Mind Shifts for Artists Pt. 1: Your Art Doesn’t Speak for Itself

This is the first post in our Mind Shifts for Artists series. The purpose of this series is to introduce some fundamental shifts in perception or mindset that artists like you can undertake to boost productivity, find more opportunities, and sell more art.

To learn more, you can read the introductory post here.

Does your art speak for itself?

Visual art is a powerful vehicle for communication. Your creations capture your interests, passion, and creativity. They show your talent, skill, and big ideas. The visual can express emotions and sensory experiences that are impossible to translate into words!

It is perhaps because visual art is such a rich medium for communication that many artists believe their work “speaks for itself.” When artists say this, they usually mean that they don’t see the purpose of writing about what they’ve created. They want their viewers to interpret their art directly. I’ve heard a lot of artists say that they just couldn’t express in words what they have communicated visually. It is true that many people can say more through visual art than they can through text.

You may also argue that our culture places too much emphasis on text. Artist’s shouldn’t have to communicate in words just because it is the most dominant and authoritative language. Visual art should be allowed to speak for itself because visual art should be taken as seriously as writing. Visual literacy should be taught in schools and viewers should spend as much time trying to decipher a painting as they spend reading a text. 

Again, I agree with you about all of this!

All that being said, the mind shift I’d like you to entertain this week is that your art doesn’t really speak for itself. At least, it doesn’t speak clearly or loudly enough to make others want to invest in it through either grants or sales.

If your goal is to have someone stop for 2 seconds while scrolling through facebook and say “that’s nice” about your art or click “like,” then there’s no reason for you to spend a lot of time writing something like an amazing Artist Statement. If, on the other hand, you are looking for deeper engagement in your work, I believe you need to get serious about writing. You need to be able to articulate in words why others should care about your art.

As I wrote in a previous blog post about Meeting the Needs of Buyers (see the full post for more information):

Buyers (and other kinds of potential investors in your work) want: 

  • art that reflects their values, personality, and aspirations. 
  • to be knowledgable about what they buy, share their knowledge with others, and be acknowledged for their good taste.
  • a good story about you, the artist. 
  • to support artists they care about and know that they are making a good investment. 

The more clearly you communicate about the points above, the better you serve your viewers and attract investment. I honestly believe that a great artist’s statement, bio, and portfolio are the most important tools artists have for increasing the perceived value of their work. Forget speaking, the right bit of text can make your art sing!

As part of this mind shift, I challenge you to try writing an Artist Statement that communicates your values and “the big why” behind your art-making practice. Try writing it as if you are trying to convince a collector that your art matters. Next time you write a social media post, try giving your viewers information that will help them to appreciate your work. Teach them about your value.

Need some help? I created my Artist Communication Package to help artists create polished, professional communication pieces that are authentic to their artistic vision. For just $99 CAD, I’ll help you to write a stunning bit of text that will help your art speak.

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