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  • Make the Most of Your Public Appearances

    Many of today's accomplished artists also know how to work the crowds at events where their art is the center of attention. They are well aware that collectors and others love to speak with artists at gallery openings, open studios, art fairs and anywhere else where artists appear in person alongside their art. Consequently, they use their social networking and public speaking skills to effectively convey who they are and what their art is about in order to expand their fan bases, increase their potential for making sales, and ultimately advance their careers. Even a brief conversation with an artist can deepen a collector's experience of their art in a multitude of ways, and artists would be well advised to maximize the potential for positive outcomes whenever opportunities to talk about their art present themselves.

    That said, relating to people at gallery openings, open studios or other public exhibitions of their art, either one-on-one or in groups, is not easy for many artists. They're often shy, uncomfortable or just plain not prepared to be the center of so much attention all at once. The good news is that any artist can overcome these obstacles and make the most of their public appearances. All that's necessary are two (and sometimes maybe three) basic ingredients-- a brief scripted and well rehearsed introduction to your art, a committment to make yourself accessible, and when applicable, a short continuous loop video about you and your art.

    Introducing Your Art

    Giving a brief talk at any of your openings is a great way to introduce yourself and your art and to attract new collectors. If you think you'll get tongue-tied, think again. You happen to be the world's foremost authority on yourself and your art, and you certainly have more than enough interesting stories and anecdotes kicking around in your brain to occupy any audience for quite some time. The good news is that two or three minutes is more than enough for a typical introductory talk. To prepare for this, about all you have to do is set aside some time at home or in the studio to verbalize your thoughts about your art, write them down, and then organize and rehearse them. Your goal is to connect with people by briefly telling them who you are, describing your art, and perhaps also addressing a handful of questions that people often ask you about your work. Not much more is necessary. Here are several tips on how to script and deliver an effective talk:

    * Begin by writing or typing whatever comes to mind about your art and your experiences as an artist. Free associate-- words, phrases, broken sentences, anything-- don't bother with organization, grammar or spelling at this point. You simply want to wring as many ideas and as much raw material out of your brain and into print as possible.

    * When you feel you have enough, separate out those statements that best characterize you and your art. These should include brief background and explanatory information about what your art signifies or represents, what being an artist means to you, what compels you to create art, where your ideas or inspirations originate, how you incorporate them into your work, and so on. Keep in mind that many people who attend art shows enjoy art but know little or nothing about either art in general, what they're looking at, or the artists who create it. These are the types people you have a good chance to attract and win over if you can effectively communicate about your art, so direct what you say to them, and not only to those who already know and love you. Your dedicated fans will stick with you regardless; its the newbies you want to focus on.

    * Keep explanations clear, concise, basic and in language that anyone can understand (no art jargon). You'll have plenty of time to answer more complicated questions later in one-on-one conversations. Do your best to involve your listeners with your art by speaking about it in ways that include them in the conversation, encourage them to experience the work on a personal level, and hopefully make it a part of their lives. Remember-- your art is not only about you; it has to resonate in some way with viewers in order for them to buy. You know what's in it for you; make sure your audience has some idea of what's in it for them.

    * Focus on the positive. Even though your art may touch on negative, controversial or unpleasant subjects, you can always look towards the plus side. For example, if you make art about the degradation of the environment, say something like "My art envisions a world where everyone conserves energy, does what they can to preserve the environment, and responsibly share our natural wealth" rather than "My art is about greed, oppression, abuse of power, the end of the world as we know it, or smashing the corporate machine." If you want people to come over to your way of thinking or seeing things, be gentle, encouraging, and speak in terms of beneficial outcomes rather than the oposite.

    * Convey to people that your art has meaning or significance beyond the visual. In addition to how it looks, it might also speak to a greater or more noble mission, philosophy, cause, shared life experience, or ideal. For instance, if your abstract paintings represent or are based on memories gardens you played in when you were a child, say so. Don't keep your art a mystery, even if certain aspects of it might be a bit sensitive or personal. You don't have to tell everything, but openly and honestly talking about your inspirations is far better than keeping them to yourself. Collectors appreciate when you present your art on multiple levels, and often come to realize that they're getting much more than pretty home or office decorations. Incorporating "intangible significance and value" into your work can move people in very profound ways.

    * Keep your talk to five minutes or less with maybe an additional few minutes for questions. Your entire presentation including questions and answers should not exceed ten minutes (preferably less) in order to avoid boring people or losing their attention. Time and record or video yourself for two or three minutes and you'll quickly see how much you can say in such a seemingly short period of time. Most importantly, when you play your talk back, see if you can hold your own attention. If you can't, do a rewrite.

    * Practice your talk and practice it well-- alone, in front of the mirror, with friends or acquaintances, in front of a video camera or even on your cell phone, and under whatever other circumstances are necessary for you to pretty much memorize and feel at ease delivering it, no matter where. Call it an elevator speech or whatever you want, but make sure you know it really well and can deliver it under even the most adverse circumstances. You'll find that those few words often just enough to incite really rewarding conversations.

    * Practice answering all kinds of questions about your art, and especially ones that people repeatedly ask you. Keep answers positive by returning to the same themes you touch upon in your talk. Have friends or acquaintances ask you random questions and practice answering them on the spot. Keep answers brief, usually no longer than 30 seconds. Again, time yourself talking for 30 seconds and you'll quickly realize how much information you'll be able to cover.

    * When you're done speaking, take no more than four to six questions from the audience. Keep answers brief; longer answers tend to lose their attention. Answer additional questions or discuss more complicated or detailed aspects of your art in one-on-one conversations after the question/answer period is over. Keep an eye on the audience all the while; if you see eyes start wandering or people gradually inching towards the door, it's time to stop talking.

    * Even though the great majority of questions and feedback are positive, prepare several damage control type responses that diffuse or deflect those infrequent negative encounters. You never know when you'll run across a smart ass or a jerk.

    * Don't try to sell your art or pressure people into buying it. Give them the space to make their own decisions. If you're showing at a gallery, sales discussions should take place with the assistance of gallery personnel. Unless you're really good at selling, rely on trained professionals who sell for a living.

    * The best time to give your talk is during the early second half of an opening or event. This gives people plenty of time to look around, acclimate themselves, socialize, have a glass of wine, and enjoy your art both BEFORE and AFTER the talk.

    Making Yourself Accessible

    How you act at your openings and how available you make yourself are just as important as what you say in your talk or in one-on-one conversations. Always arrive early and be on the floor right from the start (if you have to leave, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back). Continually circulate and keep interactions brief so that everyone who wants to meet you gets their chance. If someone tries to monopolize you-- especially friends-- politely excuse yourself after a minute or two. And if you see that someone is waiting to speak with you while you're speaking with someone else, acknowledge that you'll be with them shortly; do not ignore them.

    Make every effort to fulfill modest requests such as signing gallery invitations or catalogues, letting people have their pictures taken with you, and inscribing sold art if buyers request it. If collectors bring in old books, catalogues, or invitations that mention your name and ask you to sign them, do it. A few people will always try to take advantage of your generosity, but the overall goodwill that results from these modest gestures will far outweigh the occasional negatives.

    Additional suggestions:

    * Keep a sketch pad on hand somewhere in the gallery and present occasional quick drawings to diehard fans, people who buy your art, or children who love your work.

    * Approach people who appear to be studying or discussing your art at some length and casually mention that you're available to talk about it or answer any questions. Go easy here, but do make yourself available.

    Your Video - Not Always Necessary, but Sometimes a Great Benefit

    Providing a video of yourself and your art always adds to your credibility and reputation. A video is recommended especially if there are unique or engaging aspects to your lifestyle, how you make your art, or your creative process. A three to ten minute continuous loop video showing you making art at your studio, doing special appearances, receiving awards, being the center of attention at crowded openings, visiting unusual places, meeting interesting people, or showing yourself or others speak about your art is a terrific way to deepen viewers' experience of your art. Follow the same basic guidelines you use when putting together your talk and you'll have a finished product that attracts people to you and your work. Keep in mind that many people are uncomfortable or otherwise hesitant about speaking with an artist, and that providing a video is perfect for them.

    Professionally produced videos can cost thousands of dollars, but no matter what your budget, you can get the job done, especially now that everyone has access to cameras that shoot videos and can use basic editing programs. If you have no camera or little or no money, borrow a friend's camera, put it on a tripod, and video yourself working on a piece of art while explaining what you're doing. Have a friend follow you around your studio videoing you while you talk about yourself and your art. If you can afford a few dollars, hire a student or recent art school graduate with film and video production experience to script a video, shoot it, and then edit it for you.

    If you do decide to make a video, set up a few chairs in a quiet location at each of your openings or events and have it play repeatedly. It'll work like a continuous talk and give people who don't get a chance to speak with you (or who are too shy to approach you) opportunities to get to know who you are on a personal level. Those few minutes may turn out to be just what certain collectors need to make that leap from just liking your art to actually welcoming it into their lives.


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