Appearances matter...

10/10/2016 12:42 pm ET

This fall, Pen + Brush is continuing to team up with experts in both the visual and literary arts to bring our readers a guest blogger series focused on insights, advice and information that will help artists and writers take their work and their careers to the next level.

For our first topic of the season, “Personal branding: Putting your best foot forward,” 21st Century art world game-changer Susan Mumford provides the following advice on why putting care into personal branding does have impact.

Appearances matter...

Like it or not, people pay attention to how you present yourself. Accordingly, as a professional, appearances have impact – good and bad alike – on how others weigh up doing business with you.

I was struck this past week on hearing a story by athlete and celebrity motivational speaker Kriss Akabusi, about how people take notice of appearance, even when you don’t think they’re looking. He has a busy travelling schedule and accordingly, some airport staff in London have come to know him. Though normally donning a suit, he made an exception on one occasion and dressed down. A security team member asked if everything was ok, pointing out that he was dressed differently than the norm. Even when he didn’t think people are looking, they are (yet don’t normally say a peep).

While this isn’t to say that you need to be a sharp dresser when embarking upon a long-haul journey, Kriss’s experience goes to show that human beings are keen observers and make judgements based on the appearances of others. Being mindful of this and acting accordingly can improve how others view you in professional terms.

How do you present your personal brand at social and professional events alike? If you don’t make an effort, others might take this to mean that the event isn’t important to you, and that you don’t care. On the other hand, if you present yourself in a considered manner, you’re confirming with your personal brand that you take the occasion seriously and are attending as a professional.

Bringing this home to the art world, I’ve been privy to the quiet observations of others, in regards to seriously dressed-down art dealers at professional events. Others have made serious yet concerned comments along the lines of, “I think so and so is perfectly capable, but did you see what he was wearing? It looks unprofessional and I’m not sure that others will take him seriously.”

Here’s the sting: Do you think the individuals in question are made aware of this concern? It’s doubtful, for it’s an awkward type of comment to make to a peer. How you present yourself is a personal choice that stands to impact how others view you, good and bad alike.

Some great news is that it’s possible to be professional and authentic. In my early days as an art dealer, I wore outfits with splashes of paint, created by myself. Each garment presented unique creative expression, and much to my surprise, many people assumed that the pieces were high end, if not couture! (They were in fact secondhand dresses and tops, chosen in case they were damaged in the painting process.)

What then about your personal branding? Pay attention to how the presentation of others influences your own perceptions, and bring these views into your conscious mind. This will help you to understand how this is a very real, and human, condition, and that putting care into personal branding does have impact. Have enjoyment building a personal brand that is authentic which will help you flourish.

This article originally appeared on Susan’s blog, Be Smart About Art.

About Susan Mumford

Originally hailing from Arkansas, Mumford now divides her time between London and New York as an entrepreneur, mentor, speaker and author. While running a gallery in Soho, London, she founded the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD), a non-profit trade network with London, New York and virtual chapters, with members dotted around the globe. AWAD’s mission is to facilitate business and collaborations between and for women art dealers. She is also founder of social enterprise Be Smart About Art, which helps art world professionals thrive in a changing industry. In late 2015, her first book was published: Art is your life. Make it your living. Her movements can be followed on Twitter and Periscope at @susanjmumford. Also see: @besmartaboutart @womenartdealers

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