Do you ever feel squirmish when it comes to discussing your work? If so, you are not alone. Even the most articulate creatives among us struggle to translate creative processes into digestible formats. It is undeniably challenging to encapsulate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of complex artistic practice in ways that sit comfortably with us.
Some of our discomfort is due to lack of writing practice and subjective over-familiarity with our chosen medium – whether it be paint, fabric or design software. Shouldn’t your excellent products simply speak for themselves? Besides, you may argue, words aren’t really your thing. Perhaps you also have an underlying suspicion that personal statements remove the mystique of your creations, or that condensing the lot into 200 words may reveal inadequacies rather than showcase strengths. How complex or meaningful can your products and services be, you ask, if they are so easily captured in one simple assertion?
Yet the basic truth remains: the ability to clarify one’s motivation (or even distill an entire career) into concrete statements can connect you with your target audiences and propel your career into new territory. With the increasing value of online promotion and marketplaces, your words must also represent you in your physical absence. Still, despite the number of accessible how-to blog posts out there, the standard of written output is generally mismatched against the higher quality of work offered by creatives, limiting the potential for prospective partnerships with galleries, commercial enterprises and other collaborators.
Why not consider it an opportunity? Writing well about your work can prove that you truly have a handle on what you are doing, and why. In a tangential way, it also confers confidence that the clarity of your words will translate to a level of professionalism and focus in your practice, in addition to quality of output.
Indeed, as you expand your creative practice you will also be required to provide more than the obligatory three-sentence artist statements. The gift of expanded commentary is in the chance for you to draw together multiple (and even seemingly unrelated) threads of your work in a coherent way, as well as linking to personal experience. Here, things get interesting: because audiences respond to authentic storytelling. They truly want to experience you, being you, expressed in a way that reflects the real you. They genuinely seek to engage with your creative journey, your unexpected discoveries along the way, and even your disasters-before-the-triumphs. This is what makes you relatable, and breathes life into your work from the audience’s perspective.
Surprisingly, then, the writing process evolves to become more about honesty and less about complicated jargon or verbal acrobatics. Paradoxically, it also offers the opportunity to admit that you may not know exactly what you are doing, or why you are doing it. Making art is, after all, a largely intuitive process guided by trust in the creative unknown. And that’s okay! Audiences don’t expect you to understand and articulate every aspect of your process or motivation – but they will disconnect if you try and bluff them. Owning the truth about imperfections in your processes or understanding keeps the ball firmly in your court.
Some additional thoughts on avoiding familiar pitfalls in developing your writing practice?
- Limit the use of artsy-yet-ambiguous expressions. Nobody really understands them, even though we all pretend that we do. This simply creates distance between your work and a confused reader or viewer who, like the artist, may be too afraid to admit that they don’t understand what’s happening. Creativity is for thinkers, but deliberately overcomplicating things will do you a disservice.
- Trying too hard to describe your work. Your statements should be more about your motivation and process, and less about subjective descriptions. Interpretations and appraisals should respectfully be left to audiences.
- Minimise time travel! Your work is in the here and now, so it’s better to stick with the present tense. Any statements you create needn’t pigeonhole you moving forward, either – they are always open to change, and can evolve alongside your creative practice.
At the risk of glossing over the challenge of developing new skills, I do believe that we are capable of raising the bar and expressing ourselves better in words. In turn, this pays dividends by cultivating authentic connections with colleagues and audiences who genuinely wish to understand us better.
The world truly needs what we have to offer, which sometimes requires stepping outside our comfort zones and summoning up bravery to demand only the best from ourselves. What have we got to lose?
Drawing from diverse backgrounds in health, science and the public art gallery sector, Liesl’s passion lies where the creative industries intersect with business and audience development. She explores a variety of relevant topics and shares inspiration from around the globe via her Instagram account, @thedailyculturepreneur.