Why Artists Must Tell Their Story

Filed in Art Business , Commentary 11 comments



Carolyn Edlund spent twenty years running her own ceramic and jewelry studio, is currently the Executive Director of the Arts Business Institute, the author of the E-course titled “Marketing for Artists & Craftspeople,”  and the owner and author of Artsy Shark, a site devoted to the support of artists and creative entrepreneurs. She offers workshops and one on one consulting services as well. To find out more about Carolyn and to take your career to another level,  just click HERE.

One of the most effective ways that you as an artist can connect with your audience is to tell your story. Not just a recital of your resume, but the story of your inspiration, your struggles, your vision and your message.

Talking about yourself and your artwork builds a layer of emotional connection between you as the artist and your potential collectors. Yes, your work must be good, and must stand on its own, but you as an artist are intrinsically part of the end product of your studio work. When your client makes a purchase of your art, they are buying a part of your talent and your personality.

 Many art collectors are highly creative people themselves. They may not have ability as painters, photographers or sculptors, but they express themselves through buying the work of artists they appreciate. It’s no wonder that curation is a huge trend for the public, as each person can distinguish themselves and their tastes. They may have a boring job or an ordinary life, but they can stand out by showing their appreciation for the arts by becoming collectors. They crave a connection with artists and the perceived mystique and fantasy of being a full-time sought-after talent.

Your story helps make this connection, and can become an essential part of your presentation. Start by writing down everything that has affected or influenced you, and has led to your expressing your heart and soul in your artwork. Do you have an unusual technique? A story of overcoming hardship? Are your materials innovative?

When collectors buy your work, they will re-tell your story to others when showing your art. This can help you cultivate repeat buyers as well as earning referral business from your fans.

 Work on your story to distill down the parts that make those emotional connections with others. Practice telling your story. Record and listen to it, then make changes and hone it further. Your story should be compelling, full of important messages that you want to convey to your audience – and it should flow well.  You may want to have a longer and shorter version of your story which you can use as needed.

Where can you share your story?

  •  On your website About page. One of the most visited pages on any website, this important page should also include your photograph, so that visitors feel they know you.
  • In your artist statement and bio
  • As part of the branding of your business
  • When speaking about your work at a gallery show
  • To present your work to visitors at an art fair
  • In your brochure and other written promotional material
  • To use when applying for an artist residency, or on grant applications
  • For networking purposes, using a succinct version of your story tells others very clearly who you are.
  •  On your blog. This is a powerful place to share your ongoing story. Jack White is a master storyteller who frequently uses his own story as an artist, as well as telling stories about others. His style has made him a top expert on selling art.
  • In press releases
  • In interviews with the press

Your story will evolve over time as your art career grows. Don’t forget to stay in touch with your audience and continue to share about yourself and your art. It will be appreciated!




Posted by James Knauf   @   5 December 2012 11 comments
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  • Brennen Mcelhaney

    Carolyn, Thank you for this reminder to connect with people though our story as well as our art. Thanks for all you do!

    • Carolyn

      Brennen, as always I appreciate your support and what you are doing in your projects as well.

  • GeorgeLee

    What if an artist is more of the quiet type and not inclined to talk about themselves? Expecially with strangers. Even to sell a product. Also, when the artist in question doesn’t keep in touch with their own loved ones except by phone, then it makes sense that the idea of putting oneself “out there” is more than a little daunting. There must be another way?

    • Carolyn

      GeorgeLee, there are many artists such as this! There is nothing wrong with getting marketing help if you choose too, but here is why you still must know your story:

      Even if a gallery is promoting you, they have to know everything about you and your work and your story to be able to virtually take your place with their clients, so you must be able to tell them clearly. And – they would expect you to attend your opening, in which case you must be able to speak about yourself to guests there.

      Knowing what is special about your work, and practicing speaking about it, gives you more confidence. You know what to say, and won’t freeze up as easily. It expands your comfort zone.

      Once I attended a gallery competition opening with a loved one, who turned out to win first prize at the show. She was asked to speak about her work, but couldn’t bring herself to do so. A juror stepped in graciously and gave a quick talk about her inspiration and style. I cringed, but I understood her shyness.

      How much better would she have felt if she had practiced talking about herself and was able to pull it off? When you have prepared in advance because you are motivated to take that next step in your business, you can stand up and talk about yourself, your story and your art. And you will feel wonderful that you have been able to do so.

  • Jaime Haney

    Carolyn, I love this article. It applies to me to at this stage in my art career. I would love to see some links to artist stories that you think are a great example. It may help get my juices flowing for re-vamping mine.

    Jaime Haney at http://www.jaimehaney.com

    • Carolyn

      Absolutely, Jaime! I encourage artists to tell their stories, right on the Artsy Shark blog. In fact, over 260 artists have been featured there, and each one has told their story in their own words.

      Here is a link to the Featured Artist Gallery http://www.artsyshark.com/category/featured-artists/

      Scroll through the featured artist pages and see what you think. Which ones do you think are most effective? How did artists tell compelling stories? How can you tell your own story so that it makes a connection too?

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  • arklington

    As a buyer, I find this advice particularly useful. Despite being a very deep person (hence my interest in art), it helps if I can see the photograph of the artist so that I know I’m not giving my money to anyone either too ugly or too old. I also know the odd artist or two, and they’ve often found that their sales have risen exponentially once they change their story to second guess their customer’s prejudices.

    A friend of mine who gave up his job as a chartered accountant to be a painter was finding things heavy going – despite his obvious talent – but once he re-invented himself as a recovering meth addict, pimp and gang henchman who taught himself to paint in prison: voila! Everybody suddenly wanted to buy into his depth, intensity, “journey” and new-found sincerity.

    So there you have it: if your current truth isn’t shifting units, simply dream up a new one.

    • Carolyn

      While I wouldn’t advocate making up a story, it certainly makes a difference when artists present themselves as people – and very interesting ones at that. As mentioned in the article, your customers are buying a little part of your creativity and artistic soul. This is emotionally valuable – and sales are emotional. Art collectors take great pride in ownership, and it’s not all because of resale value of the art.

      Artists should look at their life and their inspirations deeply, and create a narrative which is authentic and also appealing to their prospective clients.

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