If you find it difficult to introduce yourself as an artist, you're not alone.
“I’m an artist” doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue easily for some people. And yet it’s critical to be able to say those words with confidence.
This is a topic I never could have dreamed up while I was working in art museums. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that artists would have a hard time introducing themselves. After all, what you do is so cool. So creative. So magical. It seems like all you have to do is say, “I’m an artist” and the conversation opens wide.
But what I’ve learned in the years since working in the museum bubble is that it isn’t always that easy to say I’m an artist. Then, when the words finally do come out, what do you say after that?
Why Your Artist Introduction is a Struggle
It seems to be easier for people with art degrees, especially MFAs, to proclaim their profession to the world. Perhaps it’s because there is a physical piece of paper that says you completed a curriculum to the satisfaction of an institution. Regardless of any outside job you may hold to support yourself, you know at heart that you’re an artist.
Having said that, I know it’s difficult even with that piece of paper for some people who aren’t working full time on their art careers to assume the title of Artist, with a capital A.
There isn’t an official governing body that confers the title of artist on anyone. “Title” isn’t exactly the right word here, but I think you get my drift. You don’t have to pass any licensing boards or get certified to start calling yourself an artist.
For most artists, there isn’t a turnkey moment when they can proclaim, “NOW I know I’m an artist.” It’s more of a slow, steady slog on the way to the day you finally feel worthy enough to say it out loud.
This is why it can be difficult to introduce yourself when you are in the process of becoming. You must summon your courage and present yourself as you want others to see you.
Start acting as if.
As if you have already received that blue ribbon.
As if you already have gallery representation.
As if you have already had a solo museum exhibition.
As if you had a sold-out show.
Remember: You teach others, through your words and actions, how to treat you.
Why You Should Care About Your Introduction
If you tell others that you’re an elementary school teacher, a barista, or an engineer, don’t be disappointed when that’s where the conversation leads.
Remember that every person you meet might be a collector, might know a collector, or might have connections to opportunities for your art career. You never know where a new relationship could lead.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression.
No pressure! One chance. I’ll tackle that in just a minute, but first let’s acknowledge that introducing yourself as an artist is the beginning of your professional relationship with another person.
You might miss out on opportunities when you don’t introduce yourself first and foremost as an artist. When you play it safe by mentioning the job that gives you a steady paycheck.
If you want people to see you as an artist, you must introduce yourself as one. It doesn’t matter that you make a living in another way. You are an artist. There’s nothing to apologize for and nothing to explain. You can hold your head high.
And even though you may not yet be perfectly comfortable with the artist moniker, this acting as if and resulting buy-in from others will boost your confidence.
So stop introducing yourself with a label from your day job. Lead with this: I’m an artist. It's really that simple.
What Gets in the Way
Let’s circle back to that “one chance” thing. Yes, it’s true that the first impression is important. But you must stop thinking of it as your only opportunity.
You have to frame it as an introduction. It’s a starting point for getting to know one another and not a chance to make a sale on the spot.
I know that I said everyone you meet could lead to an opportunity for you, but that opportunity only comes from being genuinely interested in a relationship with that person. It is the result of being curious about the potential. It doesn’t come from some icky pitch that you’ve memorized.
You don’t have to be a salesperson or do anything that isn’t natural. All you have to be is confident in your work and enthusiastic about sharing it with others.
You have something that other people find interesting, delightful, and perhaps even useful. Your art comes from your soul, and we want to be inspired by the enthusiasm you have for sharing your art with the world. We want to hear it in your voice and see it on your face when you talk about being an artist.
There are two kinds of artist introductions: formal and informal.
Formal Artist Introductions
Formal introductions are what we use when we are asked to introduce ourselves on Zoom or in a workshop room. There's often a format to follow from the organizers and all participants get their chance.
The leaders might tell you what to say but short of this instruction, your introduction in these circumstances might include your name (if you haven’t already said it), the type of art you make, and descriptive language that helps the listener imagine what your work looks like.
Highlight aspects of your work that will intrigue people. Perhaps it is your technique, colors, sizes, subject matter, or materials. Give enough detail so people can visualize a particular style, but don’t overload them with too much information.
Try to keep these introductions to 30 seconds or less. As someone who often leads artist groups, I can attest to how frustrating it is when someone takes up too much time.
What I’m referring to in the rest of this article are informal introductions.
Informal Artist Introductions
Informal introductions are used more frequently than formal introductions and sound much like a response to small talk at an art opening.
You reply with an informal introduction when someone asks, So, what do you do? I wish we could come up with a more creative query than that, but, honestly, that’s about the extent of our curiosity upon meeting someone new.
Notice they didn’t ask for your life story, the history of your art, or even your artist statement. When someone asks what you do, let’s face it, they are mostly being polite. They are exploring how far they want to carry the conversation. They’re looking for something to relate to.
People will lose interest if you respond with a paragraph or drone on and on about yourself. It has to fit naturally into a conversation.
Remember, I said it was as simple as responding with I’m an artist. But there’s another sentence you can tack onto the end of that statement that starts with these two words: I make.
I’m an artist. I make …
Write a Draft of Your Introduction
It takes time to come up with an artist introduction that fits you. To begin, you might start with writing it out.
Then you can practice speaking it. Practice a lot. Practice in front of the mirror or make a video only for yourself. Then rewrite it. Repeat.
The written word is much different than the spoken word. Some things that look fine on paper sound silly or unnatural when you say them out loud. Start now and allow yours to evolve with practice.
Don’t expect your introduction to be perfect coming out of the gate. It will evolve as you use it over time and in various situations.
You are ready to face the world when you are confident introducing yourself as an artist.
Your Artist Introduction in Practice
There is no need to make this more complicated than it is. You aren’t pitching. You aren’t selling. This isn’t a commercial.
It’s a chance for a meaningful relationship.
You’re looking to engage the other person, not to control the conversation. If there is interest, the other person will ask questions.
You are trying to connect with another human on a personal level. Focus on the relationship, not on perfection or what you think you can get out of it.
When someone asks what you do, your response should roll off your tongue effortlessly with confidence and enthusiasm. Your introduction invites further conversation. Instead of thinking about it as self-contained, consider it a doorway, an opening to further interaction.
You want the other person to be interested enough to ask questions of you rather than you cramming in your life story.
All you have to do is start with, I’m an artist. I make …
Don’t inflate your position. Don’t be that person.
Make it natural, but own it. Say it with confidence.
Of course you want to be prepared with a brief sentence or two about your work should those questions come your way. You’re looking for conversation, so make sure your language is inviting and intriguing.
Each sentence further is an opening to a potential long-term relationship.
Those you are meant to connect with will respond positively. Don’t worry about the rest. You have higher things to concern yourself with. After all, you are an artist.
This post was original published on January 15, 2014 and has been updated with comments left intact.