Last updated: 10:19 AM ET, Fri November 06 2015

The 4 People You Meet Working In A Cruise Ship Art Gallery

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Carson Poplin | November 05, 2015

The 4 People You Meet Working In A Cruise Ship Art Gallery

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The pretty well known cruise art outfit I used to work for has become a huge presence in cruising. They managed to monopolize the art-sales-at-sea game, a mystery I still didn’t quite figure out during my brief stint as one of their employees. As far as I can tell, their success can be attributed to having a captive audience of people with disposable income and auctioneers who work doggedly to sell as much art as possible.

The weirdest thing about the company, to me, is that they have fewer actual art experts than you would expect an art gallery to have. I was in the minority of employees who have a background in art. I likely got hired because of this, but the fact that I am not a salesperson worked against me more than I was helped by being able to intelligently discuss the pre-Raphaelites. This was always my biggest weakness and probably the reason I didn’t stick around for more than the length of my first six-month contract. To succeed in this job, you have to be a salesperson before anything else.

Day one of a cruise always includes the “Guess the Price” game and features the most expensive artwork in the onboard collection; maybe a Peter Max painting or an etching by Picasso or Rembrandt. We stand in a busy area trying to get people to guess the retail value of a work and then chat them up, dangling the slim possibility of a prize in their future.

The goal is to get the guests onboard interested in coming to art auctions instead of the shuffleboard tournament or whatever else is happening that day. This was my absolute least favorite thing to do. I found out there are basically four categories of cruise ship guests, via the same repetitive conversational themes:

1) The Skeptic

“That’s not a real Picasso,” some guy would say.

“Yes, it’s a hand-signed etching!” I’d say, faking cheerfulness and trying not to judge him too harshly.

“Really? Well, let me know when you go to the bathroom so I can come by and grab it,” he would say, impressed with his hilarious and original joke. This comment always puzzled me, because, where are you going with it? We’re in the middle of the ocean.

The Skeptic would then tell his wife that this was allegedly a real Picasso and they would guess the price. She would always say something like, “I wouldn’t pay $5 for it!” and write down a guess of $100, thinking she was being nice. These expert art critics would come to the auctions, but only for the free champagne.

2) The Complainer

When guests see your name badge, it prompts them to inundate you with every thought they have about their cruise. This could be wonderful — like how pleased they were with their tour guide this morning — but most likely what they have to say is horrible and unrelated to your actual job.

“Good afternoon, care to guess the price of the Peter Max painting? Closest guess wins a prize!” I really tried to do my job, I swear.

“I don’t even know who Peter Max is,” The Complainer would say. “My granddaughter paints better than that.”

I would then smile and laugh and spout off some of Max’s accolades, thinking to myself, “Deep breaths, Carson. Not everyone started receiving art for Christmas when they were seven years old.”

The woman would then continue, “By the way, I am just appalled that there is no place onboard to rent a tuxedo. My husband needs one for formal dinners in the dining room and I was under the impression that this was an upscale cruise line.”

What could I do but smile and nod and assure her I would let guest relations know?

3) The Lost

These are people who approach you under the guise of being interested in what you’re saying but then interrupt you and ask where the closest bathroom is. “Around the corner to the left, ma’am.”

4) The Superfan

The Superfan sees you and the Guess the Price table and immediately turns around and shouts to her husband, always lagging slightly behind her, “Bob! I found the art people!”

They always get the closest guess to the artwork because, obviously, this is not their first rodeo. Then they tell you every artist they’ve collected from the company without using any names but only descriptors like, “the one that does the cute cottages.”

“Of course, Thomas Kinkade,” I would say. “We’ll be having a seminar on his life and work in a few days, but you probably already knew that.”

“Knew it! I’ve seen it about 15 times. I’ll be there.” She then looks for the gift shop and whatever similar game they’re doing.

When it came to actual auctions, my lack of sales skills held me back. My first boss told me I wasn’t loud enough during auctions. Part of my job was yelling “YIP!” every time someone put their bid card in the air, and working the room trying to get people to buy work they barely even glanced at, and apparently I wasn’t doing a good job.

“Do you need to pre-game auctions? I met Three-Corona-Carson in the crew bar last night and she talks a lot!” the auctioneer asked, after another auction passed in which I sold nothing but a Bugs Bunny cell.

“Three-Corona-Carson only talks about how much she loves Beyonce and how mad she is about being rejected from ‘The Amazing Race,’” I replied. “How would that even help?”

“Look, if you are loud enough that at some point I have to tell you to calm down, then I’ll buy you a bottle of wine,” he bargained.

That must have helped, because all of the sudden “yipping” became my favorite thing to do. At one point, I yelled “YIP!” when a man waved to get his wife’s attention across the room. The auctioneer looked at me and his eyes said, “Alright, calm down!” but his mouth said nothing because he knew I would hold him to that bottle of wine.

In the end, I hit my stride giving seminars. They were by design not sales-related and just supposed to be informative to cruise ship guests. Both the auctioneers I worked under allowed me to do seminars I created myself, instead of the cookie-cutter ones usually presented on ships. I guess they assumed that since I majored in art history the stuff I said must be true.

It still had its downside, though, since I never capitalized on the potential of working for the company. I was once told that, among employees, “Peter Max pays for your first house and Thomas Kinkade pays for your car.” I didn’t stick around to see if this is true, and that could be why I don’t have a house or a car right now. 


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