This is part of the series Selling Your Art in the Modern Economy (intro). Read the previous ones to get the full picture: part 1 Get Personal, part 2 Website, part 3 Email, part 4 Target Market, part 5 Outreach, part 6 Launching, part 7 Giveaways, part 8 Sales Conversations, part 9 Commissions, part 10 Licensing, part 11 Wholesale, and part 12 Referrals.
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT GOING TO BE HELPFUL FOR EVERYONE.
In fact, when I first start with a new client it’s always a little awkward bringing this topic up without making the artist feel like they have to do speaking gigs or even that it’s common.
You don’t have to. And it’s not.
But if it’s something that happens to be the right fit, it’s fantastic marketing for your art business.
Not every artist has a background that provides them with topics for speaking behind a dais in front of a group of people, and many artists really wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so even if they did have a great topic.
But consider it for a moment before you make a decision.
SPEAKING PUTS YOU IN FRONT OF REAL PEOPLE IN REAL LIFE, NOT BEHIND A COMPUTER SCREEN.
You can get that at an art fair or other event, but that wouldn’t position you as an expert.
With speaking, you instantly (yes, even just by being on the flyer without having said a word) look like you know your stuff. You must be an amazing artist if someone’s letting you give a talk. Right?
Not necessarily, but it feels like that to everyone else.
There’s practically no better reputation-builder.
The few clients I’ve had who lecture as part of their art career have found that people who attended the talk will often also buy their art right after the event.
Typically, a speaking gig will also be paid.
So you would likely get a certain amount of money just for going on stage. That amount varies widely. For instance, my first speaking gig I was only paid $150, had to drive an hour to get there, and bought a new dress for the event (I was excited! But if I’m being honest, any excuse to buy a new dress…). But I know people who make 5 figures – yes, $10,000 or more – for a single lecture.
So if you’re still reading, I can only assume you’re not terrified by the thought of stepping onto a stage.
Let’s talk topics. I know it’s the question on everyone’s mind.
WHAT CAN AN ARTIST TALK ABOUT ACADEMICALLY?
This is, of course, an entirely different idea than teaching someone how to create your art or any one skill that it might take to create your art.
In that regard, it can sometimes be difficult to think of topics for a speech.
The first thing you should do is watch some TED talks. I’m not a huge fan of them because they can get sappy and aren’t usually very concrete, but boy are they great for taking you out of the “how do I hold my paintbrush” mindset and into thinking about concepts that could potentially be talked about as an expert speaking to a group of people.
Then think along the lines of the concepts in your artwork.
For example, I had a client recently with a series about women’s role in mid-century culture, conflicting it with women now. She had a background in women and family studies. While you don’t have to have an educational background in the topic, it was entirely appropriate for her to speak about the topic behind her art and gently work her art into the presentation.
Maybe your work isn’t high concept, but consider if there are principles in your work.
I have a client right now whose work is very abstract but it plays with a contrast between structured organization and ornamental decoration. She doesn’t do speaking gigs, but she certainly could give a talk on the dichotomy of those two ideas in the art world or in any area she wanted – architecture, interior design, fashion… she would have to do some research, but the topic relates to her art and she’s interested in it. So it’s a good fit.
If you don’t have any concepts or principles at play in your work, there may still be an opportunity for you to simply speak on color theory, the nature of art in society, a societal issue as it pertains to the art world, etc.
For example, a color theory lecture could be about how the intensity of a color can affect the mood of a painting.
For example, a lecture on the nature of art in society could be about what role art has had during key eras in human history and then spending most of the time talking about what role you believe art to have in western culture today.
For example, a societal issue you tackle could be about cultural appropriation in the contemporary art landscape.
IF YOU’RE STILL AT A LOSS, GOOGLE CAN BE YOUR BEST TOOL.
Just search for lectures at university art departments and you’ll find tons of artists giving talks on all sorts of topics to spark your imagination.
Sometimes you’ll only see the lecture title and a short bio about the artist, but sometimes you’ll actually be able to watch the entire talk!
Keep in mind who will be attending your speaking event.
While it’s not essential that every lecture you give is to a room full of your perfect target market people, it can be helpful to consider how close to your target market the attendees will be.
You might find that a lecture reaching 10 of your perfect target market people is a better fit for you than a lecture reaching 50 people who are very unlikely to enjoy your art. Or you may decide that a lecture reaching 200 people who might not be likely to enjoy your art is worth the trouble.
It’s up to you to assess each situation and make the right decision for you.
IF YOU’VE FINISHED THIS ARTICLE, THEN I ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO A TEST RUN.
Put together a short lecture and give the presentation either to friends and family or, even better, to a small local organization. You could even go to a Toastmasters meeting to give your lecture to people who won’t care about the content and will just give you the opportunity to feel more comfortable behind the podium.
This concludes my series Selling Your Art in the Modern Economy.
To get the full picture, make sure you read the introduction, part 1 get personal, part 2 Website, part 3 Email,part 4 Target Market, part 5 Outreach, part 6 Launching, part 7 Giveaways, part 8 Sales Conversations, part 9 Commissions, part 10 Licensing, part 11 Wholesale, and part 12 Referrals.
If you liked this series, you’re going to love the great stuff I offer to my email subscribers. Sign up below to watch my The Art of Pricing Art webinar to learn how to set effective prices for your artwork so you sell more art!