(Spoiler alert: The choices are small, but many. And you have to keep at it!)
Years ago, I sat on a panel of artists and crafts industry professionals, speaking on various issues and answering questions from the audience.
Near the end, an artist badgered me unmercifully, repeatedly asking me to reveal my marketing “secrets” for the entire audience to hear.
I felt extremely uncomfortable, even resentful, about the demands for several reasons.
First, I wasn’t even sure what was being asked. A list of all my marketing efforts for the past 18 months to promote my artwork? For the last 8 years? The efforts before or after 9/11, the dot com crash and the recession? Did they want to hear all my mistakes, too? Or just my successes? Did they want to hear what I learned? Or what I’m learning now?
How much time do you have?!
I was also frustrated because I had no context for the person asking the questions. I had no idea what their work is like, where they are now in their business plan (or if they even HAVE a business plan) and what they are willing to do to succeed. I had no idea what their personal, financial and professional goals are for their art/business. I had no idea who their market is and what they’ve done to target it or even identify it. How do I know what will be of use to someone else unless I understand where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go?
Finally, I was confused by the assumption that I’ve figured it all out and can neatly box it up and simply give it to someone else. I’m still learning, changing, growing as an artist. I have no idea if I’m even thinking the right way about MY marketing plan. How on earth do I put all this in context for THEM?
But I also felt vaguely guilty. After all, wasn’t the panel discussion a culmination of an entire weekend doing just that?–helping others take their next step by sharing my own experiences and learning? Hadn’t I already mentored a number of people here, and at previous conferences, offering insights and advice freely? Don’t I do that daily with my blog, in my magazine articles, and in other professional development classes I teach?
So why was I feeling intense resistance to this artist’s demands?
I’m been thinking about why these scenarios seemed so vastly different, why I would respond wholeheartedly in one instance and clam up in another.
The next day, as I ate breakfast, I read an article about long-term weight loss in the April 2006 issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine. The article was called “Secrets of Thin People” by Lorie Parch. And I had my “aha” moment.
The demanding person was asking me for my “secret diet” for losing weight.
And I don’t HAVE a secret diet for losing weight.
What I DO have is results from deciding from time to time that I needed to change the daily choices I make in my diet, my activities and my attitude–to achieve a different outcome in my life.
What I feel comfortable sharing is how I got from a person who constantly made unhealthy choices, to a person who (periodically) will make consistent, healthier choices–which, as a consequence, RESULTS in me being thinner. (Er….now and then.)
I still don’t actually diet nor are all my choices perfect even now. But I’ve been successful in MODIFYING many of my choices slightly over a long period of time. And when I make those modifications, the side effects are, I lose weight, I get more fit, I lower my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy limits, and I walk/talk/carry myself, and care for myself, differently.
(The ONLY physical “shortcut” I’ve taken through the years is, brilliant red hair. Better living through chemicals and all that.)
I’ll share some of the professional, artistic and emotional changes I made years ago that got me where I am today professionally (with apologies to Ms. Parch for using her article for the structure.)
But for today, rest assured there are no “secrets”, no insider information that is being systematically withheld from you.
I know it feels like that sometimes…. It feels like other people KNOW what to do and when to do it.
But that’s not the case.
Success in the arts, like any other success in life, means staying the course. Staying with one course of action until it has a chance to provide results.
One thing that helps you achieve success is getting better at what you do. â
But also recognizing when to switch because it isn’t working for YOU.It means making daily choices, often small choices, that eventually… EVENTUALLY lead to big results.
Because, just like losing weight is an END RESULT of making many different, healthier life choices, being successful is an END RESULT of making many different, “healthier” artistic, professional and personal choices.
When asked for a donation for a fundraiser, ask yourself what you’re REALLY giving away.
This is a reprint of an article I wrote five years ago. My good friend and fellow artist Nicole Caulfield came across it after a discussion about artists donating artwork. It still stands today, so here it is.
A thread came up on a discussion forum earlier this week, about whether, and how, artists should donate their work to auctions for charity.
There was an earnest discussion about who donates to what, and how. But nobody pointed out the downsides.
It can cheapen your work.
For most artists and craftspeople, our cost of materials (except for gold and precious stones) are negligible. Our prices depend on our creativity, our time, our skill–and what people will pay for our work.
At an auction, what people will pay can be a disaster.
Because most people attend such charity auctions to get a deal.
If you don’t believe me, ask a gallery.
I did. They said they BEG their artists not to donate work, for this exact reason. Of course, they have something at stake–they want to represent your and hopefully be the only one in the area to represent you. But they also are vested in having your work GAIN value, not lose value.
It’s funny, doctors are not asked to contribute medical services, and teachers are not asked to donate tutoring. I’ve never seen lawyers donate free legal advice. They may do pro bono work, but that’s not what they donate to auctions. Not to say it’s NEVER done, but I’ve not seen it. I believe this says something about the perceived value of our work–because artists get hit up a LOT for donations.
“Struggling artists” (including musicians) are often encouraged to donate for the “exposure” the event will create for them. To quote Jack White, artist and author of books about the marketing of art, “Artists die of exposure.”
My personal experience shows what kind of “exposure” you are risking. Take this chance to learn from someone else’s (mine!) mistake for a change.
I donated a wall hanging to a prestigious benefit auction in Boston. The show was filled with work by well-known book illustrators. (By the way, illustrators–who make commissioned art for use in books–have already been paid for their artwork.)
I attended the event, excited about connecting with art lovers who might be intrigued by my work. It turns out it wasn’t really an art show. Ski trips, wine cases and gift certificates were also being auctioned off.
I overheard countless conversations by the attendees that distressed me. (I knew some of them and I knew how much money they made) They were chortling about how cheaply they could bid on their favorite items in the silent auction. One woman had her eye on a beautiful handmade quilt, with exquisite piecing and sewing. She absolutely loved it. It was wonderful!
She also didn’t want to bid more than $40 on it.
I left before my work came up for bids.
A year later, a couple with the winning bid on my wall hanging came to my booth at a craft fair. Okay! This was it! It was working! Now they were going to become my collectors!
Not. They’d come to brag to me how cheaply they’d won it.
They weren’t even looking for me. They’d come to the fair on a whim, for the first time. They just happened to walk by my booth and recognized my work.
My booth was full of customers. The couple told me (loudly, of course) about their experience. “We got it for $35!!”, they exclaimed. (This was a small wall hanging valued at $350.) They couldn’t believe their good fortune. “It was so beautiful, and nobody else bid on it!” They went on and on about how excited they were to get “such a deal!”
Then they left. They didn’t even buying a tie tack.
The silence in my booth was deafening.
They meant well, I suppose, but it was humiliating.
So much for “exposure”. My work had been “exposed” as being worth $35. A hall full of people had watched as my work was devalued and ignored, with a repeat performance there in my booth.
I didn’t acquire a new customer, because they didn’t buy anything else, and I never saw them again.
I didn’t even have the tax write-off for the act, because tax law clearly states ARTISTS can only write off the cost of materials in the piece. Only people who actually BUY your art and donate it can write off the full value of the work.
And I cringe every time I think of them showing off the work in their home to visitors. “Guess how much we paid for this!” they probably chortle gleefully. “Only $35!!” What a steal! What a bargain!
OUCH. NOT how I want to be remembered.
That was years ago, and I’ve learned my lesson. I now carefully consider how and when I contribute my work.
Ask any gallery that represents artists, and they will tell you the same thing. Those auctions may be dedicated to “a good cause”, but people buy for one reason–they’re getting a deal. A bargain. Is that how you want your work to be marketed?
The ONLY time I saw this work was with an artist whose work and reputation were already strong–a strong collector base already well-established. His work was in demand because he was already at full production.
His piece started a bidding war, and went for MORE than the stated value. But his was the ONLY painting out of HUNDREDS of donated works that did so. Everyone–I mean EVERYONE–else’s work went for a fraction of the stated value.
Strong words, I know. And this is not an iron-clad rule for me.
I’m much more willing to contribute money or time to a cause dear to my heart. There are a few organizations I have supported with donations of artwork.
But I’ve also learned to say no graciously.
Here are guidelines that help me narrow the field that might also help YOU.
If your aim is to gain “exposure” (and I’ve already cautioned you how this can backfire), then at least donate something people will SEE. Now, if I donate anything, I donate jewelry, because at least someone will WEAR it. If it generates comments, perhaps the person will rave about the piece instead of raving about how cheaply they got it…
I pick fundraisers I care deeply about. And I let them know I’ve made an exception for them because of that. (This also controls how often my work is seen at charity auctions.)
Better yet is to suggest a CUSTOMER donate your work.
Or to offer to donate a portion of your profits to the cause. I’ve made special pieces with this in mind. I displayed them with a sign saying, “Profits from this pin are donated to such-and-such organization”. This is win/win–for you, for the charity, even for the customer. Your work holds its full value, the charity gets its donation, the customer gets to participate.
Or donate something free WITH PURCHASE. A free bracelet with the purchase of a necklace. Or a free sculpture with the purchase of a wall hanging.
Or offer a ONE-TIME discount. Bruce Baker, speaker and writer on the business of craft, cautions that customers tend to view even “one-time” discounts as PERMANENT discounts. I tried it once, and he’s right. But it’s still an option.
At the very least, offer to provide the item for your wholesale price. That is, the charity acquires it for what a store would pay for it. And set a minimum bid. More and more art organizations are using this model for their auctions, because it’s more artist-friendly. One person from such an art org confided in me, “We realized that saying we supported artists, then constantly asking them to donate work, was a contradiction of our mission statement!” Yes.
How do you say no to such requests graciously?
Tell them you get asked so often for such contributions, you now contribute once or twice a year to carefully-considered causes. You consider all requests, then make your decision in….pick a month or two. Say, June and December. And you are very sorry, but you’ve already made your decision for the year.
If you like the organization, ask them to submit a request in time for next year’s selection process.
Buy an ad in their event program. It will get you the same exposure and you won’t be donating your work at bargain prices.
Or send them a check. At least that’s tax deductible.
Tell Me A Story: Novelty
by Luann Udell
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column “Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Remember, to ordinary people, We are the people who ran away to join the circus.
Use the magic.
We humans love the odd and the curious.
The Guinness Book of Records. The story in your local newspaper about the calf born with two heads or the gardener who grew a monster-sized squash. The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs TV program with Mike Rowe, who volunteers to try out the nation’s dirtiest, most disgusting work. And P.T. Barnum’s famous (or infamous) sideshow attractions. The proverbial “man bites dog” (vs. the boring and predictable “dog bites man”) stories.
What’s at the root of all these?
Although many of you have been inspired by this series of articles on using news values in your marketing, I know some are unconvinced of their value, and grumbling on the sidelines.
I know if some have protested the value of using sex and romance as a story hook, the idea of using novelty in our self-promotion (press releases, artist statement, advertising, etc.) will make them grind their teeth. I can hear it now….
“I’m a serious artist! I don’t want to even be considered in the same (news) ballpark as giant squash and weirdo publicity stunts!”
You—and I—are proud of our business skills, our hard-won credentials, the prestigious exhibits our work has appeared in—and rightly so. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today, and we want to be taken seriously as artists.
We aren’t some ‘novelty act’ scrounging for a sound bite on the radio or conniving for a mention in the ‘weird news’ section of the newspaper.
Maybe. And…maybe not.
Consider this: In other people’s eyes, our very existence is the novelty.
I’ve sat through many, many seminars conducted by nationally-known speaker Bruce Baker, who talks about displaying and selling art and fine craft. Bruce is a compelling and entertaining speaker who’s spoken to tens of thousands of artists over the years, sharing his insights and observations on marketing. He has a knack for turning a phrase, and one of my favorites is this one:
“Above all, you as artists and craftspeople must remember: To the ordinary public, you are the people who ran away to join the circus!”
He means that our customers, the general public, and yes, sometimes our mothers, think of us as odd and highly unusual people. We didn’t grow up to be insurance salesmen or doctors or shop clerks or teachers. (Or, if those are our ‘day jobs’, they don’t completely define us.)
We are wild and crazy artists.
Oh, yes, we may be successful at what we do, and we may be as disciplined as a brain surgeon when it comes to refining our skills; we may be as focused as a CPA about our bottom line; we may be as dedicated as a teacher and as creative as…well, an artist.
But we did something most people only dream about—we ‘ran away’ from the ordinary life, and did something wonderful.
We work for ourselves, not a corporation or a boss. We set our own hours, create our own practice, follow our own professional goals.
Every day, we create something astonishing out of simple, common materials: A little paint, a few pencils, a glop of clay, a piece of wood.
We make something that looks so real, you want to reach into the canvas and stroke it. We create something that wasn’t there before, perhaps not even imagined before. Our work is found throughout human history, from the earliest dawn of prehistory to the newest 3D movie magic in the theater.
Sometimes the meaning of our work is crystal clear, at times so mysterious others can only guess at the story. When our work is good, it can transport people to another time, another place, another attitude, a deeper understanding and appreciation of their world.
It’s like we’re magicians. It’s like we’re…circus people! Off in our own world, traveling from show to show, creating marvels and miracles, and leaving our mark in people’s homes, in public places, in museums.
We ARE the novelty.
Put some of that magic, that awe, that suspension of belief into your writing. Use the special!
Now, of course, there are more ordinary uses of novelty. (A strange sentence, yes?) Perhaps, even among artists, you are different.
You may grind your own paints or use egg tempura in your murals.
You may specialize in painting airplane nose cone art, or balloon animal art, or other esoteric subject matter.
Perhaps, like Andy Goldsworthy, you’ve pioneered or popularized an unusual or ephemeral art form.
Or you’re the sidewalk artist who incorporates striking optical illusions in your chalk paintings.
Maybe you were an early adapter of the ATC (artist trading card) phenomenon, or the Painting a Day movement. What caught people’s attention was the novelty of the idea, the discipline of daily creation, the accessibility of small works and the (initially) low prices of such work. And, of course, the new idea—the novelty—of being able to view and trade or purchase such works on EBay.
Scratch the normal surface of what it is you do, and how you do it, and why you do it, and see if novelty is a story hook worth your consideration.
And even if it isn’t, understand that you yourself are also a novelty.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
If someone else thinks you’re special, it must be true!
Another article I wrote for Fine Art Views, on using story hooks in your press releases and promotional literature….
Tell Me a Story: Eminence
by Luann Udell
Prominence and eminence as news values baffled me when I first read about them. Think of ‘prominence’ as people who are celebrated for whatever reason, and how they are connected to you. And think of ‘eminence’ as honors/celebrity bestowed on YOU. […]
Read the rest of this article at:
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).
For a complimentary subscription, visit: http://www.fineartviews.com
I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)
I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference
In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.
I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.
The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.
She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”
I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.
It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.
In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.
My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:
I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.
When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.
To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.
I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.
And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)
Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.
But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.
Making the Most of Your Open Studio
by Luann Udell on 10/14/2010 10:08:54 AM
With permission from Fine Art Views, the art blog I write for, I’m reprinting today’s blog post here on MY blog! :^)
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did.” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
I just finished a two-day open studio event, as part of a group that began a few years ago here in New Hampshire. I’ve done other open studios, on my own and as part of larger groups. This particular one is a good one to consider for what works and what doesn’t; we’re a small group (25 artists) and we’ve built it from scratch. It was our third tour and we finally started to see the results of all our hard work.
In the past two years, I felt fortunate if I made enough sales to meet expenses. I had to find other ways to value the experience beyond sales.
Of course, there’s the reward of having a clean studio. In the two weeks I deep-cleaned my space, I finally found all my scissors. And discovered I have not one, not two, but FOUR paper cutters. (Yes, I gave one away.)
I’ve come to appreciate the emotional rewards of hosting such an event. It can be a great way to thank current customers—they love an invitation to see you in your little world!
I discovered the joy of sharing my space with a compatible artist and friend. We tag-teamed the set-up, food and demonstrations. The good energy we created was palpable.
I found new collectors, and met more people who support what I’m doing. I reconnected with long-lost friends and made new ones. A small get-together is planned for like-minded stamp carvers. A defunct artist support group now plans to get back together.
There’s no single right way to have an open studio, of course, and some people prefer not to do them at all. Sometimes our galleries encourage these events, knowing that creating that relationship between artist and collector will benefit all concerned. And sometimes our galleries don’t like it at all.
Here are some thoughts on what worked for us and how to keep everybody happy. It’s not comprehensive, but it may give you insights on aspects of planning that are often overlooked.
Feel free to add your thoughts and share your experiences, too!
It takes time.
You might get lucky and have a stellar event your first time out. I did in years when money was flowing more freely. Nowadays, it can take time. Sometimes you just have to keep doing an event until it gains momentum. That seemed to be the case with our tour.
Piggy-back on another tour/event/holiday.
There’s another more established art tour in our area that runs on the same weekend. Some of their members were miffed we did ours the same time. Others were thrilled. They knew that more options generates more opportunities. Yes, some of their “frequent fliers” tried our tour this year—some of these visitors said they simply wanted to try something new. Next year, our “regulars” will surely try theirs. It’s win/win for everyone.
We also picked a popular regional holiday weekend (Columbus Day) which is perfect for enjoying the fall foliage in New England. People are out and about and looking for things to do. “What a beautiful vista…. Hey! There’s a sign for an art studio tour. Let’s go see some artists!”
Which brings us to…
Marketing is important.
Our signs brought a lot of people in. We had great advertising, too, and snagged some good publicity (free!) in the form of newspaper articles, too. But signs hammer the point home. My husband drove around the area that weekend for a rock climbing venture. He commented that he saw our signs everywhere!
We tried to save money by making our own signs. They are eclectic and fun. But they’re not holding up well and a good wind knocks them off their pinnings. We may end up having signs made commercially—more money, but also more durable. If local politicians running for office can have decent signs, we can, too!
Create a great brochure and an excellent map.
We’re lucky–one of our members had these skills. He designed a lovely brochure using the theme and the rich colors of autumn to tie us all together. It’s bold, bright and professional-looking. He found an extremely affordable online printer and we placed them in key locations all over the area. I heard many compliments about our brochure. It just made us look like we really knew what we were doing! (I’ve included images of it. Forgive my lack of photography skills with glossy paper…) (I forgot to show the map. Trust me, it’s there!)
Tip: Targeting your audience gives you the most bang for your buck. I do a big retail show a month before the tour. I gave every customer a brochure with their purchase and offered them to anyone who expressed a wish to see my studio. Each and every one was delighted with this “personal invitation”. And a lot of them came, too. (I was touched by the collectors who couldn’t come and called to let me know—just as if they’d been invited to a party!)
Work with your galleries.
Some artists have a local gallery that represents them. One particular gallery is not happy when artists sell directly to customers. They believe all sales should go through them. If this happens, try to work out a compromise that keeps everyone happy. One artist only shows and sells work for the open studio that is not in the gallery. This can be work from a different series that’s not compatible with the gallery’s client base, or smaller, lower-priced work (the gallery doesn’t carry her miniatures, for example) or even unframed pieces. They are also more willing to let her sell for very short term events, like our local Art Walk.
You’ll also be wise to never undersell your gallery. That’s almost guaranteed to lose you your place with them. Instead, try the different series/smaller pieces/work-they-don’t-want-to-carry approach.
If your protesting gallery is a major account for you, you might even consider offering them a commission on the work you sell during this event.
Create groups within each location.
Your current customers may feel fine coming to your studio already. New visitors will feel much more comfortable if you have more than one artists in your location. It’s just human nature—multiple options make people feel they’re sure to find something/someone they like! Artists who double up (or even three or four) in a studio consistently report more visitors and more sales than lone artists.
I shared my studio with my friend and fellow artist, Nicole Caulfield. Her work is excellent and appealing, and her personality is, too. We love each other’s work and that showed in the energy level here all weekend. People commented on how wonderful it felt in our space, over and over.
Grouping artists together also allows you to grow your artist list without expanding your tour. We wanted people to visit “all 25 artists” on our tour and created a contest to encourage that. In reality, it would be impossible for someone to do that in two days.
Some folks in our group are talking about limiting the number of artists for that reason. But you want new faces on the tour because…..
….People love the new. They want to see new artists, new work, new studios. I’m going to suggest to our group that we allow new artists to join a current participating artist in their studio for a year or two. That will allow us to grow our artist list slowly, without adding more stops for a few years. (We’ll be able to reuse our “studio number” signs for a couple years, too!)
Jury your artists (or at least know the quality of their work) for a consistent tour. But don’t worry about having only “proven sellers” on your tour. We have both big names and emerging artists on our tour. People love to see artists at all stages of their careers.
Create variety in your stable of artists, too. Some people get picky about what is “art” and what’s not. By adding a few woodworkers, a potter and a jewelry artist to the tour, we created more buzz for the tour and offered something for everyone. (Why do you think fine art museums have gift shops?)
Let your friends and current customers know. And use social media, too.
I used to do a full postcard mailing for these events. Last year, I finally created an email group for my customers, supporters and friends. A few weeks before the event, I did an email blast and a couple Facebook announcements. I added photos of my studio and images of new work.
I’m always astonished at the folks who can barely tolerate children in their booths or studio. It’s true, usually people with kids are too busy with the kids to actively shop. But it allows people to come who otherwise would have to hire a sitter. We found little things for kids to do and enjoy. Not only were parents and grandparents grateful, I think my friend lined up a few portrait commissions. (She captures children beautifully in her work.)
And tell yourself you are laying the groundwork for a future generation’s appreciation of art and craft.
Remember to have fun.
In our culture, where money is often the measure of our success, it’s good to remember that an open studio doesn’t have to be just about the sales. Yes, I want my work to sell. But I also value the relationships I have with my collectors. At my open studio, they are my guests. Treat your open studio as a way to thank your loyal supporters, consider sales the gravy, and you will never be disappointed.
Read my suggestions to handling requests to donate your work, at the Fine Art Views blog: How to Give Without Being Taken Part 1.
Check for Part 2 in two weeks! But don’t worry, I’ll be back with more articles before then.
Cliches are boring. Your art deserve better.
In yesterday’s article, I shared my first story about my artwork. It was “good enough” to get me going and to sustain my first artistic efforts.
Many, many people are content with this “first story” or their “little story”. Trust me, I’m not here to judge anyone. If what you are doing is working for you, don’t change it.
But if you are wondering if your work can forget a more powerful connection with your audience, if you hunger for something deeper, read on.
When I talk to people about their art, I often get pat answers.
“I just love color!”
“I’m happiest when working at the wheel with clay. There’s just something about it that centers me.”
“I love making other people happy.”
I’ve learned that if you dig a little deeper, you will find true treasure. I learned this by being totally clueless about gallery talks.
So what’s wrong with pat answers?
Good writers avoid clichés wherever they might lurk. Novelist and essayist Martin Amis said, “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”
…..cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart…..
A cliche has low energy. When you settle for a cliche, you sell yourself short. You short-circuit your power. By trying to protect your inner life, you actually create a wall between your and a potential audience.
A pat answer is a way of putting people off the trail of understanding who you really art.
The “I just love color” thing. Look–everybody loves color. That’s not why you’re doing the work you do.
“I’m so happy…” Okay, first of all, we know you must be happy working with clay, or fiber, or glass, or words, or music, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Have you ever heard an artist say, “I absolutely hate what I do, but it sells”? (Well. Okay. Yes, I know some artist are burned out and DO hate what they do, but they’re usually so crabby we don’t want talk to them anyway.)
Second, what does that do for me? I asked a very well-known artist about her new work. She kept saying, “I’m having so much fun!” I had to bite my tongue to refrain from saying, “I’m supposed to pay $1,500 for this piece because you’re having fun??!” Sweetie, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. But I need a better reason than that to spend that kinda money on you.
So what’s wrong with the “I-want-to-make-people-happy” reason-I’m-an-artist? (Or the equally lame “I want to help people.”) Think about it–What would really make people happy is if you walked down the street handing out $100 bills. (Most guys would be even happier if you did it in the nude, but I like to keep things family-friendly here.)
So let’s say what we mean to say.
What you’re really saying is that what you do is a way of engaging with the world that is fulfilling and deeply satisfying, and puts you in a state of grace, and joy. And there are real and personal reasons why it does.
There’s that word again…..
Here’s one example of working through cliche to cachet. During a mentoring session, I talked with an artist about her work. She talked avidly about her craft, but it just seemed like something was missing. Sure enough, she mentioned in passing that her other avocation was gardening.
And she really perked up when she talked about gardening.
When I asked her why she loved gardening so much, she gave the usually pat answers about pretty flowers and being outside. When pressed, she grew exasperated–didn’t everybody love being outdoors? (Believe me, not all of us are wild about hot weather, mosquitoes and black flies.)
I pushed harder: How did she feel when she when she was in the garden?
She felt safe.
It started when she was very young and home was not safe. I didn’t pry for details, let’s just say there was just a lot of tension and anger and harsh words).
And being outdoors is where she felt safe.
Now, she doesn’t have to share that story with her audience, if it’s too personal.
If she wants to share it but doesn’t want to tell it over and over, it can be her artist statement.
She doesn’t have to ditch her craft, which was also satisfying, and become a full-time gardener.
She doesn’t have to “to” anything.
But recognizing her real story, a poignant story about a child who didn’t, who couldn’t understand the unhappiness and discord in her home, who found comfort and haven in the garden, will bring emotional and spiritual power to her art.
Understanding what yearning was filled, what hurt was healed, will create a bridge between her artwork (and her) and the people who are drawn to her work.
Because these themes–moving past fear, finding solace, being healed–are richer, deeper, more evocative human, more honest emotions than simply loving color or fabric or flowers or clay.
Some of you will come to this moment of self-awareness naturally. Some will need to have your feet held to the fire. Some of you simply won’t care. That is your choice.
But know that if I
buy your stuff collect your work, it won’t be because you just love color.
It will be because something about it that is lovely and poignant and human is calling to me.
A little story can pack a big punch–or pave the way for an even bigger story.
I’ve told my story many times about how I got serious about my art.
It’s a powerful story, and it’s true. But I’ve left out the years I spent beforehand making making toys for children and grown-ups, and the story I told about that.
When my kids were very young, I took a workshop from Deborah Kruger. The focus was about creating support systems for making your art.
We were asked to share our work with the group.
I remember waiting for my turn, embarrassed because everyone was a singer, or a dancer, or a writer, or a painter. And I was sitting there with a lap full of tiny dolls, knitted sheep and doll quilts.
And I was panicking because I (thought I) didn’t have a story.
I was proud of my work, though. And when it was my turn, I simply said what was in my heart.
I said I loved making tiny things, things you could cup in your hand. Things that a child would love, but would also bring joy to an adult.
I even said a thing that makes me cringe now, when others say it: “I want to make people happy.”*
Everyone ooh’ed and ah’ed, because even then, my attention to detail, my color and fabric, my technical skills, were pleasing to others.
And until I wrote that bit just now, I didn’t see the connection between that first story and my big story that came later.
There stories are connected because when I was a child, these were precious things I would have cherished.
And when I was a child, I was fierce in my knowledge that I was an artist.
I can see now that my love of the things that would make a child happy, was part of a deeper yearning. A yearning to be in that place again in my life, when I knew what it was I was here to do.
I knew it without questioning it. I just did it. I drew horses. I painted. I collecting stuff (rocks, shells, leaves, ribbon, pretty papers). I made stuff with whatever I could get my hands on. (There is a particularly embarrassing story about that I will NOT share….) (NO!!!) :^D
I could happily spend hours looking for pebbles and shells on a beach. I loved watching animals. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could ride horses and have lots of cats, and yes, even keep pet mice. I loved things that were “too tiny”–doll house furniture, miniatures, charm bracelets.
Now I can look back and see the seeds that have grown into my art. But I couldn’t see it then.
As I grew up, things got more complicated.
I believed too many myths about artists.
I didn’t know how to pursue something I was passionate about. Because academic stuff came so easily to me, I didn’t have good work habits.
I didn’t understand the stages of competency. So I always quit when I got to Stage 2, and things got hard.
I see now that making little dolls, buttons and small quilts was a safe way of “backing up into” my art.
And that was okay.
That “first story” worked, because it got me making stuff on a regular basis.
It got me thinking about me, and what I wanted to do, instead of what other people wanted me to do.
It got me to a place where I was thinking less about “doing what I was good at” and more about “doing what I liked.”
Eventually I got to the place where I got turned around completely. (Warning: This video is about 16 minutes long. But folks who have watched it say they like it, so maybe you’ll find it worth your time.)
So today I’ve shared with you where a little story can take you. Tomorrow I’ll share an example of a “little” story that hides a big story.
P.S. As I wrote this, I realized the teensy tiny doll was actually inspired by a Waldorf school teacher who made and sold these at a craft fair. I was so enchanted with them, I called and asked her if I could make them without stepping on her toes.
She gave me the green light because she was tired of making them and didn’t want to make anymore.
*And the asterisk thingie? Because I wonder what I would have said if someone had held my feet to the fire and said, “WHY…do you want to make other people happy??”
We all have a story that tells us how to live, and who we are.
There were so many beautiful, thoughtful, passionate responses to the last post, I have to write more on the topic.
There were so many threads to follow, too! Copying hit a nerve, on both sides. Some echoed the plaints of many, that they don’t have a story. Some had a story, but didn’t think it was “big enough”. And others were afraid to share theirs.
I don’t have all the answers. I can offer insights I’ve gained, insights gleaned sometimes easily, sometimes painfully, on my own journey as an artist. And I will continue to share those with you as this series continues.
Today, let’s start with how I know you already have a story:
You are a human being.
Over the centuries, there have been many definitions of what it means to be human. From “Man is the animal who uses tools” to “Man is the only animal that blushes–or needs to” (Mark Twain) and “Man is the only animal that uses Mastercard”, we strive to understand what sets us apart from other living things.
I believe we are the animals who tell stories.
We tell stories about everything. Why we don’t think we are pretty. Why our life sucks. Why we were late to that appointment. Why we deserve a raise, or a vacation, or that outrageously expensive pair of boots.
We have stories about why our mom loved our brothers more, why it’s a good thing to believe in God, why someone else is successful and we’re not, and why we’re successful and other people aren’t.
Whether you tell a funny story about your childhood or the sad story of how your first big relationship ended, you are telling a story.
And if you get to a point in life where you are able to dig deeper, when you feel brave enough, or desperate enough, or simply tired of all the b/s you give yourself…
…You will find a story about why you make the art you do.
My gripe is, sometimes we settle for the easy story and don’t go any deeper. That’s why when a creative person says “I just love color!” I cringe. Who doesn’t love color??
But we all gotta start somewhere.
Here’s your incentive to go deeper:
When you start to know your story well enough to share it with others, you will strengthen the connections they form with your work.
Because no matter how unique your story is, and no matter how ordinary your story is, there are people who will relate to it. It will resonate with something in them. It will inspire them. It will make them laugh–or gasp–in recognition.
So let’s get started.
Your homework for today, if you don’t think you have a story about your art, is to write down what you do have. We’ll start there, and we’ll poke at it, and see what happens next.
Get out your pointy sticks!
Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.
We all know the scene:
Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”
If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.
Here’s my own personal observation:
Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.
Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.
There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.
Here are some ways not to talk about your art:
PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.
Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.
Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.
Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.
And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.
Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.
I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”
Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)
ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.
RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.
FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.
I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.
All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….
I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.
So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?
Most importantly… Why should your audience care??
I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.
When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)
They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.
That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.
Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.
And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.
How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.
If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.
Myth: Artists are not business people.
Reality: Successful artists have good business skills, or they marry*/partner with/hire people who do.
(This marriage tip courtesy of Wendy Rosen of The Rosen Group in Baltimore MD.)
A common myth about artists is that they are not good at the business end of making and selling art. The reality is, the better you are at the business skills necessary to promote and market your art, the better chance you have at being a successful artist.
I have a theory about artists and their lack of business skills. I think we tend to not like skills like math (balancing checkbooks, statistics, recording expenses). When it came to math, I liked story problems–if Bill and Jane decide to buy a house, and their options for borrowing money are a loan with an interest rate of 9.8% and no points, or a loan with an interest rate of 7.2% and 3 points, which is better? Because I liked to think, “Well, how much money does Bill make, and what if Jane has gone back to school to get a teaching certificate? And what if Bill gets a better job offer–is there a chance they might have to move in two years, and sell their house in a buyer’s market? Do they also like expensive cars, or do they shop at Salvation Army? Do they fight about how much to tip the waitress at a posh restaurant? Are these two even compatible enough to make a marriage work??” (You see the story potential here?)
Artists think they won’t need to take typing classes because they’re not going to be a secretary when they grow up. (We could not foresee the Internet and the importance of keyboard skills in 1968.) Talking about net profit and gross profit seemed, well, gross.
So we decided we would be artists. Famous artists. Successful artists! So successful that galleries would take care of all that bookkeeping stuff and marketing stuff for us. We would simply show up at the opening receptions in our cool black clothing, sip white wine and schmooze with our collectors.
That worked well enough for a fortunate few, for a few good decades. And then times changed. We grew up and realized we needed to pay mortgages, have health insurance, put kids through college. The artists who stuck it out had to learn how to sell, how to market, how to maintain positive cash flow.
And many of us found that these weren’t such awful skills to learn, and acquire, after all.
The same way artists are made, not born, business skills can be LEARNED and the incentive is huge. The more you understand the consequences of your business decisions, the better your decisions get.
Days of galleries “handling” all your business matters are gone, and as the Bernie Madoffs of the world should have taught us, good riddance. We’ve learned the hard way that galleries can go out of business (taking your art with them). We’ve learned that locking totally into wholesale strategies can also lock down your artistic aspirations, when galleries only want the work that sells. Even if we did embrace the business side of our art, strategies that worked beautifully in the 80’s and 90’s don’t work so well in the post 9/11 economy.
It’s always good to to know your bottom line. We need to know how to sell work, if only to understand why people buy it in the first place, and what they need to know in order to buy it. (More about that in Myth #5)
Marketing, promotion, sales, research and product development, teaching, writing–these are all business of art/craft skills that are good tools for a successful artist to keep in her toolbox.
Why was Picasso famous? Most people assume it’s because he was such a great artist. Well, yes, he was. But there were other artists of his time who were better at drawing. Other artists who were more skilled with color. Other artists who were better at all kinds of artistic things.
But Picasso was a master business person. Because he was a master at self-promotion and publicity, he was able to translate his name into the name everyone comes up with when asked to name an artist.
I read a story years ago about Picasso owing his tailor a large sum of money. He wrote the man a check. Then suggested the tailor not cash it because someday his (Picasso’s) signature would be worth more than the check was written for.
Not all of us will end up that famous (or with that much chutzpah. But learning appropriate business skills to get your art out into the world goes a long way to ensuring your efforts will come to fruition.
In fact, I’ve found I enjoy many of the business aspects of my art biz more than I thought. Because they are a labor of love. I choose, knowing the consequences, good and bad, of each informed decision. Gambling on formerly “sure thing” avenues is no longer part of my marketing strategy. I constantly forced to think hard about who my target audience is, and why they buy my art.
And I think I’m a better artist for it.
Our stories are already inside us, waiting to come out. All we need is a truly sympathetic listener who will allow that to happen.
Fifth in a series of how to use that 25 Random Things list to write your artist statement.
“They have ears, but hear not….” Psalms 115:6
I marvel every day how we listen–and don’t listen–to each other.
We may think we are listening. But how often do we jump in with, “Oh, that happened to my cousin!”. Or, “I know just how you feel…” Or, “Speaking of cancer, did you know the ancient Greeks thought cancer was caused by eating too many crabs, and that’s why the astrological sign of the crab is also called cancer?” I made that last bit up, by the way, but we all know friends who do that. We do that, too.
We can’t even bear to simply let someone cry. We jump in to soothe and comfort–“It’s okay. It’s all right”–even though it obviously isn’t. Sometimes a hug is appropriate, of course. But sometimes, we’ve cut the person short because their pain is more than we can bear.
Allowing someone to tell their story, giving someone the time and support to really think about what is in their heart, and letting that come out, without comment or interruption, is a powerful gift.
I learned about this technique of really, really listening to someone, from Deborah Kruger. I took a workshop from her called “Empowerment for Women in the Arts”, where we learned how to form small support groups for each other, groups where we could freely share, in safety and kindness, our highest vision for our art.
Interestingly, it looks like we’ll be practicing the same skill in my hospice training.
Why should we learn to be good listeners today? So you can get to the bottom of why you make the stuff you do.
It can be a little tricky of you’ve never done this before, but it’s a great technique if you’ve tamped down your passion for so long, even you don’t know what it is. It might take a few tries, but if you are willing to do the hard work of really saying what is in your heart, you will find what lies there.
This exercise works well with 2-3 people. You can take turns listening to each other. All you you need to be on the same page. You need to be a good listener, and you need to find a good listener. That’s why I move back and forth between “you” and “them” in this article.
Find someone who loves you and/or loves what you do. Someone who truly wants you to succeed with your art, who wants only good things for you.
Find someone who has not a shred of jealousy or back-stabbing or passive aggression. Someone who, if you say, “I once threw up on someone” they’d say, “Yeah, hey, that was me but I know it was an accident and I still love you” and not “Um…yeah…look, I just remembered another appointment, can we do this later?”
Explain what your working on. They are going to hold your feet to the fire until you confess what it is you deeply, truly care about.
And they are going to do it with perfect kindness and perfect support.
Make sure they understand they are NOT to tell you “what you should do” or what they think. There will be no giving of advice today. They can only ask questions that force you to step up to the plate, questions that probe deeper until you hit your inner truth.
Oh! If you have another trusted friend who can take notes, that would help. But in a pinch, you can either tape this conversation or let your friend write your responses down. But it has to be quick–the PROCESS, the conversation is more important than getting it down perfectly. Although, sometimes asking for more clarity, or repeating what you think you’ve heard before you write it down, is a good listening tactic, too. (see Rule #2 below)
THE RULES: (and these are important)
1) The only response the listener can make is signs of loving acceptance.
We often stood up and held hands, but the important thing is eye contact and a smiling face or a calm face. (I tend to frown when I’m listening really hard, and I have to consciously control that when it’s my turn to listen.) No hugs til the end. Tears are okay.
2) No dialog!
The only questions you can ask are to ask for more information about something the speaker has said. And do that minimally. Just use it to clarify, or to move the narrative along, or help the speaker refocus if they get off course.
The scribe/recorder can only ask a question, with the speaker’s permission, and with the same guidelines, and only if everyone really seems stuck.
But…(and this is really important):
3) Give them time to answer.
We’re so used to giving pat answers, or short answers, because we’re not used to someone listening so carefully, to being so fully present. Silence is okay. You’ll be surprised how many speakers will pick up the thread on their own, once they realize the listener is not going to jump in and take it for themselves.
4) All of this is done in safety.
What goes on here is private. The speaker must know and believe that what they say will not be repeated, nor even referred to again, without their express permission. We all know about attorney-client privilege and doctor-patient privilege. That’s how you’re going to think about this process, okay?
5) Give enough time to answer, but timed so you have to focus.
The first time is rough, because the process is so different than any way we’ve ever talked with each other before. But half an hour should be enough time to some part of our story out.
This exercise gets easier with practice. If you can’t quite “get there” with your first try, then try again another time.
In the workshops I took with Deborah, we asked four questions that led to a plan of action. For the purpose of finding the heart of your artist statement, we’re just going for one really great question:
Why do you make the art you make?
Yep, it’s that “why? why? why?” thing again. Why? Because it works.
We are looking for your artist statement, your mission statement. Literally, your reason d’etre, your “reason to be”. Why you are here, on this planet, why you are here at this point in time, why you are living this life of yours, to make this art.
(Relax. It sounds hard, and it is, but it’s exhilarating, too.)
A good warm-up question is: “Tell me what’s special about your art” (Note to questioner: Almost every artist will answer this question with an explanation of their techniques. Take good notes here, because this is a way of waffling. But it CAN lead to some good, honest answers later.
Other questions you can explore:
How to people respond to your art? Why do you think they respond that way?
What kind of people love your work enough to buy it? Why do you think THEY respond that way?
When did you start making this work? (Questioner: If something traumatic started this, take notes and follow this thread. Because something changed in order for this to happen, and that’s important.)
Why did you start making it? Was it required for a class? Did you do it with someone else, say a relative who showed you how?
Why do you make that? Why do you use those materials, those techniques?
Any time you get some adademic-bs or artist-speak (“I love to explore the interstices that occur between the full saturation of colored edge and line…”) or a cliche (“I just love color!”) start applying pressure.
This is where it gets hard.
I can’t give your questioner hard-and-fast rules about where to press and where to back off. But a sensitive person will know where you are bull-shitting about your answers, fobbing them off with a glib answer or a smart answer instead of a deep, rich answer.
You may feel angry at the person for pressing you–that’s a good sign! You may be scared at first and get defensive. The questioner can decide whether to keep pressing or “move sideways”, anything to get you past those defenses.
Because what you are defending yourself against is expressing the thing that really means something to you, and you are afraid to say it because people might laugh at you.
Social scientists say we fear humiliation more than almost anything else in life. Sometimes we fear it more than we crave success.
I believe the reason we fudge our artist statements, and why we find it hard to talk about this stuff, is we are afraid of looking like an idiot.
What you must understand is…that’s okay.
It’s part of the human experience. And we are human.
So at this point, where you are fudging and avoiding and getting defensive and hostile, your listener needs to go for the big guns.
And bring out that WHY word, over and over and over til you give it up:
The real reason you feel compelled to make the work you do.
They’ll know it when they see it, and hear it. And you will, too.
Because you-the-artist will act differently, and speak differently.
You may stand straighter (if you do this exercise standing up). I’ve seen some people literally “step up” and take a step forward.
Your voice may deepen. You may talk faster if you’re a slow talker, or slow down if you’re normally articulate.
But the clincher is when you, or your listener feel a shiver run down your spine, or a thrill in your heart.
You will have spoken your truth.
And when you speak your truth, from your heart, people hear that. They FEEL that.
Congratulations! You now have the heart of your artist statement.
I’ve done workshops using this technique to get at the heart of artists’ stories. I could always tell when we’d struck gold:
“I had a baby, I nearly died, and everything changed.”
“My grandmother took care of me because my parents couldn’t, and grandma taught me how to do this. And when I make this work, I still feel her love and kindness in my heart.”
“I lost my husband, my job, and my house. I had nothing left, except this… And it saved my life.”
These are the moments in life where something important happened, whether we knew it at the time, or not. But these moments are part of who we are, as human beings. They may be moments of love, or joy. They may be moments of yearning. They may be moments of self-discovery and survival. Whatever they are, your art is a response, or an outcome, of these moments.
Other human beings will respond to that, and respect it. Other people will connect with that–“Me, too!”–and be inspired. Or consoled. Or empowered.
Telling your story helps others to discover their story. And the connection continues.
We’ll talk more about how you can edit this and round it out with other random, interesting things about you to make a powerful statement about you and your work.
Here’s a nice little benefit to LinkedIn… I formed a new connection recently, which generated an invitation to connect from the person’s spouse, which led me to his blog, where I found this little gem today.
Ed Sucherman’s post is essentially, hard times come and go, and it can be scary….but people still desire, and need, the same things. He shares a poignant example from his own life, and ends with this thought:
Match your product’s marketing message to the very depths of human emotional needs and you cannot miss. No matter what target market. No matter what economy
In the hands of some people, this could sound manipulative.
In Ed’s hands, it sounds sweeter. Like if we remember that we are all in this mess together…
…If we can remember that it won’t last forever, and if we recognize that, being human, we all still have powerful needs and desires–beautiful, human needs and desires…
…Like our need to love and be be loved, our need for companionship and family, our need to be accepted, our need to feel protected, our desire to be seen as competent, our need for home and security, our desire to find peace and friendship even with those who are strangers to us, our desire for our lives to have purpose and meaning …
…Then we can find a way to do the work (and the art) that is important to us, and find the audience who will find it meaningful, too.
Hey, and how can we express those values we hold?
Yep….your artist statement.
I’m exploring a new social networking site, LinkedIn, this one for professionals. Professional what?, you ask. Well, there are a lot of professional artists, writers and bloggers there already. You can be, too!
So IF you are already LinkedIn, and IF you read my blog/know my art/read my article in The Crafts Report magazine, or if you’ve enjoyed my guest articles that were published in Clint Watson’sFine Art Views daily email newsletter….
… I’m humbly asking you to recommend me in my LinkedIn Profile.
And if you figure out how to use this new resource, let me know, because everyone is asking me!
If you are NOT already LinkedIn, consider it. I know, I know…. As my friend and fellow TCR writer Nancy Lefever always says, it can feel like we are Plurked, Twittered, Facebooked, emailed and blogged to death and distraction these days.
I agree. Yet I still participate.
It takes time to figure out a comfortable level to work these venues at, and I tend to avoid following anyone who states that they Twitter 152 times a day….
But it’s about visibility, it’s about connections, and it’s about exploring new ways to get our work out there.
Some of these venues will fail miserably, some will peter out quickly. The life span of these new ventures runs about 2-3 years. It’s impossible to try them all, and it’s hard to foresee which ones will amount to anything.
And yet, one of them may forge that one connection that gets your to your next step.
Is it worth it? I dunno. But I’m willing to try.
I actually find it interesting and challenging. A creative act. Just another aspect of my artistic self, connection. My art is all about connecting, so this feels like a natural extension. In a way, building an online presence is another “body of work”, similar to the one we build with our art: Who am I? Who am I to other people? What is my public image, and how much does it align with my private self, and the work I want to do? How does this online presence contribute to the knowledge of others, and to the greater good in the world?
My body of work–my artwork and my writing–tells you who I am as a person, and shows you the better person I strive to be.
Ultimately, this social networking stuff, it’s just another way to tell my story.
And on a lighter note, it can be fun to Twitter, my friends. If it sucks your time, confine it to your coffee break(s).
One bright note….LinkedIn might be a good one to join because it’s easy to search for the contacts you already have. I was surprised to create almost 150 contacts the first day, more than I have in several months of Facebook presence. And the connections are one I already treasure, I just hadn’t thought of them as my network. That person who I met on Freecycle? They work for our city government. That artist who commented on my blog? They work in academia, too.
Suddenly, my world seems bigger than I ever imagined.
Live and learn. And if you are truly a lifelong learner, as I strive to be, we’ll will be learning for many years to come.
p.s. A big shout-out and thank you to Gerri Newfry, who “recommended” my blog before I could even post this! Thank you, Gerri!
And geez, I went back to see how you can recommend me, and I can’t figure it out, either! If someone knows, please let me know, okay? I’m not sure if you have to be signed up on the site, but here are the instructions from LinkedIn:
To recommend a person from their profile:
1. Click ‘Recommend this person’ found in the upper right hand corner of the profile. You will also find a recommendation link in the Experience section under the position for which you want to recommend them.
2. Choose a category: service provider, business partner, student, or colleague.
3. Follow the instructions provided based on the category you selected.
Continuing with my mini-series about how to use Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” to write promotional materials.
The next question is from an artist who wrote:
I was intrigued by your letter today in the FAS newsletter. I just joined Facebook to find out more about the “list” of 25 things about yourself. After you compiled the list, how did you write it into an artist statement? I really feel clueless how to start. You are a very good writer!”
(This was the question I was going to answer first because of the compliment. Always feel free to put those in, btw….!!)
Okay, so first, you can’t just use the 25 Random Things as your artist statement. That would be a loooong statement!
The list is a) a warm-up exercise for learning to write easily about yourself. And b) a source for snippets about yourself that get to the heart of what you do.
Just like musicians might play scales to warm up for performing, this list is a warm-up for more ‘serious’ writing.
It’s also a way to ‘warm up’ to putting more passion into your artist statement.
I picked “artist statement” as an end goal for this warm-up exercise. In reality, artists need all kinds of self promotional materials: artist bio, cv (curriculum vitae, sort of a ‘life resume’ with your art as a focus), artist statement, press releases, etc.
Some of your list items are going to jazz up your statement. Because unless you think people go crazy with excitement reading lists of your exhibits and educational background, you must learn to talk about your art with the same passion you use to make it.
You don’t have to go over the top–no drama major needed. But think about ways to talk about your art that shows why it really, really matters to you–and that it isn’t just “something you do” to fill in your spare time. Even if it is only that, you can talk about that in a way that is more engaging than, “Well, I was bored, so I made this stuff.”
Don’t be afraid to tell people what you care about.
Think of the 25 Random Things as a way to collect these things you care about the most. Some of them will provide you with a jumping-off place.
In my last post on this topic, we left off with the suggestion that a good artist statement should make you want to look at the artist’s work again. Some of you did that experiment with the artists I suggested, and graciously acknowledged that it worked. Yay!
The key to the 25 Random Things is, somewhere in a good list, there is something you’ve listed that might make people “look again”.
If your art is light-hearted, your approach to your 25 Random Things list, and your artist statement might be light-hearted, too. Remember–light-hearted art is not necessarily lightweight art. Laughter is powerful medicine. Humor can be a powerful weapon. Whimsy can still be serious stuff.
You might also choose different approaches (more serious, more whimsical) for different applications. For example, the “About Me” section of my blog has a more light-hearted approach. That’s because I want to entertain as well as inspire. Yes, I’m serious about my writing, but I’m willing to laugh at myself, too. (I just don’t want you to be laughing at me too hard, okay?)
The introduction to my art calls for a more serious, inspirational tone. It’s not that I don’t want you to have fun with my work. But it’s not what you’d call “whimsical”. It’s a different manifestation of what I bring to the world.
My actual “artist statement”, is no longer on my website. I realize I should make room for it again.Here’s the short version of it:
I dream of the cave of Lascaux…
Its beautiful paintings of running horses,
born by the flickering light of torches….
Never meant to see the light of day,
yet brought to light in our lifetime.
Survived ten thousand years,
yet nearly destroyed by the breath of ten thousand visitors…
Too delicate to survive the climate of our modern world,
The cave was closed, and finally, sealed.
And lost again.
The horses now run
in the darkness of their cave
We do not understand the mystery of these paintings.
We know not what they meant to the people who created them.
Their message was not meant for us.
But their beauty and power create profound echoes
in our modern hearts.
What ancient, yearning dreams of hope and beauty
brought forth these haunting images?
Ten thousand years from now,
Who will know the makings of our hands?
And who will know the mysteries of our hearts?
If you go back to my 25 Random Things About My Biz, you will see the seeds of where that statement comes from.
I know there are other “rules” I’m breaking with this statement. I haven’t changed significantly in ten years.
But every time I think of changing it, someone who reads it for the first time tells me how powerful it it is.
And so I keep it.
Just as it’s hard to present you with a template for a statement, it’s hard to give you a step-by-step model for turning your list into a statement. I’m thinking about how to do that, and present it in more manageable form for you. It’s easier to do face-to-face, using a technique I’ll explain next time.
But for now, write up a few lists. Play around with them. Write some in a humorous vein, make others more serious. Put a star next to the entries that create a lump in your throat, or bring tears to your eyes.
Because…I’ll say it again, because it is so important:
Whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.
And where your heart is, that is your truth.
Don’t be afraid to tell people what you really care about.
If it is honest, if it is heartfelt, it will be…POWERFUL. You’ll know. And your audience will know.
And when you speak the truth, it is so powerful, people will hear it and know it for the truth.
Why you need to jazz up that “perfectly good” artist statement of yours.
You say you have a perfectly good artist statement, thank you very much, and you’ve written it the way everybody else is writing theirs, so what’s wrong with your artist statement anyway?
Or you don’t know where to start, so do I have a template you can use to just ‘fill in the blanks’?
(The answer to that one is no, btw.)
Here’s why you might want to add some pizzaz your statement:
Yours sounds like everybody else’s.
The most extreme example I can give you is an group art show I attended awhile back. I’m going to say it was art made with Play-Do. It wasn’t, but I don’t want to pick on any specific group of artists, and I want to make my point.
There was only the Play-Do art on exhibit, and an artist’s statement on display under each piece.. No one had any business cards, or brochures, or pamphlets, or anything for viewers and potential buyers to take. So you had the art, and the artist statement.
The first one said something like this:
I live in X town, Y state. I have used Play-Do as my art medium for 12 years. I have studied under Mr. Z, the foremost Play-Do artist in the northeast. Last year I won best of show for my Play-Do art.
I have played with Play-Do since I was a child. I love Play-Do because it’s so colorful and versatile as an art medium.
The next one said something like this:
I live in B town, C state. I have studied Play-Do as my art medium for 15 years. I studied under Ms. C for four years, and then studied under Mr. D. I have exhibited in Play-Do art shows all over C state.
As long as I can remember, I have loved working with Play-Do. I continue to work in Play-Do, as it challenges my color aesthetic. I love the colorful interplay of aesthetic and emotional tones in my work.
The next one said,
I’ve been worked with Play-Do for 18 years. I studied with so-and-so at the such-and-such Institute for 8 years. I have won many awards for my Play-Do art.
I used to work with crayons, but now I chose to work in Play-Do because I enjoy the range of colors and tones I can achieve with it.
Every single artist statement had the same bland tone; the same litany of how many years the artist had worked with their medium; the same listing of more famous artists they’d studied under; everyone “just loved color.”
(For the record, it is unusual to find a human being who doesn’t like color, music, sunsets or food.)
Obviously, one member of the group with some academic training, who knew the “right things” to include in an artist statement, who had had some success with their art, had set the tone.
And everybody else followed.
So the compelling Play-Do artist in this exhibit is….the one who’s been working with it the longest??? That’s all we have to go on, from the information we’ve been given.
Acclaimed basket maker JoAnn Russo shared this thought about artist statements once. I don’t know where she got it, but I think about it often:
“An artist statement is something people read after they’ve looked at your work. And a great artist statement makes them go back and look at your work again.”
Here’s an example of a statement that makes you go back and look. Look at the work of glass artist Christina Bothwell.
Now read her artist statement.
After I read it, I immediately went back to look for the “inner image” inside each figure. Did you?
After reading that she works in glass because it does everything other sculptural media does, and also transmits light, I wanted to see that, too.
Side note: I was originally drawn to Christina’s work several years ago. She had a different statement/intro to her work then. It was just as compelling.
So a statement changes. It’s not set in stone. It can change as your work and your focus change, perhaps even to meet the needs of your current exhibit.
There are many reasons people buy art. It can be because they simply like the subject matter. Or they like the colors. Or they like your style. An artist statement probably can’t override their initial “like/don’t like” reaction to your work.
But if they like it enough to want to know a little more about you….
And if what you tell about yourself is compelling enough to make them look again….
Then why risk boring them to death, when instead you could be forging an even more powerful connection?
Make them look. Twice.
My article about using Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” exercise to create an artist statement appeared in the FineArtViews newsletter this week.
People are asking me exactly how to do that–turn that list into their statement. Should they just make 25 Random Things into their artist statement??
Well, you could, but I didn’t mean for you to actually do that. For one thing, that’s one looooong artist statement.
Rather, think of the 25 Random Things as a jumping-off exercise to do an actual statement.
I’ll respond to some of these queries today and in upcoming articles. Maybe some examples will help make this more concrete.
I was going to first address the question from someone who told me I was a very good writer. Flattery gets you everywhere!
But a comment from another writer should come first. Because this artist can’t even get started on the 25 Random Things.
The artist left this comment on my blog:
I have been confronted with the list a number of times – but find that I am either too shy or just simply unable to list anything because I am changing too often to want to simply put anything down that would be so permanent that I could not go back and add another two millions or so things on a constant basis
Let’s look at the beliefs behind this block, and address them one at a time. (And I don’t mean to pick on this one reader, because a LOT of artists feel this way…including, from time to time, ME.)
Shy I can’t help you with. Except…
Nobody will care more than YOU do, about what you do.
Corollary: If you can’t articulate why what you do is amazing, or explain why we should care about it, you won’t even be able to communicate that to someone you HIRE to do it FOR you.
Here’s an article I wrote awhile back about why it’s important to step up to the plate with your artist statement, your promotional materials, and yes, your 25 Random Things.
It’s not about writing “two million things”, it’s about selecting 25 things.
What would you think if an artist said, “I can’t paint, there are just too many things in the world I could paint. I can’t make up my mind which one to paint, so I just won’t paint at all.”
That’s not a painter with too much to do. That’s a great excuse for not being a painter at all.
We know this person is an artist. We’re going to apply the same principles to getting out and making art, to getting out there and doing the list, and getting out there and writing an artist statement.
You’re selective when you make your art. Be selective when you make your list.
This will help when you do your artist statement, too. Most artist statements are far too long. I saw one once at a show that was a full typewritten page, with miniscule margins in an even minisculer font. (Yes, I know minisculer is not a real word–I made it up!) I tried and tried to read it, and kept losing my place.
Plus it was just plain boring, which is sad because the work was exciting. Plainly, the artist had trouble putting the same passion that drove him to make that work, into his artist statement…. Which brings me to my next point:
It’s 25 interesting things, okay?
More on this in the articles ahead. And why most artist statements sound alike, and how to make your stand out.
Anything you write has to stay that way…forever! (NOT)
Now, I know I’ve stated in other articles that what you say online is there a long time. But the truth is, it will take some digging to find. Your little list of 25 Random Things is not the Gutenberg Bible. It’s not written in stone, either.
When you do those million other things, you can simply go back and change it. Or heck, write a new one. It’s okay–nobody cares how many times you do it!
It’s just for fun.
Nobody is keeping track of how many times you do it. Nobody is keeping score. Nobody is hanging out on Facebook with a judge’s hat on, saying, “Well, he had a good rhythm, you could dance to it, but the lyrics…!! I give it a 5.”
What’s matter-of-fact for you might be HOLY COW!! I DIDN’T KNOW THAT ABOUT YOU! for someone else.
I always think the oddest thing about my martial arts practice(s) is how old I am. In reality, most people are amazed I do it at all. I guess “artist” never seems to go hand-in-hand with kung fu.
Just as the things you’ve done so long or so long ago, they are something you hardly think about, could be a hook for your audience. I never knew my friend Mark was a yoga nut. Or that my friend Judy knows more about football than anyone else I know. It enriches my relationship with them.
Last, I recognize one of the blocks, this because I suffer from this one myself:
Here’s a tip: Perfectionism=Stultifying
Perfectionism keeps us from doing anything until we can do it perfectly. When, in reality, practice makes perfect.
The only cure for perfectionism is….
Start where you are. When you know better, do better.
If you don’t want to publish your list on Facebook, then don’t. But write it in a notebook or a journal. Set it aside for now. Pull it out when I write the next article on what to do with those 25 Random Things.
Extra credit homework: A list of some good articles I wrote on self promotion for artists.
Why it’s okay if you aren’t Twittering/Facebooking/meta tagging/Stumbling/LinkedIn or otherwise filling your social media dance card this week.
A quick sidestep from social media (Facebook 25 Random Things topic) to social media in general.
Sometimes I beat myself up that I’ve been slow to use social media to promote my art.
Other times I’m glad I didn’t get sucked into the whole thing with “meta tags” and “SEO” and that other crap.
I’m blessed to have a net-savvy husband. (When asked what he does, I just reply, “He’s an internet visionary.”)
He’s not only responsible for my lovely web site, he’s also guided me
on my entire online journey the last ten years.
By that I mean he told me from the start that whatever I said or did online would stick around for a long, long, long, long, LONG time.
From my very first email correspondence, my earliest postings to usergroups, then email lists, forums, blogs and now Twitter and Facebook, I have always been hyper aware of what I say, how I say it, and who I’m saying it to. (Or as Lily Tomlin would say, ‘the party to whom I am speaking….”
I’ve taken advantage the internet gives me to stop and think before I post; to reread what I’ve written before I hit the send button; to consider my flow of thought before I publish an article. I sort through my words to make them more clear. I wait til anger has passed before I react to a snotty remark. I ask myself what my intentions are before I jump into a discussion.
Saying what I care about. Sharing what I’m trying to do. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.
Telling you what tribe I belong to.
So I’m always amazed at people who flame others on discussion boards; people who spam their entire email list with warnings about AIDS-infected needles stuck in gas station pump hoses; people who try to leave spam on my blog comments; people who think they can boost their web presence over bajillions of other web sites by using clever tags and search terms; people whose only correspondence with me is to get me to buy stuff from them.
Naomi Dunford states that broad, untargeted, shotgun-style marketing has destroyed a lot of what used to work with social media.
In a recent telephone seminar, Naomi said, “Integrity is the coin of the internet.” (And we know Naomi’s cool because, hey! she and I wear the same glasses…)
This is what my husband hammered into me from the very beginning, and it’s still true:
People will respond to my authentic self.
And that’s why a boring everyday I-had-eggs-for-breakfast style blog won’t work, too. Nobody cares if I have chickens…
…unless I share with you a valuable story about what I learned when I twisted my knee chasing my chicken.
I don’t care if I have 10,000 hits to my website, or 10,000 blog readers. I don’t care if I have the world’s attention.
I just want to find my tribe.
I want my tribe to find me.
As people come by your online presence, they will either be attracted and intrigued by who you are and what you offer–or they won’t.
People who agonize about manipulating content and tagging to get mega hits are fishing with the biggest net they can find. It’s purely a numbers game.
Maybe with certain kinds of product, that will work for you. But what I what to accomplish is not about a numbers game.
So don’t stress about what the latest social media hotspot is, or how to stand out among 20,000 other Etsy artists. Quit talking about how to drive traffic to your website.
Instead, treat each venue as a way to connect with an audience that would care about you and your work.
Use each venue as a way for the people that care, to stay connected to you.
Do what you can, in a way that is authentic for you and your business. Be who you are. Make the work you are proud of.
And dance like nobody is watching you.
Because then you don’t have to wait for somebody to ask you.