ARTIST STATEMENTS: How to Explain the How With a Why

You can still share the how, but ground it with your ‘why’.

This week on Fine Art Views, I wrote about why it’s more important to share the ‘why’ of your artwork (why you make it) than the ‘how’ (how you make it.) Like a magician sharing how he does his tric, focusing only on the ‘how’ takes away a huge part of the magic of what you do.

Readers raised a few interesting points, noting that our customers do want to know how–so they can tell their friends, and be more invested in the artwork they’ve purchased from you.

I couldn’t agree more. As I said in the original article, I do provide a simple explanation that describes my process. Puff pastry, Samurai sword-making, scrimshaw.

But I believe that why you chose the ‘how’ is even more important to your audience.

One of my best signs in my booth is this one:

Welcome to my world!

I make artifacts from a lost culture, an imagined prehistory.

 My work is inspired by Ice Age cave paintings and other prehistoric art.  I want my artifacts to echo real ivory carvings of horses, deer, bear, fish and birds.

I use polymer clay, stacked in layers and stretched to make a block that has the grain and the feel of ivory. I make each animal one at a time, then bake, carve, and polish. The hands you see are miniature images of my own hands. A scrimshaw technique brings out the details of the markings.

I use polymer because I can make it look like real ivory, soapstone, coral, shell, and bone.

Unlike working with real ivory or bone, no animals are harmed.

Polymer is durable, yet lightweight and comfortable to wear.

I want my artifacts to look like they’ve been worn smooth by the touch of human hands. (Feel free to touch!)

I imagine the stories they carry. I retell those ancient stories, with these modern artifacts.

I use antique trade beads, semi-precious stones, and other collectible beads, to give my jewelry the look of a treasured piece, handed down through time, and many hands, and many hearts, connecting those ancient artists of the distant past, to you.

Do you see how the ‘why’ of my choice of techniques and materials, fits into my overall story about my art?

To get back to Bruce Baker’s comments that I mentioned in my Fine Art Views column, explain your choice of technique in terms of how it benefits your collector. “I use titanium glazes because they let me create colors that are richer and more vibrant. I use a higher firing temperature because it makes my pots more durable, so they’ll last a lifetime.”  (I have no idea if this is true, I’m not a potter myself, so I made it up.)

Another point was raised about being generous in sharing our techniques. I agree whole-heartedly.

But I’m not paying booth fees to give people a one-on-one class in how to do what I do.

As I said in my column, there are people who are only interested in your techniques. That’s fine, but they don’t get to use up my precious energy when I’m doing a show, or hosting an open studio. When people want more technical information on how to create faux ivory with polymer clay, I tell them it’s practically in the public domain, and recommend websites and how-to books to check out. Or I ask them to contact me after the show. 

There’s being generous, and there’s being generous. Only you can decide how much of your time , and energy, you want to spend teaching in the middle of selling your work, and whether or not you want to be compensated for that. I’ve found my own middle ground that reflects my integrity and priorities. You are always free to find yours, and it’s perfectly fine if it’s different than mine.

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