From Graeme’s desk.
I think one of the most terrifying things for most artists is to speak about their own artwork.
To present to a large crowd and share about what they do and how they feel their work influences or changes the world in some way.
Many of the most successful artists have become successful due to their ability to communicate their work and ideas to clients, galleries and investors.
It is important to cultivate and expand your fan bases. Brief conversations with clients can deepen their understanding about you as an artist and your work as well. Turn up to arts events and openings and these days continually work your social networking platforms so that you give great information about what you are doing on a continuous basis.
1. Be confident
It’s probably easy for me to say, as I do a TV show and publicly speak in many countries across the world these days, but the fear of speaking with people about your work can greatly effect your ability to sell your work and relate to those that are interested. You MUST be confident. Don’t boast or let your ego get in the way. There has to be a happy balance between your demeanor and approach to your personal presentation.
2. Introduce yourself and your art
Telling great stories about your life and your art is a wonderful way to allow people to understand who you are and your attitudes to your work. If you think you will get tongue tied, think again. You happen to be the world’s foremost expert on you and your art and you probably have enough stories to keep people interested for a while.
3. Be funny!
Keep your talks precise, informative but add a little humor if you can. Humor has the wonderful ability to break down initial barriers people might have about you.
To prepare, set aside some time at home or in your studio to verbalize your thoughts about your art. Write them down, and then organize and rehearse them. 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. Not much more is necessary. The best place to start is at the beginning.
5.Brainstorm and write
Write about who influenced you and how you started as an artist. This doesn’t have to be formal to start with. Just write what comes to your head. Put as much raw material in as you can. It doesn’t have to be in any formal manner or time line, just write about your art journey.
When you have enough information down, go through and select the sentences that you feel will best represent your work and your life 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. Keep in mind that many people who attend art shows enjoy art but, know little or nothing about art in general, what they’re looking at, or the artists. These are the types people you have a good chance to attract and win over. Make your talk accessible to everyone, and not only to those who already know and love you.
7. Keep your language simple
I have heard on a number of occasions, when attending art openings, the complex and completely unnecessary academic jargon that some elitist artists or gallery directors and critics use.
To be honest it just seems pompous and snobbish to speak like this and separates many artists from collectors.
You have a limited time to speak to everyone, so keep your language understandable to general public. Remember that your art is not just about you, it is about what you create and the message that it delivers on a personal and societal level.
8. What is the message?
What is the message and does it impact on the wider world around you? Is your message about the positive or negative aspects of the world? That’s a difficult ball to balance. Speaking personally, some of the works I create are very much aimed at organized religion across the world and how I feel about it as an ex-catholic school boy. Some people may paint their view of environmental destruction or war or political power plays.
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. Even this kind of work should have some explanation. Your work needs an explanation of some type and some will need more explanation than others.
Practise your talk alone, with friends and acquaintances. Video yourself on camera. One of the great parts about artists being filmed for the Colour in Your Life series is that it gives them an insight into what it is like to be in front of the camera. I have always only acted as a conduit for the artists, enabling them to tell their stories with the least amount of input from myself. It is important that you as a speaker gain that confidence, so even speaking in front of a mirror can help. Try reading some books or watch some YouTubes on public speaking.
10. Answer questions
Practise answering questions from people. Always try and keep your answers positive, even if you have a powerful confronting piece that has negative connotations. If you simply create confronting pieces without great explanation you will lose interest from your audience. Get your friends and family to ask you as many questions about your work life and up-coming show. This will help you when you are speaking with no notes.
When you have finished speaking at any event make sure you only take about a half a dozen questions. Remember that you need to move through a crowd or through a room or 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. You may have a client walk out the door if you a chatting too much to one group or person. Spread yourself around and don’t be afraid to go up to people and say hi.
11. Damage control
Yes there is always going to be someone in the crowd who has a brain that does not correctly correspond with their mouths.
Often it is some one who can’t handle their alcohol. There are people in the world that will try and make you feel stupid or not worthy because you are an artist. You know- “get a real job”. How many times have you heard that over the years you have been a practising artist?
I am always prepared for these people and really look forward to when one of these knuckle heads decides to open their mouths up. It enables me to give them a verbal punch to the mouth and to their tiny brain and inform them of the value of what the arts does for society as well as the individual. Maybe something that they could use to get over their attitude problems.
My point is make sure you have answers that address damage control statements you may have said during your presentation. I never go after anyone unless I can see a blatant bad attitude problem with a person. I always sway people with information they may not know and I can assure you after doing this for 35 years and travelling the globe as much as I have done, I well realize that 90% of the planet is uninformed and fairly clueless on how the world works. Bottom line is: be prepared.
12. Purchase pressure
Don’t try and pressure someone into buying your work. If you have told your story and answered any questions that have been asked, your best bet is to step back and let the staff or gallery director close the deal. This can apply to you even when you are doing a trade show or a studio show. If you have someone there to help you, say a partner, agent or a friend, let them close the deal and step back and talk to someone else, you will close more deals that way by exiting the sale and not distracting the customer.
13. It’s all in the timing
At openings I would suggest you talk no longer than about five to ten minutes. Any longer than that people get bored and start to wander. You need to keep them interested so that you can have the chance to speak to each of them in turn after wards.
Don’t talk too soon at your opening. If the exhibition opens at 6pm and finishes at 9pm, don’t start your talk at 6.30. I generally leave the opening until an hour after start time, to give people time to have a few drinks and look at your work and get comfortable for the night. It is amazing how champagne rather than wine can loosen people’s wallets.
I have done many shows over the years and for some reason I seem to sell more work with champagne than wine.
I have a few books out featuring my work and every so often at exhibitions and shows, people turn up with these books or old invitations, even magazine articles, generally they are wanting me to sign them or even get photos taken with them. I think the TV show is more responsible for that than my art career, but even so make yourself available for things like that, it just spreads good will.
14. Demonstrate methods at your exhibition
I have found over the years that if you are attending your show for the period that it is on, it’s always good to be doing something while you are there. Take a sketchpad with you or even set your easel up in the gallery and be doing work when your clients turn up or people that come in from the street. The reason that Colour in Your Life has become so successful is due to the fact that people love to watch others create. It gives people an insight into your ability and techniques, which really helps in selling your work. Demonstrations encourages people to open up conversations with you rather than the other way around.
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