Decoding Questions about Art

What are you doing?

How did it go?

Did you enjoy your trip?

How was school today?

How do you do that?

These are questions we ask and receive on a daily basis from just about everyone we encounter. They are simple, but sometimes they are loaded with meaning that we miss, and they reveal a lot more about the "asker" than you may realize.

Questions possess much more than a desire for information, and I’ve found this to be very true at art events. I’ve spent a lot of time in gatherings with artists, either physically or virtually, and one topic of conversation is usually centered around questions that art show and/or festival attendees will ask an artist who is showing at the venue.

“Did you make all this?

“How long did it take you to make that?

“How long have you been doing this?

“Is that a photograph?

“Did you go to school for art?”

“Is this your job?”

“What is your inspiration?”

These are just a couple questions that sometimes get under an artist’s skin. Honestly, I go by the rule that there is no “dumb” question (unless you have already asked it three times). Often times, these questions are simply an attempt to reach out and make a connection with the artist. It is a way of saying “Hi, I want to talk to you, but I’m not sure what to say.”

If you are an artist, look at it this way. Consider what it would feel like going into a laboratory filled with concoctions and equipment that you have never seen before. You have also never met this person, but you can tell from the work around you that they can obviously do things that you cannot. I can almost guarantee that your first couple of questions are going to be clumsy and probably “dumb” to the scientist.

“Did you make all of this?”

“How long did it take you to make….that?”

Most folks that are attending an art show or art festival are bravely going into unfamiliar territory. They are not in their natural element and they often feel a bit insecure in this new world. Be gentle and gracious. Know that it is rare that someone is asking a question to make you feel small or bad about your work. They are simply trying to connect with you. Allow them that honor and find a way to answer their questions, maybe asking them some that will allow them to feel more comfortable, such as:

“Thanks for asking, what did you go to school for?”

“I did make all of this, which one do you like the most?”

“Are you from around here or are you visiting?

And to the attendees, let’s go back into the science lab and consider that perhaps this scientist looks like they know exactly what they are doing, when in fact, they are risking everything by letting you walk into their work space. He or she is not at all sure any of the concoctions that are created are worth anything, so when you start asking questions that come out clumsily or “dumb,” he or she, in their own insecurity, sees the opportunity to shield themselves from vulnerability through arrogance or a quip that makes you feel very small indeed. Don’t we all do that from time to time? I’m not saying it is right, but it is helpful to know where it is coming from.

If that has happened to you while at an art festival or show, I’m sorry, but know that it is often from a place of insecurity. When we, artists, put our work out on display, it is like standing on a stage naked. It’s terrifying, so please, be gentle and bare with us as we gain confidence and see that arrogance and pride are not needed for protection.

Here are some great questions you can ask:

“ Which one of these pieces is YOUR favorite?”

“Can you tell me more about your process?”

“Where else are you showing your work?”

“I’m interested in learning more about artists...other than yourself, who is someone you would recommend me checking out?”

When we ask the right questions and understand the intentions behind our clumsy ones, the walls start coming down and real connection can start. Because, in the end, aren’t we all just humans with different gifting but

similar needs and natures?

I think so. What about you?

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