An excerpt from the new e-course Reach More with Video: A Digital Guide for Creatives from Colour In Your Life. Founder Graeme Stevenson addresses challenges artists face when speaking publicly, and how to overcome them.
Speaking about your own art and process can be terrifying, let alone if it’s before a large crowd. Communication, however, is important for an artist that wants to see themselves in galleries or taking their career into the world. Being able to communicate yourself and your work effectively to clients, galleries and investors is important. Brief conversations with clients can deepen their understanding of you as an artist, your message and your work. Attending art events and openings can help you expand your social networking platforms; it’s always important to cultivate your fan bases.
When speaking publicly about yourself and your art, these are some important tips to remember:
Yes, it’s very easy to say ‘be confident’, but not always easy to do. The best way to feel confident is to be knowledgeable about what you’re presenting, and hey, it’s about you! When you get flustered or feel uncertain in front of a large crowd, focus on what you’re talking about. If it’s your art, remember how it felt creating it, or the reason why you created it. You don’t need to boast or bring your ego into the show – that’s often the fastest way to turn people off – but finding that happy balance where you can present who you are and what you do without feeling overwhelmed is important.
Introduce Yourself and Your Art
Storytelling has been the way humans have shared and grown cultures for thousands of years, and there’s no reason you can’t tell your own stories about your art and your life. These are a wonderful ways to help people understand who you are and what you’re about. You’re the world’s foremost expert on ‘you’, and your art, so take advantage of that!
A good presentation has the right amount of information and a dash of humor. Yes, we’re not all moonlighting from our art careers as comedic geniuses, but a touch of humor here and there helps lighten situations and break down barriers.
Set aside time at home in your studio to verbalize your thoughts and feelings about your art. Write them out, organize them, then rehearse. Your goal is to introduce yourself and connect with people by briefly telling them who you are, describing your art, and addressing a handful of questions. Tip: the best place to start is usually at the beginning.
Brainstorming and Writing
Consider writing about who influenced you and how you started as an artist. It doesn’t have to be formal to start with. Just write about what comes to mind, and put as much raw material in as you can. Write about your art journey in as much detail as you can – you can always edit things out later.
Once you think everything is written out, or you have as much information as you can squeeze out of yourself, go through and select the sentences that you feel will best represent your work, and you as an artist. Identify what being an artist means to you; what compels you to create art, where your ideas or inspirations originate, how you incorporate them into your work, and so on. It’s good to keep in mind that many people who attend art shows enjoy art but know little to nothing about art in general, let alone what they’re looking at or the artist. These are the people you have a good chance of attracting or winning over. So making your talk/presentation accessible to everyone is key.
You have a limited time to speak to everyone, so keep your language understandable to the general public. Your art is about you and your message on personal and societal levels; packing in academic jargon can detract from that. The last thing you want to do is look elitist or snobbish – it can separate many artists from collectors.
What is Your Message?
If you’d like some tips about putting together Your Message, I recommend looking at Your Message and You, by Celia Moriarty. It’s always worth considering though, what is your message and does it impact the wider world around you? Is it about positive or negative aspects of the world? How you convey this is important, and what people can use to find your art in the future.
Many powerful and confronting subjects can be broached through the medium of art. In presenting this type of subject, there should be an expressive dialogue that goes with the work. There may need to be an explanation of why you came to create and present this type of work. Sometimes a specific thing has happened to an artist on a deep, personal or emotional level for them to create some of their pieces. Your work needs an explanation of some type, and some will need more explanation than others.
There are a few ways you can do this to help with the nerve factor as well. Talk alone if you like, but sometimes reading aloud to friends or acquaintances can help as well. You can also film yourself speaking, which is a great way to learn if you have any nervous habits or ticks that you can work on. Reading some books or watching YouTube videos on public speaking is another option.
One of the great parts about filming artists for Colour In Your Life is that it gives them an insight into what it’s like to be in front of the camera. I have always only acted as a conduit for the artist, enabling them to tell their stories with as little input from myself as possible.
There Will Be Questions
You should practice answering questions from people. An odd thing to do, but worth it in the long run, as you will undoubtedly receive questions about your work and your message, be it in galleries or online. Always try to keep your answers positive, even if your piece is powerful and confronting, with negative connotations. Confronting pieces without great explanations can lose an audience. Get friends and family to ask as many questions about your work as possible, so you have a good idea of what’s to come.
At the end of any presentation, it’s always a good idea to take maybe half a dozen to a dozen questions. This will let the audience know that you’re open to discussion, making you more approachable afterward. Remember that you need to move through a crowd, a room or a gallery speaking to as many people as you can. In saying that, don’t get trapped in a corner with one person that’s drinking too much of your champagne. Clients may walk out if you’re chatting too much to one group or person. Spread yourself around and don’t be afraid to approach people either.
There’s usually one in every crowd – a person that has a significant gap between their brain and their mouth. There are people in the world that will try to make you feel stupid or unworthy because you’re an artist. You know, the old ‘get a real job’ critique. The most important thing in these situations is to stay calm.
We all know that art and what it does for society, as well as individuals, is incredibly important; half of our brain is driven toward creative endeavors. Ignorant people will always seek to make themselves feel bigger than they are, and normally try to rip down talented people to do so. Do not let them succeed.
If you have said things during your presentation that they’re calling out, address them with an explanation. If they’re simply being belligerent, how you proceed is up to you. The important thing is to be prepared for this occurrence and to be ready to back up your statements with information and damage control. How you react in these situations can be just as important to a client as your message itself.
If you’re presenting at a gallery opening, I recommend no longer than five to ten minutes. After that, people start to wander and you need to keep them interested in you. However, if you’re presenting in other situations or have been asked to present, confirming a time with those who brought you in is your best bet.
If you are holding an opening, then timing your speech is also key. Through experience, I have learned that an hour into the event can be beneficial. By this time, people have had a chance to wander and look at your work while probably having a few drinks. It’s amazing how champagne rather than wine can loosen people’s wallets (I’ve done more than a few shows over the years, and champagne always seems to work better than wine…)
Demonstrations Can Help
Part of the reason Colour In Your Life has been so successful is that people love watching others create. If you’re set up in a gallery for an exhibition or an allotted time, take a sketchpad or an easel or something with you. It gives people an insight into your abilities or techniques, which can help sell your work. Demonstrations also open up conversations.
It’s never a good idea to pressure someone into buying your work. If you’ve told your story and answered questions, your best bet is to step back and let the staff, gallery director, etc, close the deal. Sometimes it’s best not to distract the customer, so stepping back or letting someone else help close the sale can be very beneficial.
Graeme’s new course Reach More with Video teaches artists to create professional level videos to attract interest, grow their following and make more sales. Learn more about this comprehensive guide here.
Artsy Shark is a marketing partner and affiliate of Colour In Your Life.