Opening Lines at Art Openings: Starting a Conversation

It’s easy to meet people when you’re at an opening of your own art because you're the host or hostess. Your job is to meet everyone and to introduce your guests to one another.

Not true when you're the guest at someone else's opening. When you don’t have a role to play, it’s uncomfortable to force yourself to meet people.

And, yet, you know it’s important.

Ruth Armitage - The Day Has Come
©Ruth Armitage, The Day Has Come. Mixed media on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Used with permission.

Students in my programs understand how critical it is to meet more people. New relationships might lead to opportunities, sales, and lifelong fans.

So what do you do? How do you start a conversation with a stranger without getting sick to your stomach? How do you introduce yourself as an artist?

Alyson to the rescue! Below is a list of conversation starters that you can start practicing immediately.

You don’t even have to be at an opening to begin. Try talking to the guy in the car next to you at the gas station or the woman in front of you at the grocery checkout. This builds your courage for facing the next opening.

Keep It In The Room

You are sharing an experience with everyone in the room. This is a terrific excuse for having a conversation.

Do you know the artist(s)? Alternatively: You appear to know about the artist. Do you mind telling me about her?

Have you been to other openings in this space?

What have you seen so far that you really like?

This is a nice show. Have you been to other interesting shows lately?

Did you see the way the artist (framed that piece, worked with the palette knife, glazed that pot)?

Did you read about the artist's …? Alternatively: I heard that the artist …

Take It Outside

Maybe you’re not loving the show and don’t have anything nice to say about it. Or perhaps you’ve exhausted the dialogue about the work you’re looking at.

It’s time to look for inspiration beyond the walls of the room you’re in.

Did you hear about … (artist, art controversy, story, public art piece)?

Have you seen the new public art at the convention center?

Paula Christen's In the Flow
©Paula Christen, In the Flow. Watercolor on paper, 11 x 15 inches. Used with permission.

Focus On The Food

Food and drink are easy targets for conversation-starters. Adapt these suggestions to your situation.

Is that Merlot any good? (You can always count on wine and cheese at an art reception.)

Did you try the punch?!

You'd better grab one of those crab cakes before they disappear. They're delicious!

Come Right Out and Say It

Speak the truth.

My coach gave me an assignment to introduce myself to 10 people tonight who look interesting. 

I promised myself I was going to meet 10 new people tonight and you’re one of the lucky ones.

Be bold!

I don't know anyone here, so I'm taking the bold step to introduce myself to people. 

I have a friend who swears that acting like the hostess in a crowded room – even if you have no such role – makes it much easier to mingle. It gives you a job to do.

As I said above, when you’re the host or hostess, your job is to meet everyone and introduce people to one another. Make people comfortable and happy to be there.

Consider going to an opening and pretending to be the hostess. Nobody but you needs to know about your secret role.

I’m just going around seeing if everyone is enjoying themselves. Are you?

Stick With Old Standards

Leslie Allen's Corn Patch
©Leslie Allen, Corn Patch. Oil/linen/panel, 16 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

They may sound trite or mundane, but you never know where they'll lead.

Have you seen this many people in the gallery before? Alternatively: Wonder where everyone is tonight?

Did you have a hard time finding parking, too?

Was traffic as bad for you as it was for me?

It's so nice to be in the air conditioning tonight. Alternatively: I was so happy to come in to a warm gallery.

Dangle a Compliment

You can’t go wrong with a sincere compliment. It works for both men and women to compliment hair, clothing, or shoes.

Someone once said to me at an opening: I'm having a hard time looking at the art because I keep staring at your shoes.

I’ll take that!

Remember how lovely it feels when someone compliments you, and return the favor. Next time, instead of just thinking about what a good-looking shirt that guy has on, tell him.

Your Turn

How do you meet strangers at art openings?

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34 thoughts on “Opening Lines at Art Openings: Starting a Conversation”

  1. I have never had trouble starting conversations with people. I had my mother’s example. Wherever she went she got talking to someone new.
    I don’t break into cliques of people though. There is always someone standing alone, and I just smile at them and they say something to me and a conversation follows.

  2. I need to print this out and read it each time I got out–talking to strangers at art openings is something I really need to work on. So thank you!

    Also, I love Ruth Armitage’s piece that you have here. I’ll definitely check out her work.

  3. I seek out the elderly. The older the person, the more they have to share and the more opinions they have! I typically don’t have to say much at all and we’re off and running.

  4. Starting cold has always been difficult for me. When there is a chance to make a funny or helpful comment in a store, that’s easy, but introducing myself to a stranger is heart-stopping. I have done it at openings and, surprisingly, I am still alive and now have new friends ( friendships I have been nurturing on facebook). It’s so easy not to make the effort. I really have to do more of it.

  5. Whether there are a lot of people in attendance, or just a few, it’s interesting to ask people how they heard about the event. Can be useful info for promoting your own events in the future, too. I also agree with Jennifer Kirby’s comment that it’s pretty easy to engage someone else who is standing alone, and they will be grateful for someone to talk with!

  6. It’s not meeting new people for me… once I’m there, I’m fine! It’s mustering the energy to actually get out the door, get into the traffic and walk into the gallery. I find it easier if I know the artist and want to support them.

    Thanks so much for featuring my work, Alyson! I always look forward to your blog and the opportunity to think about why I do what I do 🙂

    1. Ruth, if I may, you have really got it together. All of your social media outlets are phenomenal and very professional. The cohesiveness is apparent and inviting. My role model!

    2. Ah- Thank you so much, Melinda! I do try 🙂
      Love your tip about seeking out the older person in the crowd… I do really enjoy listening to older people and their wisdom!

  7. Timely post. I’ve an important art event next week, and I always feel nervous about starting conversations. Not that I let it stop me, it’s just nice to find some intelligent alternatives. It stops you feeling like a robot repeating the same script.

  8. Perfect! I’m an extrovert, but still have trouble at openings sometimes. I appreciate the suggestion of looking for the solo person, too. Think I’ll read this over a few times — in fact, having this reminder/support might help me get out the door to actually go to an opening again soon!

  9. I needed to read this, and I need to put it into action. I’m not a total introvert, but enough so that starting a conversation with someone I don’t know is something I avoid…to my detriment.

  10. Margit Bu Dominguez

    Generally I do not have difficulties in talking to strangers, but there are days when I not in the mood and therefore have to force myself!

  11. I’ve always found it difficult but I practice talking to strangers in stores, etc and my husband thinks I’m nuts but it helps! I’ve always heard that it is a no no to give your card to someone at an opening that isn’t yours. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks Alyson for using my image! Thanks to our Assistants Mesa and Jill. What we do without them?

  12. Thank you for this! I don’t know how many openings I’ve attended where I’ve walked in, looked around, eaten a bit, then left within half an hour. I might talk to the artist, especially if I know him/her, but starting conversations with strangers is something I’ve always had difficulty doing. Like a couple of other people here, I think I need to print this up to read before going out.

  13. Excellent post! Thank you!
    I try to find more about why the individual came to an event. Most people want to talk about themselves but they don’t always have the opportunity. I love to hear the stories of their art adventures!

  14. Kath Funderburg

    Since I’m from a small town I need an hour to drive to the city to go to openings. On the drive there I breathe deeply & remind myself how lucky I am to be an artist either in the show, or attending and seeing new art.
    I usually speak to anyone who looks at me! But if you pay attention you can spot others who seem left out or uncomfortable. Zero in on them & believe me you will be welcomed & have someone ( or more!) to view the art with! Did this once with an Asian artist who flew in from China to the opening! Holy smokes he didn’t speak English! No one was near him. Upset me..but luckily artists have their own sign language & I think we both felt better for the experience!
    This is hard to do but it usually opens doors for new friends & conversations.

  15. Very helpful suggestions. I am always nervous about attending other artist’s openings and am very careful not to appear as the competition. I always learn a lot from other artist’s shows and I Want to support other artists. These starters will help with all of that!

  16. @ Kath Funderburg – I feel your pain – I live in the Central Highlands of Tasmania and I have to drive 2 hours to get to an opening in Hobart. As a result I rarely go to openings. It doesn’t help that I am a total introvert so the prospect of staying home with a video in the evenings is much more appealing than travelling a long distance to interact with people.
    Having said that, when I am at an opening I treat it as a performance event. I put aside my social anxieties and mingle and talk to people. This is not to say that I have a script or come across as fake. I know what to say and how to do it, and I just go ahead with it. Do I enjoy it? Does it drain my energy to do it? I leave all that to deal with the following day. I usually feel drained the next day, but fortunately I no longer feel the burning shame of wondering whether I talked too much or sounded like an idiot as over the years I have come to understand that my anxieties have very little to do with how people perceive me.

  17. This is great Alyson. Thank you. I cannot wait for the next opening so I can use some of these “tricks” . I too feel awkward at openings, especially if I do not know the artist(s).

  18. I like to say “are you an artist?” If they say yes, I ask them questions about their art. If they say no, they’ll say something about why they are there and the convo can take off. (Maybe they’re a collector and love to be taken to be an artist!) Maybe they’ll say, “no, are you?” and then I can show them my card, which has a work sample on it.

  19. Alyson, this is a great post and I also love reading people’s responses — what a bunch of useful ideas! I’m an introvert too, and find it hard to take the initiative to start conversations. @ Burgy — your “are you an artist?” question has worked well for me also, and opens the way for the person to talk about themselves, whether they are or aren’t. @ Kath Funderburg — I love your take on an opening being a kind of performance piece and I approach it similarly. I try to think of my “role” as confident artist as a part I’m playing for the evening, and throw myself into it in a spirit of fun. Doing some “power posture” exercises as I’m getting ready helps to remind me that my body language can make a difference in how others perceive me — and how I perceive myself. Can’t wait to try some of these other conversation starters at my next opening. Thanks to all for sharing!

  20. How helpful and timely !! Thanks Alyson! I’m driving 4 hours today to check out an all day event tomorrow at a “destination city” to see if it’s a good fit !! I have no trouble talking to most anyone but it’s better to zero in on something to say and have a plan like you did.

  21. Yes Alyson, GREAT post! shared it with several FB groups!

    I want to know your thoughts on the biz card handout too. I always take them with me and if I get into more than a passing convo with someone and it seems that it makes sense to pass along my card to further our chat afterwards, I will give it out. I’ve had many people ask me for cards at openings. I guess I don’t ever think of others as “competition”. We all have a different product and I hope that my artist friends are making connections at my openings. Other than buying and looking at art together, I think that’s what they’re for.

    I also want to know what others think about joining a pair or group of people talking. that’s especially intimidating but I see others do it all the time. I tend to be more bold if I know someone in the group, but if they’re all strangers I can’t bring myself to intrude. Seems rude.

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