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.
Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.
Charles F. Kettering
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.
Music by Wildermiss
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.
[ See Networking for Artists: The Social Part of Being an Artist ]
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.
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Music by Wildermiss
62 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 65: Introduce Yourself Confidently as an Artist”
I feel very confident introducing myself as an artist, but that is usually followed by the question of what kind of art I do. There it becomes awkward, because I am so versatile that it is difficult to explain it, especially in a short introductory sentence or two. Do you have any advice on that? I have tried several different answers and ideas, but it does not feel right.
Imke: It depends on your audience, of course. You might adapt it depending on whom you’re talking to.
But you could also say, “Would you rather hear about x or y.” Don’t overload!
And this is a plea for you to focus enough to create a name for yourself that is based on a big idea. It doesn’t have to be the medium – but something that unites everything.
Luckily my day job was as a graphic designer so that actually worked just as well. Now that I am retired though I need to remember to say “artist” instead of retired. As soon as I say I am retired people want to know what I do all day!
Oh, yes, Roberta. Artist it is.
Great post! I so struggle with this, too. I am getting better at saying “I am an artist.” Without sounding like I am apologizing, but I find it difficult to answer “what do you paint?” with something interesting and intriguing.
Debbie: Join us in Bootcamp someday to work on it.
Imke, is there a common theme to your art?
My principal business is structural photography, but I also do some fine-art photography. For a long time, it was difficult for me to characterize my art. But the woman who became my wife looked at my work and identified — quickly and correctly — that I like to take pictures of patterns. They may have been formed in nature or assembled, but those are the images I enjoy the most. So now it’s easy to tell people that I’m a photographer and I like to shoot patterns. Great conversation starter — and isn’t that the point? 🙂
Exactly, Steve. What a wise woman you married.
My answer to that question “What do you do?” is that I am an artist. Then,
they usually ask what type of work do you do? I give a brief answer that I am a painter working in pastels but also love to do mixed media. My work
most always has a reference to landscape or nature. Then, they ask other
leading questions and a good conversation evolves. But, I find this is the
perfect opening to handing them my business card. I say, “You can look at my web site and really see all the types of work I do.” People always seem pleased to see the images on my business card (double-sided, so two images).
Barbara: I hope that’s not all you say when you hand out a card. You should at least say something juicy that makes people want to go look. Images aren’t always a substitute for words.
I still struggle with this despite having an art degree but I’m getting better at it slowly…I think maybe part of the reason it’s so difficult to do is because people often don’t know what to say in reply. Maybe it would help to have a follow up question to ask in reply…something along the lines of…’Do you like art? What kind of art do you like?’ Thoughts?
what is killing me is recurring question “what kind of art do you make? is that abstract?” LOL is that status quo now? abstract? 🙂
You can always say to them “The kind you have not seen before”. It has elements of thus and such.
Karisma: What do you say before they ask “is that abstract?”
Cherry: Maybe if they don’t say anything at all, you can add humor. “You’re not alone! No one ever seems to know how to respond when I say I’m an artist. We seem to live in our own world sometimes.” (or some such thing)
I don’t like “Do you like art? What kind?” because it would be intimidating for someone who had no art background.
You are so right as always, Alyson. Humour would be better. All your other replies give food for thought too.
In fact, I’ve been thinking about this question ever since you asked it and I’ve realised that right now I am really looking forward to opportunities to talk about my art such as at a networking meeting next week. I think this comes from feeling in a really happy place with my current work. Which leads me to wonder if all our difficulties about saying ‘I am an artist’ come down to secret dissatisfaction or lack of confidence about our art?
For the most part I do introduce myself as as an artist and usually the next question is what type of art do I do and immediately followed by, “do you make a living as an artist?, or “do you make money selling your work? I usually answer as truthfully as possible, saying that I do sell but not enough to live on…to which the word “HOBBYIST” instantly appears over my head. It seems everyone wants to know your financial static before asking you about your work..
I feel you… LOL totally.
The answer to “do you make money selling you art” is YES. Period. They don’t need to know anything more than that.
The answer to “do you make a living” is: “That’s my goal.”
Why is it that we are so “shy” about stating that we are artists? I know that I had no problem telling people that I was a graphic artist. Now that I am an artist, I use to find it harder to say. As I am working on things like this I am getting better. But I use to feel like I was declaring myself a streetwalker. Then I started to work on talking to people about my art and things don’t feel so “off”. I sometimes start with…”After and auto accident I came back to creating art.” Or “Art saved me after a rotten job and an auto accident.” Or “Work had kept me away from my art. I was always an artist and I am so happy to be back creating again.” These are all true and they helped me then say with pride that I am an artist.
p.s. Being an artist has always had the “oh one of those types…” attached to it. That spills over to the artist and we sometimes feel that being an artist is not a “true” profession.
Aleta: Don’t you think that “oh one of those types” is something you expect, but isn’t necessarily true? People will respond differently depending on how you present yourself.
Yes. I get that. I didn’t think about that. It’s better not to let that bother you. I am getting better. HaHa.
I had a husband and wife stop at my demo at the L.A. County Fair and he said, ” OMG I hate that! That’s so ugly!” His wife about passed out. She pushed him away and started apologizing for him and I stopped her and said, “No he has his opinion, and that’s fine.” Then I asked why he didn’t like it. What was the reason? He said that he didn’t like dark colors and that the painting was too dark and depressing for him. I had never thought about that and was glad he was so out spoken. It didn’t offend me and I learned a lesson about how to talk to people even when they first come off as negative. His wife on the other hand… was still in shock and looked at me like he had just killed my cat.
So you never know what is behind what people say.
I am ashamed to say I still struggle with this. I work full time in IT Support – I usually say:
“in an ideal world I would be a full time artist but for now I work in IT and do my artwork in my spare time.”
Still sounds a little apologetic?
It’s interesting and encouraging to hear how others deal with this. Thanks for this post.
Angela: There shouldn’t be shame involved. I wrote this because I come across it so often.
I think “I am an artist first and foremost” might do the trick. Don’t even bring up IT unless it’s asked.
Thanks Alison. Good point. I suppose people have pre-conceived ideas about many professions – least of all art.
What a great post! I struggle with this as I’ve had lots of different careers and interests prior to pursuing visual art. It helps when I hear other people refer to me as an artist. I think practicing how to respond to people when they ask what you do is a great idea.
Lynn: That’s why talking about art is so important! Being in advanced artist groups or crit groups.
I don’t disagree with any of this advice, but at the same time, I don’t have this problem because I very seldom get asked what I do. If I do I say something like “I’m a professional artist.” And then that’s when the magic happens! They usually become excited and either say they’re an artist, or their [insert relative here] is an artist, too! And I listen politely. Nothing wrong with their response, it’s just amazing how often that happens.
yeah, “my wife paints too” LOL kinda thing? oh.. how nice.
Rani and Karisma: Of course they do! People want to have a dialogue. They are picking up anything they can relate to. If you ask them about their relative who paints, you have acknowledged and invited them to share. What a great opportunity!
So, maybe reframe it that way.
My favorite follow up to my ” I am an artist” is the most rude reply…I get that often actually not sure what to say in return “Oh.. can you live from that?”
Ha! I also get “Oh…that sounds like fun!”
Debbie: Don’t agree with that, but don’t discount it. I would say, “I am lucky to be one of an increasing number people who enjoys my work.” (use the word work!)
Karisma: See what I wrote above to Demetrios.
I never say just “I’m an artist,” because my experience has been that the majority of people who hear that think of ‘sunday painters’ or amateurs. I say, “I’m a professional sculptor, specializing in voluptuous, figurative stone carvings for home and office.”
That gets across what they can expect to see when they go to my website or come to my studio, and it also makes them think, gee, I wonder if she could make a piece for me.
Just saying, “I’m an artist” isn’t enough to convey your work or your style in a way that compels people to ask you more about it.
Angela: What do they say after you say all of this at once?
My parents defined me an artist since I was almost four. They absolutely cringed at the idea of me being an artist, but that is what I have been for the past 39 years. All my friends in school as well as college have known me as an Artist and now they are on my facebook. That is the only way I can really define myself and I am very comfortable with that title.
You’re fortunate, Roopa.
Hmm……I know that when a person asks that question what they are really asking is “What do you do for a living?”. Since I haven’t even started an art business yet I can’t answer that question with “I am an artist.”. I know the answer they are really looking for is “I am a mechanical designer”. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem saying “I am an artist” when it’s in the right context.
David: I disagree. You can BE anything you want. What if you said, “I’m an artist, but my day job is mechanical designer.”
I find that people will define you by what you tell them. You may be an artist, with gallery representation and be in the collections of major museums, but if you have a day job and you tell someone what your day job is, the artist identity goes out the window. You now become identified as that day job.
If I am at a function where the majority of the people are not artists and I declare myself an artist, the person I am talking to often starts looking for someone else to talk to.
If I am with a group of other artists, they assume you are one too.
Thank you for saying that, Alvin. I agree!
Your second paragraph has me flummoxed. If you’re the only artist in the room, seems like it’s of great advantage.
Thankfully my day job is as an in-house artist (I work for an art publishing company) so i have no trouble saying I am an artist but have struggled with the question that inevitably follows (what kind of art do you do) as my work is so varied so my practised answer now is ‘I like observing people and places so it could be a fisherman at work or children playing or a landscape from the English lake district’. I hope that covers it but it certainly invites more questions if there is enough interest.
What a great topic and comments. I’m not alone! I struggle with this, and also because of being a “fine art photographer”, which is a term I’ve come to dislike. I’m slowly learning to say that I’m an artist, but it’s not easy. I feel almost a double whammy, especially coming from the photography world. I’m not a straight photographer and I’m not a painter or traditionally recognized artist . . . so I often feel I’m in never-land. I like what Alyson said about not focusing on the medium, but instead focusing on the idea that unites everything. GREAT advice.
Greetings, I just joined.
It has taken me years to introduce myself as an Artist and I have sold my work since I was a child. only now do I and still not used to the shoes. still finding my nitch too. Its a bit frustrating for me when I introduce myself as an artist… they say oh really what medium? well..thinking… what day is it? no I just answer I work in several.
I always thought to say you are an artist you should have sold work?
Sandi: Have you ventured to think that being an artist is who you ARE, not just what you have sold? It really makes a difference in how you view yourself, and thus how others view you as well. For example – I and others remember my mother as a Calligrapher, an amazing artist using words and stamps as her medium, and yet she never once sold a single thing! But that is who she was and what she did with great joy and creativity. 🙂
Who you are is also defined by what you do and how you show up in the world. Sales don’t matter as much as making art, which a surprising number of “artists” aren’t doing.
But Jackie is absolutely right. You have to see it in yourself before others can see it in you.
I am so impressed with your advice, and I JUST opened your website and blog. Thankyou!
I intend to follow your blog.
Thanks, JD/Clueless. Glad you found us!
I want to thank you for your information, in your book and your web posts and everything you do. I have to share an experience I had today. I had the most wonderful experience at the dentist office today. Why? Because I was able to share my art with the hygienist and the Dentist. The hygienist asked me what I was doing this weekend. I shared with her the fact that I am taking a painting to a gallery for a Juried show, which was the first time I had been accepted into a show. Obviously I am very excited, then I also shared my experience of my Mentor, Before I left the office, I had made 2 great contacts, given them my card, and had the hygienist’s address so I could send her the information about the show. What a great experience, I don’t know if I would have been so free sharing without your help!
Congratulations on taking this step, Terese. Sounds like it feels really good. And I’m so happy you shared it with us. Keep up the good work!
This is a brilliant subject. I always answer that I’m a working painter, which is exactly what I am as I use these skills both with my creative work and my restoration work. The killer question is “What do you paint?” I then explain that dogs and birds figure in my work, in often surreal situations, in oils. I then direct them to the web site of the gallery that represents me. The last time this happened I was asked if I could do a portrait of a Grandmother’s beloved budgerigar! (I didn’t take it up, I think he wanted it on the cheep)
Bridget: Don’t ever assume that someone doesn’t want to pay what it’s worth.
It’s funny that I come across this post now as I find myself moving deeper into the kind of art that I do. Like several here I work with a variety of mediums. While I have always privately considered myself an artist (I’ve created things since I was a small girl.) The idea of putting it out there often meets resistance from others. There are the typical of responses of disbelief that someone could make money doing so, or the ideas that art denotes a certain medium. So I find part of my mission as an artist, other than creating & bringing beauty to the world in my own way, is to help people see artistry where they might not have otherwise.
The latest endeavor of this has been a real personal challenge because of my own preconceived notions. I have since stopped referring to myself as “artist” and started saying “Fiber & Wire Artist” since I work with the fiber arts and make jewelry as my primary mediums. This always seems to get the response of, “o what’s that” which is nice & encouraging. In the off chance (it’s happened a few times) that it doesn’t get a good response it illustrates that they weren’t terribly interested and it was mostly for politeness that they were asking. For me the schtick comes in that I personally have a hard time seeing fashion & accessories as art. It’s easy to characterize a painting or photography or any 2D media as art. But something I’ve come to realize is that: Art is an evocation of emotion. It is both felt by the creator and the observer in differing ways. But each has value and purpose even while juxtaposed to one another sometimes.
Now with this evolution from privately saying “artist”, to publicly declaring it (and while I have most always held other jobs I more usually lead with “I’m an artist” because it’s wholly more comfortable than talking about a “day job” I can’t stand and it puts me in a more positive position for the conversation. It’s nice to hear someone speak on something that enlivens them versus something that doesn’t!) To now slowly refining it. But now I’m taking it a step further by more carefully defining my title as an artist because I feel guided in that direction. It’s an interesting journey to be sure!
when i was 29 (1994) i had a brain haemorrhage on the left hand side of my head, then in May 2012 i had a serious fall down some stone steps landing on the right hand side of my head – 6 weeks later i picked up a pencil and found that i can draw…???
i now have a Facebook page called ‘Pip’s Pics’ where i show my progression and a ‘twitter’ account which i use to follow various ‘artists’ (@pip64pip) i also attend an art class (for the over 60’s!!!) which i LOVE 🙂
please take a look at my amazing ‘journey’
I am doing bchlors in Fine Arts and my interest is photography painting and other art work ..but the photography is the main interest M so cnfused alway when some one asked me about my work ..my issue is this,that i can explain some one about my work or when i said that i am an artist .but cant say something else ..how i intruduce my self as an artist i cnt understand it ..and i having lack of confidence can’t face the people with my work and explain my work well..plz help me .
Qandeel: You are still working on your BFA, so don’t put too much stress on yourself. I do, however, suggest journaling and meditating on your art. Spend lots of quiet time just looking at the art and letting it talk to you. I promise you’ll hear it.
This post has been a wonderful discovery – and shall we say, well timed! The advice from Alyson is spot on and the feedback from peers, so interesting. Having spent a number of years as a stay at home mum of 3 children following a successful corporate career, (albeit in a creative industry) I have found the attitude towards artists and stay at home mothers to be quite similar – one of well, that’s not really a job is it? Deep down I know it is my own lack of self-esteem and need for validation from others that is the problem. I truly believe that we can have several careers in a lifetime – and get fulfilment and hopefully financial security.
Essjay: I’m so happy you found this when you needed it.
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