Why does an artist need to know about body language?
If you’re an artist, and even more so if you are not represented by a gallery that is doing the selling for you, you need to know how to sell your own art. If you ever attend art fairs, art talks, or show your work in any public or private setting where other people are present (that is, pretty much every working artist in the world), you need to have an understanding of how body language can influence your potential customers’ interest in your work.
Vanessa Van Edwards, body language expert and founder of Science of People joined us for a podcast on how to sell more art by improving your body language. You can listen to the entire conversation here: How to Talk About Your Art (Even if You’re a Hopeless Introvert.)
We’ve condensed her talk with us down into a few body language basics that you can start improving right now.
What Does Body Language Have to do With Selling?
It’s unlikely that you’re even aware this is happening, but within the first 1/10th of a second of encountering someone in a sales setting, you’ve already determined whether or not you’re willing to purchase from them. Their appearance, the way they carry themselves, and most of all their body language all send signals that your brain is wired to pick up very quickly. This rule is the same when the roles are reversed and you are the one trying to sell your art: if you are sending the wrong signals with your body language, you may be driving off potential customers.
“What’s important for artists to think about is your nonverbal brand. Your work has a brand in itself. It has a feeling, it has a message, but what does your nonverbal brand say? What do the pictures of you on your website say? What do you say when you’re standing next to someone with your clothes, your body language, your facial expressions, your voice tone?” -Vanessa Van Edwards
Not only could your current body language be turning off your potential collectors, but it could actually be increasing your cortisol levels. Cortisol is famously regarded as the “stress hormone”, and the position that an under-confident artist takes in their booth at an art fair: shoulders rounded in, chin down, legs crossed, etc, actually increases cortisol levels, which in turn make you appear to be less likable than you actually are.
“Cortisol makes us think slowly, it lowers our metabolism, it causes us to gain weight, it lowers our immune system. It’s the hormone that we do not want coursing through our bodies when we’re about to sell to a very big client or negotiate with so one. So when you’re sitting like that or standing like that in the very corner of your tent… you’re not only signaling people ‘I don’t feel confident in my work,’ but you’re also feeling less confident in your work because you have stress hormones coursing through your body.” – Vanessa Van Edwards
If you’re reading this and recognizing a description of your own body language, don’t get too worried. You can actually make yourself more approachable and appear more confident with a few simple body language tweaks.
How to Instantly Seem More Confident
The prescriptive antidote to the unconfident body language just described is the universal pride pose. It’s the universal pose used by athletes all over the world when they win a race. You can try it out right now:
- roll your shoulders back
- bring your chin, your chest and your forehead up
- keep your arms and hands nice and loose by your sides
- plant your feet at least hip-width apart
- take a deep breath in as if you’re trying to expand or inflate your body.
How does it feel? When Cory tried it, he said he felt instantly more powerful. And with good reason: within five minutes, this pose actually reduces cortisol levels and increases the release of the body’s strength hormone, testosterone (although it’s primarily identified as a male hormone, testosterone is present in both males and females).
“Instead of seated hunched over or with your arms tightly pinned, I want you to actually think about inflating your body as you stand there. Get a bigger chair with armrests so you can have your arms on them. Sit tall, or stand tall in the back. Don’t feel like you have to give them space to look at your work. They have enough space to look at your work. Roll your shoulders back, keep your hands and arms nice and loose, and have your feet firmly planted. When you do this, you are not only signaling to them, ‘I am competent and confident,’ but you’re also signaling to yourself that you are confident and competent.” – Vanessa Van Edwards
What about Personal Space?
Regarding personal space, there is a general rule of thumb about how much space to give another person depending on the context. The science of personal space, called proxemics, determines that 6 inches from one’s face is intimate space, usually reserved for a romantic partner. Social space, a friendly chat between friends or acquaintances, is about a foot and a half apart. In the close proximity of an art space, which may not allow room for more distance between you and potential customers who don’t know you, the rules change. The most important thing is to respect the 6-inch rule. Moving in closer than 6 inches creates a tension in the amygdala of your customers’ brain, and they will be unable to focus on evaluating your art and deciding whether or not to purchase (in other words, you’ve definitely lost the sale.)
Providing too much space, on the other hand, doesn’t signal that competent confidence that you want to exude. Be sure to cross into the foot-and-a-half or so of social space and lean in a little.
Do I Have to Become an Extrovert?
This is the next big question asked by artists who identify as introverts. Do you need to change who you are on a fundamental level just to sell your art? The answer is a resounding no! You can exude confidence without being an extrovert. As Vanessa Van Edwards puts it,
“ Everyone should have their own unique brand of charisma. For you that might be a kind of quiet power. For someone else it might be a kind of bubbly extroversion. Whatever that is, there are tools, nonverbal tools that you can learn and adapt, so you practice them and they turn into muscle memory.”
Once you know your unique value proposition, using an increased awareness of your body language to portray a sense of confidence and competence will drastically increase your chances of selling your art in person whether it’s in a gallery, at a show or art fair, or in a potential collector’s home. If you’d like to learn more about how to expand your business and interpersonal skills with better body language, you can check out Vanessa’s courses at her website: Science of People.