Make the Most of Your Public Appearances
Many of today's talented and creative artists also know how to work the crowds at events where their art is the center of attention. They are well aware that collectors love to speak with artists at gallery openings, open studios, art fairs, and anywhere else where artists appear in person alongside their art. Consequently, they use their social networking and public relations skills to effectively convey who they are and what they're about in order to expand their fan bases, increase their potential for making sales and ultimately advance their careers. Even a brief conversation with an artist can deepen a collector's experience of their art in so many ways that artists would be well advised to maximize the potential for positive outcomes whenever opportunities present themselves.
That said, relating to people at gallery openings, open studios or other public exhibitions of their art, either one-on-one or in groups, is not easy for many artists. They're not often shy, uncomfortable, and most importantly, unprepared to be the center of so much attention all at once. The good news is that any artist can overcome these challenges and make the most of their public appearances. All that's necessary are two (and sometimes maybe three) basic ingredients-- a brief scripted and well rehearsed introduction to your art, a committment to make yourself accessible, and when applicable, a short continuous loop video about you and your art.
Introducing Your Art
Giving a brief talk at your openings is a great way to introduce yourself and your art and to attract new collectors. If you think you'll get tongue-tied, think again. You happen to be the world's foremost authority on your art and you certainly have more than enough interesting stories and anecdotes kicking around in your brain to occupy you for maybe five minutes... max. All you have to do is take a little time at home or in the studio to verbalize them, write them down, organize and rehearse them. Your goal is to connect with people by telling them who you are, describing your art, and answering a handful of their questions about it. That's all that's necessary. Here are several tips on how to script and deliver an effective talk:
* Begin by writing down whatever comes to mind about your career and your art. Free associate and don't bother with organization, grammar or spelling. You want to wring as many ideas out of your brain and down onto paper as possible.
* When you have enough material, separate out those statements that best characterize you and your art. These should include brief background and explanatory information about what your art represents, what being an artist means to you, what compels you to create art, where your ideas originate and how you incorporate them into your work, and so on. Keep in mind that many people who attend art openings enjoy art but know little or nothing about either it or the artists who create it. These are people you have a chance to attract and win over, so direct a significant percentage of your words to them, and not only to those who already know and love you.
* Keep explanations simple, avoid polarizing or controversial issues (unless that's what your art is about), and convey ideas within positive frameworks. And please oh please-- tell your listeners what's in it for them to enjoy, experience and hopefully buy your art. Remember-- your art is not only about you; it has to resonate in some way with viewers in order for them to buy it. For instance, some artists portray realities or outcomes where people of diverse backgrounds and histories resolve their differences and live together in harmony. Other artists create art to help themselves as well as others to confront and overcome adversities in their lives such as losses, health problems or substance abuse issues. Yet others reconfigure or represent everyday situations and circumstances in new and unique ways that provide us with insight not only into our lives, but also into those lives around us.
* Even though your art may contain negative or disturbing aspects or imagery, portray them as representing positive end results. Don't worry; you can do this without deceiving, misrepresenting, or otherwise feeling that you're compromising your integrity. Rather than dwell on the downside, focus on how your art points the way toward what people want, would like to have, or one day will have if they really really want it rather than how awful things are now or what must be sacrificed or destroyed in the process. Say, for example, that "My art looks towards a world where everyone conserves energy, is responsible for preserving the environment and shares our natural wealth" rather than "My art is about greed, oppression, abuse of power, and smashing the corporate machine."
* Convey to people that your art has meaning or significance on multiple levels. In addition to its visual appeal, for example, it might also speak to a greater or more noble mission, philosophy, life experience, or ideal. In other words, you want collectors to feel that they're getting more than home or office decorations when they buy your art, and it's often incorporating these "intangible values" into your work that can make or break a sale.
* Keep your talk to five minutes or less with an additional few minutes for questions. Your entire presentation including questions and answers should not exceed ten minutes (preferably less) in order to avoid boring people or losing their attention. Time and record or video yourself for two or three minutes and you'll be amazed how much you can say in such a seemingly short period of time. Then play it back and see if you can hold your own attention. If you can't, that's a problem.
* Practice your talk and practice it well-- alone, in front of the mirror, with friends or acquaintances, in front of a video camera or even your cell phone, and under whatever other circumstances are necessary for you to pretty much memorize and feel at ease delivering it.
* Practice answering questions that people repeatedly ask you about your art. Keep answers positive by returning to the same themes that you touch upon in your talk. Have friends or acquaintances ask you random questions and practice your spontaneous answers on them.
* When you're speaking, take no more than four to six questions from the audience. A good target range per answer is about thirty seconds (time people being interviewed live on television and you'll see that longer answers tend to lose viewers' attention). Again, time yourself answering a question for 30 seconds or even a bit less and you'll be amazed at how much you can say. Answer additional questions and address more complicated or detailed aspects of your art in one-on-one conversations after your talk is over.
* Even though the great majority of questions and feedback are positive, prepare several damage control type responses that diffuse or deflect those infrequent negative encounters. You never know when you'll run into a jerk.
* Don't try to sell your art or pressure people into buying it. Give them the space to make their own decisions. If you're showing at a gallery, sales activities should take place with the assistance of gallery personnel. They're trained professionals who sell for a living; you're not.
* The best time to give your talk is during the early second half of an opening or event. This gives people plenty of time to look around, acclimate themselves, socialize, have a glass of wine, and enjoy your art.
Making Yourself Accessible
How you act at your openings and how available you make yourself are just as important as what you say in your talk or in one-on-one conversations. Always arrive early and be on the floor right from the start (if you have to leave, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back). Continually circulate and keep interactions brief so that everyone who wants to meet you gets their chance. If someone tries to monopolize you-- especially friends-- politely excuse yourself after a minute or two. And if you see that someone is waiting to speak with you, acknowledge that you'll be with them shortly; do not ignore them.
Make every effort to fulfill modest requests such as signing gallery invitations or catalogues, letting people have their pictures taken with you, and inscribing sold art if buyers request it. If collectors bring in old books, catalogues, or invitations that mention your name and ask you to sign them, do it. A few people will always try to take advantage of your generosity, but the overall goodwill that results from these nominal acts will far outweighs the occasional negatives.
* Keep a sketch pad on hand somewhere in the gallery and present occasional quick drawings to diehard fans, people who buy your art, or children who love your work.
* Approach people who appear to be studying or discussing your art and casually mention that you're available to explain it or answer any questions. Go easy here, but do make yourself available.
Your Video - Not Always Necessary, but Sometimes
Putting yourself on a video monitor always adds credibility to your art as well as to your reputation, especially if there are unique or engaging aspects to your lifestyle, how you make your art, or your creative process. A five to ten minute continuous loop video showing you making art at your studio, doing special appearances, receiving awards, being the center of attention at crowded openings, visiting unusual places, meeting interesting people, and having you or others speak about your art is a terrific public relations tool. Follow the same basic guidelines you use when putting together your talk and you'll have a finished product that attracts people to you and your work.
Professionally produced videos can cost thousands of dollars, of course, but no matter what your budget, you can get the job done, especially with the proliferation of digital video cameras and basic editing programs. If you have no camera or little or no money, borrow a friend's camera, put it on a tripod, and video yourself working on a piece of art while explaining what you're doing. Have a friend follow you around your studio filming you while you talk about yourself and your art. If you can afford a few dollars, hire a student or recent art school graduate with film and video production experience to script a video, shoot it, and then edit it for you.
If you do decide to make a video, set up several comfortable chairs or couches in a quiet location at each of your openings or events and have it play repeatedly. It'll work like a continuous talk and give people who don't get a chance to speak with you (or who are too shy to approach you) an opportunity to get to know who you are on a personal level. Those few minutes may turn out to be just what certain collectors need to make that leap from really liking your art to actually buying it.
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