Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thinking (and Talking) About Your Art

Wow...I'm surprised that I still have more to say about this experience - but I thought I'd add a bit about what I learned this week related to the process of discussing (and thinking) about your work. As I said before, these portfolio reviews are complex experiences with fundamental flaws and strengths. On the strength side, I found it meaningful to bring my work out into the greater community, i.e. people who don't already know me. By the beginning of the third day I had a different understanding of what I thought the work was about, which lead me to create a different interaction for my final day of reviews. 

I can't imagine how exhausting the process must be for the reviewers, but most of them really gave it a good shot. There was the occasional dud (overheard to say "maybe you should give up") or egotist ("I'm an expert so when I say this you should listen") but for the most part they showed up and gave their best input. I was able discover differences between the images I brought as a unit, which has helped me identify a few divergent trends. 

Here are some of the questions that people ask in a review - and I think they're good ones to ask yourself. 

1. "Tell me about yourself"...which really translates into "tell me what in your life has brought you to the point of making these images - what core values or motivation does this work come from?" Obviously, you don't want to go too much into your psychological depths, but it's good to help them understand you're not just playing. 

2. "What are your influences?" Well, this can also be a question asking if you see that you're referencing certain established artists. For some reason I totally blanked on naming Magritte as a strong foundational influence and so was faced with having to honestly say that I wasn't really thinking of Jerry Uelsmann when I was working. Which is really odd...because it's the truth. I never really connected to his work before, because it wasn't what I was interested in. A few months ago I saw a terrific show of his at Peter Fetterman's, but the work lacks an emotional quotient for me.  I think this question also helps the reviewer get some quick reference points on starting to understand what you're trying to accomplish - remember this all has to be attempted in 20 minutes. 

3. Obviously, they're going to ask about the work you're showing..."Tell me about this work." This is the time I always wish I had the perfect short sentence that brilliantly explains everything - they call that your "elevator speech" as in, you meet someone you've desperately tried to see in an elevator and you've got 20 seconds to tell them about your work in a way that will capture their hearts and minds....hmmm...I do realize the inherent flaws in that concept, but nonetheless, it exists. 

4. "What do you want from me?" Considering this concept is a good use of your time. Of course, there's the obvious, "I want you to tell me I'm brilliant and that you're going to make me rich and famous right now!" For the most part, this isn't going to let's get real and figure out what this person's skill sets are and how can you utilize them to your best advantage. This is true in any type of interaction - it's always a negotiation, it helps if you have a goal in mind. Try and avoid "I want you to tell me if I'm good enough for..." because that's not possible for anyone to assess. Let's face it, we've all seen crap work out that that it's not about quality. Consider them a resource book that you've got on a 20 minute loan. 

5. "If we had a group of people standing in front of this image on the wall of my gallery, what would you say to them about it?" That's an interesting one...part of it is wondering if you can help them in the promotion of your work, but it's also going into more depth about the images. You don't want to give them a long lecture about each image but, depending on the work, you want to be able to discuss it in some way. Yes, there's the legend of the famous artist who refuses to talk about their work...but let's face're coming to get their feedback and that won't happen without your participation. Talking about your images is about becoming a better communicator and that's the core of the creative arts.

Hopefully, this gives you some insight into the process, but also starts you thinking about how to discuss your work with others. 

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