The Art of Conversation

Learning how to talk about your work in a way that engages your customers may help you sell more art.
By Phoebe Storey Years ago, a small gallery was hosting a show of my work. Before the opening reception, the owner took me aside and said: “I’ve listened to you talk with people in the gallery about your paintings. What you choose to say is interesting, but you’re missing a great opportunity. The public is much more interested in the things that you fail to mention, such as why you’re an artist or how you choose your painting subjects. If you talk about those two things, you’ll find they’ll be far more invested in your work.” Trying not to take offense, I had to admit that I did talk about painting methods and materials more than anything else. Other artists liked to share anecdotes about successes and failures in the creative process, and nonartists I met through the gallery had always asked specific questions about how, when and where I paint. Still, I decided to follow the owner’s advice and lead, rather than follow, what the clients and I talked about. Not only did I start enjoying the conversations more than before, but the subject matter was, in fact, more stimulating for all involved. Others began to tell me about their reactions to my paintings as well as the various ways they related to my subjects. Not coincidentally, I began selling more paintings. Refining small talk</B One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when people approach me, they aren’t sure how to talk to me about my art, so they often lead with anything just to break the ice. The most common questions are “How long did it take you to paint that?” and “Do you just do watercolors?” Understanding the reasons behind these questions has helped me refine my conversational skills to better engage my customers. Try these three tips and see the difference they make. 1. Be prepared to redirect opening questions. When approached with the “How long?” question, instead of my pat answer regarding time (“It takes hours of practice to learn shortcuts”), I now say, “What’s really interesting is why I picked that subject.” I then launch into why I chose to paint what I did and how exciting it was to execute the idea on paper. Customers seem to like the shift, and I think the reason is that they learn about inspiration rather than process. They’re curious about how I decide upon a project. They become invested in what I’m trying to convey, and I can tell sometimes that my remarks have an influence on the way they view the work. 2. Know why you paint. Art is one of those pursuits that many of us would do regardless of fame and fortune, and folks are naturally interested in why we would do that. I don’t believe that what drives us must be something terribly profound. Some of us paint for the joy of manipulating the materials or for the pleasure of creating something out of nothing. Some seek to portray the beauty in their lives. Others paint to draw attention to something, whether it’s positive or negative, social or physical, real or imagined. Some want to express a feeling or mood. Whatever the motivation, we provide a stimulus, and the public responds. I believe that most of us create, at least in part, to communicate, so talking about art is just shifting to a different form of communication. While there are no right or wrong ways to do that, my former habit of talking about the technique or problems I faced while making art clearly wasn’t the best topic. I think the reason I was inclined to talk about technique was that I believed the reasons I chose a subject would be as evident to others as they were to me. So I started consciously thinking about what made each subject compelling to me and what I wanted others to

So now I talk about the connection to our mothers. I stumbled over my words. the better I was able to articulate it. I overheard several people viewing it wonder aloud. plus parking. and happy memories of old times. The first time I spoke of this painting. The Art House of Oak Park had an exhibit last year entitled Death & Taxes. The purpose of your event will lead you to your theme. food and restrooms. consider the available space for artists and spectators. of course. It was hard to explain—why would I paint this picture? The more I thought about it. while a painting titled Mother’s Clothesline was on display at a museum. Now there’s an irresistible story. “Who would hang that painting in their house?” They were puzzled by the fact that I’d paint laundry hanging on the line. or while doing such activities as standing in line or taking a walk. Try to . By Annie Pais and Stewart J. the better. what they’re really looking for is an angle. The Forest Park Review ran a profile story about a local artist who was exhibiting her warinspired art in a storefront. Say (almost) anything I can tell by the looks on people’s faces that they like what I say now far better than what I used to talk about. conserving energy. Thomas We like to give ourselves at least six months to plan and advertise our paint-outs. a sight that’s now considered an eyesore. As you think of locations. It’s not that my struggles with technique or my discoveries about composition no longer matter&#!51. Timeliness is one way to create an angle. Start by asking yourself: What defines my taste? Why do I like what I do? A couple of years ago. And. however. The more time we have. I highly recommend this process. so I began to rehearse what I might say about my paintings. Is it to bring awareness to our group’s members? Is there a natural resource or neighborhood the community wants to preserve? Perhaps your paint-out will honor a person or act as a benefit to raise money for a specific cause. It isn’t easy to express some things without rephrasing or searching for the right word. it doesn’t hurt that I also sell more paintings. Discussing these perceptions has helped me connect with others. and that’s what it’s all about. Practice. It just wasn’t the sort of thing that I usually thought about. First we decide on the specific reason we’re hosting the paint-out. By Anna Poplawska As a reason to run a story. I also enjoy these topics myself. In a different sort of example. Picking an Angle Increase your chances at press coverage by learning how to approach editors and writers. which ended on April 15.I’ve just realized that talking about more central ideas reminds me of why I’m an artist. the wonderful smell of sheets drying in the sun. As a result the customer would often look at the painting with renewed care. ask more questions and sometimes actually decide to buy it. Shortly after the war in Iraq began. At first I bungled things a bit.notice. site and exhibition venue. I’d practice by myself or with a friend. Plan a Paint Out Want to plan a "paint out" but don't know where to start? Here's a tip to set you on your way. most publications are a lot less interested in fame than you may think. 3.

catalog ad sales and sponsorships. Volunteer at local events that will put you in touch with potential new customers. so we like to involve a lot of people. In my experience. Getting Exposure Here's one good way to give your art the exposure it deserves. Host more parties for their friends. Artist’s Statement: Written in the first person (“When I choose my colors …”). artists. we create the timeline. It’s the least expensive. Spring has worked well for us. Most of my artist clients find it helpful to make the following distinctions when they’re putting together these documents: • • Résumé: Just the facts. in a chronological list. There are many details. In fact you may be surprised at how important such paperwork is to many jurors. You might think of it as your résumé warmed up. Join clubs. An artist’s Bio is generally written in the third person (“Ms. In other words: Get out there. awards. Ask each member to mention you to friends and work associates. the wet room (where the paintings dry and are sold). your Artist’s Statement talks about the relationship between you and your art. Gulrich graduated …”). your process. catalog production.pick dates when the location will be at its best and at a good time of year for attracting spectators. Make a statement Get your art career off the ground with these important business documents. But don’t count on these new acquaintances to do all the work for you. Artist Bio: In a nutshell. for example. We recruit an event coordinator and people to be in charge of volunteers. Next. your soul. your Bio is a narrative summary of you and your art. publicity. it’s time well spent. set a budget and make a list of potential sponsors. but also the hardest to generate. Kathy Gulrich Taking a break from painting to write your Bio and Artist’s Statement probably isn’t your idea of a good time. Host an art party and invite those people so you can meet them and show off your work. and the exhibition and gala. Grab the reader’s attention by starting your Bio with something unique. about you and your art career (exhibitions. • Sizing Up Success Analize the state of your art business by asking yourself these important questions Kathy Gulrich . education). gallery owners and collectors. Leah Tribolo It’s been said that word-of-mouth advertising is the most valuable tool any businessperson can use. Start with your family. This is a great place to include something interesting that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. with some highlights pointed out. Give a slide presentation at the local library on art history. however.

you have increased sales. .) Take whatever time you need to think about and write down your answers.Step back—way back—and look at your business as a whole. Holding Me Back. Then organize your discoveries into two groups: Helpful vs.” and you’ll be off to a great start. Here are some questions to help with your exploration: • • • • • Where is your business strongest? Weakest? Where is your business most vulnerable? What did you accomplish this year (or this month) that makes you really proud? What have you put off? What’s working well for you? How do you know? (For example. more recognition or more free time. What’s really going on? Think of this as “gathering data” rather than “finding what needs to be changed.

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