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.