How To Give An Artist Talk
The definitive guide
So you’ve been asked to talk about your art and you already want to decline, huh?
All of these questions and assumptions pummel your mind, syncopating your racing heart. What will I discuss? Is my public speaking as engaging as my art? I’m better at art than speaking!?
This anxious, panicky response is understandable.
But what if you could talk about your art and overcome your fear of public speaking at the same time?
Here’s how to talk about fine art in a 9 step guide to what we hope will free you to simply be your artist-public speaking self. .
1. Outline your art talk
Organizing your thoughts is a necessary evil. Some people feel it keeps them from the freedom of expression, or it somehow dulls their creative edge.
What if it actually made all of those things better? Imagine if those beach condos on the east coast didn’t have railings on their patios? That might be too liberating right?
Take outlining as the way to maintain your ability to reach the peak of your talk, and hit all these important points on the way down. Outlines help make sure you don’t lose any of your listeners while you’re at it.
What good would a great artist talk be if it was just an artist ramble? Outlining helps you toss the lesser ideas so you can keep the long-windedness at bay.
And outlining is arguably the most important part, don’t put this off. Your ideas will likely be fresh after your anxiety has subsided, take advantage of that brainstorm.
2 Familiarize yourself with the way you talk about art
Getting familiar with what you plan to say, the way you plan to say it is public speaking 101.
Although having your 3 best friends in your living room won’t be quite the same as a 3,000 person lecture hall or even 200 person exhibition, it’ll help work out the kinks and get you feedback on what you did well and what could use some work.
Also, enter in blinding stage lights, and you’re unlikely to see any of the people in the audience–this is a blessing for those burdened with fears of public speaking.
You may even find that more intimate settings are far more intimidating than the larger ones. In a room of 200 everyone can’t see your imperfections as opposed to a room of 5, when there’s likely nothing that can be missed.
Intimate practice sessions should help get you more comfortable. During these times of practice it’s also a good idea to appeal to your learning style.
If you best remember your talking points by writing them down, create cue cards. You can also write out your talk from start to finish if visualizing your talk in your head is best for you.
Writing your talk sometimes is equivalent to seeing your talk projected in your mind and scrolling by like a marquee as you are on stage speaking.
Some speakers may be auditory so recording the talk and replaying it throughout the day and as you fall asleep is another great way to commit your talk to memory.
A 2017 study of memorization methods among science students actually concluded the use of drawings as increasingly beneficial to memorization. The experiment was over the course of 4 weeks wherein students were split into groups based on the memorization technique they were to use. The group assigned the drawing method “remembered significantly more propositions than those who had memorised the propositions by writing them down”.
The study further cites there wasn’t a difference between the students who memorized by vocalizing and those who memorized silently to themselves. The goal was ultimately to assist in bridging the concrete with the abstract. Thus the more concrete you can make your speech in your mind the more success you may have with memorization and delivery.
And perhaps the artist stands to be the most likely to be a grand public speaker? If you are a painter, illustrator, or use sketching to inform your work, consider how your own drawings can assist in increased memorization. This step may be a space where you can innovate.
3. Less is more, decide your goals for talking about art
You don’t have to feel this compulsion to say too much when you discuss your fine art. Don’t worry about “sounding smart” or being “impressive”. These unnecessary pressures tend to crowd out the speaker and the point of the message.
People can tell when you aren’t being authentic. If your talk doesn’t sound like you, scrap it. Your audience attaches to your authenticity and credibility or ethos, not someone else’s.
Establishing ethos according to a critical analysis of over 150 speeches notes that language and its effective use was indispensable from the determination of speaker ethos. Depending on the setting in which the speaker is giving their talk, credibility will determine success. The study further notes that speakers who display the most, or the highest ethos present as knowing what they’re talking about, display confidence, and gain the audience’s sentiments. Fluid delivery and use of language is also critical to the development of credibility over the course of a talk. This also flows into the use of words such as “like” “um” or “uh”. These are noted as “discourse markers” and often give the impression that a speaker lacks professionalism. The audience stance on these markers and overall credibility of a speaker was also said to reflect the intelligence of the audience, whether this was seen as problematic or somehow unacceptable.
This is why it is so necessary that an artist keeps to what they know.
To avoid this, determine what your goal is. Jumping in without a framework makes the task of writing a talk incredibly cumbersome. Imagine jumping into a pool with no floor or walls, what contains the water? Is there even a pool?
In sum, what do you want your listeners to ultimately walk away with? This is your framework.
Do you want them to leave with the urge to create? With a new found respect for art? An understanding of art as a vehicle for social change? Or maybe that art should just be able to be, without demands or constraints.
Whether you’re “selling” inspiration, creativity, or empowerment these feelings are the ones that stick with the audience long after you’re all gone.
Make your audience feel!
Determine your end goal, this will guide you in the writing process for your talk and ultimately the terms you’ll use to deliver.
And remember every word counts. It’s not about the many words you can speak, but the specific words you choose to speak. Don’t waste them as you never know who is in the room.
- Oral Arguments have a more immediate effect on the audience.
- Clear definitions are needed to explain a claim and [support] a [talk].
- The setting where the [talk] occurs has a definite impact on the argument.
- Visual aids can help to make your [talk] clear for the audience.
- Analysis of your audience is essential.
4. Make it yours through stories, know your audience before you talk about art
You don’t have to worry about speaking on behalf of all artists or the entire genre of fine art. Speak about your particular lived experience as an artist.
These unique talking points are what will truly engage your audience. Don’t attempt to be pretentious or talk about what you don’t know, nor speak about the nebulous “we”.
Give your talk definition and depth with stories! Real stories.
It is noted that captivation of an audience is tied to fine storytelling. A speaker cannot disentangle the emotions from a good story as this is how the audience bonds to the characters the story is about. This means making the story somehow about you will build cohesion between you and the audience. This is also defined as the psychological state coined “narrative transport”. Also by consensus scientists agree stories have a universal power to conjunct the “neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them” as a form of our social cognition. These same results were seen in a study of advertisements which found that narratives within ads were positively correlated with critical thought, audiences were more likely to engage as opposed to simply being told the information without engaging the sensing through story.
Be anecdotal and narrative. Just as you would story tell when you’re creating a series, or curatoring a collection, use your talk to paint a picture in the mind of the audience, or sculpt a new piece of insight, vision, or dialogue you want your audience to consider.
This study suggests the use of stories every 15-20 minutes. Or using such stories to punctuate your talk, interjecting one at each junction–intro, middle, and end. Think of the stories as the rails keeping the locomotive of your talk in motion, ensuring you don’t derail. Narratives keep listeners locked in. How many stories used will depend upon the length of your talk.
This step is a combination approach because as you make the talk yours and about you, you must also make it about your audience. The only way to do this is to know them.
Suss out beforehand who will be hearing your discussion. Will you be at a college exhibition with a majorly young adult audience? The way you’d appeal to them will be distinctively different; you may use pop culture references here. Will you be at an art fair with a mixed and fluctuating audience? Your talk may need to be more universal.
5. Embrace the anxiety that comes with art public speaking
As an artist, it’s likely your artist talk will include displays of your work. A great way to help yourself find a natural and calm rhythm for the duration of your talk is to refer back to your pieces.
Use your artwork as both transitions in your talk to arrive at the next point and to help you maintain a steady pace that keeps your anxiety at bay.
Find spaces in your talk where you can direct the audience to look at your piece and consider a particular question you’ve posed.
These small breaks of time allow you a chance to relax, to breathe, and to find comfort in being in front of an audience. And to contemplate what British writer and poet D.H. Lawrence penned, “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”
These moments also allow you to slow down. Contrary to what you might think, speeding through your talk won’t make you less anxious.
Taking your time and approaching your talk with a conversational pace allows for rapport building with your audience. You can also Insert a well placed joke that is akin to your personality, even if it’s impromptu.
These moments, these spaces of laughter, lighten the energy you feel and the energy in the room.
It may even be helpful, although not in all cases, to invite a trusted friend or loved one that gives you peace of mind, just knowing they’re in the room. Your artist talk is a great time to support your needs as well as those of the audience you’re speaking with.
And if you’re still unsure of yourself Toastmasters International is a world-renowned incubator for public speaking, speech-writing, confidence-building, and networking. Each club is intimate with somewhere around 20 people per club. There you can fine tune your public speaking skills into a craft.
You want to ensure that both you and the audience walk away feeling expanded in some way. More aware of self and the world that lies just outside of you.
Your artist talk is a chance to make even a small wave in an ocean of talks, if there’s one defining step to be guided by, let it be your heart.
Frits F. B. Pals, Jos L. J. Tolboom, Cor J. M. Suhre & Paul L. C. van Geert (2018) Memorisation methods in science education: tactics to improve the teaching and learning practice, International Journal of Science Education, 40:2, 227-241, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2017.1407885
Croucher, S. (2004). Like you know what I’m saying:A Study of Discourse Marker Frequency in Extemporaneous and Impromptu Speaking. University of Oklahoma.
Porrovecchio, M. (2007). A Timeless Struggle: Ethos, Ethics, and Ethical Oral Communication. JCSTAND 55.
Importance of Stories: Public Speaking/Speech Communication
Smith, F. (2000). Public speaking survival strategies. Journal of Emergency Nursing. Retrieved from DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0099-1767(00)90064-3