As one of the webmasters at SAM I am witness to all sorts of emails—from basic visitor inquiries to requests to send a SAM representative to judge girls on their inner beauty at pageants. These emails have taught me a lot about human communication and the human tendency to only provide feedback when they have something negative to say. In this day and age of faceless electronic communication, more often than not, this means people feel that they can be informal, not use spell check or punctuation and in some instances, be as rude as they want.  The following emails have been reproduced as written, with errors and misspellings left uncorrected.

My personal favorites are the complaints. Complaints come in all sizes and variations. Some are thoughtful  but most bespeak a certain self-centeredness (i.e. my idea of good art is the ONLY standard for good art):

From: Xxxxx Xxxxxx [mailto:xxxxxx@paulbunyan.net] Sent: Thursday, November 26, 2009 11:40 AM
To: Webmaster
Cc:
Subject: website_inquiry

Dear Sam Administration:  I had the opportunity to visit your museum this past week and was struck by several aspects of the public displays.  In that I would like to be positive [Great! It’s always nice to receive positive feedback, even if it ends with some negative] may I make the following suggestions.  There were very few ways for an oldster, such as myself to have a seat and contemplate such fine works as the Bierstadt and Hassan [wasn’t this supposed to be positive feedback? Still, this is good to know].  The Calder and Michelagelo displays were sparse at best.  The other offerings were the kind of juvenile drivel, faux art, that I had thought first class museums had panned some years ago. To know that this kind of intellectual dung [wait, did he just call  the art in SAM’s collection intellectual dung?] is being sponsored, promoted and presented to Seattle’s school children as fine art is sad indeed.   I know that you have a new director I wish that individual well and would encourage them to set a higher standard for the good citizens of Seattle.  Best Wishes for a continued success. [Alright then, more chairs, less dung, but not too little. We don’t want it to be too sparse in the galleries.]

How bout this one? After reading this, can anyone tell me if she will or will not be coming to the museum?

From: Xxxxx Xxxxxx [mailto:xxxxxxxxxx@aol.com] Sent: Friday, June 05, 2009 8:35 PM
To: Webmaster
Subject: website_inquiry

Dear Museum Director:  If the promotional pieces are any indication of the art I would see in “art under attack” this is exactly what I don’t like and I won’t try to see [I believe she is basing this assessment on the Target Practice: Painting Under Attack poster  below which was meant to provocate—seems to have worked!].  Enjoy. But I’ll not be there, nor will many others [How, exactly, does she know others will boycott this exhibition? This kind of knowledge could be very useful to us].  Please don’t forget the power of beauty [many of the works in Target Practice were beautiful, in my estimation, but this woman will never know]. The spiritual  in art reaches  many of us.  I will see the Wyeth exhibition [The Andrew Wyeth exhibition was an exhibition at SAM that was showing at the same time as Target Practice]. So fine. 

Sincerely,

Xxxxx Xxxxxx, member

Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949–78 promotional poster

Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949–78 promotional poster

Then there are the down right mean. I guess sometimes, we all get worked up about something and a faceless and voiceless email allows one to vent frustrations and be as rude as one pleases. SAM appreciates feedback but being a little more constructive, or at least polite, would be nice.

From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx [mailto:xxxxxx@mac.com] Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 8:09 AM
To: Webmaster
Subject: Web_Inquiry

 I confess   I’m surprised.

Your web pages are  visually  very  boring. [What do you suggest? More images? More interactives? Give some examples.]

For a  supposedly world class venue NOTHING about your  web  

experience  was  eye catching. [Nothing? Absolutely nothing? Again, give examples of what you consider eye catching]

 It looks like  the pages  were designed by committee.

Small images, loads of  verbiage and self  congratulations [When we’re excited about something, we want to get YOU excited about it.], as I said  a  disappointment.

 Xxxxx Xxxxxxx 

Here is an excerpt from another charming email:

…The only good part of the SAM that I found is still the Hammering Man outside of the building [who is not technically part of SAM’s collection—he is owned by the City of Seattle]. OK, the very tiny photo exhibit didn’t suck entirely, except that it was so small it seemed pathetic [Ok, but could you have phrased this a little nicer?]

 SAM’s expansion was a complete waste of millions of dollars and is at best, a small town’s @#$ dream [edited for appropriateness—but seriously? Does his dissatisfaction with SAM’s recent expansion really call for crude metaphors—especially  when he is sending this to a complete stranger?]. For a city our size, it’s an embarrassment of a lack of cultural significance. The best bet is to stick to viewing local gallaries, at least you’ll get a larger sampling of art than you will at the SAM. [Statistically, that isn’t true. We have one of the most global collections on the West Coast with over 25,000 pieces in our collection. Unless he is trying to imply that SAM has no good art,  in which case that would simply be a matter of opinion.]

We appreciate hearing from our visitors—good and bad feedback. We want to know how to make your visit better and we love to hear how much you enjoyed yourself while you were here. But please,  if you ever send an email to a nameless email address, try to remember that more often than not, those emails don’t just get siphoned off to the ether. There is usually a human being on the other end.

Stay tuned for more notes from the electronic frontline.

Liz Stone, Operations Assistant

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Complaining about complaints is a bit disingenuous. But, here I am complaining about this post’s complaints about complaints.

    But seriously: I’d agree with Hmm that this post does sound a little bitter. And knowing that SAM might repost your email could lessen people’s willingness to provide feedback.

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Claudia

    http://paintingdrawing.net

  3. amysee

    This was fun to read. Anyone who works anywhere that has a web presence receives email like the examples in this post, and I personally enjoy learning about the special dreck others have the mixed blessing to receive.

    It will be interesting to read a historical or anthropological analysis of this phenomenon in 20 or 50 years; for now all we know for sure is the ruder your email, the less likely your complaint is to be valued, much less addressed.

    Taking umbrage may be the new national pastime but it doesn’t seem to be getting anyone anywhere!

  4. Hmm

    I’m not sure you should have published this–it sounds a little bitter. Of course there are negative responses, but you lend them validity by addressing their ridiculous complaints.

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