Crafting Your Art Market Narrative: Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Storytelling
Annika Wittrock Art Market Storytelling

Kehinde Wiley is a remarkable storyteller, and I will tell you why that is. Let’s take a close look at his unique approach to portraiture:

  1. Reimagining Art History: Wiley’s work often reimagines traditional portraiture by featuring contemporary Black subjects in poses and settings reminiscent of historical European paintings. Through this juxtaposition, he challenges historical narratives and questions the absence of Black figures in classical art, thereby telling a story of inclusion, representation, and empowerment.
  2. Empowerment through Representation: Wiley’s portraits depict individuals from marginalized communities—particularly young Black men and women—in positions of power and dignity. By portraying his subjects with regal poses and vibrant, ornate backgrounds, he elevates their presence and asserts their importance in the cultural narrative. In doing so, he tells a story of resilience, strength, and beauty within communities often overlooked or misrepresented.
  3. Interplay of Identity and Culture: Wiley’s portraits are deeply rooted in exploring identity and cultural heritage. He often incorporates symbols, clothing, and accessories that reflect the subject’s personal identity and cultural background. Through these visual cues, he tells stories of cultural pride, heritage, and the complexities of identity in contemporary society.
  4. Global Perspective: Wiley’s artistic practice extends beyond the boundaries of the United States, with projects that involve collaborating with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds around the world. Through these collaborations, he tells stories that transcend borders and celebrate the diversity of human experience on a global scale.
  5. Dialogue with the Viewer: Wiley’s portraits invite viewers to engage in a dialogue about representation, power dynamics, and the construction of identity. By presenting his subjects in larger-than-life scale and with commanding gazes, he compels viewers to confront their own preconceptions and biases, fostering empathy and understanding across cultural divides.

Kehinde Wiley’s art goes beyond mere representation—it challenges historical narratives, celebrates cultural diversity, and empowers marginalized communities. Through his innovative approach to portraiture, he creates visual narratives that resonate deeply with viewers, inviting them to reconsider their understanding of history, identity, and representation in contemporary society.

“Marketing is not anymore about the stuff you do but the stories you tell” is the quote of a famous marketeer, Seth Godin. What he wants to tell us with it, is that today we are accustomed to processing an enormous amount of information in a short amount of time through various channels. Whereas in the past, we would be confronted with three commercials during a movie break, today there are hundreds of brand messages that reach us more or less directly through Twitter, Instagram, Google, our email inbox, and so on.

Storytelling is the new way for good digital marketing. It is mainly images that are anchored in people’s minds. “Images are processed between 6 and 600 times faster than language.”

There are many stories out there, you may think. Surely, you regularly talk to customers in your gallery or at an art fair and have a sales conversation. Good gallery owners are good salespeople. They should know how to tell good stories that also work in marketing, right?

Not entirely: Storytelling means building an emotional connection with your target audience first, and then using it to “sell” in the second step.

Here are my suggestions for 4 Do’s and Don’ts you should consider when it comes to good art market storytelling:

The 4 Don’ts for Effective Storytelling

1 – Speaking to customers in jargon

While it’s important to showcase your expertise and knowledge as an artist or gallerist, using jargon and technical language can be confusing and alienating for potential buyers. Instead, try to communicate your ideas in clear and accessible language that everyone can understand.

2- Confusing storytelling with a sales pitch

While the ultimate goal of storytelling in the art market is to sell art, it’s important to avoid making your story sound like a sales pitch. Instead, focus on sharing your personal journey, inspirations and motivations, and let your potential buyers draw their own conclusions.

3 – Talking about something “cool” that happened recently

While it’s great to share exciting news and updates with your audience, it’s important to keep in mind that not everything that’s “cool” to you will be relevant or interesting to your potential buyers. Instead, try to focus on insights and perspectives that can help them better understand your art and connect with your story.

4 – Not knowing what your customers want and not addressing it

Finally, it’s essential to understand your potential buyers’ needs, preferences and interests, and tailor your storytelling accordingly. If you’re not sure what your audience is looking for, try to engage with them through social media, surveys or other channels, and use their feedback to inform your storytelling approach.

The 4 Dos for Effective Storytelling

1 – Speak in images

Rather than relying on dry descriptions or explanations, try to communicate your ideas through vivid and evocative imagery.

2- Leave room for imagination

Leave room for imagination: While it’s important to convey your message clearly, it’s also crucial to leave some space for your audience’s own interpretations and experiences. This can create a more dynamic and engaging dialogue between you and potential buyers.

3 – Be honest, talk about yourself

Authenticity is key when it comes to storytelling. Be true to yourself and your art, and avoid exaggerating or inventing details that don’t align with your personal narrative. This will help you to build trust and establish a genuine connection with your customers.

4 – Be constructive

Storytelling is not just about self-expression – it’s also an opportunity to inspire and educate your audience. Use your platform to share insights, perspectives and ideas that can help your audience to better appreciate your art and the wider cultural context in which it exists.

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