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What I Wish I Had Learned About Art Series

It’s All About The Story/ Pitch/ Sell

Art on its own is only half the creation

Photo by the Author of three space-themed pieces of artwork she has acquired over the years. Each tells a story and she is working on bringing them together to tell a story as well.

Welcome back to my fourth installment in the What I Wish I Had Learned About Art series. So far, we’ve discussed giving your art time to grow, accepting and embracing your art where it is to help you sustain growth, and the fact that it truly is okay to color outside the lines, even on guided art practices.

But today we’ll be going into a secret I’m learning about art. It’s a big one.

There is no wrong way to draw, paint, sculpt, create something. It’s all about the story behind the art.

I know I’ve touched on this before, but it is such an important lesson in art, especially for those of us who have been deemed “unartistic” by others and now ourselves.

Google “famous cat art” or “famous dog art” or “famous house art” or simply “famous art” or anything you would like and just take a second to scroll through the amazing variety of styles and ways to portray a single thing.

These are all famous pieces of artwork, known in their field for being something special, but they are all different. Heck, try looking at abstract or modern art some time to really contort your ideas of what famous art is.

The point is that they are all valid. Ergo, this means that however you draw, paint, sculpt, etc. your subject is valid too. It does not need to be a perfect landscape or portrait.

In fact, the real key in art is the story behind it. What does this painting say? What lessons does this sculpture impart? Rarely is a piece of art simply a representation of the subject with nothing else going on.

Sure, portraits are supposed to simply be a “picture” of someone rich and important from a long time ago when they didn’t have photography. But do you really think the rich patron didn’t have a goal with his portrait besides preserving his/ her likeness? They usually wanted to show their power, wealth, hobbies, and/or impacts on society and there was usually some creative license taken both in the story and even their likeness because who wants every flaw to be preserved in a portrait for the ages?

And the famous ones sit with us for a reason. There’s a story lurking around the edges. A mystery, maybe. There’s something more going on than just someone sitting for a portrait. Take a gander at the two below, taking just a moment to truly look at them despite the fact that you probably have seen them before.

“Mona Lisa,” c. 1503–1516 By Leonardo da Vinci — Cropped and relevelled from File:Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF.jpg. Originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain,

The “Mona Lisa” is probably the most famous portrait around the world currently. So much mystery and intrigue sit behind those eyes and that smile. Who is she? We are beckoned in by her story. And this portrait has a rich history that we won’t go into detail about here, but suffice it to say, if you ever want to go on a journey, consider looking into the history behind this painting. It features plot points such as tracking down her identity and when the painting was stolen from the Louvre, skyrocketing her to fame.

“American Gothic,” 1930 By Grant Wood — 5QEPm0jCc183Aw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

There’s a lot going on in the portrait above. Their gazes. The background. The contrast between the man and the woman. I particularly love what Kelly Richman-Abdou and Margherita Cole bring to light in their MyModernMet article “Discover 10 Famous Portrait Paintings and the Real Life People Who Inspired Them” below:

While Wood intended the pair to represent a father and his daughter, he was open to viewers’ interpretations. “These particulars, of course, don’t really matter,” the artist wrote in a letter in 1941. “What does matter is whether or not these faces are true to American life and reveal something about it.”

Let’s take a quick look at some abstract work to contrast. Let the painting sit with you for a moment to help you figure out what you feel. It’s okay if you’re not sure. I often struggle with figuring out the meaning behind abstract or modern art especially. But see if you can come up with something.

“№7, Adulthood,” 1907 by Hilma af Klint —, Public Domain,

Below is what the official story/meaning/pitch/sell behind this painting is:

“Although she is not as well known as many of the male artists of her time, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was a pioneering abstract artist whose radical paintings predate many of her male contemporaries…. №7, Adulthood is part of Af Klint’s The Ten Largest series. The collection represents the stages of life, including childhood, youth, maturity, and old age. They combine botanical elements and recognizable organic objects that reference birth and growth.” — Margherita Cole in 10 Famous Abstract Paintings Every Art Lover Should Know on My Modern Met

Now, this may not be how you would represent the stages of life (and that’s fine, even perfect!) but can you see any elements at all in the painting that can be construed as symbols of stages of life? The thing about art is that each human has a connection, an experience with it and it will be a little different from person to person, maybe even very different. Not everyone will see it, feel it, experience it exactly as you do and that’s okay.

That’s where the story/ pitch/ sell comes in. I see art descriptions/ labels like these similar to tasting notes for alcohol. The maker often tells you what they put into it, what they taste when they have a sip of their crafted beverage. You may and even probably won’t taste everything in it as they do. And that’s okay. But the tasting notes give you a starting place, a story, a pitch, a sell. (Sidenote: this is why I get so frustrated when art doesn’t have contextual labels and when alcohol doesn’t have tasting notes. I know my experience is the point at the end, but give me a roadmap of what you, the maker, were thinking!)

And this story/ pitch/ sell is so, so important to learn about your art and anything you might create. Whether it’s a piece of art, an idea you’re trying to sell to your boss, an essay you’re writing for your professor, a point you’re trying to make with a partner or a friend, it’s all about the story/ pitch/ sell.

The last two (pitch and sell) often have dirty connotations in today’s world because it implies something underhanded is going on like a used car salesman. But, here, we are using them in the most basic way: trying to convince someone of something.

Explaining your idea clearly, concisely, and with “evidence” to back it up is crucial to so many different projects in our lives. There’s often someone we need to convince that this is the best way to do this, this is a valid argument, etc.

And the sad truth is that not everyone will see your brilliance immediately. Many good ideas go against the standard. Maybe it’s not how your company has handled something like this before. Maybe you’re proposing a new argument in your essay. Maybe this idea isn’t something your partner or friend has considered before. Maybe your art looks a bit different than others, than the norm.

They won’t see it like you do at first glance, just like you probably didn’t see the meaning behind Af Klint’s painting above at first glance.

It’s all about the story/ pitch/ sell.

So, what is your art trying to say? This may be the message you are purposely creating, but it may be simply what is coming out of the artwork anyways. What do you see when you gaze at your art? What message comes through? And see what others think as well. Art can be a unique experience for everyone and someone else may see something different than you do. (It also doesn’t help that we are often our own worst critic.) All of these interpretations can influence the story behind your art.

I hope this most recent installment in the What I Wish I Had Been Taught About Art series helps you embrace your art and find your stories behind them. How do you help find the story in your art? How do you engage with art? Feel free to comment below.

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Sarah Marie

Sarah Marie

Curious Above All Else | Top Writer in Space | A little bit of everything: Science, books, life, self-care, fiction, poetry, nonprofits, and business