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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Being an artist is tough

I had a very nice opening at the gallery Saturday night....even sold a couple of pieces. Selling more would've been good, but hopefully I will sell more in the next few weeks.

I had a conversation with a fellow artist at the reception about how much artists work. Being an artist is having at least 2 jobs, sometimes three or four. (Example: I do graphic design and color design consulting as well as work in my studio 40 hours a week). Unfortunately, the public perception is that artists are flaky, dreamy types and don't work very hard. Some artists are flakes, but the flakes tend not to be very successful in the long run.
I encountered this same stereotype with an employee that worked under me years ago. This person was an artist, but the big boss used to write off this person's frequent absences/tardiness as just part of being an artist. I ended up firing more than one person with this same MO: "So and so is an artist, so that's why they can't ----------(fill in the blank) like the other employees."
So for all of you aspiring artists out there, I give you some advice: buck the stereotype and be professional about your profession. Here's how:
  1. Be on time.
  2. Dress appropriately for the time of day, place, and occasion. This is a Japanese saying and the English abbreviation is TPO. Can't afford to shop at boutiques? Try consignment shops and places like Loehmann's, and borrow accessories from affluent friends. This goes for the guys too: borrow that dinner jacket if you have to!
  3. Be a business person and keep regular hours in the studio. Your studio is your office.
  4. Explain to family an friends that this is your job and it usually requires longer hours than a regular job. Repeat ad nauseum.
  5. Selling art is all about marketing. Take a class in business marketing at your local community college since they do not usually teach this in art school. 
  6. This is your job 24/7/365. If you can't handle it, find a new profession.
  7. Get a second or 3rd job to cover living expenses if needed. It's OK, all artists do it.
  8. Take some time off each year to refresh and renew along the lines of a trip out of town for a change of scenery, an art workshop in a different discipline, a collaborative project with another artist. Art workshops look great on your resume as well. It shows you care deeply about your craft when you try learning new things.
  9. Network to the point of aching feet: attend gallery openings, museum events, gala fundraisers, black-tie actions, etc. just so you can meet the patrons of the arts. These are the folks who buy art. Make friends with them. (Remember: other artists don't normally buy art, so network accordingly.)
  10. Make friends with interior designers. They buy original art.
  11. Be a capitalist. Successful artists sell art, not fill out grant forms all the time. Grants are great to help you out for specific projects, but don't rely on them forever. The economy changes all the time and art programs are often the first things cut. 
And there you are! So if you are a budding artist still in art school, chances are some professor is saying you will be rich and famous someday because your art is so fabulous. The problem is, they never tell you how to do that. 
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