Giving an Artist Talk

Episode 82 · July 28th, 2019 · 31 mins 50 secs

About this Episode

Public speaking ranks very high when it comes to events in your life that create anxiety. Yet as part of an art career at some point you will be called upon to speak about your work. This could range from an informal gathering of people you know to an interview on widely shared media. Why should you embrace these opportunities and how can you handle them without too much stress?

Even very professional artists who have appeared on the podcast have approached the idea with nervousness—
Even harder when you are physically present

Memories of High school speech classes—somewhat random topic, judgement from other students, teacher, being graded on your performance

Much different when speaking about what you love/are passionate about, to an interested audience

They are on your side and will be forgiving—all glad it’s you up there and not them!

Even if you mess up it may be endearing—famous patty Smith moment when she forgot words to Bob Dylan song at his Nobel prize ceremony. She kept her poise, apologized, and continued.

Not to say it may not be nerve-wracking!
Anecdote about having to speak on a stage at opening

Why accept invitation to speak: unique opportunity to connect with people who want to understand your work better. Merging of You and your work—the human connection. This is what to focus on—there may be benefits for sales or other opportunities but best to put that aside, just view as connection, conduit to reach others about your work, intentions,

Basic tips—
--be as alert as possible/don’t over-consume at an event prior to speech
-- nice to have a podium, somewhere to put notes, water, rest hands—pedestal in gallery?
--provide notes for your intro given by whoever is doing that
--speak slowly!!
-- be aware of ums and you knows but don’t worry too much-- they are normal parts of most people‘s speech
--be aware of your tone, not preachy-- try to aim for friendly and accessible, a lot of TED talks are good examples, a little humor, aim to be engaging
--if possible show slides, much easier with visual aids
--if in a gallery move around a little between pieces or at least point out different ones, give people something to look at besides your face
--invite questions, admit if you have hearing issues/get help
--don’t over analyze afterward—you will always think you sounded worse than you did

Big issues—How to gauge your audience/who are they
A gallery crowd? (may have more art knowledge) Community group (maybe less)
Most audiences are mixed/people with art backgrounds and not
Pitch to the middle, don’t assume too much nor talk down to people
Quickly explain as an aside any technical or art terms people may not know, for example “Monotype” or say Bachelors of Fine Art instead of just BFA
Explain conceptual simply—instead of saying you wanted to investigate/challenge something, give examples of the kind of questions you asked yourself—“I asked myself, how can I work with this idea?” and what you came up with
Offer a way in to your thoughts as a PROCESS not like you have all the answers

Scripting--How much planning? Notes or not? They can make you sound stilted; temptation to read --there are times when reading is OK—such as a formal lecture
Depends on how complex your material is
Is there a need to include each step to make your point?

Informal talk—best to just practice ahead and use minimal notes
You will go off topic but that’s OK
Better to loosen your ideas of control and be more natural
Biggest plus is to be real, natural, yourself—also very hard in front of an audience. Don;’t worry if you feel like you’re acting—you are to some extent

Ways of organizing a talk about your work:
Chronological—can be boring if audience doesn’t sense overall themes
Chapters—ideas/themes, influences, some biography/chronology, current work
Focus only on certain series or ideas
Include something about your process

Basically what is your story—include struggles and challenges
Avoid focusing on what has sold or going on too much about accomplishments, or being impressive—just be straightforward --audience will be sensitive to bragging. Many people have habit of comparing themselves negatively to those they regard as successful.

Length of talk, probably you will be given a length. Ask someone to signal you half way and in last ten minutes. Friend of family member can raise a hand part way or something,

Wrap-up—Accepting the challenge to talk about your work in any context is a way to be seen as the human being behind the work. Audiences at an art talk tend to be very interested and accepting, non-judgmental. As with anything, it all gets easier with practice.