Today, I am speaking to all the shy artists out there. The ones that are humble, quiet, and hide in the corner during the opening of their own show. The ones that hang with their own clique and keep a low profile. The ones that don't stand too close to their own work at the gallery night. The ones, that after a few hours of standing, sit in the corner looking bored or tired , or they hold up the wall by leaning against it, hands shoved in pockets. If this is you, we need to talk.
First of all, I understand your discomfort. I know that walking into a room crowded with people can be unnerving at the least, and even more so when you must come face to face with these people and talk. Your work is on the wall and they came to see it, and meet you. Horrors!!
Personally, I love this part. I love talking with people about my work, getting their reactions, explaining my process, talking about my titles. This is exhilarating to me. Making art is such a solitary process, and creative works thrive when all is quiet and isolated. When I get to clean up and be in public and communicate this process- I come alive. It is a chance for me to come out of the studio and celebrate. I know that not all artists feel this way.
Showing your art can be a vulnerable experience, like putting a little piece of your soul out on the wall for people to pick apart, or judge. Even I suffer occasionally from this unease, I cling to my husband's arm too much, I stick with people I know... Some days I am on and some days I am off. That is how it goes, but most of the time I rise to the occasion and you can too.
Here is how.
First of all, look sharp- nothing fancy just wear something that makes you feel comfortable yet confident and put together. This will make you feel better, like a power suit of sorts even if it just your favorite jeans and shirt, as long as they look clean and put together. I have power shoes, that I wear. Most of the time, I wear super practical comfy shoes, but at events I always wear wedge shoes that give me like 2-3 inches extra height. I am only 5'3 so that helps me to not feel small, and it is an easy way to grab a little confidence. Now, my wedges are always comfortable as well, and that is important, as I am going to be up on my feet working it all night long...
Second, if you are given an option to wear a name tag at an event: Do it! If people don't know who you are, then how are they supposed to talk with you about your art? I know sometimes it feels odd or embarrassing to be branded with the big white sticker announcing you to the room, but it really is helpful in so many situations.
Third, think body language. Are your hands in your pockets, are your arms crossed? Check yourself and correct. Don't close yourself off with a defensive posture, try to appear open and friendly. I have to constantly remind myself about my arms being crossed. Believe it or not but I even sleep a lot of time with my arms crossed. So, if I can do this, so can you. Keep your head up and smile. You deserve the attention. Usually after an art event my face hurts because I have smiled most of the night. It's going to a long night, and the legs or feet might be killing, but try to stand for most of the event and look alive. You are putting out energy into the room. When you sit, slouch, or lean, it is like putting a "closed" sign on your office door. Let's stay open until the end. I mean, how often do you get to work a room anyway?
Fourth, stay near your work so you can talk with people about it, but don't guard it like a dog, or hover so much that you make people uncomfortable. This is a hard balance to strike but it can be done. Be a satellite and navigate the room, but keep your art in sight and know when to tune into folks that might want to talk. Usually, I look for people who step into the work by getting really close to examine it. I also look for people who talk with their friends while pointing or gesticulating about the work to each other.
Fifth, Introduce yourself. So, once I have been alerted to folks that may be interested in my work, all I do is walk up and say " Hi, I am Megan Chapman. I am the artist of this piece and if you have any questions about the work, please let me know, and I can answer them for you." That is it. They usually want to shake your hand, and they either say "Oh great, nice job- keep up the good work" and they walk away, or they are really excited to meet you and have all sorts of questions for you and usually want to share something about themselves as well. I love that part.
That is really all there is to it. The next time you are showing your work, try these techniques, and see how you feel about it. I am not saying you have to be like Annette Bening's character, in the film American Beauty as she prepares for an open house by repeating "I will sell this house today" in a crazed way. I don't want you to feel like you have to radically change yourself or have a freeze dried smile on your face all night either. Working a room, meeting people, and talking about your work, are skills that can be learned like anything else. I have confidence in you.
No more shrinking violets, and no more wallflowers. You are an artist, and you deserve to thrive and succeed. Now, work it!