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Why and How to Tell Your Story

Some artists may disagree with me on this, but I think there are three must-have items for every fine artist who wants to be taken seriously as a professional: an artist’s statement, a resume, and then a bio, or what I prefer to think of as the artist’s story.

Why do you need to tell your story? The simple truth is that we artists need to connect with people who can support our artistic endeavors (buying our work, exhibiting our art, promoting us in the media), and the best way to connect is through the power of a personal story. Yes, of course, people will connect with your work, but they also want to know who created the work. They want to know you. Telling your story:

  • Engages people’s interest in you as they find things they have in common with you.
  • Makes them feel like an “insider” in your life and work as an artist.
  • Satisfies their curiosity about the person who created the artwork they like and why you became an artist.
  • Helps explain what is unique and valuable about your work, and finally,
  • Starts to build a relationship of trust and respect between you and the people who are interested in you.

So are you ready to start crafting your story? I’m not gonna lie. It’s as challenging to write as your artist’s statement, so here are a few tips that can help you successfully articulate, tell, and write your story. It’s well worth the effort.

  1. Treat it like it’s fiction. There’s a lot you can learn from storytellers that you can apply to the crafting of your personal story. A good story always has a hero (that’s you) who starts out in one place, goes through some big event, and ends in another place. For most artists, that’s going to be the events that led up to the “aha” moment when you recognized you have a passion for making art, and then what you’ve done since then to become a dedicated artist. But that doesn’t mean you have to tell your story in chronological order. In fact, it’s better to start with an exciting moment from somewhere in the middle of the story—in writer’s terms, that’s the “hook”—and then go back and tell the story from beginning to end. You should sprinkle in several other meaningful anecdotes from your personal and professional life along the way, but only include the best bits that will create the overall image or message you’re trying to communicate about yourself. Good storytellers include only those details that move the story forward and make it more exciting, and they leave out the boring parts.
  2. But stick to the facts. Just to be clear, while you should follow a good storyteller’s lead in howyou tell your story, you should not embellish it with actual fiction. Keep it real, honest, and authentic, or you could risk being found out and destroying the trust you’ve established with others.
  3. Make it accessible. Although people do want to know more about you, they really don’t want or need to know every detail, so 500 to 800 words is probably more than enough. Stick to what’s relevant and interesting. Use plain language (not “artspeak”) and a writing style that’s informal and conversational, yet presents a professional image. And when you’re happy with your first draft, read it out loud to yourself and ask one or two trusted friends to read it before publishing it. 
  4. Reveal your personality.If you incorporate meaningful anecdotes and write as if you’re talking to a friend, your personality will probably come out naturally. But it’s still an important goal to remember when you’re revising your draft. If you’re funny, show it. If you’re serious and scholarly, show that. Make sure you’ve stayed authentic and true to yourself in communicating your story.
  5. Make it emotionally compelling so that it’s memorable. Something else to consider when choosing which details to put in and which to leave out is what those facts and anecdotes say about you. It’s important to choose things that reveal your personal values, goals, and emotions. The feelings and deeper meaning within your story is what people relate to, and in the end, people are less likely to remember the facts of your life and more likely to remember the emotional connection they felt with your story. 

Once you’ve got your story nailed down, use it as often as you can. Include the written version on your website, along with some personal photos or videos. Make a short form to include in promotions and exhibitions. And always be ready to share your story when you meet someone new face-to-face. Your story will turn out to be one of your best tools for promoting yourself as an artist.

What other thoughts do you have about telling your story? Let’s connect!

 


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