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Let’s talk about the “C” word……COMMUNICATION, as it relates to ART.

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Most artists, including myself, tend to be introverts. We enjoy our personal space, our studio time, and more than likely made up that small percentage of humanity that didn’t desperately miss human interaction during COVID. That said, we also tend to be heavy thinkers, and highly sensitive people, who as such, need self expression, and dialogue which is usually accomplished through our work. So, the key question becomes: How can we ensure the efficacy of our communication through our artistic self-expression?

Let me start by saying, while I don’t think it’s necessary that we be crystal clear about what we want to communicate at the onset of a new creation (although it probably helps), I do feel it's necessary at some point, either during the process of creation, or before we call a work complete, that we figure it out. Abstract artists face a particular challenge in this regard since we operate within a unique language that doesn't rely on recognizable imagery.

So, how does an artist get better at talking to people, without becoming an extrovert? . Let's take a closer look at our usual creative process and see how we can implement some helpful techniques.

At the start of every new creation, we start a dialogue with our viewer. We take a lot into consideration - consciously or unconsciously, even when we may not have figured out what we want to say. Whether we know it or not, when we make decisions about:


  • Canvas, Wood, Plastic, Clay, Collage, Photography, Paint, Graphite, Charcoal, etc.


  • Decisions to abide by the “rules” like classic composition, balance, scale, etc.

  • Decisions to break the “rules” – abandoning everything taught by the so-called Masters.

Use of the piece once complete:

  • Wall art

  • Freestanding sculpture

  • Hanging sculpture

  • Bowl, pottery, plates, etc.

we've started to consider our viewer, and began a conversation with them. Specifically, we've said we want to say something; we've chosen the way in which we want to say it, and we've decided how they will receive (use) it.

Next, is our message. Personally, I’m an instinctual artist. Nature abhors a vacuum, and I abhor a blank canvas or piece of paper, so wen I decide to start painting something, I don’t think - I just feel, then I paint. There are days I think (feel) to myself, I'd like to just rip through this canvas! All I know at that point is, I need to vent; I need to release; and I don’t care what the outcome is! For me, that also means my chosen mediums will start with a larger canvas and spray paint, since it releases quickly from the can. It also means the finished piece is going to be bold because I probably won't feel like developing colors. Conversely, there are days when I say (feel), I’d like to spend some time developing a piece and seeing where it goes. On those days, I’m going to start with neutrals, tints and shades, and spend time exploring and developing colors. My mood is usually calm, peaceful or even melancholy.

I want to highlight that I don't strictly label myself as an "abstract artist" since that term implies creating abstract representations of things, people, or places, which is not typically the focus of my work. Technically speaking, I identify as an abstract expressionist artist because my creations primarily abstract emotions rather than tangible subjects. I make this distinction because you might have a specific object, individual, or location in mind when you commence your work, and that's where your dialogue or message continues after selecting your medium.

Whether you’re an instinctual artist like me or you start with a desired result in mind, knowing what we want to say, at some point in the journey, is useful to us because when we do, our work becomes most interesting to our viewers; it’s the time where we shift from rambling to ourselves to conversing with someone else.

Since I often have to self check my work, to see if I'm rambling to myself or communicating my intended message, below are some questions I employ before considering a painting complete. These questions serve as guides for me, to ensure that my artwork conveys the message I want to send:

1. Would I buy this?

I always say, if I wouldn’t buy it with my hard-earned money, I’m not going to ask someone else to. Therefore, this is the first question I ask myself.

I did my undergraduate in Interior Design and have a very strong interest in it. My spare time is often spent leafing through interior design magazines. I’ve also worked in corporate real estate for a decade, doing construction management for interior spaces, which has provided me the opportunity to work with a lot of wonderful architects and interior designers, and spending countless hours with them immersed in interior design aesthetics. As such, I’ve seen what goes into creating spaces that I consider to be beautiful, and that’s the aesthetic I create my work based on. That does NOT need to be your vantage point nor your chosen aesthetic! In fact, I’ll stop to say here that I feel too many artists spend way so much time being concerned with their work looking "magazine ready" prior sharing it with the world. I only mention my experience here to share how I developed my criteria for determining work I feel is complete.

I encourage you to take some time, if you haven’t already, to figure out where you see your paintings hanging when they are complete. You might also try asking yourself who your ideal client or collector is, to better understand your work and your goals for your pieces. We artists all say we want our work to be purchased by someone who will love it and whom it resonates with. Well, having an idea of who that person is will help you better reach them. Whether you are aware of it or not, you know. You have an ideal place in mind where you see your painting hanging once it's finished. That ideal setting is solely yours, developed through your years of visiting homes, staying in hotels, and traveling to cities and places. It’s there; you just need to be cognizant of it and use it as a goal and a measuring tool to determine whether your painting is ready to be placed there. If it’s not, edit it until it is. If it can’t be edited any further, you may need to consider it one of those paintings that remain in your studio as an artistic study or be gifted to that friend that’s always begging for free art.

2. Am I attempting to say something here, and if so, what?

When our artwork is about conveying a thought or expression, it can be helpful to not only ask ourselves, but someone else for their feedback. After all, there’s no need speaking Italian to a bunch of English-speaking people – unless they’re bi-lingual. To help us out, we can try asking an objective party whether they can see what we're attempting to say. We can ask them what they see when they look at our piece, keeping in mind that what they “see” may not be what we see, and then decide whether that is okay. Perhaps if what they see is close to what we’re attempting to say that will work for us. If not, we may want to consider editing until it becomes more in line with our intended communication.

3. Does this painting evoke a mood?

Like Beyonce’, personally I like it when my paintings are a ‘whole mood’. Similar to asking whether a piece has something to say, I often will ask myself or a friend if a painting evokes a mood or a feeling. For example, we can ask whether it’s calming or riling. We can ask if a piece makes a friend feel happy or sad, or maybe just melancholy. As abstract (expressionist) artists, we should probably employ this question most often because we’ve probably created a piece with our emotions and attempted to communicate them through our chosen medium. While I don't feel it's necessary that the viewer feel exactly what we felt when creating it, it's good to know that they feel something. Speaking as a person who has done YEARS of therapy, I can tell you that moods are oftentimes indecipherable, nevertheless they're there, so try asking whether your piece evokes a mood.

4. Does this piece spark interest:

Another question I frequently employ is to ask myself if my artwork would captivate someone's attention or add interest to a room. As someone who appreciates neutral interior design palettes, I often contemplate whether my piece would draw the eye of someone entering a room. Admittedly, this may sound a bit conceited (and probably is 😊), but it aligns with my nature as a debater, thinker, and someone who challenges the status quo. (I also think it’s my way of being seen - something else to discuss during my next therapy session).

Perhaps your goal isn’t to captivate, but rather to spark a discussion. It’s worthwhile asking yourself objectively whether your piece would accomplish that goal. If it doesn’t, maybe there’s a missing element that could easily be added or pop color that would give it that spark. Asking someone else, posting it on social media or dissecting a piece you consider interesting is a good way to self analyze your piece and add that missing spark.

These questions are mine, but there are tons of ways we can self evaluate our own work prior to calling it complete. The choice of which to employ (if any) is personal and entirely up to you. I simply encourage you to try employing something as a means of self-assessment to hopefully allow you to showcase your best work.

Final thought: Someone asked me a question once that I'll always keep in the back of my head - he asked, are you creating your work for you, or for someone else to enjoy and buy? Although initially peeved by the question, I've since realized the value of it. I have to be honest, up until that point, I don't think I'd considered my audience much. My philosophy was, either "they'll like it or they won't". Like most artists, I believe in being authentic, and as such, the universe will reward my efforts with regularly paying patronage. And while I still believe that, I now also believe that by looking at my art as a business, I can reap the rewards from the universe and scale my business.

Paint costs money and we need to sell in order to continue buying it (or whatever your chosen medium is) - unless it's a hobby being supported by other means. If we're going to sell it to anyone (other than ourselves), it's probably a good idea to consider them. Every other business does. We absolutely should stay true to ourselves - ALWAYS, but if we want to at some point be considered professional artists, we have to move the paintings out of our homes and into someone else's, and that means evaluating our work's efficacy – just a little bit.

Keep those paint brushes strokin'!


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1 Comment

Aug 26, 2023

I haven’t considered the viewer much, but that is certainly something for me to keep in mind. Thanks Michelle. Mary

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