I don’t know about you, but this New Year is off to a messy start for me. As I write this, the street in front of our apartment is being torn up by backhoes and bobcats. It feels like a manifestation of the place I am at with my new business as a freelance curator and artist manager.
Within the first six months, I’ve launched several new websites for myself and clients, written grants and public art proposals, installed two successful exhibitions and been involved in several meaningful projects. I pause for a moment of pride… but then the pressure reappears. The voice is insisting, What’s Next?
Is this where you are in your artistic career? Welcome to the clan. I’ve heard from many artists who are pushing limits and working consistently in their studios – but get stuck when the daunting tasks of self-promotion, self-definition and self-appreciation lie ahead. Each artist is in a unique situation, and at various crossroads. But below are some ideas from those of you wondering how and where to begin the build.
Yesterday we celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and I saw many references to his quote. “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” For artists, leaps of faith in the studio are common practice, but we get stuck when taking that step out into the public realm. This month take one small step towards your career goals and the big picture will eventually manifest.
Depending on where you are on this staircase, here are some ideas to get going:
Find an answer to “What do I want?”
The first thing I ask new clients to do is visualize their success. It’s different for each individual. Do you want gallery representation? Academic recognition? Better online presence? Teaching positions? Grants for projects? More studio time? Spend at least a few hours writing down your priorities. Take stock of where you have been and imagine the best version of your trajectory. I found some good guidelines at SmartArtBox on 7 Ways to Create and Achieve Art Career Goals and Dreams.
Practice telling your story.
The elevator pitch is key. Even if it conjures up smarmy “Mad Men” references, this sales tool is essential for artists. How many times have you been casually asked “What kind of art do you make?” If you don’t yet have a concise and coherent response, you definitely want work on your “branding”. Last year, my friend Shannon at House of Who presented a talk on “Branding for Artists”. You can still find snippets of her advice on her blog at houseofwho.com or check out another blogpost from skinnyartist.com called The Brand of You.
Talk to as many people as possible.
Especially during winter months, it’s easy to stay inside, isolated in the studio. Maybe you live in a rural area where it’s hard to find other creatives to interact with – but connecting is vital. Look for exhibition openings, lectures, art fairs, mixers, dinners or any opportunity to introduce yourself. Ask other artists for their perspectives, seek out industry leaders, and learn the landscape of your local art scene. I’ve been using the Facebook Local app to search for art-related events near me that are recommended by friends or www.sfarts.org for San Francisco happenings.
You know the drill. Refresh your resume with recent activities, update your LinkedIn profile and your website images. Read up on the latest gallery and museum news. Subscribe to newsletters from your favorite artists and nonprofits. Stay aware of your audience and how they will encounter your work. As you climb the proverbial stairway, invite the public to follow your ascent.
Here’s to an aspirational New Year!