Art openings and receptions aren’t any more comfortable than holiday parties. We go because we have to. We know that it is good for our businesses and careers to get out of the studio and mingle with other artists and those who like to hang out with artists.
How do you overcome the terror of going to a party or reception where you might not know a single soul? How do you get comfortable with being uncomfortable?
Back in 2006 National Public Radio’s Morning Edition aired a superb program entitled Mingle All the Way Through Holiday Parties, which is timeless. The guest was Jeanne Martinet, who wrote The Art of Mingling. She suggested a number of ideas for breaking the ice at parties, which I’ve adapted to art-opening scenarios. See what you think about these.
- Throw yourself on the mercy. As you approach a new group of people, confide, “I don’t know a single soul at this opening.”
- Share an observation. Something like: “This work looks fantastic in this space” or “ I can see why the artist won best of show.”
- Brown nose. Throw out compliments as appropriate. To the artist: “I have admired your work for so long.” Or to the curator: “This work has never looked so good. You did a fantastic job on the installation.”
- Ask questions, but be careful that they don’t stop a conversation with a simple yes or no. Try: “How do you know the artist?” “Did you have trouble finding a parking place, too?” or “Did you see her work when it was at City Gallery?”
Martinet shares a critical tip:
Those who mingle best, mingle alone. While you may have your imaginary ‘buddy’ with you (if you're using the Buddy System) you don't want to actually mingle side by side with your mate or a friend — unless, of course, one of you knows most of the people there and is introducing the other one around. Occasionally you meet someone at the beginning of the party who is a little minglephobic, too, and it's tempting to go around the room together for the whole night; after all, it seems less scary that way. This is a no-no. It's too hard to assimilate into clusters when you are a pair; it can be threatening and, at the same time, it just looks wussy.
Yes, going it alone requires confidence or at least fake confidence. Think of it as an adventure. As you mingle alone at art openings and parties, you’re flexing your social muscles and getting better and better at promoting your art and your career. You’re making huge strides toward putting yourself and your art out into the world.