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Introducing People to Your Art?
Take It Step-by-Step
Q: My art is best experienced in person. Images on the Internet don't do it justice. It's unique and I've spent years perfecting it. When I meet, speak with or contact gallery owners, artist representatives, art consultants, collectors or anyone else who shows interest in my work, I always invite them to my studio because the only way for them to truly understand my work is for me to explain it in person. Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time getting many people to take me up on my offer. Can you help?
A: Yes. The answer is simple-- immediately stop insisting people come to your studio, especially those who know little or nothing about you or your art, and slow things down. Asking people to see your art entirely on your terms and in a rather intimate setting that many people don't generally feel comfortable in until they get to know you better won't get you anywhere fast. Think about it. You are asking people-- complete strangers in many cases-- to go somewhere they've never been before, listen to someone they don't know talk about their art, and basically submit to your agenda for as long as you deem necessary. That's an awful lot to ask. Would you be inclined to say yes to someone you don't even know or who you've only just met, who not only wants to meet you in-person, but also decide where and what you're going to talk about-- all without you having any say in the matter? I doubt it.
Believing the only way people can adequately understand your art is for you to explain it face-to-face in your studio is presumptuous at best, and at worst, demeaning. So let them learn about and familiarize themselves with your art on their own terms and view it wherever they feel the most comfortable viewing it, whether online, at galleries or other art venues, or at whatever other locations they prefer. And don't insist on having to explain it; if people have questions, they'll ask. Nobody wants to be lectured or talked to when they're just getting to know your art. Save that for later. Let them lead the discussion and ask the questions at their own pace. Above all, think seriously about striking the in-studio requirements from your agenda. You're asking too much too fast and pressurizing the interaction. People are fully capable of learning about your art online or in other ways and then deciding on their own if or when the time is right to get more involved.
Now let's look at the rest of your question. Regarding your art being unique and having taken years to perfect, that's true for practically all art and all artists. So forget that line of reasoning. To think your art is more special than all the other art out there and that it deserves extra attention just because you say so is a sure way to turn people off-- particularly people like the ones you've been trying to get over to your studio. They don't need you to tell them what's unique or special or to instruct them in how to see or experience your art. Many of them have already spent years figuring these things out. They know how to look at art; they know what they're looking at; they know what they're looking for.
In fact, most of them think only one thing when an artist comes at them with a "My art is unique, let me explain it to you" presentation: "How fast I can end this conversation?" Believe it. If it's any consolation, you're not alone on this-- plenty of artists think and say the exact same things about the uniqueness of their art that you're saying, and like you, few of them get very far doing it.
As for alternative ways to see your art, we've got the Internet now. These days, that's the number one option by far. And digital photography has gotten so good that with a well-chosen selection of images, experiencing art online can come awfully close to seeing it in person, and when looking at detail, can sometimes be even better. So there's another talking point you might as well eliminate from your repertoire-- that the Internet can't do your art justice. If you want to know more about showing your art online, read How to Photograph your art for Online Purposes
Sure, standing directly in front of the real thing is best, but we also know it's not always possible. The Internet is here to stay; it's how humans communicate these days. In other words, you better figure out how to use it to your advantage or else you'll have serious difficulty spreading the word about your art. Think about the way things have changed for a moment. In the old days, artists used to haul their portfolios from gallery to gallery, showing their work to one or two people at a time, hoping to get shows, representation or other forms of exposure. Today's portfolios are websites, social networking pages, blogs and image pages. They're available 24-7 to anyone anywhere as long as they have an Internet connection. That's how artists develop, make and maintain contact with collectors, galleries and related arts professionals in terms of introducing themselves and hopefully get opportunities to show or sell their art. The more compelling your online (and overall) presentation, the greater the chances people will at some point want to see your work in person. So start there.
Develop a step-by-step approach to introducing yourself and your art to whomever you think might be interested. Cultivate an online presence mainly through social networking and your website while saving the personal encounters and studio visits for later. Go easy at first and never rush anyone into your art. When opportunities arise, introduce yourself, explain why you're making contact (as opposed to contacting people at random), state up front why you think this person or venue might possibly be interested in your art, and assuming all goes well, gradually get to know each other. This process might take a few days or last many months, and may involve an extended online correspondence, periodic phone conversations, sending occasional updates to links or images of your art, visiting people at their galleries, homes or offices, and so on.
The studio visit is normally well down the road for anyone thinking seriously about showing an artist, representing their art or adding that artist's work to their collections-- not the first. They have to feel comfortable communicating with you along every step of the way before wanting to seriously consider your art in person. However long these trial periods may take, be patient and attentive to other people's needs, requests or requirements, keep an upbeat attitude and hope for the best. Like any other business relationship, start slow, gradually get to know each other, make sure you get along, and if all goes well, sooner or later you'll progress to mutually beneficial outcomes.
(art by Miriam Böhm).