When The Thought Of Talking About Your Art Makes You Cringe

Guest blogger: Gigi Rosenberg

Most artists I know cringe at the thought of doing an artist talk. This is what they tell me:

Gigi Rosenberg

Gigi Rosenberg

I’m not a performer!
I’m not a public speaker!
I don’t want to explain what my art is about!
I don’t know what to talk about!
I don’t think it will make sense!
I don’t have anything to wear!

The list of objections goes on and on.

But then they get invited to give an artist talk at a gallery or at the local art school or they realize there might be some benefit to preparing and delivering a formal presentation about their work as an artist.

It’s Good For Your Career

After their first talk is over, artists tell me how beneficial it was:

Preparing my talk helped me articulate what I’m doing and it helped me re-write my artist statement.
I had to review all my past work and it made me realize how far I’ve come.
It helped me see that I’m an expert at what I do.
People signed up for my mailing list.
I booked another gig!

Just last week Diane Jacobs, who I coached for her latest artist talk, said in an email, “Writing my talk helped me understand and verbalize my intentions. . . . It feels good to share the background and ideas behind the work.”

When artist Helen Hiebert gave her first talk at a professional conference, she included a request for donations for a short film she wanted to make. So, not only did she leave the conference with her first talk under her belt but she raised $500 for her film.

It may seem like an impossible leap to go from wanting to do a talk to standing in front of the room and claiming your expertise as an artist.

Writing and delivering a kick-ass artist talk is just like anything else you’ve ever learned to do.

Start with small steps that include first thinking about your audience: Who are they? Why are they there? What do you want to invite them to think about, question, or do by the end of your talk?

Artist Talk Program for ArtistsDe-Cringe

In Your Artist Talk, I break the process of assembling and delivering an artist talk into do-able steps. I give you ideas for where you can start giving a talk right now. Because the fastest way to perfect your talk is to rehearse it and the biggest motivator for rehearsing is to schedule your first talk. Click here for the details.

As a presentation coach, guest blogger Gigi Rosenberg draws on her background in writing, visual art, theater, and corporate communications to teach creative entrepreneurs how to give stellar public presentations.

She is the author of The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing.

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14 comments to When The Thought Of Talking About Your Art Makes You Cringe

  • It would also be a good idea to join a Toastmasters group to get comfortable with public speaking.

    • Joining a Toastmasters group is a great idea or doing anything that requires public speaking. You could even decide that you’ll practice speaking first in a meeting or asking the first question at a Q&A session.

  • Great post. Good job. Gives informative ideas to me.

  • Thursday, I have to do a 1-1/2 hour telephone interview…Then another later, to finish the interview…This is not really an artist talk…Should I sign up anyway?

  • Oh Ok…She writes on her website that she covers question & answers too…I am signed up! (Make sure to tell her if you can to talk about artist interviews! If for some reason I am late to the telephone call!)…Thanks!

    • An interview is a little different than an artist talk but not by as much as you’d think! What’s the same is how important it is to think ahead of time about who your audience is and what you want them to come away with. With an interview you don’t want to rely on the interviewer to be a great interviewer. You want to help your interviewer by being a great interviewee, no matter what! So, preparation is key. Hope this helps! And looking forward to Tuesday!

  • For anyone who is considering getting the recording, I just thought I’d write here-DO! It was terrific, superb, excellent, very good, & all that…Wonderful…Helpful…Thank you Gigi Rosenberg & Alyson B. Stanfield for this! *& yes, it is very useful for prepping for an artist interview too!

  • I have an exhibit that is up now, and when the gallery committee asked me to conduct a brief talk about my creative process and my work I said yes without thinking. I heard it several times at a workshop with Alyson, read it in her book and also on this blog. The words came out of my mouth before I even realized what I had done!

    I am fortunate enough to have 3 public speaking courses on my transcript of my undergraduate work. I hated it at the time and would get so nervous I would shake uncontrollably, break out into a sweat, and ummmmmmmmmm. I wouldn’t say I completely rid myself of umm or you know, but it did give me the ground work for this video of my recent gallery talk:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUKCsHCVVqk

    I welcome any and all feedback on the video, my photographs, or my creative process. Especially because this was my first solo exhibit I knew that I had to take advantage of the opportunity to speak up about who I am and what I’m about. Alyson is so right on this business tip! I feel more articulate about my work and it forced me to say exactly what it is that cause my finger to push the shutter button. I used to not even think about it; I just let it happen.

    Something that helped me practice my talk was videotaping myself for a couple run throughs. I watched one back, but the other two I deleted because I found the process of looking into a camera lens with the little red indicator light really helped me focus my attention and helped me get the kinks out. Then, 5 minutes before the actual talk I stepped into a side room at the gallery, took some deep breaths, and coached myself to go out, have a few laughs, keep it casual, and remind myself that all those people are there for me and that’s something to be grateful for instead of nervous about!

    I hope this was encouraging to any more doubters and draggers!

  • I was able to be at the gallery for Nate’s reception. I saw you, Nate, as confident, calm, and natural during your talk. What great stories! Thank you for sharing them.

  • […] it’s language for talking with people about your art or a cold-call pitch, practicing gives you the confidence to complete the task to your […]

  • […] Art Biz Blog has a post called  ”When The Thought Of Talking About Your Art Makes You Cringe“. This article mentions some of the common fears people have for doing an artist talk and why […]

  • My sculptures are all biblically based. These are what I speak about. I, luckily, have no qualms about public speaking. :D

  • Cyn, You’re lucky that it’s a natural skill! Also, when you’re connected to the “story” behind the work, it really helps. Thanks for commenting.