Being a graduate student gives me an in for asking people for interviews. Over the last fourteen months, out of ten to twelve inquiries, only one person declined an interview. In this time of digital communication, sitting face to face (even virtually through skype) and talking on the phone allows me to get to know my interviewees on a more personal level. A lot of people I interviewed were flattered that I cared to ask questions about them at all. I’ve been honored that so many people are willing to share their experiences, knowledge, and advice. This process of interviewing people has been very enlightening. Many of my ideas have been reinforced and broken down by listening to others with different expertise. I wish I knew long before graduate school that I could learn so much about my interests by interviewing people who also cared about my interests.
So, my recommendation to anyone looking for answers about how to be an artist is to talk with other artists and creative professionals.
Don’t be shy. Ask them to sit down and have coffee with you. Ask to visit their studio and then show up and ask more questions! I think artists by nature are naturally curious. Use your curiosity to your advantage. Discover what it is that challenges them in their everyday practice. Find out what their path to success looks like. Explore their studio space like a dectective. Inquire about their techniques, their work flow, and their experiences with exhibitions.
And don’t limit yourself to those within your interests. Some of my most useful interviews have come from people who I initially thought would be outside my areas of interest. I once interviewed a non-profit director who worked with homeless populations. I discovered they had a program that brought homeless men to their organization to create art. Through his story, my interviewee helped me see the importance and benefits of art creation for this underserved group, an idea that stays with me as I dream up areas for growth at Worthwhile Studio.
Finally, if you embark on the challenge of interviewing others, be sure to honor time and expertise with gratitude. A timely, handwritten letter is most memorable. Try to write it as soon as your interview is over to capture the feeling the interview created for you. If you are not the letter-writing kind, then be sure to send a follow up email expressing your gratitude. One way of extending gratitude for an interview is by offering to connect your interviewee to something (another artist, an article you read, or a relevant resource) that might be beneficial to them. Your interview should reveal any potential resources they may find helpfu. Just remember, if you offered any references, connections, or introductions in the interview, be sure to follow through with those promises.
You can find all manner of tutorials on the internet for interviewing people. My recommendation is to do your research on the person you intend to interview. Write your questions based on who they are and what they are passionate about. Ask for their permission if you plan to record your conversation. Let them know who will hear it if at all. Whether you are recording or not, listen intently so you can follow up with pertinent questions. Don’t interrupt. And be yourself.