7 Ways to Make Your Next Artist Talk Painless, Entertaining, and Successful

Paige Simianer | January 25, 2017 (Updated February 2, 2023)

Photo by Ben Moreland on Unsplash

At some point in your art career, you will be asked to give an artist talk. And, if you are like most artists, the thought of this already has you in a panic.

But, before you stay awake all night with anxiety about this inevitable public speaking engagement, we put together some tips to help the nerves stay at bay and guide you to a place where public speaking becomes second nature.

Here are some tips to help make your next artist talk more painless, more entertaining and more successful:

Remember, you are the top authority on your artwork

The great thing about being an artist is that you are your own resident expert on your work. Who knows more about your technique, background, or subject matter than you? No one. Remind yourself that you aren’t being quizzed or challenged when you are giving your talk.

Generally, people who attend your artist talk will have a genuine interest in getting to know a little more about your work. And what’s more, often times they have a great appreciation for art but don’t know all that much about it. It’s your job to educate, inform and maybe even entertain them (but, no pressure on delivering one-liners).

Construct a Storyline

The best talks — and not just artist talks — follow a storyline. Chicago artist and curator, Sergio Gomez follows this one to keep him on track:

“Story> the art process > influences or concerns > highlight key works in the show > final thoughts”

He also suggests sprinkling facts around a story and notes that most of the successful Ted Talks do this. “I believe a good artist talk will make the viewer engage more in depth with the work. The talk should provide context and present a point of departure for a deeper conversation between the viewer and the work,” says Gomez.

Need inspiration on how to tell a great story? Check out the 5 Ted Talks for artists.

We all have stories to tell. Moments that ignited our artistic flame, changed the direction of our practice or hooked us for good. These moments that bring up the most emotion for us, are also often the most engaging narratives for our audience.

Photo by Tjook, Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Start with some freewriting

If you don’t even know where to start, try some free-writing exercises. Don’t just try and start writing your final draft as soon as you sit down. Jot down bits and pieces about your background, what led you to this point, what motivates you … anything!

Try not to be a perfectionist during this part of the process. In fact, the more you can check that part of your brain, the better. You want to get all of your rough ideas down and then you can begin to comb through them and make connections.  

Tip: Art Biz Coach Alyson Stanfield suggests fleshing out anywhere where you have written down something like “painting outside is cool because” or “it was really interesting.” Those are the points to enter and flesh out.

Rehearse your story like you are rehearsing a play

Even if you think you know everything about your artwork, finding the right order to talk about it can be tricky. You might feel completely comfortable talking about your work in a conversation, but without prompting or natural pauses, it can difficult to speak about your work for a solid five minutes or so.

But, just as with most things in art and life, practice only makes you better.

So, to turn yourself from a timid speaker into a confident orator put in the time beforehand. Practice timing yourself as well and grab a friend or family member for a few minutes to give you some good, honest feedback.

Keep it simple

There is a phrase that is common among designers: “keep it simple, stupid.”

The same goes for giving your artist talk. Don’t get bogged down in trying to explain complicated theories, philosophies or even techniques in your speech. Try and keep it as simple as possible, while still getting the point across.

You will have to go into specifics later. Save the art jargon for now and engage your listeners by connecting with them through direct, concise and clear language. This will both help you to not trip over your toes, but also to connect with your audience.

Often times, the most simple explanation is the most powerful, relatable and honest.

Photo by Kristian Bjornard, Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Eliminate language that undermines your expertise

Have you ever done an experiment where you try not to use the words, “just,” “sorry,” or “like” for a day? Were you shocked by how often you started a sentence with one of the words?

It’s so easy to insert these words into casual, everyday language, and sometimes they have their place. However, their place is not in your artist talk.

Even if this is your first talk, or this is the very beginning of your career, own what you are doing and present yourself with confidence (even if you have to fake it till you make it).

Let’s pretend for a minute that being an artist isn’t your full-time job yet. Instead of saying that you are a “business analyst/painter,” unless the business is integral to your art, there is no need to mention it.

Redbubble suggests that some other ways you are undermining your authority is by saying things like you make artwork “on the weekends,” or by self-appointing yourself as “aspiring,” or “emerging.”

Anticipate questions you might be asked

Don’t get caught off guard. Practice your responses by anticipating what audience members might ask you. If you have been an artist in any capacity, for really any amount of time, you know that there are a few questions that you get asked over and over.

If you have a really unique technique, it could be about that. Or, if your subject matter is a little off-beat, it’s probably about that. Make sure that you have solid answers for these — as you know they will be asked in front of a new audience.

While you still have your friends and family as a captive audience after your timed rehearsal, ask them to shoot you a couple of questions. Give yourself the same time constraints to practice (say, 30 seconds or so).

On the day, limit your questions from the audience to about five or so. Tell them this beforehand and then let them know that you would be happy to answer any other questions in person after the talk. This way you don’t let the talk drag, and you will be able to answer more difficult or time-consuming questions face-to-face.

Photo by Luaba House, Creative Commons, Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Make yourself accessible and be prepared

After the questions conclude at the end of your talk, make yourself accessible to the people in attendance. Walk around and introduce yourself to anyone that wants to speak with you. Try to make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk with you that wants to, however.

Be aware of the people in the room, and if one encounter begins to take too much time, ask them if you could circle back around to this discussion later and thank them for their time.

Calm your nerves by directing attention towards your work

Does the thought of talking about your work in front of an audience still raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels?

One way to assuage this panicky feeling is to fall back on your artwork. When you feel that overwhelming fear that everyone is looking at you, simply direct them to something in your artwork. By moving around and keeping the focus on your artwork, you can relax a bit more and not worry so much about being the center of attention.

Plus, it makes your presentation more interesting. After all, that’s what your audience is really interested in!

One last bonus tip?

Be prepared to meet gallerists, potential collectors, and clients. Always present yourself professionally. This means from your dress to having business cards available and having lists of your available works on hand.

Looking for an easy way to print professional reports at the click of a button? Try Artwork Archive to get beautifully laid out inventory reports, consignment reports, portfolio pages, and invoices.

Share This Article
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Cookie Policy