Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Make a Living as an Artist

By Charles Kessler

I recently came across a couple of useful and insightful books about the art world. I'll be writing about Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton in a future post, but for now I want to report on Jackie Battenfield's The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love.

I know this is problematic for a lot of artists. I recently wrote about how we are all conflicted about making money on our art, including (maybe especially) successful artists. But we all need to get our work out to a larger audience in order to participate in the fine art conversation of our time, and this book can help.

The book convinced me of the value of artists' statements in promoting work. I hate artists' statements. They're usually pompous -- silly even -- poorly written and useless; but the book shows how to write one that won't make you gag. Here are some of her tips:
  • It is much better to write simply about what you know and use words and phrases from everyday language.
  • Is this writing specific to my work, or could this statement be applied to many other artists?
  • Eliminate words like unique (all works of art are unique -- it’s a given);  first (you may be wrong); and only (probably not, and hard to prove).
  •  Refrain from informing viewers how they should feel, be moved, challenged, or changed by experiencing your work.
  • Compose your statement with a sympathetic friend in mind who is genuinely interested in the work and wants to know more about it.
  • Instead of defining your work by what it is not, simply state what it is.
Because it's important, she has two chapters on networking: Your Best Allies: Your Network of PeersHow to Build a Community to Survive Being Alone. There's a chapter with viable advice on Generating Your Own Opportunities including information on open studios, art registries, public art, working with other artists, and creating a website and/or your own blog (hey no -- forget that one). and

Some other practical advice and information:
  • Consider, outside of your peers, whom you want to see your work and why.
  • Promoting your work requires you to be assertive. It does not mean you are impolite, disrespectful of others, or inappropriately aggressive.
  • There’s an exhibition checklist.
  • There's a chapter on how to price your work.
  • And finally, toward the end of the book, she offers this sage advice: If I’m not being regularly rejected, it means I’m not pursuing opportunities.
By the way, there are several blogs and websites listed on the right sidebar here under the heading "Downloads and Resources." Especially worth mentioning in this respect are:
Edward Winkleman, an art dealer and one of my favorite bloggers. He compiled several posts into a section called "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation." This is valuable advice from the horse's mouth.
New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). Topics include: fundraising, insurance, legal, marketing and web site development.

Charles Kessler is an artist and writer based in Jersey City.

1 comment:

kyle gallup said...

Thanks for this post. I'm applying for a NYFA grant at the moment and this is a great reminder. It's really tough out there right now!