As an abstract, acrylic painter, I am always amazed at other people’s perception of artists. They are either fearful of saying the wrong thing or feel they don’t know enough about art to stop and have a conversation with an artist. I am sure that some people think we are from another planet, and as such, are just too hard to understand so why bother! There are others that put us on a pedestal and think we are just too (fill in the blank). And then, there are those, that feel that if they stop and talk to an artist about their work, they will have to find an excuse not to buy their work.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sure that you will find those type of people in all professions that are hard to approach and have a conversation with that is genuine. But you will find that most artists are timid and hate to intrude on other people’s time. Most are not sales people and feel that their work should speak for itself and that they shouldn’t have to have a sales pitch. Whether that is right or wrong, that is the place that most artists are coming from when you meet them at an event where their work is being presented to the public.
So what is a person to do when they would like to know more about a piece of art and have the artist standing right in front of them? Here are some tips that can get the conversation going that might help you with that situation.
1. Don’t Hesitate. Start A Conversation.
Most artists are just starving (or at the very least, hungry) to talk to other people about their work or even other topics that might be of interest to a person. Because most artists are alone in their studios a great deal of the time, they don’t have the experience of most professions to be social with coworkers, meetings with other people and other events that are a part of working in an office situation. So whether it is about art, their work or another topic, you can bet that artist has a lot of bottled-up conversation waiting to get out. Artists don’t get a lot of practice or opportunities conversing with others, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great conversationalist once stimulated to talk.
2. Ask An Artist About The STORY (behind a specific art piece or with their work in general.)
Nine times out of 10, they will have a great story behind their passion for their art. It just has to be asked of them to tell it. When asked, I can go on for a long time talking about my work and what inspires what I do and how I do it. And a funny thing happens as that conversation evolves. The viewer and myself usually spiral off into other topics about that story. Or the viewer starts telling me their stories. What a great way to get to know each other.
3. You Can Ask How They Got Started As An Artist.
Again, another great story in most instances. You might hear about their struggles to become an artist and what they did to overcome those struggles. For me, my story is one that revolves around the art world for most of my life. But I wasn’t able to fulfill my passion for fine art painting until 2008, when the economy came crashing down on my head and my successful graphic design & professional illustration business suddenly went dead in the water.
While I always painted my illustrations and illustrated for many of the top magazines in the US and abroad, I tried to paint non-commercial art in my spare time. It wasn’t until 2008 that I threw caution to the wind and said, “this is my time”. I could either waste my time trying to get business out of an economy that was dead in my market or take the time to build up a portfolio, explore my creative abilities and find out if I had what it took to become a successful painter. But there are hundreds of little stories that I have that happened along the way in getting to that place. So ask and start a conversation.
4. What Medium Do You Work With Most Of The Time?
This is another topic that most artists will readily talk about. And it will probably lead into a history of how they got started and where they are now. It could lead to a discussion on what they want to try in the future and where they see themselves in 5-10 years.
5. Ask Where Else They Show Their Work.
And, if you wanted to see more of their work, where you could go to see it? Or where they have shown their work in the past, etc. Again, this can lead to a conversation about how they got started and a history of where they have been up until now. It gives the artist an opportunity to give you a business card with their information on it for their website, social media sites and phone number. Take it and pass it on to someone you know who would love to look at the artist’s work if you don’t want it. You may think you can’t afford a piece of original art at this time but ask if the artist sells prints & if they could order a print for you.
Most of all, tell the artist if you like their work. Artists realize that just because you like their work, it doesn’t mean you are going to buy it. But that once you understand their art, it might speak to you in a way that nothing else can. Talk to them about it. That is the only way they get feedback about their work and it is very important that they know that someone is attracted to it. You could let them know that you like the colors used, the technique (you don’t have to know what the technique is to like it), or the way it is shaped, etc. If you want to find out more about what questions to ask as a beginner collector see my post, 6 Tips for the Beginner Art Collector.
As you can see, these are 5 conversation starters where the artist would do most of the talking if you don’t feel comfortable talking about art yourself. However, if you do join the conversation, you will find that you will go away from the adventure a little wiser about what it is like being an artist. Do you have a 6th tip that you would like to share? Please let us know what you think.
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