The Curse of Knowledge

By Carolyn Edlund

What’s obvious to you might be totally confusing your audience


Made to Stick

Anyone who’s read the excellent and insightful book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath, has heard about the dreaded “Curse of Knowledge” that can stop your communication in it’s tracks – and when you are trying to communicate with potential collectors and customers, that’s not a good thing.

The Curse is based on the fact that you know everything about your business. Of course you do – you created it.

You have more knowledge about what you know than anyone else. And, because you can’t “unlearn” what you know, you make assumptions. Confused yet?

I’ve been noticing the Curse of Knowledge a lot lately, particularly with regard to artists’ websites. Here are some examples:

1.  A photographer who specializes in black and white portraits has an extensive portfolio of work on his website. He knows that, because he put it there. But most of his work is only accessible through one obscure link which isn’t obvious to site visitors. He doesn’t realize that most people never see much of his work.

2.  A gallery owner has a website with very detailed information about their history. In fact, they have practically written a book on their About page, with very long single-space paragraphs. The gallery owner knows that this story is really interesting, because it is familiar and is important to her. She does not realize that it’s boring, intimidating and off-putting to anyone who ends up on that page. 

3.  A greeting card entrepreneur designed a new website for her large collection. She proudly showed it to me. I asked, “Where does it say that you make greeting cards?” Uh-oh. She forgot. Another victim of the Curse.

4.  Have you ever visited a website, where the artist talks about themself, but never gives their name? You have no idea who they are (and most likely they aren’t doing much business.) They don’t even realize this. They’re cursed.

5.  I created a webpage for a workshop one time and forgot to put the price. Why? I already knew how much it was. But I couldn’t un-know the price and look at the page as a newcomer would. I didn’t even notice until it was pointed out to me. Curses!!

The Cure

The best treatment for the Curse of Knowledge is to have someone visit your website for the first time and give you their honest reaction. In fact, if you can get a complete stranger to do this, all the better.

Ask them:

  • Do you clearly understand what this website is about?
  • Do you feel that you know about, and like, the artist as a person?
  • Would you trust the artist?
  • If you liked the artwork, would you feel comfortable making a purchase after viewing this website?
  • What questions do you have that were unanswered?
  • What is most clear, and most unclear, about the artist and their work?
  • Was the contact information easily available to you?
  • Would you recommend that others visit this website?

Fresh eyes on your art website and the frank impressions of your visitors may shock you. You might just find that people don’t perceive your site, your art, or your information the way that you intended. A website rewrite or a call to your webmaster might be your next smart business move.



  1. Carolyn, thank you for suggesting the book. I have seen cases that were presented in this article. Now I must apply questions to my own art website. One thing I felt, I wanted to keep my simple and clean and not overwhelm viewers with too much info. Many times I’ve seen sites where I thought to myself, “TMI, tmi, tmi”.

    Carolyn, when asking someone to review your art website, who do you recommend? Often, people are NOT willing to tell me the truth by just choosing to be nice. And many of other artist colleagues I find are clueless to what’s best for a site. And I find it difficult to know those lines between boring or interesting.

    Okay, off to apply this great info to my art sites.
    Thanks again, Carolyn for another helpful post.
    Allison Reece

    • Allison, Quite often I review an artist’s website during a business consultation, as that is such an important part of the presentation of their work. My suggestion to ask a stranger to review is just to get a sense of what they perceive and what they do not. Then you can determine what is missing, in their experience.

      There are general guidelines to go by, for example, on your About page. Be able to present yourself as a person (with photo) but also understand that your “About” page is about your visitor, too. What value do you offer them? Why should they be interested in buying your work? Be able to understand and deliberately write compelling text that makes an emotional connection with your target audience. This is part of the marketing of yourself as an artist, and is hard work. Getting an outside opinion is essential, in my view.

      I’m currently involved in a major overhaul of this website, and my webmaster/marketing guy is reviewing it for me to give me his honest opinion, and I will be seeking other input as well.

  2. Carolyn,
    Thank you for the very helpful and insightful advice. I’m going to apply this right now!
    Looking forward to your next posts! Keep up the awesome work you do.

  3. so true…and very good advice! i’ve had 3 different people of varying connections give me feedback…it really is a valuable thing to do even if you have to pay someone to look at it. because no matter how meticulous you are, there is always something you missed!!

    i have to check out that book!

    • I got an email from my web guy – “Are you sure? It will cost $100 of my time to review and suggest changes.” Absolutely Yes. Money well spent, I say!

      And definitely do check out the book. It’s one I keep on my bookshelf in my office, where I clear out anything but the most important stuff. It’s that good.

  4. Great article, I always think in terms of being a beginner to the internet, that way whatever i do has to be simple and easy to understand.

    Actually simple is usually always the best way to go.

    • Yes- simple, intuitive and straightforward. I find that the more a visitor has to do in terms of clicking, reading or interpreting, the more you will lose them.

Speak Your Mind