful, established artists are motivated to shore up such behavior, especially when they’re so busy in their own studios. Adopting a pro–active attitude helps to make sure our chances of getting assistance improve greatly.
Along those lines, one of the most unfortunate effects of the venue’s casual, "hobby" structure is turning artists into competitors rather than colleagues. Competition for the player’s dollar and recognition in the show ring promotes an antagonistic atmosphere within its arts community rather than a supportive and united front. Add to this the careless, unprofessional behavior the casual “hobby” attitude generates, the insular, small nature of the venue, and the occasional professional envy, and we have a powder keg of unsettling eventualities. This is why some artists are quick to attack other artists as a means to elevate themselves. The insular nature of the venue amplifies the situation and makes it difficult to escape—some artists will experience a public attack by another at some point. The “hobby” paradigm unfortunately keeps the arts community divided, though we're seeing a change in recent years, thankfully.
So the best way to intervene is to reach out to fellow artists and work to build bridges rather than burning them. Becoming a positive force in the arts community and refraining from hostile behavior are good choices, as is being careful what we type on our keyboards in public. Promoting camaraderie among our colleagues can go far in rebuilding the fun and sense of community that can be torn away in today’s harsh competition.
We may also run across some boorish type who believes they know all the points needed to place a superior piece—but in reality they really don’t. So we have them picking apart our work with an unlearned Eye, skewing the validity of our talents to those similarly unaware. They pollute the pool with their disguised lack of true, deep knowledge. It’s easy to believe that we know it all since what we presently know is the extent of our knowledge. However, there’s always something new to learn, some way in which we may be wrong, and this applies equally to players and artists. The best response is to weigh such comments objectively. We never know if we may be the ones in the wrong! If such claims don’t add up, then ignore them. However, if they’re powerful enough we may want to defend our work, but we should do so politely, rationally, and with examples to back us up. Being able to defend our work is a crucial skill for any artist just as much as being able to objectively evaluate our work. So we should contemplate our strong and weak points and work on those areas that need it, all while having a firm appreciation of those aspects that are good.
Now we come to an alarming consequence of the “hobby” paradigm, one which no artist can escape and will have to mediate throughout her career. Because of its odd structure, a strange undercurrent towards artists permeates the venue. Specifically, the dependency on artists breeds a love–hate relationship among some players, no matter how pleasant or even–handed we may be. And the more successful and popular we become, the more this effect amplifies. This also tends to breed a conspiratorial view on what we artists do, especially when we congregate together. Ideas that artists are ripping off players, that we’re cliquish, that we arbitrary in who we sell pieces to, or that we’re price fixing and generally up to shenanigans can happen, so be ready to assuage any such assertions. The truth is we’re all doing what we need to do for our own studios and we’re interacting with our colleagues for our enjoyment. Most of us aren’t cliquish, but happy to meet new people.
So understand that in the larger community we are both “friend and foe.” Some participants also have issues with popularity and perceived cliques which tends to color their attitude towards successful artists. And people can become increasingly intimidated by us the more popular our work becomes, and so can come to feel awkward by our presence. We can also appear inaccessible, testy, insecure, aloof, or quick to rile if we don’t take great care in how we interact with people, especially players. We can encounter a sense of indignation and contempt of us, too, particularly among those who don’t even know us, simply because our work has become a hot ticket. But our sales depend on our PR as much as the quality of our work, and they will suffer if we come across wrong, even unintentionally. So make an extra effort to be accessible, cheerful, empathetic, gracious, and friendly. Work to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone. We never know who could become a cool new friend, new customer, or colleague. Plus people are becoming new artists all the time and we never know if we’d ever come to depend on them for some reason, or they come up with some new technique from which we can learn.
Conclusion to Part 2
Phew! That was a lot to chew on, wasn't it? Apologies for that, but there are many issues at play that artists need to consider. We sail our little ships on choppy waters. But we can learn to navigate them if we're aware of the currents and winds. So in Part 3, we'll explore some inherent contradictions the "hobby" paradigm infuses into our community so we can start to make sense of some of the things that may bewilder or frustrate us.
So until next time...sail on!
"Some things cannot be spoken or discovered until we have been stuck, incapacitated, or blown off course for awhile. Plain sailing is pleasant, but you are not going to explore many unknown realms that way."
~ David Whyte