On the subject of this Walt Disney quote, writer Ray Keyes somewhat cynically observes…
Always leave’em wanting more’ is the hidden ethic of American … the principle of a curious mechanism that belies the machine, more is less: more fancy footwork, less meaningful discussion afterward leads to a craving for even more fancy footwork. More of almost anything addictive leads to higher tolerance and greater craving; more of anything essentially empty is less than what you will ultimately need.
While I think the tone of Mr. Keyes commentary even severely edited (original text here) is a bit too strident for my personal tastes, there may be some merit to Walt Disney’s original admonishment and on the heels of my recent photography show, observations by others have led me to question my practice of performing music at my photography (or maybe any art) show openings.
Till now, I’ve always thought of this as the ultimate experience for the attendees. After all, I am a Jazz Saxophonist and I love nothing more than to play for an intimate audience that has arrived not to dismiss us as a “live jukebox” but are sincerely interested in appreciating the music and the art. I even state on most invitations “Photography by Saxophonist and Photographer: Arni Cheatham”, lending to the expectation that on said day, some music just might “accidentally break out.”
Still, a photography shows’ objective is really to encourage folks to look deeply into the artwork, fall in love with one or more pieces and take them home: of course after paying an appropriate honorarium to the little old artist, me. I therefore want folks to consider the music as an additional highlight but not a concert so-to-speak and I said so at my recent Bompu opening. “This is not a concert. Don’t pull up chairs and fixate on the musicians. Look at the walls and feast on the art, and incidentally everything is for sale.”
None-the-less, chairs appeared, conversation became hushed, smiles appeared, applause broke out and appearances were that of a concert. Even worse, some folks, enchanted by the music, closed their eyes! Everyone in attendance had a wonderful time but their attention and conversation was certainly diverted from the main objective, the walls.
The following morning a close friend sent me an email suggesting my “not a concert” methodology was severely flawed.
You said last night you were not intending to do a concert, but just provide background music for the showing. You don’t seem to have a knack for not doing a concert, so I feel I have to share some ideas with you.
- Play boring music that no one pays attention to
- Leave your saxophone upstairs
- Invite Bill without his instruments
- Same with the drummer
- Replace Kevin with a nice piano bar guy
Then you might be able to pull off “not a concert.”
Great show, by the way. Thanks.
Perhaps I should have been able to see this conflict coming.
Last February we hosted a show of Lou Jones stunning photography. Lou being a jazz lover and he and I longtime friends, he requested that I bring my quartet and play, a request I happily obliged. However midway through the opening Lou sidled over to me and quietly said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. The music is becoming more of an attraction than the photography!” Fortunately he was not angry with me although it could be that I distracted potential sales.
Given the costs associated with a show like this along with a basic business model, sales are an essential part of the equation and the opening event is the focal point for said sales to occur. Acknowledging the cold hard facts then, I’m faced with a dilemma. Should I cease playing at my openings? Will doing so increase my prospective sales? Will my audiences now feel cheated out of an artistic double header? Will I feel as though I’ve let my following down? What do you think?