How To Explain Your Art To People
"SO WHAT KIND OF ART DO YOU MAKE?"
Every single artist has been asked this question. Runner-up being "Art Degree? What are you gonna do with that?"
Even though this question is arguably cringe worthy, it is good to have a clear explanation of what it is you make often, or at least the reason behind making it. It helps the people that show interest in your work to better understand you. It can also help them to establish a connection with the piece and *ahem* buy it from you maybe.
I know some may argue that a picture says a thousand words, or that art is explanatory is a valid point. However it doesn't always cut it. Especially if you're about to / are going to art school, or are invited somewhere to talk about your art practice, then you know those arguments won't cut it.
Explaining your work might even help you understand you. I know I could always benefit from a bit of self-realisation.
It's not good enough to just show someone a picture of your latest work and then expect them to get it. (Although, I am guilty!)
It is important to have at least a rough explanation of what the hell you do. This also helps to 'market' yourself as the talented artist you know that you are. If you can't tell people what you do, chances are those people are less likely to buy your stuff, or help you sell your stuff to other people.
You may need to explain your art to 'important professionals'
By important professionals I mean the people that you probably may a bit feel nervous talking to because they could quite possibly determine the next step of your art career. Such as university administration, gallery curators, stockists, you get the idea. These are people that are most likely looking for an artist statement: a strong artists positioning.
SIDE NOTE : Show your art to your friends, friends of friends, relatives, and maybe even a stranger, try the next door neighbour? See what they say about your work and write down their comments. See if they really get what you do and what you're trying to express.
Now, try showing them your own written explanation of your own work. Does it match what they were saying? Did they understand what you wrote or what you were trying to express? Once you've got a better idea of how you've managed to communicate your concepts to a small audience, rewrite your statement and jazz it up a bit.
What do I mean by jazz it up?
If you went to art school or are enrolled in one now, you've probably noticed there is certain art language and vocabulary that you're expected to entertain and understand in your critiques and written work (and it actually sounds kinda pretentious). By the end of school after writing a million papers or participating in 2 million critiques chances are you'll get pretty good at this 'art language'.
I had this professor in university that would literally spew out these unique and complex arrangement of words and terms to ask a question that was a paragraph long to any Guest Artists. The artist would be left with nothing but a blank stare. Truth is the average person probably doesn't speak Art in the way you might have been trained, so they have no idea what this artsy fartsy mumbo jumbo is that your going on about. So you'll find it useful to have a different approach when talking to the average person.
Ways to explain your art anyone who wants to know
Use Feeling Words
Art is an expression of yourself, so create a mood with your description. Describe it as if the person were in pitch black and could not see it.
Think about the feeling you want to express through your piece. What did you feel when you made this? What do you want your viewers to feel when they look at it?
Overwhelming, hot, cold, upset, refreshed, light, heavy, rushed, peaceful… you get the idea?
Put yourself in their shoes
The average person doesn’t have the luxury of earning a living doing exactly what they love, and so their hard earned money typically goes towards easily racked up bills. To turn your average person into a collector of your art, they need to feel an emotional connection to it. They'll need to love it before they buy it. I know that whenever I am on the fence about a big purchase, I say to myself "If you don't love it, leave it."
How does your art connect? Is it mind-warping? Inspiring? Vibrant? House-warming?
Talk about your goal or intention
Perhaps you were inspired by something you saw and you wanted to create a piece around the same idea, theme or style. Maybe you attempted your first portrait or still life and you wanted it to look realistic. Perhaps it was an experiment of textures or combining materials. Did it work out? Was your piece successful or unsuccessful? Talk about why it was, or how it could’ve been improved. You want the viewer or reader to understand what sort of direction you were headed in when making it.
What’s the story?
Most art tells a story. Whether that be an illustration of an action or scene, perhaps the piece derived from a personal anecdote. What does your art describe? Maybe you were inspired by a funny story from art school, or past lover. Maybe you were reading a book and what to paint one the images it created in your mind. Maybe you had a random dream you just wanted to get out of your head and onto paper. I created a body of work based on a single quote that inspired me “Earth is what we all have in common.” What story does your art tell?
Describe the Elements of Art and Design
When your describing the elements and design of your art you’re talking about things like colour story, shape, line, texture, contrast, balance, form, scale etc.. If you just google ‘elements of art and design’ you’ll have so many ideas of where to start talking about the visual nature of your artwork.
Colour and Texture are great places to start. Describe how it might feel rubbing your hands against the piece, or maybe its a water colour painting and it has a soft, light visual texture to it.
You may have used colours that represent or evoke a certain feeling. For instance, red can mean rage or lust. Yellow can mean happiness or humility. Blue tones can create a sense of sadness and melancholy. You might want to use, what I call 'delicious' words. Words that give your work some flavour. Such as earthy, organic, saturated, radiant, glistening… you get the idea.
SIDE NOTE : You really don’t need to talk about how your piece was made. Your typical viewers don’t actually care that you poured acrylic medium with 8 different colours, over a plaster slab that you sanded down before adding stones and fabric with hyper adhesive bonding glue…. 😐 Unless they ask you personally, how you got that effect or what process you used, just leave that stuff out.
Don’t beat yourself up about your art. It’s common for people to emphasis their weaknesses and downplay their strengths. But thoughts become words and words become reality.
Talk up your successes and downplay your weaknesses. With the right attitude you’re bound to get better at whatever it is your aiming for.
So what if you made a mistake and the proportions are all awkward. Twist in a positive and give a shout out to Picasso! Also, everyone has to start somewhere and that somewhere is at the beginning. And chances are you are miles ahead of the person who has only ever thought about picking up a pencil to draw something.
You are a great artist that continues to find new ways to improve. I know this because you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t interested in being a better artist.
It takes a bit of work and some practice to fine tune your tone and decide exactly how you can describe your work to people, but surely once you grasped it, you'll create a vivid experience and enticing opportunity when people ask about your art work.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren was born in London, but grew up in Canada where she received her degrees with distinction in Fine Arts and Education. Now she's back, she continues her work in creative arts by making art and teaching it, while developing opportunities for early career artists by creating and running the online platform Dark Yellow Dot.