Ask for Clarification

Not sure how to label your CD for an exhibit submission?
Call the organizer or gallery and ask.

Unclear about the instructions for a grant proposal?
Call the organization and ask.

Wondering how to best promote a speaker or workshop presenter?
Call the speaker and ask!

Years ago I visited the offices of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in Washington, D.C. to talk with them about the grant proposals we were submitting on behalf of the art museum. One piece of advice has always stuck with me. The gentleman said something to this effect:

“We are here to answer questions. Use us! Seek our advice as you are writing your proposal—not at the very end with the deadline in sight.”

Karen Martin
Karen Martin, On the Cusp of Old Age (Self Portrait). Oil, 30 x 40 inches. ©The Artist

Too often we flounder because we’re afraid of asking for clarification. We’re afraid of the answer, so we’d rather guess. Or we’re lazy. Picking up the phone and dialing a number these days requires so much effort.

Asking doesn’t make you look unknowledgeable or stupid. On the contrary! Asking makes you look smart. Here are four benefits of asking for clarification.

  1. It puts your name in front of the person on the other end. “Hi, this is . . . and I’d like some clarification about . . . “ Putting your name in front of people is always good business.
  2. It shows people that you want to honor their guidelines and preferences.
  3. It proves to the other person that you are a professional—especially if you make your call in advance and don’t wait until the day before a deadline. You got past any fear or laziness and picked up the phone.
  4. It gives you peace of mind because you know you did it right.

FINAL WORD: If you’re confused or unsure about guidelines or requirements, ask for clarification. In all of the examples above, I encouraged you to pick up the phone and dial a number rather than send an email. I stress this because it’s easy to be further confused by email. A live conversation will be much more fruitful and will often be faster than exchanging email messages.

The podcast is an audio version of this content.

Share this post

Does your digital presence do justice to the quality of your art?

A comprehensive checklist to do a quick review of everywhere you show up online. FREE with opt-in.

9 thoughts on “Ask for Clarification”

  1. You know Alison,
    I’ve always been one to ask questions, I’ve found that usually
    other people in a group either don’t think to ask them,
    or are hesitant that they might look foolish. The presenters
    welcome the questions as it gives them more to talk about.
    Or as you said here, whom ever you are asking is more than
    happy to answer.
    However recently I had a different experience. I was taking a painting
    workshop. It turned out later towards the end of the week that the
    instructor looked down at me as being naive and untrained because
    I was asking questions. Wow, it was like getting slapped. I clarified
    with him that I planned on continuing to ask more questions,
    and it was his position as my instructor to answer them. But I can’t
    say that our relationship improved all that much. Perhaps if I’d framed
    all my questions within the phrase, “Will you clarify… for me?”
    love your articles,
    I’m getting ready for my first exhibit in 3 years, and appreciated
    listening to your preparing your exhibit -mp3
    Paula Zima

  2. Thank you! I sometimes find I need clarification and always feel apologetic about it. I try to check prospectuses early on so I’m not asking questions at the end. In any case, now I feel better about asking the question!

  3. Paula, just to reassure you – any true educator will have no problem politely and patiently answering any questions. that is the mark of a real educator. sounds like you unfortunately got a “holier than thou” type of a person. The thing is, he will suffer from his actions as well, because seeing how he reacts to questions being asked, no other students will want to ask questions and therefore will not learn and therefore they will not recommend his workshop and therefore he will not gain more students. What’s the point of holding a workshop with an Educator/Learner setup if the Learner doesn’t learn and the Educator doesn’t educate. What an unfortunate experience, but good for you to keep asking your questions, maybe it will sink into his thick skull and you can teach him something about teaching!

  4. Dear Alyson,
    Speaking of grant proposals: I bought your book just before Christmas, and one piece of advice I followed (amongst many) has already paid off. I have just received the sponsorship of a not-for-profit organization for a public art project in rural Illinois. This means we can now proceed to apply for state funding. If you’re interested in seeing details, follow the link above to my blog. Thanks again for the tremendous advice you give, and for giving me a much-needed ‘gee up!’ for the new decade.
    Philip Hartigan,

  5. Alyson Stanfield

    Paula: I think Will put it quite nicely. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience.
    Peggy: It’s great that you read the directions first and then ask questions. Too many people ask before reading, which doesn’t make them look good.
    Will: Thank you for your insights.
    Philip: Congratulations! I’m glad to know that my advice has been helpful.

  6. Hi Alyson, yes, Will said it well. I’ve worked with many different teachers, in different disciplines, so I have a good sense of what a good teacher is like. I did end up getting a lot out of the course, so it served the purpose of moving me forward. I teach as well, so it was a learning situation on several levels. Thank you for your comments and all your great advise, I sure love and use your book, “I’d Rather Be in the Studio”.

  7. Pingback: Submit a Solid Art Proposal — Art Biz Blog

  8. Pingback: How to Act Like The CEO Of Your Art Business — Art Biz Blog

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

Are you presenting yourself in the most professional manner online?

Get The Artist’s
Online Presence Audit

48 places to check to make sure you are ready when someone runs into you online. Free with optin.

*You will also receive updates about new podcasts, blog posts, and programs. You can opt out at any time.

Privacy + Terms