[If this post intrigues you, you might think about becoming a creativity coach. If you’re interested in that, please visit my new certificate and diploma program or read my latest book The Coach’s Way. And come join the Eric Maisel Community!]

Let’s take a moment and consider how you might preserve your hard-won art relationships: your relationship with the one editor who really loves your work, your relationship with the one reviewer who always has something good to say about your music, the relationship with the one collector always interested in your new paintings.

Sometimes it is simply physical distance and a lack of regular contact that begins to wear relationships down; sometimes it is interpersonal difficulty; sometimes the demands of life seem to steal all our time and leave little time left for even family and friends, let alone our contacts in the marketplace.

Let’s focus on one aspect of this larger theme, the idea of preserving your relationships with “difficult” marketplace players, with folks who are important to your art life but whose personality and relational style sets you on edge.

Imagine that you have an ongoing relationship with a “difficult” gallery owner—let’s call him Jim—who, for no reason you can identify, always tries to make you feel small and wrong in your interactions with him. You have no idea why he’s chosen a passive-aggressive approach to life, you suspect that he is very different with customers than he is with you, and you also suspect that he would deal at least marginally differently with you if your work sold better in his shop. Be that as it may, you value your exposure in his gallery—while also hating interacting with him. How do you preserve a decent working relationship in these circumstances?

First, you want to look in the mirror. The first thing we need to do is make sure that we aren’t the main source or a significant part of the problem. Not infrequently we get into the habit of interacting from our shadowy side—from our insecurities, from the part of us that feels one down or disappointed with our lack of success, from the part of us that “just isn’t going to take it anymore”—and by acting that way we make life that much harder for ourselves. Many artists (like all human beings) alienate their peers and their supporters by interacting poorly with them. Be wiser and more careful than that.

Make sure that you are not making matters worse by virtue of having adopted a negative or confrontational attitude. If you need to say something important to Jim, be direct and clear but try not to deliver your message in a spirit of criticism or from a place of negative energy. Opt for some genuine fellow-feeling and some good graces, along with some straight talking. Our first job—and the place where presumably we have the most control—is to make sure that we are not contributing to the problem. Do your part well.

Second, learn to temporize. When you and Jim interact, try not to react. Try to temporize and maintain a little calming distance between hearing from Jim and responding to Jim. If you get an email saying that he intends to hang only two of your paintings rather than four, even though he promised to hang four, and the email comes with a gratuitous critical dig (“Of course, if you sold better I’d hang all four, but as it is I think that even two might be a stretch”), the first thing that you want to do is not hit “reply.”

If you like, write a nasty reply filled with every curse word you’ve ever heard—and then discard it. Take a deep breath. Walk around the block three or four times. Think. Instead of impulsively reacting from a hurt or angry place, decide how you want to react. You might want to bite the bullet, not react at all, and say something innocuous like, “Two will be a great start! And when those two sell, I know you’ll want to hang the other two!” Think through to what extent calling Jim on his rudeness or his “betrayal” really serves you and base your decision on reason and pragmatism, not on impulse and hurt feelings!

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