How do you talk about your art? Do you love each and every piece of your work? Have you ever said that this piece isn’t your best piece? Is that a good idea?
One of the challenges of being an artist is speaking well of your craft. At times, we can be unsure of a certain piece or have doubts about it and that can lead to talking about that piece in a negative light. I have met with several artists in their studios and at openings that do this. EVEN when you compliment their work they seem to want to bash it, as a form of honesty. But this self-deprecation can be incredibly detrimental to the sale. After all…if the artist dislikes their own piece how do they expect anyone else to like it? Patrons want to buy work from artists that LOVE their work. So let’s dig into this a little deeper. Here is a recent conversation I had with an artist…at their opening.
Joshy: “Hey, congratulations on the show everything looks terrific”
Artist: “Thank you. Thanks for coming out. How are you?
Joshy: “I’m doing great. Wow. This bird piece is my favorite one in the show. Just spectacular.”
Artist: “oh that one. yeah well, it was a really tough one to do…I made a lot of mistakes on the feathers. I’m sure you know how it is. But I think it came out ok.”
At that point, I wouldn’t have even looked for mistakes in the feathers. And, if I had seen something, who is to say that wasn’t a stylized choice made by the artist?. Internally as artists we know all the mistakes with our work. But get this…WE are the only ones that usually see them as mistakes. The viewing public sees these things as artistic expressions. So you don’t have to give a disclaimer to all of the problems you have with your work. When someone sees your work for the first time and they make a connection with it. LET IT BE. They like it for their own reasons. You certainly don’t have to undercut their expectations and connection by saying you didn’t like it.
One year at open studios I had meticulously put up several paintings in my studio. And just for fun I put up a panel on my easel with just the background and a line drawing on it. I figured it would show my process. Literally, it was a colorful panel with a bear line drawing on it (Left)….in white charcoal pencil. After an hour or so into day one, a woman came to see my work. She loved it all and looked at the piece on my easel. Before I could say ‘Oh that’s a piece I just started and its a bad line drawing…etc.’ She looked at me and said, “I will take it!” I hadn’t even considered selling this unfinished work, it was literally just a sketch. But she loved it and HAD to have it. So I told her I needed a day to varnish it and then I could deliver it. She paid for it in full and walked out. I was shocked.
You never really know what people see. And it really isn’t your job to GUIDE them. Your job is just to make the art. If you don’t like something, guess what – You get to paint something similar on the next 500 paintings.
Now before we get too far off track…Let’s go back to talking about your work. It is imperative that you speak well of your work especially if you want it to sell. Patrons and supporters want to support someone they believe in. And if you believe in your art…they will too. Now, how do you do that? Where do you start? Try appreciating all the things that this painting taught you. Maybe you struggled with it during the drawing part. Well, that is a good lesson that drawing takes practice. Maybe the colors never were quite right for you….again color and composition are a skill that takes years to get a handle on. If you look at each painting as a learning experience you will have better things to say to people. When you speak about your work from a place of appreciation it is far more positive than the deprecating negativity bits.
Patron: Speaking of one of your challenging pieces – “I really like this crow piece you painted it’s so colorful”
You: “Thank you, I am so glad that you like it. This piece taught me a lot of new things about colors. And I am really happy to have learned about some new color combinations…”
Sounds way better than “yeah that one was a huge pain in my ass and I can’t believe you like it.” doesn’t it?
So try starting with an appreciation for each painting. Another technique I use is Talking Practice. I learned this from rock musicians. Whenever big fancy rock bands come out with a new album it’s always “their best album yet”. At least that’s what they say. Why do they do this? Do they always make the best albums…no. They do it because they want you to check out their latest work. Artists can do the same thing. Each new thing you make may not be your best. But no one really knows that, especially if you say that this is the best for where you are right now. And maybe you did struggle with some pieces in this series which is actually part of the gig. After each piece is finished in my studio, I practice the things I am going to say at the opening about it. And I connect a cool story to it and practice that before it leaves my studio. Then I’m better prepared to talk about each piece to people at the opening in a positive upbeat manner instead of relying on self-deprecation. Give this a try for yourself. I would love to hear what kinds of things you say about your work in the comments below.
Lastly, there is a weird paradox afoot with art making. Over the years, I have found that the pieces I have made that I thought were absolute shit and weak for whatever reason, sold first. That piece I hated was sometimes the one that sold first at open studios or gallery openings. Someone would come in and be like “THAT is my favorite one of yours!” WHAT?! Conversely, the pieces that I think are my absolute masterpieces are still in my inventory. So it behooves you to speak well of all of your work. It’s all part of you and your journey. And you never really know what people will connect with….again your job is to make the art and present them all together so people can make up their minds. Don’t stand in their way with negativity. Thanks. Until next time.
Edited by Harmony Anderson. Written by Joshua Coffy.