Peggy Klaus is the author of Brag! How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, which I recommend for every artist. I was thrilled to interview her about this book back in 2008 since it's a topic artists struggle with: bragging about themselves and their accomplishments.
Klaus says brag is not a four-letter word: “Remaining quiet about your successes only leads to being underappreciated and overlooked.”
On her book website, Klaus offers a free questionnaire to help you brag better. I've adapted her questions here for your use. The answers you construct will help you write a better bio, media release, blog post, or brochure. I've also noted uses for your responses alongside some of the questions.
Your Bragging Questionnaire
1. What would you and others say are five of your personality pluses? [Your responses will come in handy when you're interviewed for a job, workshop appointment, or any position that requires working with others.]
2. What are the ten most interesting things you have done or that have happened to you that have contributed to your art career?
3. How did you end up becoming an artist? [This is a frequent topic of conversation. Be prepared to respond with a good story.]
4. What do you like/love about being an artist? [Substitute the specific medium if you prefer: What do you like/love about being a sculptor, painter, fiber artist, metalsmith, photographer, etc.?]
5. What projects are you working on right now, and why are you enthusiastic about them?
6. What career successes (education, exhibitions, collections, . . . ) are you most proud of having accomplished?
7. What new art or business skills have you learned in the last year? [This is something you'll want to document if you're an instructor in any capacity.]
8. What professional and personal obstacles have you overcome to get where you are today? What essential lessons have you learned from any mistakes?
9. What training/education have you completed, and what did you gain from those experiences? [Include self-education. How have you taught yourself? Also include non-art training/education that contributes to your worldview.]
10. What organizations are you associated with and in what ways? (member, officer, founder) How does each organization contribute to your art career or personal development?
11. How do you spend your time outside of the studio, including hobbies, interests, sports, family, and volunteer activities? [This kind of information can spice up anyone's biography.]
12. In what ways are you making a difference in people's lives?
FINAL WORD: Brag better about your art by spending time reviewing your accomplishments. If you can't stand the word “brag,” just think of it as truth-telling. You're not going to embellish or lie about what you've been up to. You're just going to be able to provide a more coherent response that doesn't beat around the bush.
23 thoughts on “Brag Better About Your Art, About You”
This is so great!
I have had conversations about this very topic with artist friends of mine who hold degrees in art, and look down their noses at lowly me –who couldn’t afford art school and didn’t go. It’s interesting because they don’t get shows, or don’t show at all, instead waiting for “IT” to happen. Like sitting at the proverbial Hollywood soda fountain hoping to be discovered.
In the mean time, I’m out there building community, working with a local arts collective, submitting to shows all over the continent, engaging in discourse via social networking, working with a mentor, supporting my peers any way I can, and getting shows.
I even had one of my “lofty” friends tell me that what I do is considered rude and tacky. (Wha?) What’s so rude and tacky about starting a conversation and letting people know you exist? If I were selling kitchen wares, or gift ware, I’d have to hang my shingle and then let people know I’m open for business, yes? How do you do that? You toot your own horn, via marketing/advertising, word of mouth, social networks, etc.
And like advertising and marketing, it is all about how you formulate your message (brand).
Thanks for this!
Terri: Luckily, not all people who went to art school behave so poorly. Glad to know you’re ignoring it and moving on with what is right for you.
So true! I had the experience during a recent gallery show of seeing how my work sells when I am present to talk about it and my process and tends not to when I’m not. While the work does speak for itself, people are distracted and aren’t always inclined to listen carefully. When there’s a lot competing for a potential buyer’s attention — and there usually is — I’m the one most highly motivated to get it. I am best-qualified to champion my work because I know the passion that fueled its creation and everything other salient point about it. Create the buzz you want to hear about your work and you can be sure there is some.
I just posted to my blog a version of an email I sent to my website newsletter list over the weekend. I re-posted because not only did people admire the painting image, but they resonated with my words about how I create. I believe this is how my paintings find new owners. Whether they realize it or not, people want that inspiration hanging in their living rooms.
Ellie: As I say in my book, I don’t believe art speaks for itself. Or, if it does, most people aren’t tuned in to that channel. Good for you for championing your work.
I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this. Answering the questions is an interesting exercise, and one that should probably be repeated regularly. Life is constantly evolving, and so are we and our art practices. Very useful things to think about!
Margaret: Yes, it’s usually too late when we find ourselves searching for the words.
This is an interesting one. If you don’t speak up for yourself then who will?
I recently had a meeting with a curator. I recognised the positive self belief that had got him to where he is now. It was so exciting to be in his presence. I didn’t feel that he was bragging, rather that he was sharing enthusiasm and positive energy. It was a great reminder of how much people LIKE spending time with people who exude positive energy. I am one of those people. Well when I am “on form” I am. When I have low patches I should keep those private (i.e. for the close family members only).
Recently I put out a press release for my current show which is in The Erasmus Darwin House, Lichfield, UK. Erasmus Darwin was Charles Darwin’s grandfather but also one of the most influential polymaths of the 18th century. He took inspiration from all facets of life. As I take my own artistic inspiration from a very eclectic range of sources I naturally said, “Smith, like Darwin, is a free-thinker who is happy to draw inspiration from all facets of life”, in my press release. This sentence did elicit a couple of replies including, “What a cheek, like Darwin indeed!”
BUT it has got me so much more positive response and definitely a lot of visitors. My exhibition is contemporary sculptures in an 18th Century period setting (a non-gallery space) so I have had to help the viewer to understand why there might be a link. I have employed a professional writer to write an essay for the show.
Reading the essay it I did think, “Wow, who do I think I am?” But actually she is a professional writer. I employed her for that reason and I think I am worth some professional text.
Kirsty: You made me want to hop on a plane and come see it. Then again, I love your work as I see it online!
Absolutely, the fine art of bragging is essential to growing your art career. Right now, I’m bragging about an article in this Sunday’s Houston Chronicle (print and online – http://bit.ly/b02UNF ) featuring my art work and my arts group, Artists Alive & Well (http://www.ArtistsAliveandWell.com). I’ve posted about the article on my Facebook page (http://www/facebook.com/linda.s.posey) and blogged about it in my newly resurrected blog (http://www.LindaSummersPosey.webs.com/apps/blog). Next, I’ll email my list, inviting pretty much everyone I know to read the blog post and join my blog. Hard copies of the article will go into my portfolio; I’ll frame a copy to hang at my next solo exhibit. And I’m just getting started. I’ll Tweet and Link and do whatever else I can to get the word out. Yes, we have to brag on ourselves – and we have to make sure everyone knows when somebody brags FOR us.
When I first felt uncomfortable sharing my exhibition news, I would include in the post another artist that I knew who was more widely known than myself. I would list them first in my post and then add in that my work such and such as also included in the exhibit. That really validated my artwork since we were in the same juried exhibition.
Now I put myself first in my posts and if I’m still feeling a bit uncomfortable, I mention another selected artist at the end of the post. If we aren’t proud of our accomplishments and share the information, how is anyone else going to know? There are ALOT of exhibitions happening all across the world and people aren’t going to know about even a fraction of them.
Interesting tactic, Jean. Do you think it brings people into your work (because they know the other person)? Or do you think it makes people think of the other person instead of you?
Thank you Alyson for sharing Peggy’s questionnaire. I have a difficult time talking about my art to people I have just met and so I decided that I’m going to try and answer all of the questions and post them to my blog, a question and response a day. Then at least I’ll have an idea of my response in future conversations.
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This is something I do have some difficulty with – though not as much now as, say, even two years ago. The cause, be it nature or nurture, is irrelevant. What is important is that I have begun to train myself to be honest about my talents, my work, my obstacles and my accomplishments.
Modesty nor humility will not get you discovered.
The questionnaire reminds me that it might be time to update my bio (even though it is only two or three months old.
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::Printing out questionaire to go on my studio wall::
I was lectured to in Art School about Shameless Self Promotion and have always been good at talking about my work. (It has brought me customers and friends alike). But I have noticed that I get a lot of the same questions so I have a standard answer for each one. I love that this questionaire has you think of multiple answers to questions.
Also I have an impossible time drafting artist statements and what to put up on my website/blog/media about myself. I have the next 2 days off and plan on taking some time to work on this. It’s been a long-time coming since my work has started to shift in the past year.
Thank you thank you thank you for the inspiration to jump on this. I will be sharing this blog post with others!
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Very interesting comments and perceptions about self promotion. As a young person, I was very shy, but trained myself to be attentive to people and start conversations with a non-threatening comment (perhaps something in the environment around us, an innocuous comment about color, etc.–so many ways to start a conversation). I can walk up to anyone at an exhibition, start a conversation, and promote myself in the conversation. Have been told that I work a room well. Most of all, I have met some very interesting people, including a movie star that I thought I knew, but couldn’t place where we had met. Keeps life interesting as I promote my art.
How ironic…I actually just checked this out of the library the other day without ever having read this blog post. *twilight zone music*
Lana: I think it’s serendipity, not irony. You’re going to love the book.
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I used to be so shy about talking about my accomplishments. Now that I am painting full-time, you can’t make me keep my mouth shut. Thanks for sharing this, Alyson!
I’m still having trouble with this and I am also finding that some people will, sometimes subtly, undercut me or my work. But I keep doing it even if I can’t stop blushing at the same time.
And now I’ve added a .sig tagline that thanks people for considering “adding a Vener” to their art collection.