Even If Your Art Has a Mouth

It can’t speak for itself

One of the most basic principals in selling art is getting your audience to connect with a piece so deeply they must buy it.

Now, that can happen with your use of colour — people are highly and emotionally responsive to colour — but it happens faster, deeper and in the ways that you, the artist, wants when you write about a piece.

Every single day I come across art that has no explanation with it. No reason for me to pause my scroll and look longer or deeper at a piece.

Here’s a portrait I did of some dude.

Here’s a collage I did.

Here’s a landscape.

Ooookaaaay. And? What am I supposed to be seeing? Why should I care?

The issue stems from the fact that the artist knows their motivations or reasons behind a piece so thoroughly that they forget that the audience has no fucking clue. Or needs a hint.

I once came across a painting from 9/11 that was ok. Fine. I have my own narrative and history with that terrible event but it didn’t seem to mesh with the painting. And since this was one done by a former friend, I paused to ask about it.

The story I was told was so profound, and so moving, that even today I think of the painting. It connected me deeply, not only with her experience of the event (which was different from mine) but also made me connect with the piece on an emotional level.

Had I wanted that kind of art in my home, I would have bought it on the spot.

The story turned an ok painting into something that has stuck with me years later. It may be years before I stop thinking about it. That is the power of speaking for your art.

I saw a collage recently by an artist and it was interesting enough but the description was only “collage”. So I paused to ask what it was about, what was going on that maybe I missed seeing or understanding. The artist told me it was based on an American folk tale but didn’t give me any details. Since I’m not American, I have no idea what the significance is. And he assured me I could get into the piece without knowing a thing.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Give your audience a reason to care! Give them a reason to connect with your art as deeply as you do! You don’t have to write long essays or stories but for fuck’s sake, write something.

You may have a deep love for orange canoes and paint landscapes full of them. For me, they might be nice to look at, but I won’t connect unless you write something more. I’ll just scroll on by thinking, nice canoe… and then oh! there’s a BOGO sale on shoes… and I won’t think of your work again.

This matters even for abstract or contemporary art. In fact, more so.

There’s a conceptual piece of art that is simply two clocks side by side. Anyone just looking at the piece would dismiss its art value out of hand. Two clocks is not art.

But then you read the story and it packs a massive emotional punch.

The clocks represent the artist and his partner. A partner who was dying of AIDS. The clocks would eventually go out of sync, with one stopping before the other. A symbolic love story that breaks my heart every time I think about it. Google “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) (1991) to read more.

As an artist, you have an obligation to speak for your art. Give your audience a reason to care, connect and be emotional about your work. Your journey with your art is always a personal one, but it should be the same thing when you share your art too.

If you find your sales are slow and people are just passing by your work, odds are that this is one of the areas that your attention.

Even if your art has a mouth, it can’t speak for itself.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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