Miss Manners: Artist must tread lightly when dealing with client’s taste

December 30, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an artist and interior designer. My client uses me for decorative painting and is always asking my opinion on this or that.

The problem is that I realize that we have extremely different tastes. How do I gently tell her that her choices for the accessories in the room are “too cheap” or not up to the standard I had in mind without offending or hurting her feelings?

GENTLE READER: It always surprises Miss Manners when artists disapprove of their clients’ taste, given that the client chose to hire the artist.

Nevertheless, she recognizes that there are some patrons of the arts with limited aesthetic sense. She also recognizes the logic of listening to the opinion for which one is paying.

The artist’s options in this situation, however, are limited. You may politely suggest alternatives. You may withdraw from the project, saying that upon reflection, you realize that you are not the right person for the job. (The latter option has the disadvantage of requiring you to also forgo remuneration, which may cause you to reassess your artistic standard.)

There is a third alternative popular in artistic circles, but Miss Manners discourages you from employing it, in spite of a few historical successes, as it is both impolite and bad business: namely, using the art itself to parody the client’s taste.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My brother-in-law is a generally likable fellow and we enjoy our visits. However, my spouse and I cringe when he routinely addresses waiters, tollbooth collectors and other service people by the name appearing on their name tags. We feel that this practice is demeaning, given that no introduction has been made, and that the tag’s purpose is to be able to identify the employee in later dealings with the company or to be able to report to management especially good or poor service. What do you think?

GENTLE READER: Although she fails to see any purpose for the name tags — surely management knows who was assigned to which table — Miss Manners is perplexed by the idea that it is demeaning to address someone by his or her name, particularly when the name tag has already supplied a preferred form of address. If your concern is the informality of that form, she notes that many company name tags read, “Hi! My name is Bill M.” In which case your brother should feel free to address his server as “Mr. M.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received two gifts that included gift receipts. After thanking the donors, I returned the items because they were not to my liking. Having gift receipts made the process easy and possible.

One donor asked if I enjoyed the item and was disappointed to learn that it had been returned. What should one do if the situation repeats itself?

GENTLE READER: Tell the donor that you enjoyed the item, as of course you did. Miss Manners sees no reason to explain that your enjoyment came from being able to turn it into something that you wanted.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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