The power of A.R.T

There can be little doubt that working with others can create a sense of strength and power that working in isolation cannot emulate.
I have recently helped stage a group exhibition in East London, part of the Photomonth festival. Sharing the various tasks with six other artists to produce an eclectic and thought-provoking show that we could all be proud of. It was beautiful to see a collection of diverse artwork brought together and speaking to its audiences, just as it was hugely rewarding to feel part of a group, helping and supporting each other through a demanding few weeks.
Exhibiting as a group allows for a greater mix of ideas and art. For example, as well as photography and video, we were also able to have a live performance by a sound artist – whom fitted in with the theme of the exhibition and who used the gallery space to great effect. The feedback from visitors was positive and encouraging – approaching a gallery as a collective gives you a feeling of confidence and many people commented on the strength of the work on display.
However, the show wasn’t without its problems, the main one being a lack of time to promote the exhibition and build up a bigger audience. As artists we are both cash poor and time starved so staging and invigilating the exhibition left little of either to market our work.
But what does success look like when publicising an exhibition? Is it the number of visitors to the show? Is it in the feedback you receive? It’s a question artists need to ponder when exhibiting, but whatever the answer I feel there has to be a better way to communicate to others about our work and about ourselves. It’s a question of breaking through the barrier that presents itself when we have little time or energy to keep ourselves moving forward.
There are many motivational acronyms in the world of leadership and coaching that offer tips on conveying your message. BBC is one that springs to mind for those who, for example, are asked to speak at conferences – ‘Big story; Back it up; Call to action’. FAR is another – ‘Focused, Authentic and Responsible’ while in public relations circles RACE is the creed: ‘Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation’. Even team work has its own acronym: Together everyone works better’!
Perhaps we should think ART when it comes to communicating as artists: ‘Articulate, Reinforce and Think Tangibles’.
Articulate: We need to articulate what we are about or our work is about. This, perhaps, is one of the hardest aspects of communication for an artist; we know what inspires us and why, but conveying what is an emotional and sometimes spiritual feeling to others is difficult. However, artwork needs some degree of interpretation from the artist, even if you encourage your audience to develop their own perceptions around it.
Reinforce: Every artist has a story to tell and we can add weight to the message about our work by reinforcing it with a story or narrative. Audiences want to hear about processes, ideas, inspirations – the narratives behind your practice. Ask yourself what you want your audience to be feeling when walking away from you, not just what they may be thinking.
Think tangibles: Ask yourself what do you want to get out of any activity you undertake. The clearer you are on your goals for events or activity, the better you will use your limited resources of time and money. Think about what you want from an audience and be confident to ask your audience for something in return, whether it’s writing a line in the visitor book, filling out a feedback form, signing up to a mailing list or reading your blog. From small efforts such as these, bigger endeavours will develop.
Broken down into component parts makes promoting yourself seem less of a challenge and more of an achievable reality. What’s more, once you have thought through the articulation of your work, reinforcing the message and the tangible outcomes, you can carry ART forward from exhibition to exhibition, building on it each time.
It’s about communicating in a structured way and the acronym can be used either as a well thought out quick fix or as a longer term strategy that will build up an audience, raise awareness about your work and ultimately help you create a thriving community around you and your practice.

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