How to Talk About Your Art (when talking about your art is awkward)




“Great Egret” 12×12, oil on canvas, $150 [button link=”″ type=”big”] Buy Now[/button]

Yesterday evening I found myself at the beach house, which is a great sentence until the part where I tell you the beach house is just a Mandeville restaurant with mediocre food. I, along with many Northshore parents go for one reason and one reason alone– the oversized, fenced-in sandbox where children who would otherwise demand constant attention can roam and play with only the occasional “Stop doing that!” “Be nice”, “Hey!”

It’s actually quite magical despite its less-than-delicious tacos and so-so margaritas. I was there with some friends and our children. We talk mostly about the kids, but this time I also talked about work– lamenting my often contradictory state of being overjoyed to have a lot of business and stressed because the bird paintings come more easily and are more fulfilling than the commissions (of which I’ve currently got about a million I need to finish by Thanksgiving).  Good problem to have, I know.

What!? You want to know why I choose to paint certain things!? Ludicrous.

My friend who is painfully direct and no-nonsense says, “So what’s with the birds?” And that’s when I felt the insecurity I’ve suppressed for so long. All the art websites and podcasts I follow discuss artists not being able to talk or write about their work. “We are a visual people” goes the mantra. I’ve always been confident in my verbal abilities and felt a certain dismissiveness towards my inarticulate peers– clearly I have the advantage. That is, until my friend (not a stranger, not the president, and not an wildly successful artist or gallery owner, but an extremely non-threatening personal friend) asked me about me birds, and I crumbled into a tiny puddle of sloppy verbal waste.

“Uh, do you read my blog?” I asked as though somehow the internet could save me. “No.” she replied. I knew she didn’t read it; I’d only asked to buy some time.

I’ve been writing about the birds for a while, and although I never go back and read any of my old posts, I imagine that I’ve offered some touchy-feely sentiments that may or may not contradict one another at any given time.

I quickly fumbled through an answer that involved pelicans and living on Bayou St. John, about texture and color more than subject matter, but a few sentences in, and I wasn’t sure I even believed what I was saying.

And today I’m posting this painting of this bird as I replay “What’s with the birds?” over and over again in my head, hoping perhaps in my imagination I will give a more satisfactory answer.

I think more than anything, when answering casual questions about what feels to be your entire life’s work, it’s important to be two things: honest and well-rehearsed. I think a better answer for my friend would have been something along the lines of the following:

“That’s a great question. I’m not one hundred percent sure why and on different days I think I like them for different reasons. There’s the flight factor– their ability to transport quickly and gracefully. I’m also interested in all the references to them in scripture and literature. It started with pelicans– when I lived in New Orleans, I found the pelicans flying overhead on my way to work comforting.  Life was rough then and for whatever reason pelicans gave me a sense of peace and security.”

I have a feeling I’ll keep revising that statement but not because I think it needs to sound more eloquent but because I think I need to keep thinking about it.  If I’m lucky people will keep asking me why I paint what I paint.  And if it becomes too much, I can always find respite at the beach house.




Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

October 30, 2014

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One Response

  1. Enjoyed your website and blog, which I stumbled on from viewing your Painting with a Twist profile. May your good work continue!

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