The art of interviewing
July 14, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

How would I to learn how to conduct interviews? (not the employment kinds)

I really enjoy meeting people, and I'm curious and inquisitive about how different people live their lives, the types of things that they're interested in, the choices that they make. I also love art, especially conceptual art, whether it's visual or performance. I am really interested in the process of making art. So, lately I've been thinking that it'd be interesting to combine these things together: to begin interviewing artists and then compiling the interviews into articles for others to read and learn from.

So, how would I learn how to conduct interviews? I'm sure practicing the art of interviewing will be the best way to learn. But, how would I learn basic technique? Like, how to approach people and convince them to participate? What logistics are involved? What does the subject expect? How to record the interview in ways that are non-invasive but productive? How to compile and edit the results into something interesting? Those types of things...
posted by TheOtherSide to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a bit of the same mind as you, though I haven't acted on it as of yet. That said, one couldn't go wrong just listening to and reading anything by Studs Terkel. He's interviewed all sorts of people, including many, many artists, so you can see how he approaches different types of people. See if you can find interviews of him by others; he's been on NPR and Pacifica Radio quite a lot over the years.

He especially had an interesting way of making his subjects comfortable through his natural ineptitude with recording devices. Basically he had no mechanical aptitude and through his fumbling and occasional assistance by his interviewees he made them feel like the device wasn't such a big deal and they'd relax.

He's also provides great reading without studying him as well as a huge slice of history you don't often see through other sources.
posted by a_green_man at 6:24 PM on July 14, 2010

You might find this comment by smoke useful
posted by rollick at 6:25 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

A classic text on this topic is Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. It addresses the questions you are posing, such as recruitment, to tape or not to tape, writing it up, etc. Although aimed at academic researchers, I think it gives a good systematic overview of all aspects of the interviewing process, and so would be a good starting point.
posted by needled at 6:33 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

The nice thing about wanting to interview artists, as opposed to random bystanders on the street, is that artists usually want to be interviewed.

I can't give you any advice on the interview process itself, but it should be pretty easy for you to find artists and get access to them. If you visit a gallery where the work intrigues you, you can either ask a staff member for contact information for the artist or where "media inquiries" should be directed. Usually they like to hear the name of a publication or something that makes you sound like not an axe murderer. But I find that just name-dropping my blog will impress people and convince them I'm a Serious Writer. Saying you're working on a book or working on a collection of essays would probably work equally well.
posted by Sara C. at 7:00 PM on July 14, 2010

The few times I've done something similar to this, I was pretty upfront and just said: "I want to interview you about ____, because ____; and if you don't mind, I'd like to record it so that I don't get your words twisted."

And if you need some decent examples, listening to Fresh Air on NPR can't hurt. Sometimes the questions are a little stale, but many times Terry Gross manages to get some really interesting points out of people by asking the simplest of questions.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 8:05 PM on July 14, 2010

I'm a public radio host and producer. Most of what I do is interviewing, and at one point I decided to write up a post of lessons I've learned from interviewing for people in just your situation. Here it is. I'd be interested to know if it helps at all.
posted by colinmarshall at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2010

(I will add that I can answer any specific questions you might have about the mechanics and logistics of interviewing. You might also be interested in talking to MeFi user "youngamerican", a.k.a. Jesse Thorn of PRI's The Sound of Young America.)
posted by colinmarshall at 10:51 AM on July 15, 2010

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