Podcast: Turn the conversation around

Do you find yourself getting defensive when you are asked questions about your art you don’t like? Engaging questions help to educate art viewers and, because they build knowledge and an increased level of comfort, go a long way to turning art viewers into art buyers.


Yes! We have winners!

As I say in the podcast, this topic grew from a Deep Thought Thursday contest I posted a couple of weeks ago. It asked how you respond to the question “How long did it take you to make that?” I selected two winners–those whose answers I felt were the best of the 69 responses at the time the contest ended.

The winners are Liz Crain and Quinn McDonald.

In her response to “How long did it take you to make that?” Liz Crain wrote:

. . . because I respect the questioner and want to continue the dialogue, what I usually mention is Hard Time and Soft Time.

Hard Time is the hands-on doing and it means manipulating and actively engaging myself with the creative and technical problems I have chosen to present to myself with the work at hand. It is usually what the questioner wants to hear about.

Soft Time is the time spent “receiving.” This is the lifetime of learning, the pondering, the waiting (for clarity, inspiration, for the clay to dry, the kiln to fire . . . ). It is usually the part that the questioner has not conceived of clearly, and quite often leads to the rest of the conversation.

Right after Liz’s post, Quinn McDonald noted:

When people ask me that question, I know it is either a price or a value question, based on dollars-per-hour, which is how most people work.

I used to have snappy responses, which were satisfying, but not
business-friendly. So now I ask a question back, to start a
conversation
–“Just this piece, or all the research and practice
pieces, too?” Most people don’t think of artists doing research, and
they will ask about that.

Or, “Do I get to include the classes in this technique, too?” HOW
it’s said–cheerfully and with a bit of curiosity, makes all the
difference.

Explanation from the Juror (me!)

I didn’t give Liz the prize outright because I liked the way that Quinn posed questions to the viewer (more on this in the podcast above) rather than just giving her answer. Liz may do this, too, but I couldn’t tell from her response.

And I didn’t declare Quinn the winner because I don’t agree with her first sentence. As I say in the podcast, I don’t think it’s necessarily a value question. I think it’s people trying hard to relate to the artist and most people have no idea how to talk about art.

I also toyed with giving the prize to Jo-Ann Sanborn who wrote this:

Lately I’ve been asking (with NO sarcasm) “how long do you think it took?” Their answer lets me know how to proceed dealing with them. Do they need to learn how to talk about art, are they really curious, do they want to know more about the process, are they concerned about getting a good deal, etc, etc, etc,

I loved Jo-Ann’s reasoning–especially her sensitivity to the viewer’s response to her question.  But I wasn’t crazy about the question because it ultimately has a right or wrong answer and might make some viewers uncomfortable.

Incidentally, Jo-Ann’s response reminded me of watching auction house employees in action. I learned from the good folks at auction houses (and you can see it in action on Antiques Road Show) that the first question you always ask someone about their “prized possession” is “What can you tell me about this piece?”

Their response shows you how attached they are to it and helps you craft your responses to their expectations. You can do the same when talking with people about your art.

You can read all responses to my contest in the original post.

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7 comments to Podcast: Turn the conversation around

  • Hm, thanks, that’s very interesting. I get asked that question a lot and it does stump me sometimes. Now I have a better way to answer!

  • I really think that people ask this as a conversation opener because they don’t know what else to say – and they don’t know how to discuss brushwork or composition or other factors.

    I often tell them, for the small ones, that it took a few hours and then go into an explanation of plein air painting and how much practice and experience it takes to be able to capture a scene while light and weather conditions are changing. Rather than being unimpressed with the short period of time it took to paint (approx 2-3 hrs) they end up being fascinated with a plein air painter’s ability to create under often challenging conditions. I will then explain that when I’m doing studio painting based upon a plein air field study that it may take weeks to paint.

    I love to talk with people about my art, so I consider every question a good one, and a conversation opener that may lead to a mutually-beneficial relationship

  • This question has been a thorn in my side for a long time — but now I know it’s been because I’m defensive about it! Sad, sad realization. I coulda done so much better asking Jo-Ann’s question. H’ever, the comment I get most often, as a photographer is, “If I had a good camera…” Urk-kk! The correct answer is, “Your bad pictures would be more technically perfect.” but that would be impolitic, I’m certain.

  • I love this conversation ! I like to respond with “… about 38 years !” And then I will explain that working as a full time professional fine artist began with a formal education in the 70’s and just about everything I have learned since then went into that painting ! Cheers ! Here’s to another day of experimenting, problem solving, research and successful painting !
    Have a Great Day and thanks for a Great blog.
    ~ Marcia Baldwin

  • Machi: Glad we could be of help!

    Karen: Yep, that’s what I said in the podcast. It’s just a conversation-starter for most people.

    Walter: That IS a dilemma. I think a lot of artists deal with this. They get asked a lot of questions about how things are made with the sense that the person is going to go home and copy it. Very frustrating for artists. I wonder if you could, as I suggest in the podcast, respond with a question: “Tell me about it. What would be your favorite subjects to photograph? And why?”

    Marcia: As I said, that’s not my favorite response. It could work depending on your tone, but it usually (as intended by the artist–maybe not you) closes out a conversation. Most artists use that line because they don’t want to talk further about how long it took. This, of course, is beside the point. The point is that more dialog is better. Keep ‘em talking!

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