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“Hey, no pictures!” the artist barked at the teenage girl, who was maybe 15. “I have signs all over!”

The not-so-prominent sign (singular, not plural, by the way), read “No photos please” with an image of a camera and one of those red circles with a line through it over the camera.

I stumbled into this scene while popping in and out of artist booths at the King Street Art Festival in Alexandria, Virginia. The booth in question featured a collection of ceramic statues, mostly 6-inch tall men, each painted in a single bright color, scaling the walls of the booth with the aid of a metal wire. (I’d have included a picture so you could see what I’m talking about but, in the words of Ace of Base…nevermind.) I’d seen similar statues in the past and they’d always spoken to something in my unsophisticated artistic sensibility, so I wandered in to get a sense of pricing, and see what else the artist had in his collection.

The collection included a bucket affixed to the wall, with a swarm of butterflies arranged to look like they were flying out of the bucket; a wavy line of five or six tiny bicycles, made to look like they were trekking up and down a hilly course; and a few other shapes, such as cats and dogs, that I thought might have looked cool hanging on (or from) the wall in my home office. Hey, it gets lonely in there!

The artist was in the booth answering questions from prospective buyers when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the teenage girl take out her phone to grab a snapshot of one of the climbing men. She was probably going to post the picture to her various social media profiles to document her experience that day at the art show. I imagine this was not the first booth where she thought to take a picture.

When the artist yelled at her, she meekly apologized and scurried out of the booth, embarrassed. The artist, without missing a beat, continue to talk to more important customers. (I was not included in that group, BTW.)

I thought about the incident over lunch. My initial reaction was that I didn’t fault the artist’s instinct to protect his intellectual property. While colorful statues of the human form (climbing or otherwise) is hardly the most novel artistic work ever conceived (as I said I’d seen similar statues in the past), it’s his work, and he wants to make sure no one else sees it online and copies what he’s doing, thus cannibalizing his potential customer base.

However, here’s where I think he’s in the wrong: 1-Don’t yell at a child that’s not yours unless they’re breaking your statues. A polite warning (“Please don’t take pictures inside this booth. Thank you.”) would have gotten your message across. 2-The young girl was probably going to post the photo on social media because she liked it and thought others might like it, too. Besides her buying the statue, that’s probably the best possible outcome for him. Instead of trying to stop people from taking photos of his art, he might have considered switching out his “no photos” sign for a sign that included any social media accounts or handles associated with his name, art collection, company, or studio. As it was, he didn’t have any cards or contact information, even a website. I believe I heard him say he only sells his work at art shows.

Now, is it more likely that one of the girl’s social media contacts would see the her post and say, “What a great idea for a statue–I’m going to copy his idea and make a huge profit!” or, “What a great idea for a statue–I’d like to buy one!” I’m betting it’s the latter.

Perhaps it’s because I work for Ypulse, a market research company specializing in Millennials and Generation Z, that I often find myself trying to view the world through younger eyes than my own. (At age 35, I’m a “cusper” Millennial, but I tend to identify more with Generation X.)

Many of the other artists had “no photos” signs hanging from their booths, and I don’t necessarily blame them. If someone took a screenshot of this blog post and posted it on social media without attributing it to me–or copied the text and posted it on their own blog–I wouldn’t be too happy about it. But if I made it as easy as possible for people to share my content, while still crediting me, isn’t that my intended result, to have as many eyeballs as possible reading what I write?

I can hardly point to this incident as a bellwether for a larger trend around how young people in 2017 consume art. Nor do I have any insight into whether photos taken at art festivals actually do have a negative impact on lesser-known artists trying to sell their art. For example, is a person less likely to buy a piece of art for their home if they can simply “own” the image by posting it to Instagram? I doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible.

What I do know is that the teenage girl did not intend to bring negative consequence to the artist, but he treated her as if she was single-handedly trying to crumble his 6-inch tall empire. And even though I liked his art, and was strongly considering buying a piece of it just a few minutes earlier, witnessing that interaction was enough to make me walk away without opening my wallet.

Oh and by the way, if I had bought one of the statues, I probably would have posted it to social media. So, what did the artist actually accomplish in the end?

One more thing
The local art league used a smart fundraising tactic at the festival, which I thought was worth an honorable mention. Partnering with a local ice cream shop, they were selling handmade ceramic bowls for $15, which included a free scoop of ice cream on a hot day. Someone at the art league might have a bright future in marketing!

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