First, a clarification of terms: I don’t mean someone who just started making art. If you are at all like me, you can’t remember when you first started making art. My mom still has a picture on her wall that I drew when I was three, because I was drawing with rudimentary perspective already. No, this post is to everyone who at whatever stage in their life has just started to want to say “I am an artist.”
That actually is harder than it sounds. I don’t know what it is, but we have difficulty starting to take ourselves seriously as artists. I fall prey to this myself. When I started college, I started as a biology major. Art and related creative pursuits were always something I adored, but I just never really thought of taking art seriously as a future profession. I was always supported in my art, and even had a professional artist in the family. But somehow saying “I want to be an artist when I grow up” felt irresponsible when it came to really planning my future.
But then I had a collision with a bus, flunked out of my third semester of college, and had an unexpected chance to rethink things. And when I did, I went back to school as a studio art major. But even now I have trouble with the question of “Is it a profession or a hobby?” when it comes to my work. It’s like if I love it and would do it as a hobby anyway, it’s hard to say I’m a professional. Which I am.
And then there’s “So what’s your day job?” There seems to be this mass assumption that if you’re an artist, surely you can’t be doing it for your main job. But if you spend nearly as many hours working the artist job you love as the non-artist job to pay your bills, how do you answer that?
Well, I’ll tell you how, new artists – with pride! You’re an artist! Rejoice in that.
Enough of the world won’t take you seriously for being an artist. So the first step you need to take is to take yourself seriously.
I met many new artists during Artomatic, people doing their first shows or otherwise unused to presenting their artwork. Many of them, when asked what they made, would downplay their own work. Who is going to talk your work up if not you? When asked about your work, always speak with pride. Instead of saying, “Oh, I just do photographs,” try instead “I take black and white scenic photographs,” or “I’m showing a photo diary of D.C. protests.” Try and always speak of your own work positively and with a smile. Show that you are happy with your art, and you want to share it. Say what sets your art apart, and always in a positive way.
My response when asked what I do? “I make wearable art out of game pieces.” That response is an excellent conversation starter as people think through what that means.
So, here’s a little exercise – Think of a positive conversation starter for how to describe your creative work. How do you answer when someone asks: “What do you do?”
Now that you have that in mind, here’s something else to practice: “Yes, I made that, and I sell them.”
This is really fun as a jewelry maker. After all, it is very easy for me to be a walking billboard for my own work. Aside from my rings, I very rarely wear jewelry I didn’t make. Same goes for any wearable craft – wear your work as much as possible! And when someone compliments you on it, or comments on it, or whatever, say it clearly: “Thanks, I made that!”
But whether you can wear your art or not, you should always be prepared to show it off. In this technology heavy age, this is actually very simple to do. Have a smart phone (or iPad, tablet, or other easily transportable electronic device)? Put a folder with pictures of your work on there. Then, at any time, if your work comes up in conversation you can go, “See? Here’s what I’ve been creating lately!”
If you can’t do that, at least carry business cards. Even better – put an example of your work on the back of the card. Then, not only do you have an easy example of your work to show, but someone who takes your card home later will remember why in the world they took it.
Plus, “Here’s some of my work – Oh, don’t worry, you can keep that,” is a great way to have your work and all the easy ways for it to be purchased (i.e. website, email) to go home with your new, potential customer.
And whatever you say, be sure to say it with a smile!
Remember, you know your art best. You are your own best promoter and biggest fan. If you talk about your art with pride, if you present yourself with confidence, people will notice. So, fellow creative people, tell me: What do you do?