In my last blog post we looked at different ways for established artists to get noticed. This process is known as "getting on the radar." Today we will take a look at the next level, which I call "making it."
If you're just joining this discussion, you can catch up by downloading my free handout below. It shows four levels of exhibition opportunities available to artists, presented as a staircase. You can also find blog posts about each level.
Stages of an Art Career (52 KB)
Use the staircase to figure out where you are right now in your art career, and where you want to go. The opportunities listed at each level will help you become an artist whose name and work people start to recognize. As you put yourself out there, you gradually build your career.
At the higher levels, the first thing to remember is that the kind of art you make matters. In the contemporary art world right now, artists receive attention for breaking new ground. Their art often explores social, political, or aesthetic ideas. They use their medium in new and experimental ways. Artists are recognized for combining and collapsing the boundaries of traditional media. This work is experimental and interdisciplinary in the broadest sense of the term.
At the higher levels, gallery representation becomes important because of what a good gallery can do for you. They can give you a solo show of new work every few years, present your art to collectors, and take your work to the national and international art fairs. If your gallery is well connected, your work will be reviewed in art magazines and shown in museums.
Another key factor in "making it" is your network. Artists get ahead through their contacts with curators, gallerists, museum directors, arts writers, and other leaders. These people often nominate artists for the major awards and fellowships.
Since these opportunities are announced and some even solicit applications, you might think it is an open process, but often a short list exists where well-known artists are invited to apply. Before you spend valuable time applying for a Guggenheim, research the artists who were awarded the Fellowship in the last few years. You will find that they have very strong resumes and are well connected. If you're ready for a residency but don't yet have such credentials, apply for the many fine residencies that are open to applications. (See the Alliance of Artist Communities for a comprehensive list.)
Many artists think that they need an MFA to succeed in the art world. Having the degree will help your career primarily because of the contacts you make. The faculty at art schools often know the people at galleries, museums, art publications, etc. Their contacts are not just local but reach across the country. They meet each other at conferences, travel to art fairs, read art magazines, and stay on top of trends. Sometimes they can introduce you to a gallery, recommend you for an award or residency, or promote your work to a curator or writer.
If you are already an established artist, don't think you have to go back to school for an MFA. Concentrate on building your reputation by using your own network of relationships.
So far I've been describing a traditional, even old-fashioned path towards "making it" in the art world. Today you have alternative ways to succeed, depending on your goals. Many excellent artists have established themselves entirely through their online presence, including active use of social media to promote themselves and their work. Other artists are successful by selling their work on Etsy, or on home décor sites, or through licensing agents and art consultants.
Alternative art fairs have popped up in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, so that individual artists without gallery representation have a chance to participate. Often these events run parallel to the major art fairs, and add fresh energy.
So, think about it. What does "making it" mean to you? Then begin to take the first small steps on your own path.
All the best,
I'm a Career & Life Coach for artists and other creative people. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area but work with artists throughout the U.S. and all over the world.
If you’d like to schedule a time to talk, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you get on the radar of the Art World?
We've been talking about four levels of exhibition opportunities available to artists, presented as a staircase.
Stages of an Art Career (52 KB)
Look at the various levels to figure out where you are right now in your art career, and where you want to go. By taking advantage of these opportunities you become an artist whose name and work people begin to recognize. As you become more visible you will move on to the next level, so that you gradually build your career as an artist.
Today we're looking at Level Three, which I call "Getting on the Radar." When you read the announcements of artists chosen for major art awards, you'll see that a small number of well-known artists seem to get picked. Check out the artists selected for the Artadia Awards, for example, or the Whitney Biennial. Google their names to find their resumes, and you'll see how they got there. None is an unknown artist who came "out of the blue." They were already on the radar of the Art World.
So what you do to get noticed? The first thing to remember is that galleries, critics, curators and magazine writers want to "discover" artists, rather than be bombarded by your marketing campaign. Most decision-makers in the art world ignore emails from artists they don't already know.
The opportunities listed in Level Three are legitimate ways for you to get on the radar. Let's start with group shows at local or regional museums. Often these venues have member programs for local artists, where you can join for a fee and become eligible for "member shows." Make sure these are juried, so that the quality remains high. Also check to see if they sponsor national juried shows. While they are harder to get in, these exhibitions are often juried by a prominent curator or gallery owner, so your work becomes visible to them. Some museums also review artists' proposals for solo exhibitions.
Another way to access museum shows is through your professional art organization, like Oil Painters of America, the National Sculpture Society, the National Watercolor Society, etc. These organizations partner with museums (and sometimes galleries) to sponsor juried shows for their members. While these exhibitions are highly competitive, they give you access to major museums who wouldn't otherwise know about you. Sometime these exhibitions travel to a number of different venues.
College and University galleries are another great place for you to find Level Three opportunities. Start with those in your state or region, as these galleries often feature local artists. They attract a serious audience because of their affiliation with an educational institution, and curators and gallerists pay attention to what is shown there.
Some commercial galleries offer exhibition opportunities for artists. These galleries do not take submissions from artists, but use an "open call" to survey a large group of artists whose work they might not otherwise see. Be highly selective in responding to these open calls. Only submit to galleries where you see a good fit with your own work. Take a look at the artists shown on the gallery's website. What do they have in common? Is there a particular look (often called their "aesthetic") or a conceptual focus? If your own work doesn't match their interests, do not apply to these calls.
Your social media presence is another good way for you to get on the radar. Many artists are using Instagram to heighten their visibility. It is important to be regular and consistent in your posting, and to build your art story over time. Do follow the galleries and museums you admire. Feel free to "like" and comment on what they are doing, but do not post your own work on their wall. Your genuine interest will gradually make your name familiar to them.
Finally, get out there in the real world of art, whenever and however you can. Go to openings, visit museum exhibitions, talk to other artists, visit your friends at open studios. You never know who you might meet and what you will learn.
Next time we'll take a look at Level Four opportunities, which I call "Making It."
All the best,
I'm a Career & Life Coach for artists and other creative people. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area but work with artists throughout the U. S.and all over the world.