Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Self-confidence self-help

I am assuming that the original topic of this forum was this post by Mat Gleason: "I think socializing is as important to an artist's success as anything, but having good art will get you further than someone who makes lousy art but is an excellent schmoozer." I would like to expand on this thought and respond to a few of the other comments in the forum.
Humans are social creatures, and we all must learn to interact with eachother to a greater or lesser extent in our careers. An artist, unlike some in other professions, has the luxury of choosing the degree and type of interaction for the most part. It's possible, for example, to hire someone to market your work. However, this is not always sufficient; in many instances, there is just no substitute for the artist's presence. An example from my own experience is with selling glass. I have been involved in many events (studio tours, festivals, etc.) where people come expecting to buy. But sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Having the artist engage the potential customer can make or break a sale. Often this consists of "schmooze" talk: "Oh, I noticed your shirt- I grew up near there" or "Have you ever seen glassblowing before?" Sure, anyone who has worked in sales will groan (I've gotten so practiced I actually recite the same phrases most times) but it works. People like someone who is friendly and offers them information to go with their purchase. It gives them a face and a story to put on their art.
Of course, gallery schmoozing is not quite the same as trying to make a sale. But the same principle applies. If one feels a personal connection with the artist- can remember a conversation, or something you two had in common- one is more likely to think positively of the artist, which obviously never hurts. Artists who say they don't like to talk to people or don't think it's important should learn otherwise. When I did my first studio tour I was terrified of talking to the customers. But you realize very soon after your first sale that it's incredibly easy. There's a pattern to what people want to hear from an artist, and I'm not saying you can just bullshit and manipulate them. (Well, you usually can, but it's possible to tell the truth and still have the same effect.) If you feel you're not a "people person" you just need to practice it more. Just because you have a fear doesn't mean you're obligated to be a slave to it. Everyone can overcome insecurity in their own way, and every artist should. Ask yourself this: if you are afraid to talk to people about your work, is it because you're afraid of rejection or a bad review? In short, do you have misgivings about your work? If you had the confidence to make the work in the first place, why should you be afraid of what people will say about it?
And so, my point is this: it is more important to have good work than to be a good talker. But there's no reason an artist can't do both with a little practice.

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