Thanks for sending your questions. For today’s blog post, I’ve chosen two that suggest the range of personal and professional dilemmas artists face. The first question is about how to select juried shows to enter; the other asks what to do when your own creativity seems to have disappeared.
I’m an artist photographer who has returned to art after a career in online media. In the last year, I have gotten into three juried shows, so I’m encouraged. I’m following your advice and entering three or four competitions each month, but I’m starting to think about how to be selective in doing so. Having been in a business where awards programs are a pretext for ways to earn money, I’m aware that competitions can exist solely to collect fees. My question is, what filters should I use in deciding which competitions to enter?
Congratulations on getting into those juried shows! It is never easy. As you know, there are too many contests and competitions for photographers, so I agree that you need to choose carefully.
The best filters are tied to your own goals. For example, if you are trying to build a reputation as a fine art photographer, then you’ll want to consider the “call for entries” from the major photography nonprofit organizations, such as Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, or the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. While these shows are hard to get into, they raise your visibility in the art world.
I would also advise you to enter shows where the jurors are named. This makes it more likely that it is a genuine competition, rather than just a fund-raising effort. Be sure to check out the jurors’ credentials. For contests, look at images of past winners to see the kinds of work they are looking for. Do you admire these photographers? Could you see your work alongside them?
Don’t rule out competitions where the winners appear only online. These days people find you online, and such visibility can direct visitors to your website.
I have lost my creativity because of pain issues and I really want to get back into the life that I enjoy. I know people say art can help with depression, but I need a push to start. I also need to stop being a perfectionist and worrying about what other people think of my art.
I’m sorry to hear that you are in pain, but your creativity is still an essential part of you. Think of yourself as a perennial plant in a winter garden. Your deep roots of creativity are alive and ready to reawaken, even after a long dormant period.
I know it is difficult to get started again, especially when pain is draining your energy. Slowly return to the life you enjoy. Work on a personal art project. Perhaps you could make a gift for a friend or family member, using their birthday or anniversary as your deadline. Slowly get back into your daily studio practice, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day.
Try to silence, or at least ignore, the “other people” in your head who express negative thoughts and doubts about your work. These voices represent your inner critic, who keeps you stuck by saying that the work has to be perfect before you begin.
Even when you’re in good health, making art can be a lonely business. Living with pain can turn you inward, so start reaching out to other people. You might volunteer to teach a young student, or give feedback to another struggling artist. Whenever you feel isolated or alone, share your talents with others. Let your art help you heal. If won’t happen immediately, or even quickly, but it is time to begin.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I’m a Career & Life Coach for Artists. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but work with artists throughout the United States and all over the world. If you would like to send in a question or schedule a time to talk about your own goals, please write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s on your mind?
Do you have a question about your art practice, but don’t know who to ask?
Here’s your opportunity!
In the next few blog posts I am answering artists’ questions. If you would like your own question to be considered, please send it to: email@example.com.
Here are three recent questions from artists.
How do you know when to suggest that an artist try a new medium, instead of staying with safe, familiar materials?
- Needing Something New
The answer to your question is hiding in the words you choose to ask it. When you describe your materials as safe and familiar, it probably means that you are no longer growing or challenging yourself. Try to remember what it felt like when you first created the art that now seems so predictable. Were you experimenting and having fun? Did you have any idea how it would all turn out?
Try to recapture that spirit. Play with new approaches to familiar themes. Find out what excites you now. You might want to make a number of subtle changes in your technique, or perspective, or color palette, instead of shifting to a whole new medium. When you let your work develop slowly and organically, your art will reveal what it wants to become.
Since I’m an introvert, it is difficult for me to talk with people at shows and other events. I know it’s important to connect with people, but it is just so hard for me! How can I get better at this?
Many artists need help learning how to talk about their art, but introverts and extroverts face opposite challenges. Extroverts enjoy interacting with people because it gives them energy. For introverts, solitude is your energy source, and too much social stimulation can be overwhelming.
Before a social event, spend time alone planning what you hope to communicate. Make notes, and then practice with a friend or in front of a mirror. Repeat a few key phrases about your art. What is it about? Why do you make it? You might look at your artist statement for inspiration.
When someone talks to you at a social event, don’t get serious right away. Introverts tend to think that “small talk” is a waste of time. But talking small about travel or children or hobbies helps you learn about the big stuff: people’s interests, tastes, and circumstances. You will discover how to connect your art with their lives.
Remember, extroverts don’t always have an easy time of it. Their love of talk makes them so relaxed in social settings that they lose focus. I recently overheard an artist talking about her dog to a dog-loving gallery owner. She got so enthusiastic she forgot to mention her art.
As an introvert, you should try to speak with people one or two at a time. If you get overwhelmed, take a break. Get a glass of water and breathe for a few minutes. Look at your notes, calm yourself, and go back into the fray. Practice will build your confidence.
How can I focus on doing one thing well? I tend to be very scattered and do a number of different things. Do I focus on spending time in the studio, or making art products, or taking online classes, or giving workshops, or . . . what?
- All Over the Place
Dear All Over,
Artist never do only one thing, but it sounds like you are juggling a number of activities without knowing how they all fit together. The source of all this work, of course, is YOU. What do you want to be known for? What is your primary purpose? If you could spend a day doing only one thing, what would it be?
Try this exercise. On a big piece of paper, create a small picture of every art activity that takes your time. Sketch them or use an image clipped from a magazine. Then draw lines and arrows to show how each effort connects with the others. Your messy diagram should start to reveal a pattern. How many of the arrows lead to the same activity? This is your core. It might be teaching, or selling, or the art-making itself. Notice the outliers, where the activity isn’t connected to anything else. This might be the effort that has outlived its usefulness.
When you identify the core of your work, try spending twice as much time on it every day. Do this for a week, and see how you feel. You will be strengthening the heart of your art practice, and less important activities will fall away.
What’s Your Question?
Please send me a question that has been on your mind recently. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I’m a Career & Life Coach for Artists. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but work with artists throughout the United States and all over the world.
I've been writing this blog post since January, covering topics from my workshops and coaching practice. The first ten posts were all about what successful artists do every day. The next five talked about four levels of opportunity for artists who are following a career path in the Big Art World.
Now I'd like to shift gears, with your help. Please send me your questions. Just imagine that we are talking together, in your studio or at a coffee shop, or on the telephone. What do you really want to know? I will collect your questions and begin to answer them in my next blog post.
Here are two questions artists asked me recently.
A friend of mine came to the opening reception of my new show. She said she loved my paintings, and then she said: "You know, I would buy one, but my walls are full!" She has a big house and lots of money. I didn't know what to say.
When someone says their walls are full, they make it sound like they are ending the conversation. You want to keep it going and help them think beyond their automatic reply. Your friend is thinking of art as heavy furniture, where changing the location is a big job. Most art actually weighs little. People just don't think about rearranging their art, and so they stop seeing what they used to love.
Here are some responses you might try:
"What do you do when your closet is full?"
"Do you ever loan out items from your collection to people who can't afford to buy art?"
"If you had someone to help you, how would you rearrange your art?"
Remember, always ask questions. When you make suggestions, most people respond by telling you why that won't work. You want to help people come up with their own ideas. Somebody who loves your art, and knows their own space, is in the best position to find a place for it.
How do I stay motivated? I have plenty of inspiration and lots of work to do, but some days I just don't feel like going into my studio.
- Don't Feel Like it
Be thankful that you have plenty of inspiration, but remember that art-making isn't a linear process. Creativity happens in unpredictable rhythms and unlikely places. When you don't feel like going into the studio, go somewhere else to see if you can find fresh energy.
Put yourself in motion. Meet a friend for a walk, and talk about your art in a positive way. Describe how you imagine your work living out in the world. Sometimes talking to a sympathetic listener reminds you of what your art is all about.
You might also take a fresh look at that studio you don't want to visit and see what needs to be changed. Don't make yourself crazy with a complete renovation project, but maybe your creative space needs more light, or music, or a new way to organize materials. Remember that artists are visual thinkers, so the look and feel of your surroundings has a powerful impact on your motivation.
And sometimes you just need to take a break. Your creative brain will still be working while you are playing, and soon you'll be ready to make art again.
What's Your Question?
Please send me a question that has been on your mind recently. Send it to email@example.com. I will choose a few questions to answer in my next blog post.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I'm a Career & Life Coach for Artists. I'm based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but work with artists throughout the United States and all over the world.