In an effort to further their support of artists, Bluecanvas has embarked on an additional avenue of service - an artist career advice column. This series of articles will offer insider-art world and proof-in-the-pudding planning tips to help steer artists' careers on a happy and productive course. And I am honored to be your artsy captain.
My mission with these articles is to get you artistic types thinking productively on your own behalf; my objective is not to hand you a fish but to teach you how to fish. As there's not a shortage of artists out there, my aim is to edify you on being a smarter artist so you stand out among the pack in how you negotiate your career dealings.
For nearly 15 years, I have worked with countless artists in myriad capacities -as the executive director of a visual art nonprofit, director of a gallery, independent curator, art writer, and art consultant. I have given hundreds of workshops and lectures on the business of art, and recently wrote a book on the subject. (I am also an exhibiting artist.)
I've developed an acute sensitivity to your needs, questions, concerns, and quagmires. The advice I proffer is based on my experience of your experience, as well as adapted from my professional dealings working with artists on the other side of the equation - as a gallery director, curator, and art consultant. This will be in best evidence when I write about creating your optimal portfolio, website, and approaching galleries in future MAAC articles. But I'll begin with the basics.
Since this column is for and about you, I also invite you to drop me a line as to what issues you would like to have covered in MAAC. If you send me a question or topic I think can pan out to a productive piece, I will respond here in writing.
I'll kick off the series by starting with the brass tacks: begin treating your art career like a business. And please don't let the words "art" and "business" being uttered concurrently ruffle your feathers. Yes, you are a creative type, but you can be both creative and savvy. It's to your advantage.
I guarantee that suffusing your efforts with a dose of business savvy (and common sense) will lead to career leaps and bounds. I've seen it happen over and over, and all it takes is a slight shift in and fine-tuning of how you approach your career. Also, being business-like about your career also honors both you and your work – you deserve to take your art career seriously and have others take you seriously, yes?
What does "treating your career like a business" mean? In short, it is a matter of:
Adding business-like focus to your efforts will help you better determine how and where to invest your time, energy, and money. It will move you along faster than you thought possible, as well as eliminate career-path meandering. The elusive art world will become more manageable. Opportunities that have been there all along will become apparent. Clarity is good like that.
So, friends - what is it that you want for your art career?
Of course you say, "I want to show and sell my art." But here's the deal; that answer is not enough. You need to be more specific: Where do you want to show? In what types of venues? How often? Locally? Nationally? Internationally? In group shows, solo shows, museum shows, at nonprofit alternatives spaces? What's best for your art?
Creating specific career goals is critical on so many levels: knowing what you want will determine your course, actions, and how you present your work including your portfolio and website. It will also guide you on assessing the vital relationships you'll need to establish. When you start thinking about your career in more pragmatic, goal-oriented terms it will also clarify how you can most effectively utilize your past and present to cultivate a fruitful future.
To set career goals, spend time thinking about your past - what have you accomplished so far? What has worked out in your favor and what aspects of your career would you like to have enhanced? Then contemplate your future – affirm what you really want for your career. Say it in your outside voice even if at the moment your ambitions may seem lofty or pie-in-the-sky. If you want to show in museums, state that. If you want your art to travel the world, then assert that you want to show in galleries in Madrid, Berlin, and London. If you can't dream it for yourself no one else can; well, they can but it's you who matters here.
Write down all your goals. It's a very productive and energizing exercise. Plus statistics say writing down your goals increases your chances of achieving them. But wait, there's more; if you can share your goals other people can assist you. So what are you waiting for?
Bear in mind: It's (really, really) important that your goals are in concert with the type of work that you do. It's essential that you get in touch with your art. If you can't ship your work, a show in Milan might not be the best plan for now. If you want to exhibit in high-profile, cutting edge galleries but you paint traditional landscapes, that's probably not the right match. If next year you want to net $10,000 from your art but it retails for $150 per piece, that's not terribly feasible; start with more practical money goals and aim to build your market so you can raise your prices. Think big, but also be realistic in relationship to your here-and-now so you don't create undue frustration for yourself. Start with where you are and build from there.
Think about your art:
Assess the present state of your artwork:
Also consider your current relationship with the art world. Take career inventory:
I also recommend taking some personal inventory: Celebrate your successes while checking into what's been holding you back (if anything). Do you have negative feelings about the art world that are (actually just defense mechanisms) creating stumbling blocks? Are you contending with hypothetical what-if scenarios that are keeping you in your studio, like "what if a gallery wants to change my creative vision?" Well, if you don't a have a gallery right now then this is not a current problem. It's natural to harbor some career trepidations; that's human. But if you don't deal with them, trust me; they'll crop up in how you present your work. Talk to other artists about your concerns – you'll find you are not alone and that right there takes some of the pressure off.
Also keep in mind that every problem has a solution. Don't know about the art world? Then educate yourself on its scenes, people, and trends by reading art magazines in print or online; visit galleries, art centers, museums, and alternative venues in person or online. Don't know how to talk about your work? Start reading other artists' statements; go to artist lectures at your local museum or art center. Don't know if your work is resolved? Join an artist association's peer review group. Take positive actions to bolster your knowledge, which will in turn pump up your confidence.
Once you've set your goals, you then need to make the plans on how to achieve them. Work your goals backwards and think them through step-by-step: if you want X, how you will get X? What résumé will you need to build? What types of venues will you need to show with? Which curators, gallery dealers, art writers and critics need to notice your work? How will you connect with them?
Break your plans down into the immediate and distant future - where do you want to be in three- six months, a year, two years and so on? A short-term goal can include starting to promote your work by developing a website and email list for its debut announcement. A longer-term goal can be exhibiting in a group show at a gallery of interest; in the short-term, start researching which galleries' programs are amenable to your work. When you have outlined your plans, align your actions and activities accordingly.
Marketing is a huge component of realizing your goals – connecting and keeping in touch with your audience on a consistent basis. However you can't market your work until you know who you are marketing to and why. For that reason we start with goals; I'll save marketing for another article. You have enough with this one to chew on for a while.
Rest assured that you don't have to swallow everything right now this very minute; baby-steps are great. Again, start with where you are. As the old adage portends: Don't put the cart before the horse. It's all good.
Till next time.