Make the Most of
Your Public Appearances
Many of today's accomplished artists not only make great art, but also know how to work the crowds at events, both online and in person, on social media, and anywhere else their art is the center of attention. They are well aware that collectors, followers, and fans love to speak with artists at gallery openings, open studios, art fairs, on social media, by email, on Zoom, on panels, or wherever artists are accessible in person along with their art. In other words, they know how to use use their networking and speaking skills to effectively convey who they are and what their art is about.
They're good at cultivating and expanding their fan bases, getting people more interested in their art, increasing their understanding of it, and ultimately enticing them to buy. Even brief conversations can deepen buyers' and collectors' experiences of an artist's art, and you as an artist would be well advised to maximize the potential for positive outcomes whenever you get opportunities or invitations to appear in person or online and talk or otherwise communicate about your art.
That said, relating to people at gallery openings, open studios or other public exhibitions of their art, and online events or conversations, either one-on-one or in groups, is not easy for many artists. They're often shy, uncomfortable or just plain not prepared to be the center of so much attention all at once. The good news is that any artist can overcome these obstacles and make the most of their public appearances. All that's necessary are two (and sometimes maybe three) basic ingredients-- a brief scripted or well-rehearsed introduction to your art, a committment to make yourself accessible to whoever wants to talk with you, and if appropriate, a short introductory video or videos starring you and your art.
Introduce Your Art
Giving a brief talk at any of your openings or events in person or online, like on Zoom or a podcast for instance, 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 you and your art, and you certainly have more than enough interesting stories and anecdotes kicking around in your brain to occupy any audience for quite some time. The good news is that two or three minutes is more than enough for a typical introductory talk (you don't want to interrupt the flow of any event for much longer than that).
To prepare, about all you have to do is 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 perhaps also addressing a handful of questions that people typically ask you about your work. Not much more is necessary. Here are several tips on how to script and deliver an effective talk:
* Begin by writing down whatever comes to mind about your art and your experiences as an artist. Free associate-- words, phrases, broken sentences, anything-- don't bother with organization, grammar or spelling at this point. You simply want to put as many ideas and as much raw material into writing as possible.
* When you feel you have enough, separate out those statements that best characterize you and your art. These might include brief background and explanatory information about what your art signifies or represents, what being an artist means to you, what drives you to create art, where your ideas or inspirations originate, how you incorporate them into your work, what your creative process is like, and so on.
* Always keep in mind that many people who love art know little or nothing about either art in general, whatever art they're looking at, or the artists who create it. These are the types people you have a good chance to attract and win over if you can effectively communicate about your art. So make your talk accessible to everyone and easy to understand. Don't worry about boring those who already know and love your work. Your dedicated fans will stick with you regardless; it's the newbies, the strangers you want to focus on, those who have the potential to join the ranks of the dedicated if they like what they hear.
* Keep explanations clear, concise, basic and avoid art jargon or esoteric references. You'll have plenty of time to answer deeper and more complicated questions later in one-on-one conversations. Do your best to involve all listeners with your art by speaking about it in ways that include them in the conversation, encourage them to experience the work on a personal level, and hopefully make it a part of their lives. Remember-- your art is not only about you; it has to resonate in some way with viewers in order for them to want to know more, and hopefully buy. You know what's in it for you; make sure your audience has some idea of what's in it for them.
* Focus on the positive. Even though your art may touch on negative, controversial or unpleasant subjects, you can always focus on the plus side. For example, if you make art about the degradation of the environment, say something like "My art envisions a world where people live lives of care, concern, and respect for our planet" rather than, "My art is about greed, oppression, abuse of power, the end of the world as we know it, and smashing the corporate machine." If you want people to come over to your way of thinking or seeing things, be gentle, hopeful, and encouraging, and speak in terms of beneficial outcomes rather than the opposite. The tougher talk is best saved for one-on-one conversations with those who really want to hear it.
* Convey to people what your art stands for or signifies beyond the visual. In addition to how it looks, perhaps it speaks to a greater or more noble mission, philosophy, cause, shared life experience, commentary, or ideal. Make it more than just art. For instance, if your abstract paintings represent or are based on memories of gardens you played in when you were a child, say so. Make them come to life. Don't keep your art a mystery, even if certain aspects of it might be a bit sensitive or personal. You don't have to tell everything, but openly and honestly talking about your inspirations and interpretations is far better than keeping them to yourself. Collectors appreciate honest, sincerity, and discussing your art on multiple levels. Listening to your story helps them realize that they're getting much more than decorations. They're getting meaning as well. Incorporating "intangible significance and value" into your work can move people in profound ways.
* Unless you're being asked to give a formal speech or are otherwise requested to speak for a significant period of time, keep your talk to five minutes or less with maybe an additional few minutes for questions. You may think this is hardly enough time to say anything, but once you start practicing, you'll quickly realize how much you can say in as little as even two or three minutes. In most cases, your entire presentation including questions and answers should not generally exceed ten minutes (preferably less) in order to avoid boring people, losing their attention, or keeping them from looking at your art.
* When rehearsing your talk, good practice is to record or video yourself. When you play it back, see if you can hold your own attention. If you can't, do a rewrite and tighten it up.
* Practice your talk and practice it well-- alone, in front of the mirror, with friends or acquaintances, while videoing yourself on camera or cell phone, and under whatever other circumstances are necessary for you to pretty much memorize and feel at ease delivering it, no matter where you are. Call it an elevator pitch or whatever you want, but make sure you know it really well and can give it under even the most uncomfortable circumstances. You'll find that those few words are often just enough to encourage people to ask questions, engage you in conversation, or otherwise want to find out more about your art.
* Practice answering all kinds of questions about your art, and especially ones that people repeatedly ask you. Keep answers positive by returning to the same themes you touch upon in your talk. Have friends or acquaintances ask you random questions and practice answering them on the spot. Keep answers brief, usually no longer than 30 seconds. Again, time yourself talking for 30 seconds and you'll quickly realize how much you'll be able to say.
* When you're done speaking, take no more than four to six questions from the audience. Keep answers brief; longer answers tend to lose people's attention. Offer to answer additional questions or discuss more complicated or detailed aspects of your art in one-on-one conversations or by otherwise contacting you after the question/answer period is over. Keep an eye on the audience all the while; if you see eyes start wandering or people gradually inching towards the door or losing attention or signing off online, it's time to stop talking.
* Even though the great majority of questions and feedback are positive, prepare several preventative responses intended to diffuse or deflect those infrequent negative encounters. You never know when you'll run across someone whose mission it is to give you a hard time.
* Avoid trying 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, let gallery personnel handle the selling part. If you're online, wait until you're done with the group part and then talk one-on-one with anyone who seems interested in buying.
* If you're speaking in person, 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 both BEFORE and AFTER the talk.
Make 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 or people you already know and can speak with anytime-- politely excuse yourself after a minute or two. And if you see that someone is waiting to speak with you while you're speaking with someone else, acknowledge that you'll be with them shortly; do not simply ignore them. These guidelines apply to online talks, conversations, podcasts, panels, interviews, or Zoom meetings as well.
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 they 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 modest gestures will far outweigh the occasional negatives.
* Keep a sketch pad on hand somewhere at galleries or events and if the situation warrants, 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 at some length and casually mention that you're available to talk about it or answer any questions. Go easy here, but at least make your presenece known. This goes for online situations as well.
Your Video - Not Always Necessary, but Sometimes a Big Benefit
Having an introductory video of yourself and your art always adds to your credibility and reputation. A video is recommended especially if there are unique or engaging aspects to the art itself, your life as an artist, how you make your art, or your creative process. A three to ten minute 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, art work in the studio, or showing yourself or others speaking about your art is a terrific way to engage new viewers. When circumstances warrant, have the video playing as a continuous loop. 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. Keep in mind that many people are uncomfortable or otherwise hesitant about speaking with artists in person, and that providing a video is perfect for them.
For social media posts, keeping videos under a minute is recommended. Online attention spans are notoriously short.
Professionally produced videos can be expensive, but no matter what your budget, you can get the job done, especially now that pretty much everyone has cameras and cell phones. Basic editing programs can come in mighty handy as well. If you can't hire pros, think about contacting art schools with video departments to see whether any of their students might be interested. If you have little or no money or no camera or an older phone, see if you can borrow a friend's. If you can afford a few dollars, hire someone with film or video production experience to help you script, shoot, and edit it.
Wondering what to video? Show yourself working on a piece of art while explaining what you're doing. Give a short studio tour while talking about yourself and your art. Even filming mundane tasks like packing a piece of art for shipping or how you mix paint can be interesting. The basic idea of any video should be to give brief glimpses into who you are as an artist. They give people opportunities to get to know you on a personal level. Whether in person or video, those few minutes may turn out to be just what buyers or collectors need to make that leap from just liking your art to actually welcoming it into their lives.
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