Talking about art can be a challenge for anyone. There’s a lot of specialized vocabulary and sometimes it can be difficult to put our vision into words. Even native speakers struggle with this, so it’s especially hard for non-native speaking artists. To make it easier, I’ve created a list of ten tips to help you share your work more effectively in English. (Today, I’ll focus on the visual arts. In future weeks, I’ll share tips for designers and the performing arts as well.)
What should I write or say?
First, you’ll want to start with the basic information about the piece. You should always include the kind of details you’d expect to see on a gallery card, like the title of the piece, the date it was made, the materials used, and the size. If your audience is not looking at the work in person, you’ll want to give a more detailed physical description.
I’d also suggest including some information about your technique or process. Many people can appreciate a work of art more once they understand how it was created and the work that went into it. You don’t have to give a lot of detail, but a few sentences that describe how you work could help to engage your audience.
If possible, it’s also helpful to talk a little about your message or goals for the piece, if you have one, and the context of the work. You can also talk about your inspiration or how this piece fits into your body of work. Think about the questions your viewer might have about the piece and try to answer them since this is your chance to share your vision with your audience. What makes this piece unique and worth their time and attention? This article from eHow gives some more detailed examples of how to write these basic descriptions.
How should I write it or say it?
First, remember to keep it simple. Many artists try to explain their work in ways that are too complicated for the average person to understand. If possible, try to explain it in a way that would be easy for anyone to follow, like children and grandparents.
Also, remember that simple does not mean general. If you speak or write in a way that is too general, it becomes boring. Giving specific details about the piece will make it more engaging and gives you a chance to share a little of your story.
Also, try to choose the best vocabulary to describe your work. You want to choose action verbs and adjectives that evoke emotion whenever possible. In fact, sculptor Richard Serra famously said “Drawing is a verb,” and would use a list of 84 verbs to inspire his work. Your word choices will help to convey your feelings and your process to your audience and give them a more fulfilling experience. This English learning blog post gives some examples of different words you can use to describe your work.
What tools can I use to help me?
I always recommend that artists take the time to research and write about their work before they need to talk about it, so they know the best words to use and don’t start rambling or freeze up. The first suggestion I would make is to look at other artists that you admire or that do work similar to yours and see what kinds of words they use. (Don’t copy them, just use them as a starting point.) Then you can use a good learner’s dictionary or thesaurus to look up those words and find even more words to best describe your work.
A lot of non-native speakers struggle with using phrasal verbs, even though they are very common in English. I recommend a website called Phrasal Verb Demon to use as a resource if you have questions about phrasal verbs and how to use them correctly.
For your written descriptions, I always suggest using Grammarly to check your work. The app will check your spelling and grammar, and their blog offers some useful posts to help you improve your writing. Using idioms, similes and metaphors can really bring your descriptions to life, but they are difficult in another language. These articles give clear definitions of what they are and examples of how to use them.
I need more help!
Now that I’ve shared some tips for describing your artwork, I’d like to hear from you! Do you still have questions? Ask me in the comments or send me an email!
If you’d like more detail, you can download my free tips: How to describe your artwork in English (10 tips for non-native English speakers).
And if you want to get more customized, useful feedback from an English coach on how to write about your work, you can schedule a free trial lesson so we can talk about what you need and how I can help!