Art Does Not Speak for Itself

It’s our job as Artists


Not only do we Artists need to write about our work, but we also need to be able to speak about it as well.  Writing  “Artist Statements” and “Bios” are part of the creative process.  Add stories behind the work and communication becomes a challenging and essential skill that we need to hone.  Several years ago, I was exhibiting at a garden show when I was approached by a collector who asked me to tell him about my work.  As I stumbled over my tongue, I realized I was in trouble and would not make a sale to this gentleman – needless to say, I was embarrassed.

Since that time, I studied with a young artist who insisted that I talk about my work.  I have learned the value of a story to accompany each piece.  Many artists respond that the art speaks for itself.  What does that mean?  Viewers may have different interpretations of a piece?  That’s certainly true, especially for abstract work.  However, that does not mean that the artist should not have a story or reason for creating a piece that’s meaningful and not just eye candy.  Allow me to illustrate the story I developed with the painting “Going Under:”


Going Under, Acrylic, 20×20

“Going Under” is my expression of a journey that I was somewhat reluctant to take.

Imagine that moment when you jump into the deep end of the pool and realize you’re going under! Or perhaps going into surgery and the anesthesiologist asks you to start counting backwards. All the colors of your reality come together as the sedation envelops your consciousness and blackness is your new reality although you don’t know it. Upon spewing that nasty chlorinated pool water or opening your eyes as if you were reborn, there is the first glimmer of light, and you’re grateful to be alive.

Are representational artists able to create their stories more easily?  I wonder.  I suspect a landscape artist’s story would include a location.  Was it painted “en plein aire” or from a photograph.  What time of day is represented?  Colors used?  Textures?  Portrait artists can certainly tell about the model.  Why this particular model?

As artists, how can we prepare ourselves to write and talk about our work?  I suggest five steps:

  1. Join a Toastmasters Club – I joined a number of years ago and have become a proficient public speaker.  Find a local club through and join.  The organization allows you to progress at your own rate in a non-threatening and supportive environment.
  2. Develop your stories as you create; it’s part of the process.
  3. Write and write and write and write.  Write a blog.  Write a newsletter.  Write out questions to yourself that you have often received.  Then write a suitable answer.
  4. Speak at every available opportunity.  Practice addressing the questions in #3 above and learn to ad lib your answers.
  5. Create a new Comfort Zone by doing these five steps.

I challenge you to create your stories and answers.  It’s time-consuming, but well worthwhile.  I’m still working on mine.


Author: Jerry Hardesty Studio

I am an Abstract Expressionist Painter, living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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