If you’ve secured that important artist interview with a potential collector, arts journalist, gallerist, art advisor or curator, you need to prepare for it. Being prepared for an interview shows the person on the receiving end that you’re respectful of their time and are taking the opportunity seriously. Whether you’re snagging a new gig, landing a commission, being featured in an art magazine or meeting with someone in your studio, preparation makes you feel more confident, in control and less nervous. It also helps you avoid any embarrassing mistakes that could come back to haunt you later in your career.
Thinking about how you might answer these artist interview questions is a very beneficial exercise, even if you don’t have an interview lined up soon. However, take it a step further and actually write down or type your answers and practice saying them aloud. This helps you avoid rambling and trying to come up with words on the spot. Role play with a friend. Videotape yourself answering these questions. Get feedback from others who can observe how you’re coming across. First impressions are everything. Preparing for an interview and practicing your responses in advance will help you talk more easily about you and your work when it’s showtime.
So, what are some of those questions you definitely should practice answering?
Artist Interview Questions: From Routine to Unexpected
1.What’s your background?
This line of artist interview questions shouldn’t simply be met with “I’m from ___. ” Instead, you should use this question as an opportunity to highlight those aspects of your cultural background that make you and your work unique, with bonus points if you can tie your life experiences to your artwork. Did your upbringing prompt a specific reference point within your work? Is your work informed by certain concepts or themes from your childhood, background, socio-economic status, where you lived or were raised? How does this impact how you see the world and create art? In addition, you’ll want to use this question to discuss your educational background and any experiences that may have contributed to your evolution as an artist.
2. What does your work aim to say?
Many artists would consider this a fairly loaded question. The mere idea of putting into words what you’re obviously communicating visually is like dancing to architecture. The purpose of this question, however, is to assess how well you can articulate your artistic point of view, how aware you are of what audiences see in your work and what it provokes, and why you make art in the first place. After all, if you’re not trying to say anything about your work, then why are you making it?
The answer to this artist interview questions should be more introspective than simply what inspires you. Instead, you should frame your answer in a manner that explains why and how viewers should consider your work; how it forms a cohesive narrative that sparks a dialogue about your work. For example, perhaps you’re an artist working with recyclable materials because you’re inspired by their texture and pliability. In working with these materials, you’ve come to reflect quite a bit about waste and harmfulness, and these materials’ inherent role in the effects of global warming. Your work, therefore, comments on environmental issues through the use of recyclable materials.
3. How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
In framing your answer this artist interview questions, consider which materials or aspects of your work make a comment on current events or societal issues. Similar to the question above, it’s important to remember that some of the most revered artistic work always plays a deeper role in the transformation of societies. If you aren’t considering how your work relates to the current sociopolitical landscape, you are missing out on an important opportunity to join a broader conversation in the art world. If you’re not already considering how your work is addressing these themes, consider how you might deepen your practice to explore more substantial issues.
4. Who are your biggest influences?
Every artist has a handful of other artists they look to for inspiration and guidance. Is there a particular artist that inspired you to pursue art? Whose techniques do you study or admire? What genre does your work fall into? Abstract Expressionism? Conceptual Art? Realism? Make sure you address why you’re influenced by these artists or artistic movements. Avoid art speak – buzz words that sound smart, but ultimately provide no real insight into your work. Simpler sentences with fewer words are better than long ones. For example, “Donald Judd’s work opened the door for me to think about representing shapes and forms into their most essential components. By stripping down the excess, my work enables the viewer to imagine what’s missing while also considering what is there. I like exploring that tension.”
Whatever the case may be, this inquiry allows patrons, collectors, and writers to better frame and categorize your work and connect you to the history of art. It’s important for them to be able to group you with your contemporaries and see how you fit within a larger dialogue in the art world.
5. How have you developed your career?
This artist interview question signals whether you can be taken seriously as an artist. Contrary to popular belief, ‘making it’ in the art world isn’t merely a game of luck. It requires a strategic and determined effort based on your vision, goals, and what success means to you. If you’re sitting down with a potential collector, curator or gallerist, they’ll want to know that you’ve been thinking about your career trajectory and are therefore worthy of investment.
Share information about your educational/training background, work experience, creative process and studio practice. What exhibitions are you working on or have you participated in? Have you won any awards? How did those opportunities come about? How do you get your work out into the world and how have you solidified a base of followers and contacts? Avoid giving an answer that makes it seem like your success has been happenstance, rather than the result of a thoughtful approach to your career and desire to succeed.
6. How do you seek out opportunities?
Similar to the previous inquiry, this artist interview question focuses on your career, but your answer here should take a more measurable format. Be specific about the way you’ve sourced and approached new opportunities to display or showcase your work. Do you frequently research potential galleries, and send portfolios to your top picks on a weekly or monthly basis? Do you frequently invite visitors to your studio? Do you attend artist panels or networking events where you can meet others in the industry? Do you have any dedicated marketing efforts, such as maintaining a newsletter that alerts your subscribers to what you’re working on? Do you belong to an artist collective or association? Your response is an opportunity to showcase how hard you’re working to get your work out there and shows your investment in art.
7. How do you cultivate a collector base?
Any potential gallery or art collector will want to know how you seek out new opportunities to sell your work. Do you participate in art fairs or enter juried competitions? Do you reach out to collectors and invite them to your studio? Do you sell your work online through your website or online marketplace? Do you seek out commissioned public art projects? Being able to answer this question shows that you’re actively working to live off of your artwork. Demonstrating that your artwork is already in demand makes you a safer bet for a gallery or collector who wants to take a chance on your work.
8. How do you navigate the art world?
According to Nikki Grattan, one of the founders of In The Make, a blog showcasing the studios of West Coast artists, artists are frequently far too “ambiguous” when it comes to answering this artist interview question.
“To be honest, most everyone approaches the question about how they navigate the art world with too much delicacy and ambiguity,” she says. “They often seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience can be. Obviously, artists want to be being diplomatic and protective of their public persona and don’t want to ruffle feathers, share too many secrets, or burn bridges. But still, it’s important to be real about this topic. Artists sometimes don’t like to reveal just how hard they try– as if being ambitious about getting one’s artwork seen and sold is somehow shameful. I think it’s a disservice to perpetuate the myth of ‘opportunities just happening’ if that’s not really the case.”
Instead, approach this question with plenty of transparency. Talk succinctly about the challenges you face trying to bring your work to new audiences and address some of the ways you’ve chosen to engage in the art world, whether that’s within the top echelon of international art circles or based on your involvement in your local community. However, this is not the time to complain. Explain how you’re pursuing your career and going after opportunities despite the hardships that artists can endure to get there.
9. How do you price your work?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when having a pricing discussion with a collector is hesitating when it comes time to name your price. You need to have a good idea of why you charge what you charge for your work. Calculate the costs of your materials, the size of your artwork, the hours it takes you to build a piece, and your hourly rate. Then, once you’ve calculated all these elements, assign a price to your work, and determine how far you’re willing to negotiate. We’ve provided plenty of additional resources for pricing your work here on Artrepreneur, so do check these articles out so you can feel confident about pricing your work.
10. Which current art world trends are you following?
A large part of being a successful artist is having a deep understanding of the market. How can you presume to earn a living as an artist if you aren’t following the art-making and buying trends currently dominating the industry? When asked this question, there’s no need to try and compare your work to any current art world trends. You should be familiarizing yourself, however, with what’s happening in the art world around you, on a local, national, and international level. Highlight how you’re considering these movements in the context of your own work, how your work is in response to these trends or how isn’t “on trend” at all.
You could say for example, “Engaging in social practice is very popular right now as artists seek a more direct impact on their communities and challenging social issues. Art becomes the vehicle for change, not an end product to consume. My focus on portraiture is about preserving an individual and their identity at a point in time that if not preserved, will be lost forever.”
Believe it or not, there is a positive way to answer these and any other artist interview question with confidence if you have prepared in advance, practiced them beforehand and truly believe in your response.
How do you handle tough questions, or what questions are missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!
Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.