Artist statement and communicating with the media

A Country Road in Spring

The following article is a reprint of an article I wrote in the Discussion boards at Fine Art America in May 2008. The article was also used with my permission by Wendy Froshay in her blog at Art Mentor by Froshay.

On May 11, 2008, I attended a workshop organized by Muskoka Arts and Crafts Inc., an artist association in Bracebridge, Ontario. The workshop was presented by a retired Canadian radio journalist – Ed Unger, and the topic was how to present yourself in an interview with the media – which could be a TV interview, radio interview, or print publication interview (newspaper or magazine).

This was a very worthwhile workshop to attend. We were given an exercise – to write 4 to 5 sentences to identify the “message” we want to deliver, and then to summarize that in 1 to 2 sentences. The reason for this exercise: an interview may be 10 minutes or longer, but the actual content that is used could very well be only 7 seconds, or 1 or 2 sentences. The information you deliver might be used as part of a bigger story that includes information about other artists.

This was a hard exercise – some artists got the point immediately, others just regurgitated the information in their brochure. I got the point, about halfway.

The second exercise was a role-playing interview, in which each artist was interviewed by the presenter journalist in front of the class. The journalist would ask questions that could be really sensitive or difficult to answer, and throughout the interview, he would provide feedback and guidance to help us with our learning process.

Part of being able to deliver your message successfuly in an interview is knowing what you create, and WHY you create it. Your story about how you became involved in the medium is very important because it provides context for the end reader, viewer, or listener. HOW you create it is also important to tell – but keep the details brief. Include an explanation of why your work is important – emotionally (to yourself, or to collectors) or culturally (to society or part of it).

I have been struggling for the past year about the “WHY” I create my work, and WHY it is important. At some point, I need to write my “artist statement”, and it needs to answer these questions. This workshop emphasized the need for the artist statement. I spent a few minutes after the workshop to jot down some notes to help me formulate mine, and really came down to these few words to explain why I create my photography, and why it is important: I show you what I see. (I guess I knew this subconciously because in 2003, I created my photography business and called it Views by Linda Photography). When I discussed this with another artist who is also struggling with her artist statement – she said that “I show you what I see” is quite valid.

I am glad that I attended this workshop. After the progress that I made with my artist statement I feel a great sense of freedom. I can now continue with my photography work for any subject I please (I prefer to be very diverse – see my portfolio). For my abstract work, I now have a direction that I can follow.

Key points that we learned in the workshop:
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You talk to a microphone every day – when you talk to someone on the phone. Talking to a microphone with a journalist should be no different.

Ignore the fact that you are being recorded – either audio, or video. And ignore the fact that 1000s of people may be listening on the other end. Talk to one person – the journalist, as if you would talk to someone you just met, or your friend.

Never state or repeat the negative. Remember Richard Nixon’s statement: I am not a crook. ?? Never state or repeat the negative.

Never respond as “No comment” to a question. It just prompts the question “why?” What has she/he got to hide?

Be honest – do not lie. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is perfectly okay to say “I don’t know”.

If the journalist asks a question you do not want to answer, or would cause your response to be negative, phrase your response to something positive that steers away from the question. Politicians do this ALL the time.

Never refuse an interview. You can postpone one “temporarily” (if the phone call came at a not very good time, for example).

Generally journalists want to make you look good, and make your story interesting to their audience. They are not out to “get you”.

Deliver the important content of your message at the beginning of the interview.

When showing your work to a journalist, or anyone else:
Tell him/her what he/she will see.
Tell him/her what he/she is seeing.
Tell him/her what he/she just saw.
Why the piece is emotionally or culturally important to you.

Tell your STORY – about your involvement with the art, including why and how.

For example, the key message I would want to deliver (also my artist statement)…
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My name is Linda McRae, and I live in <insert current location here>. I am a fine art photographer specializing in floral and nature detail, scapes, still lifes, and abstracts.

When I’m not creating my fine art images, I am a professional technical writer, and I create manuals for computer hardware and software in the telecommunications industry. (This usually prompts comments such as – how boring; so I know who to blame for the bad manual I got with my VCR; or more questions about what I do). Details and accuracy are extremely important, and something that I am good at. This type of work is very dry, and does not provide much opportunity to be creative.

Photography provides the creative outlet I need, and is the perfect medium for me to work in. Technical details such as focus and exposure allow me to cater to the “perfectionist” aspect of my personality. Close-up detail work allows me to show you an everyday object (such as a flower or leaf) in a way that most people would not see because they are too busy to notice it. My photography work contains many other subjects that are not close-up, and that caters to my need to be diverse in my subject matter or type.          Yada yada yada.

It is now March, 2010, I live in Kamloops, BC, and my artist statement has been revised several times. You can see its current version on my Bio page at Views by Linda Photography. Wendy Froshay has also moved her blog to TheArtMentor.com.

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