Today, Seth posts:
Jordan Tierney and her colleagues have been working for months on the Periodic Tableaux, a one-of-a-kind art book that’s not for sale.
Why invest the hours and the sweat and the talent in a piece of art you can’t (and won’t) sell?
Two reasons. The best reason is that when you practice your craft for yourself, not for the market, it drives you in new and important ways. And the other reason is that people are going to talk about it.
Ideas that spread, win.
Hugh tells us a story about “the fireplace guy”.
When I was 16 or 17 in Edinburgh I vaguely new this guy who owned a shop called “Cinders,” on St. Stephen’s Street. It specialized in restoring antique fireplaces.
Cinders’ modus operandi was very simple. Buy original Georgian and Victorian chimneypieces from old, dilapidated houses for 10 cents on the dollar, give them a loving but expedient makeover in the workshop, sell them at vast profit to yuppies.
Back then I was insatiably curious about how people made a living (I still am). So one day, while sitting on his stoop I chatted with the fireplace guy about it.
He told me about the finer points of his trade—the hunting through old houses, the craftsmanship, the customer relations, and of course the profit.
The fellow seemed quite proud of his job. From how he described it he seemed to like his trade and be making a decent living. Scotland was going through a bit of a recession at the time; unemployment was high, money was tight; I guess for an aging hippie things could’ve been a lot worse.
Very few kids ever said, “Gosh, when I grow up I’m going to be a fireplace guy!” It’s not the most obvious trade in the world. I asked him about how he fell into it.
“I used to be an antiques dealer,” he said. “People who spend a lot of money on antiques also seem to spend a lot of money restoring their houses. So I sort of got the whiff of opportunity just by talking to people in my antiques shop. Also, there are too many antique dealers in Edinburgh crowding the market, so I was looking for an easier way to make a living.”
Like the best jobs in the world, it just kinda sorta happened.
“Well, some of the fireplaces are real beauties,” I said. “It must be hard parting with them.”
“No it isn’t,” he said (and this is the part I remember most). “I mean, I like them, but because they take up so much room—they’re so big and bulky—I’m relieved to be rid of them once they’re sold. I just want them out of the shop ASAP and the cash in my pocket. Selling them is easy for me. Unlike antiques. I always loved antiques, so I was always falling in love with the inventory, I always wanted to hang on to my best stuff. I’d always subconsciously price them too high in order to keep them from leaving the shop.”
Being young and idealistic, I told him I thought that was quite sad. Why choose to sell a “mere product” (i.e., chimneypieces) when instead you could make your living selling something you really care about (i.e., antiques)? Surely the latter would be a preferable way to work.
“The first rule of business,” he said, chuckling at my naiveté, “is never sell something you love. Otherwise, you may as well be selling your children.”
Fifteen years later, I’m at a bar in New York. Some friend-of-a-friend is looking at my cartoons.
He asks me if I publish. I tell him I don’t. Tell him it’s just a hobby. Tell him about my advertising job.
“Man, why the hell are you in advertising?” he says, pointing to my portfolio. “You should be doing this. Galleries and s**t.”
Advertising’s just chimneypieces,” I say, speaking into my glass.
“What the f**k?”
Is architecture your chimneypieces or your art? Click the “comments” link above and share your thoughts, ideas and stories.