Supporting traditional artists/craftspersons: what the common person can do

One Sunday afternoon, after a leisurely lunch hosted by a friend to celebrate his grandson’s graduation in America, a few of us visited a Traditional Arts & Crafts exhibition.

At one of the stalls, our host expressed interest in some small wooden toys, priced at Rs. 50 each, and asked the artisan whether he would offer 5 toys for Rs. 200. I was stunned! Earlier that afternoon, the same gentleman had paid almost Rs. 1,000 per person at lunch without batting an eyelid. I immediately told him that a man who ‘lives life king size’ (he always flies First Class or Business Class, stays at the most expensive hotels, etc.) should not bargain like this. Without another word, he paid Rs. 250 for the 5 toys.

At the next stall, he picked up a painting, turned to me, smiled and asked me in a low voice, “I’m interested in this painting, but only if the price is reduced from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 1,200. I’m sure there will be a negotiation margin included in this price. Do I have your permission to negotiate?” I smiled back and asked if I could negotiate on his behalf. He immediately agreed.

I told the artist, “My friend is interested in this painting. The price is reasonable, but my friend would feel bad if he finds that somebody else has bought a similar painting from you at a lower price. Hence, if at all there is any room for negotiation, please offer your lowest price.”

The artist smiled and replied, “Sir, we are simple people. We do not quote higher prices and then offer a discount. We reduce our prices only when we are desperate to make a sale. But, since you have asked me so kindly, I will offer this painting for Rs. 1,800.” My host was touched by the artist’s words and offered to buy the painting for Rs. 2,000. However, the artist insisted on charging only Rs, 1,800.

Just then, I walked away to answer a call on my mobile phone. When the others joined me a few minutes later, my host gave me two bookmarks, each costing Rs. 30, explaining that they were a gift to me from the artist. He said, “I’ve always known you to be a tough and demanding customer. How is it that you deal so differently with these artists?”

I told him that, a few years earlier, during a visit to a Traditional Art exhibition in our city, I had witnessed a thought-provoking incident. At one of the stalls, after the artist quoted the price of an intricate painting about 1 meter high and 2 meters long as Rs. 10,000, the visitor said that she would buy it immediately if he agreed to sell it at Rs. 5,000. The artist got upset and, in a voice choked with emotion, said, “Madam, if, for any reason, you do not want to buy my painting, please do not buy it. But please do not insult me by asking for a 50 % reduction. I have worked 15 full days on this painting. After paying for the materials and other expenses, a maximum of Rs. 5,000 remains. Then, I also have to bear the expenses of travelling to your city to participate in this exhibition. People like you willingly pay lakhs of rupees for modern paintings by famous artists, but you think Rs. 10,000 is too much for a traditional painting. You may not have heard of me, but please see this photograph of me receiving the National Award from the President of India 3 years back.” The visitor apologized and beat a hasty retreat!

This incident opened my eyes to the fact that we grossly undervalue our traditional artists and craftspersons, perhaps because they are down-to-earth people. We give them neither money nor respect.

From that day:

1. Whenever I buy, or attempt to buy, any traditional art or craft items from an artist/craftsperson, I never negotiate the price. If the price is within my budget, I buy the item at the quoted price. If the price is higher than my budget, I simply tell the artist/craftsperson that. Sometimes, (s)he voluntarily offers a reduction. If the reduced price is acceptable to me, I buy the item. If not, I look for something else within my budget.
I also discourage known people from bargaining aggressively with artists/craftspersons. If they insist on bargaining, I try to ensure that they do so in a pleasant and respectful manner.

2. Whenever I have to buy any gift items or mementoes, I try to buy traditional art or craft items directly from an artist/craftsperson or from one of the State Handicrafts Emporia.
Whenever anybody asks me for suggestions for buying gift items or mementoes, I suggest they buy traditional art or craft items from one of the State Handicrafts Emporia or at any exhibition if it’s going on at that time.

These things are very simple to do and can be done by anybody. It’s the least we can do to support our artists/craftspersons. Just one person doing this may not make a difference. But if many people start doing this, it will make a difference. Let us remember:
Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean
and the beauteous land.

I am sharing this Do Right story at Indiblogger in association with Tata Capital

12 thoughts on “Supporting traditional artists/craftspersons: what the common person can do

  1. You, sir, are a true inspiration for all of us to lead better lives as Indian citizens, and also become better human beings in the bargain. Proactive Indian is such an apt name for your online presence, and it truly is an honor to be a regular reader of your blog for sure 🙂

    • Jairam, while thanking you for your very kind, heartfelt comment, I must state that, like everybody else, I am an ordinary person who sometimes does something extraordinary.

      Addressing his last AGM as Infosys Chairman, Mr. N. R. Narayana Murthy had said, “My life story should be a confidence booster for every average person in the world that he or she can indeed make a difference at least in a small way to this world.”

  2. If only all our fellow Bharatwasi’s were like you, this country would have been a far, far better place!.
    Our people don’t hesitate in bargaining with small street side vendors, but will pay more for the same stuff by credit cards at high flying malls.
    At Bengaluru, Canara Bank has a small outlet selling stuff made by artisans that it has financed. Other corporates should follow as a part of their CSR.

    • Nagesh, thank you for your kind words, but I only do occasionally what you do very regularly!

      There are many things that corporates and even small businesses can do for those sections of society that need support and encouragement. My post was focussed on what any ordinary person can easily do in her/his individual capacity.

  3. Very well said and kudos to you for having handled the person bargaining in such a manner. I am really fond of traditional arts and crafts and more so when I can actually see how they are made and how much effort is put in. Which means buying straight from the makers. You are absolutely right when you speak of people bargaining with underprivileged or simple artisans when they blindly spend lakhs on branded sarees and other stuff. A similar case is people bargaining with a rickshaw puller. They bargain for a mere 2 rupees abd waste so much of time and energy of the poor man that many a times, I have felt like going and giving them a piece of my mind. Reblogging this on my blog and sharing on my FB page. Thanks for writing this.

    • Yes, many of us don’t bat an eyelid while paying Rs. 100 for a Mineral Water bottle (which can be bought outside for Rs. 15) at a posh restaurant, but bargain with fruit/vegetable vendors for a few rupees.

      Thanks for reblogging and sharing on FB!

  4. Bargaining seems to be a part of the Indian psyche-or so I feel By haggling and bringing down the price a sense of satisfaction and pride is writ large on their faces.As you rightly pointed out I rather buy a product directly from the artisan and cut out the middlemans profits. In case I do not want to buy I praise his workmanship sincerely,,send a silent prayer and wish him well. Todays urban youth however ,I see, are more caring and do not haggle much which is a step in the right direction This may partly be also to their higher purchasing power. Children should be sensitised to appreciate about our rich tradition and art .The Govt is thankfully providing a platform to these unsung artists by organising exhibitions all over.Good to see your blog on a subject dear to my heart. Hope your fellow readers will loosen their purse strings and do not belittle the poor artists worth henceforth !

  5. Awesome, it is so true, we tend to bargain hard for small ticket items and pay willingly without asking for big ticket items. Sometime I wish it was easy to get access to actual artisans.

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