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Summer Art Festivals: Conversing with Artists

If you enjoy art, crafts and summer festivals you are in the perfect place and time practically wherever you are in America. This is the heart of art festival season…the artist’s Christmas time. For those artists who set up at various festivals, this time of year is when they count on a large portion of their income. I have chosen not to participate this year so that I can devote my time to ArtPrize and finding more gallery representation. I plan on joining in next year as my “I DO Know Jack!” series grows in popularity.

Art festivals give you a terrific opportunity to learn more about art and artists. Have you ever wanted to have a discussion with an artist at a festival and wondered what to ask? Even though I am an artist, I sometimes fumble with what kind of question or comments to say when I see intriguing artwork at a fair or exhibit.

Here are a few thoughts to kick off a conversation. I can’t speak for every artist or artisan but after participating in a number of festivals, shows and exhibits, I have a few favorite and not so favorite questions that I am asked. Before approaching the artist, keep in mind that a LOT of work and costs go into setting up at a show. They include applying for the festival (which includes the application process complete with photos of your art), booth fees, packaging and packing the artwork, signs and merchandising, a system for accepting payments, loading and unloading a vehicle, marketing, advertising, websites, social media and travel.

Yep! A lot more than the art process goes into what an artist must do to maintain and grow their business. It’s not just applying paint to canvas! But…the fun part is always the art! The process. The background. The final product.

Great Questions to Ask an Artist

  • "Have you worked with other media and, if so, why did you land on this one?" This kind of question is a fun one as it leads to an understanding of the artist’s past and what motivation they have to be working in the media that they currently specialize in.

  • "What past or present artists have you been influenced by?" This is not only a great way to reveal the artist’s mentors and people that have influenced them, but it also opens the door to having a shared interest. If the artist mentions another artist that you enjoy or know something about, you can be led into a refreshing, spontaneous and genuine conversation that both people find rewarding.

  • “I really love your (current project). Do you have any fun plans as you explore this further or do you have your sights set on a future different project?” This kind of question shows artists that you are interested in their current work and also interested in what future ideas they have. This can engage the artist to discuss ideas that lie deep within his or her creative thought process.

Not-So-Great Questions to Ask an Artist

  • “How long did it take you to do that?” This is probably the most asked question and the most difficult to answer. Why? Well, I can’t speak for other artists, but I do not clock in and out on my paintings. I am often working on more than one painting at a time or I may start a painting and then come back to it months later. Generally speaking, I have very little idea how long I spent on a painting, though I might give a rough estimate when asked. My wife, Wendy, gave me the perfect answer to this question. The answer is “(Insert my current age here)”. That makes sense because it didn’t just take the 2 weeks to start and finish the painting. It also took the 40+ years of learning, experimentation, research and living life!

  • “What is your favorite color?” Yes, I have been asked this many times. My usual answer is, “Asking an artist what is his favorite color is like asking a musician what his favorite musical note is.” Unless it’s very obvious by the artwork, artists don’t tend to have favorite colors. I do, however, have a favorite paint brush! It’s a small filbert brush which is a straight bodied brush with a curved top. I also prefer Golden brand Open Acrylics for my current paintings.

  • “What’s the most money you’ve ever sold a painting for?” I have sold quite a few limited edition prints of my artwork, and I have sold quite a few original watercolors, acrylics and colored pencil drawings. To be honest, I don’t even know what the most expensive piece sold for. Perhaps other artists know the answer for their artwork but I sure don’t for mine! And, to be quite frank, this question would rub many artists the wrong way. What if the artist was new to the scene and hadn’t sold many pieces? This question would certainly make them uncomfortable. I would hazard a guess that most artists would answer with “I really don’t know.”

The rule for conversing with artists is no different than conversing with anyone else. Find something that would be interesting for them to answer, something that doesn’t sound negative towards their profession (I’ve had people ask me “What do you do for your real job?” ), and something that might bridge the gap between you and them so that it opens a more open and genuine discussion.

And, this discussion will most likely add to your enjoyment of the festival and appreciation of the arts.

You might even make a new friend!

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