Visual artists often think and communicate better in pictures than in words. They are often more comfortable in the tactile and sensate world, as opposed to the heady world of words. As well, artists may have self-doubt or lack in confidence preventing them from developing vital text. Artists may also mistrust language as a result of past experience. Blessed with strength in visual communication, they may have had difficulties throughout their schooling where words have ultimate value and pictures have little-to-no academic worth. And language is the medium of criticism—the harshest blows an artist may experience may be the words of a parent, teacher or visual art critic. All this “baggage” may make it hard for the artist to create effective marketing and self-promotion materials (including the artist’s statement) that drive readers to the action the artist seeks.
Writing about your own work often requires that you analyze every impulse, every decision and motivation. It is work you may not want to do. Any lack of certainty, doubt or sense that “I don’t matter” or “why I do what I do doesn’t matter” will be an obstacle to effective copywriting. Or there may be a sense that “explaining” art is not necessary or is anti-art. Artists often say they have “nothing to say” about their art when they are required to write something about it. At the other end of the scale are artists who are impossible to stop when talking about their art—both extremes of character can result in the production of weak marketing/promotional text if done without professional assistance or careful craftsmanship. All these blocks to the development of effective and persuasive text about you, your art and your art-making process have to be overcome if you are to develop a successful enterprise around your artistic practice.
Finding the Right Words
It is rarely advisable to create your sales and marketing materials on your own. You cannot be objective and you may have a pattern of explaining your work and yourself that is dated and overly subjective. What you need is strongly persuasive text or enticing personal text. Choose your style and work on it with professionals if need be.
- Artspeak: Artspeak is complex, heavily multi-syllabic text. It is prevalent in some artist statements, curatorial essays and art criticism. It can alienate some readers as it is can be very hard for them to understand. The language of analysis has its own specialized vocabulary, but the most sophisticated of ideas are also presentable in lay language. When people read your words in your statements, catalogues, website, media communication etc., they want contextualization—access to insight, not a serious intellectual challenge. Avoid the jargon of the visual arts if you can.
- Adjectives: Adjectives are descriptive words that frequently involve judgment; they go with subjectivity, rather than objectivity. They can be the most “dangerous” words and they come up often. It is hard for a reader to believe adjectives; consider every one you use carefully.
- Using Third Parties
- Slide Nights are an excellent source of “raw material” for text for your marketing and promotional materials. (See Chapter Eight.)
- Beware of text written for you by galleries or dealers—always insist on approval of any text used to describe your work. Everything written about your work should be from you directly or in partnership with your gallery or a professional writer who recognizes the power and value of your voice (not theirs).
- Former teachers, peer artists, art critics and/or curators are often great sources of text. They may provide you with written text free or charge or for a fee.
- Have a notebook in your studio or with you when you work. Jot down ideas and insights that occur as you work. Try to explain what your work “is about” in a short paragraph or two, and build it up over time. Ask yourself questions if you have trouble writing about yourself and your art. Is your work about your ideas, your life events, a philosophic value or belief? Is it part of a narrative expressed in a body of work? Do you know where you will end up when you start a piece, or does it shape its destiny with you as you work? How do you know when to stop, or when it is done? Use your notebook to annotate your behavioral and mental creative process. Discover and record why you make art—your reasons may change over time or day to day. The clearer you are about your drive to create, the better for you and your marketing materials. Where do you work? Why do you work? Who are your influences? What emotions drive you to create? How do you feel when a work sells? What are your other passions? As is often said, people invest in artists, not art, so personal details, although they may not seem important to you, may be interesting to your potential buyers.
- Don’t preach or write too much. Avoid superlatives and ensure every word is important. Read and re-read your work eliminating all ambiguities and extraneous text.
- One of the best ways any writer can test her/his work is to read it aloud. Reading text that you think is “finished” to someone is a very effective way to do some self-editing—even reading it aloud to yourself is worthwhile. Never print, publish or email anything important that has not been adequately proofread.