Welcome to the second installment of McLean's Artist Advice Corner. Introduced in the last issue of BLUECANVAS, this series is aimed at providing you, our fine artist readers, practical advice and insider tips to help you more effectively navigate your artistic endeavors. If you missed the first installment you can find it online on BLUECANVAS's website. I humbly suggest you give it a read as I am laying out the MAAC articles sequentially, each one informing the next.
To briefly recap, I began this series with career advice one-oh-one: spend some quality time deciding what you (really) want for your art career, AKA setting goals. Goals provide you a tangible destination that will guide your route–where you submit and show your work, how you promote it and to whom, and the associations and relationships you need to develop. And the more specific you are the better. Bringing focus to your efforts is an awesome tool, one that will most certainly expedite your progress.
In the last article I also emphasized how essential it is to ensure that your goals are in concert with your work. As you weave your dreams, spend equal time evaluating your work– its subject matter, style, concept, intention, unique expression of your media of choice, and its place within the ever-evolving trends of the art world. A solid relationship with your art not only makes for stronger more resolved work; it guides you on assessing your best audience, which brings me to the MACC topic du jour.
In order to make head-way in your art career, you have to promote your work. In order to properly promote your work you have to know your audience. And as much as you love your work, "everyone" is not your audience. Your work has a niche; you should find your tribe. Having a handle on your intended audience will also determine how you promote your work - your presentation style (portfolio and website) and the language you use to describe it (artist statement). I'll write about this later in a subsequent MACC article. First things first.
I think of your "audience" as three-fold: 1. Your general enthusiasts, supporters, and current collectors; 2. The people who need to see your work in order to advance your goals; and 3. Where your art fits into the (national and/or global) art market based on your work's subject matter, media, style, palette, size, technique, and price point. While each grouping is important, I am going to begin with discussing the second one.
For one and three above, you'll think about who would dig your work. For number two, consider who needs to dig it? Which art dealers and gallery directors, curators, art writers, critics, collectors, and art consultants? These folks are the people who can help you reach your goals. You want them to notice and champion your work.
Devise your audience in a sort of flow chart, connect-the-dot- manner: If you want to show in Venue X (museum/alternative/nonprofit space), who are their affiliated curators? What artists have shown there and do you know any of them? (It's all about introductions, Friends). What galleries represent these artists? Who is that gallery's director? What artists show at that gallery (whom you might know)? Since art reviews also beget art world credibility, add press to the mix–what critics and writers would groove on your work based on their aesthetic penchants? What venues seem to attract their attention? And so on and so forth. You get the idea.
How do you figure out who these folks are? In a nut shell - research. And lucky for you, the internet is your friend. Dedicate a few hours a week to surfing online local, national, and international museum shows; reading the major papers' cultural sections; checking out art magazines' and their reviews (also look at their ads' pretty pictures to get an idea of who is showing what); and cruising credible art blogs. Besides being an enjoyable and edifying undertaking, this small investment will go a long way; within a few short weeks you will absolutely have a better idea of who's-who in the art world. Educate and empower yourself.
Pinpointing your must-have relationships allows you to start planning on how you'll hook up with them. The art world is a small one, trust me. People are more accessible than you realize – curators and dealers jury art shows and art writers sit on panels and give talks at museums. I don't recommend stalking anyone (physically or electronically), but getting yourself out there –to gallery and museum openings, talks, tours, and events- affords you the possibility of meeting and greeting with the people you should have in your life. It's called networking. Networking, Ladies and Germs, is your most important job; like any world, the art world is all about who you know.
Since your audience won't necessarily come knocking on your studio door, they will need to find you by association –the online/print publications featuring your work (like BLUECANVAS!), the artists you show with and the venues you show in. Decide which venues are most suited to your art and audience – fine art or commercial galleries, alternative or nonprofit spaces? Start in your own backyard – what local municipal opportunities will provide exposure to the bigger fish in bigger ponds? What shows and venues are stepping-stones that will both build the appropriate résumé and offer exposure to your future art world BFFs?
There's no shortage of opportunity to show your work, however, be selective about where you show. Every show involves laying out time and energy. While it might feel uncomfortable to pass on a chance to show your work, your primary criterion should be what's in your immediate best interest. Maybe you pass on that monthly, local group show in order to spend time researching next-step exhibitions, submitting show proposals, networking, updating your website, or submitting your work to galleries.
Properly positioning yourself for quality face-time with your desired audience is not meant to siphon the fun and spontaneity out of your career. That's not my point. You should have fun, loads of it! Participate in shows that make you happy! I am, however, encouraging you to add a little practicality in your hunt for opportunity. I hear artists lament (a lot) that while they show in tons of exhibits they feel they are missing that next step; adding purpose to your efforts allows you to see the forest through the exhibition trees, and frees you from feeling stuck in the woods.
As I am spatially curtailed by word-count, I'll cover determining where you fit into the art market, including determining your ideal galleries and expanding your audience, in the next article. If you have some burning career-related issues you'd also like me to address, please feel free to shoot me an email. If it's something I feel I can tackle for the greater good, I'll do just that.
Onwards and upwards!
Here are some resources that publish calls-for-art and exhibition opportunities. Again, be selective! Juried opportunities come with submission fees so make sure the venue and jurors suit your schemes. Don't waste your pennies. Also research venues online–who they cater to, where they are located and if it's accessible, the caliber of shows they host, if they are credible - and figure out the jurors' credentials and sensibility based on their professional affiliations and shows they are curated. Also ask your fellow artist pals about resources.
Also check out opportunities through your local Cultural Affairs Department and municipal gallery. They may also have an artist registry that houses images and info on local artists made available to curators and other arts professionals. If there is a fee, find out what you are offered for your money. Also keep your artist file updated!