What should the artwork tell me? Or: The (other) art of asking correctly

Visiting the exhibition for strategic reasons The other day it happened again: I attended a vernissage for the exhibition of a hitherto unknown artist, more for strategic reasons than out of the intention of getting to know the artist. It is easy to explain what other reasons could be behind this: pure networking and / or exploring a potentially interesting exhibition location for me. But can I just ignore the artist? Can I just pursue my network interests at the vernissage? In my opinion, this is a question of being respectful among colleagues and the answer to these questions is no. For us artists, visiting an exhibition is not infrequently not just a leisure activity, but part of public relations. If I know the artist by chance (and also like her * his art) or she * has always wanted to get to know him (for example because I really like her * his art), that’s nice – and the cheaper case. (Un) welcome guests But that’s not always the case. I also often end up at exhibitions where art does not fascinate me at first glance. Of course, this does not do justice to the colleague in any way! I just have to put myself in her * his perspective: When I look forward to my own vernissage with joy, but also with inner tension, then I am guests who come to my exhibition and virtually “only fill the room”, but neither with me nor with me really want to talk about my art, not really welcome. I’d rather have a few fewer guests with me than have to find out that I’m not even welcome at my own vernissage. Respectful interaction with colleagues Maybe I’m too critical or too sensitive in this regard. But I’m certainly not the only one. I have therefore come up with a strategy for how I would like to behave respectfully at such events if I want to go there for reasons other than the art on display. First and foremost: I will IN ANY CASE talk to the artist. I prefer to do this and it works best when I catch her * him in a moment when she * he is not surrounded by a large cluster of other guests, but rather stands there with very few others, or even stands there all alone. It is worth waiting for such a moment of calm. In this conversation I am NOT THE FIRST introducing myself as an artist. Rather, this conversation is primarily about the person who is the focus of this event. Give the exchange a chance But what do I do now when I can’t do anything with the art on display or when it actually doesn’t interest me? Despite everything, I will give the conversation ONE CHANCE. But that doesn’t work if I express criticism from the start or immediately admit that “none of this appeals to me at all” and “I also do completely different art myself”. If I start a conversation with negative statements, the artist is put directly on the defensive. Self-confident personalities may not mind that, but not everyone gets along with it and can counter well. In the end, you will probably see your prejudices confirmed here. Asking questions as a strategy The insider tip is therefore QUESTIONS. There is basically nothing secret about questions, but many still often forget this simple possibility to broaden their own horizons. When I start asking questions about the art presented, I give the colleague a chance to open up. And I also give myself a chance to get involved with someone and something new. I have never regretted asking questions! Because in most cases I had very exciting conversations, got to know a wonderful new person and got an exclusive insight into her * his inner life through her * his art. In the end I went home truly enriched and sometimes even forgot to continue networking! Do you know that? Of course, that doesn’t always work. Because there are certainly people with whom I do not find any overlap. And that’s OK too! But in my experience these people are in the minority. Asking questions must also be practiced a little. It is by no means intended to be a pure question-and-answer game, a kind of ping pong. The conversation can only develop if you listen carefully and respond to the answers with additional questions. And every now and then you can and should share your opinion or describe your experience on a topic – as long as you don’t “accidentally” focus too much on yourself and your art. Find the right questions Make sure that you first ask questions that your colleague cannot put directly into a bredrouille like “Have you already sold something?” Or “Are you satisfied with the vernissge?” First, stick to questions that the most artists really like to answer. Make them as open as possible to leave plenty of room for answers, and don’t use leading questions that let you know your expected answer in advance. Be open and curious yourself and let yourself be surprised. These questions are suitable as an introduction to the conversation with the artist: At the beginning, choose the work of art that you – despite everything! – Most appealing: I like this best. How did it come about? Why did it come about? Where does your motivation for your art come from? What moves you the most Then: Can you explain that to me again in detail on this work of art? Do you want to convey a message with your art? What do you like the most when you work with this technique? This one recurring motif seems to be particularly important to you. I am curious and would be happy if you could explain the background to me. What is your personal favorite work of art in this room? Why is that? When is a work of art ready for you personally? Of course, there are also artists who would rather not answer such questions. Some would prefer not to talk about their art at all. Or they don’t want to talk to you about it. Then that’s the way it is! You don’t have to impose your (negative) opinion on them. If they don’t want to talk to you, then you do what you came here for: network or inspect the showroom.