Hello! Welcome to my blog, “Left Brain Skills for Right Brained People”.
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.
This time I’m sharing a new handout describing four levels of exhibition opportunities that roughly correspond to stages in an art career. You can print it out below.
Stages of an Art Career (52 KB)
I’ve arranged the opportunities in the form of a staircase.
Level One: Gaining Experience & Exposure
Level Two: Building a Resume
Level Three: Getting on the Radar
Level Four: "Making It"
The stages are shown as steps in a staircase because the art world is hierarchical even though things may seem to happen in a random way. For example, you’ll only be invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial after you’ve gotten on the radar of the Big Art World. You probably won’t interest a gallery until you’ve become visible and have had some experience exhibiting and selling your work.
Keep in mind that these levels are not absolute. They describe a common progression, but it is OK to be exhibiting your work at different levels at the same time. You might be in a number of juried shows at nonprofit art venues and also participate in a group show at a college or university gallery. Notice too that your own web presence will increase your visibility at all stages of your career.
The levels are also useful as a diagnostic tool. They might show you when you’ve reached a plateau and are ready to move on to the next level. Each level teaches you essential skills and attracts the attention of new audiences.
Gaining Experience & Exposure (Level One)
If you are just starting out, or restarting after a career in another field (or another life), take advantage of the opportunities listed in Level One. They will teach you the basic skills required to exhibit your work. You’ll learn how to frame, price, and hang your work. You’ll gain experience in choosing good titles, preparing an artist statement or biography, and writing a simple press release. You might not do it all perfectly, but you’ll find out what works and get better.
Be thoughtful about choosing among commercial venues in Level One. If you don't like the atmosphere or the look of the hair salon or restaurant, don’t show your work there. For example, an artist who creates calm and muted abstract paintings might choose to have a show at a spa rather than in a noisy restaurant.
Some commercial venues participate in local events, like a monthly art walk. This will generate activity and connect you with other art shows. Try to get publicity in a local newsletter, even if you have to write the press release yourself. Be realistic about your expectations. When you show your work in commercial venues like restaurants and hair salons, you might not sell very much, but you’ll get your name out there and you might make some good contacts.
Rent-a-wall spaces are also an option. This is where a small group of artists come together to share the rent for an exhibition space. Each artist pays for a wall to show their work. It is important for “rent-a-wall” spaces to be located well. Ideally you want to be in the midst of a busy shopping area, where people naturally pass. You’ll also want to join your fellow artists in creating opening receptions and other events, just like a gallery. The advantage of rent-a-wall spaces is that you work together with other artists, sharing the costs and your mailing lists.
Sometimes you receive invitations to show your work in nonjuried online venues. Research these opportunities carefully. Make sure they are legitimate and that the quality of the work is high. Check to make sure there isn’t a hidden agenda. Sometimes online galleries are really selling website hosting or marketing services that you don’t need. If they claim that artists are successfully selling work on the site, ask for sales figures, their commission structure, and the names of artists you can contact to verify this information.
So, take a look at these Level One opportunities. Are there any that appeal to you? Next time I’ll talk about Open Studios, which I’ve put at this first level because it is nonjuried, or juried by YOU.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
Career & Life Coach for Artists