When was the last time you really had a chance to open up about your art?
Even though you may never have had the privilege of being asked to be a guest speaker or visiting artist, you may want to consider preparing for that day, as there are benefits to be gained professionally.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a path you could follow:
1. Include a “capture system” in your creative process
By this I mean find some way of documenting the progress and development of your work. Aside from frequent journaling about your work, take digital photos or digitally scan pages from your visual art journal and store them on a computer.
2. Review and reflect
If you don’t already keep some kind of journal about your work, then have a go at writing down your own working process—mull it over, from your first idea to final execution. Where did you source the image, concept or technique from? What motivates you to make the kinds of changes you make?
It may not read like poetry and that’s ok—the main thing is to remain focussed, practical and sincere. You might be surprised at the level of insight you will gain into your own work by taking time to reflect and talk with friends, artists or colleagues.
For those who struggle with preparing an artist statement or biography, this candid method of introspection may be a way of finding a statement that is genuine for you.
3. Compile and organise
Decide how much you want to share with others and make that information available either in physical form (sketchbooks, scrapbooks) or in the case of large groups, in a slideshow using the presentation software of your choice (powerpoint, keynote etc).
A slide show makes it easy to control what is being discussed, however it is not absolutely necessary. A workable substitute would be photocopies of scanned images with your speaking notes attached—although in this case I would recommend having at least one completed work available as a talking point.
4. Cut a first draft of your presentation
With the raw material from step 3, begin piecing together your presentation. Constrain yourself to a speaking time of 45-60 minutes and start placing your material into broad categories like the following:
2. Recent exhibitions and the focus of current work
3. Inspirations—historical, personal, social
4. Materials and process (some of your process shots would be great here)
5. Future projects, goals and exhibitions
If you are using Powerpoint or similar, remember just a few key works for each slide is all that’s required. No one wants to read slabs of text on a slide or be forced to squint.
Also, bear in mind that the content of your talk should be somewhat malleable, depending on your audience. Be prepared to modify the content as required to keep it focussed and relevant to your audience.
5. Practice and Refine
Now with the above complete, it should be much easier to talk about your work to anyone who may have previously caught you off guard. And though most of us hate the idea of public speaking, when it’s something as personal and intimate as your art practice at least you won’t have to worry about not knowing your subject.
Practice with friends or a partner so that you can hear yourself, and watch how they respond—they’re likely give you visual cues as to whether or not you are engaging them (body language can speak volumes). Ask for feedback at this stage, take mental notes and then adjust your presentation accordingly.
6. Engage Potential Audiences
Let schools or art colleges know that you are a practicing artist and are seeking an opportunity to share about your work. Find local prospects and email or mail them a sample of your presentation—this will show them that you are committed and ready.
You can also put out the call through art community and social networks online etc. They may not respond straight away, but the opportunity may come eventually.
And if no one contacts you for some time, don’t let it phase you. The process will have helped you gather your thoughts and to re-focus on the fundamentals of your art practice—it may be the impetus you needed to push through that next project or exhibition, and it will certainly be a confidence-booster when speaking with an art dealer or prospective buyer who is curious to know more about you and you work.
7. Delivery Day
When you are (hopefully) one day engaged to speak about your work, half the success is really a matter of logistics. The more prepared you are, the less room there is for being nervous, especially about trivial technical or equipment issues. You can use the following list as a guide/checklist for that day:
1. Slideshow on CD/DVD and on USB stick (both handy in case one has issues)
2. A hardcopy of your speaker notes in case all technology fails
3. Venue Address and Name /Number of your Contact at the venue
4. Your Laptop (optional, assuming you have one)
5. A DVI/SERIAL adaptor cable—some venues may not have all the cables or be rigged up for your machine, so its best to cater for old and new technologies if you can
6. Extension Cable and Power Adaptor—The venue might provide these but if they don’t you could be left without a presentation even after all that effort you went to
7. An Invoice—If it is a paid presentation, be professional and be ready with a printed invoice to hand over at the close of your presentation
8. Aim to arrive 30 minutes early to set-up and compose yourself. And in case you thought it might be fine to show up late, you may end up looking the fool if no one hangs around to find out.
8. Final considerations
I understand that this is not an exhaustive guide, and it certainly needs to be tailored for your own situation, skills sets and objectives. However, I do believe that it could be a used by anyone as a prompter for developing and finally presenting your work to a broader audience.
You never know when you might be required to speak to or with agents, gallery directors or potential buyers about your work.
As artists, our work does not always speak for itself—sometimes it needs a real voice, your voice, to help project and provoke meaning.