Client Communication - Untying Your Tongue

Alaska Highway Wildflowers - watercolor by Angela Fehr
limited edition prints available here

How do you talk to your clients? I've been thinking about this due to a comment left on my How to Price Your Art post. Rob spoke of making client education (specifically regarding value) a priority, and it got me thinking about artist/client communication on the whole.

When I write an artist statement, I agonize over it. I edit every word, fine-tune every description, and attempt to find a balance between the practical and philosophical. But when I am face-to-face with a potential client, I feel more like a tongue-tied teenager than a serious artist.

Part of it is just the fact that 95% of the time I am a solitary artist. I paint at home while my three kids are napping, and I do my own web maintenance, blogging, and marketing. So I don't get a lot of opportunity to verbalize my passion.

Blogging has helped me to become more familiar with my art. Before I revamped my site and started a blog, I wasn't sure what my art was about. I painted what I wanted to paint, but I wouldn't have been able to tell you what was driving me except that I wanted to paint things that were "beautiful" or "peaceful". Blogging forced me to look at my work and ask myself questions about why I paint the things I paint, and today I can say immediately, "I paint simplicity" and then elaborate on that if necessary.

Art is subjective - it is perceived differently by each pair of eyes that encounters it. Certainly you should be able to express some of what you see the piece as being about, but with the mindset of the art itself being a dialogue between the artist and the audience. Perhaps with that in mind, we should be the ones asking the questions, "What do you see?" "What do you think I intended?"

So, where does that leave us, artists before our audiences? Do we answer our questioners grandly, "My work speaks for itself." Or do we launch into description of the process of creation, strip away the mystery between blank canvas and completed masterpiece? Do we have to answer all queries? I hate the question, "How long did this take you to paint?" as if the client is mentally valuing my work using the current minimum wage.

The thing to remember is that the art is not just the painting (or the photograph or the sculpture). It is you. What is on that canvas is your expression, your interpretation, your gift. Somehow, we need to teach our clients that if you want a picture of a tractor, you go to Walmart. If you want an original painting by Angela Fehr that happens to be of a tractor, that compiles years of training, months of research and long hours of creation, you are getting more than just a picture.

Alyson Stanfield mentioned my How to Price Your Art article in her Art Biz Blog. Use the link to see her post and read more pricing-related comments. I've been a subscriber of her blog for a while and always value her art business posts and podcasts.

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