I frequently get letters like the following: “Hello Robert. I am a painter who has just graduated from college and am setting out on my own. I feel painting is serious business but do not know where I can find a place to sponsor or sell my work. I am living in Vermont and have been painting for awhile but lack information on galleries and employment for those who aspire for the professional level. What are some of the stepping stones? I have a studio and work assiduously but lack a market. Please advise me. Jason.”
There are all kinds of books out there that can shed light on some of these questions. A recent and excellent one that you may already be aware of is Taking the Leap: The Insider’s Guide to Exhibiting and Selling your Art, by Cay Lang. In it you’ll find some up-to-date information on the state of galleries and agents and what you can expect when you start holding hands with them. It’s an ideal book for people like Jason who are just starting out, but it’s also good for mature and mid-career artists who might feel they know it all. It tells artists how to create effective packets for presentation, stage career assaults on key cities, and suggests inventive new ways to bypass the traditional gallery system. There are lots of ideas about strategy, connections and exhibitions. As well there’s a load of helpful hints regarding royalties, taxes, and business efficiencies. Accessing and using the gallery system is not always a simple matter, and this book doesn’t insult your intelligence or indulge your vanity. The author’s insights into the types and uses of galleries is worth the book’s price.
Cay is a professional photographer who has been giving seminars on the subject for ten years and demonstrating her methodology in the real world for even longer. I haven’t met Cay but I know she’s a fellow traveller because her book is also loaded with apt quotations from the creative brotherhood and sisterhood.
PS: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.” (E B White)
by Richard Sutton
The author of this book talks about what she refers to as “Boutique Galleries” in a rather negative way in my opinion. Boutique galleries make up the vast proportion of galleries — they are the friendly galleries that exist in every town and city. What they have going for them is variety. Good are hung next to bad, watercolors by one artist are next to oils by another. They seldom, if ever, dedicate their entire space to one artist. This contrasts with the stereotyped “New York” type gallery which offers sparseness and only one artist at a time. Looking back after forty years of collecting it seems to me that most of the great discoveries of quality and particularly emerging quality for collectors are made in boutique galleries. The predominantly predatory and exclusivist single-show galleries use a form of condescending hype and intimidation to get to the client’s wallet. I prefer the democracy of the boutique galleries for both selling and collecting.
Up to date
by Francie Mary, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Like many an artist who’s starting out, I got somewhat involved in some local exhibitions by being a subscriber of some magazines, one of them being The Artist’s Journal. I also became a member of various Art Councils. How have I found out about those magazines etc, etc? I participated in a seminar on what to do and where to go after becoming a member of the Local Municipal art gallery as soon as I graduated. Buying a book is also instructive, but the book does not always give you information on calls for entries and you need to be up to date at all times. I usually visit gallery exhibitions, show openings and so on to keep up to date.
Chicken and egg syndrome
by Kalwant Ajimal, UK
I am not a visual artist. I am a failed singer or the one who never had the confidence to sing well but am now running one of the largest Asian arts agencies in England. In the course of my work I also come across artists (all backgrounds) who ask the same questions and there lies a dilemma: Do we create work for the market or does the market have to like what we produce?
There is a classical musician who I know well and who is performing to declining audiences. I asked him why he didn’t publicise what he wanted to play and see how the evening might develop musically. ” It depends on my mood,” he said, “I play what I feel like at that precise time and I cannot release an advance notice…”! How do we deal with that?
by Nordine Yahyaoui, Morocco
If the truth must be told, I’m very glad to write to you for my intuition says to me that you are able to help me. I’ve never begged someone to support me, not because of pride or vanity or something else, but maybe it is a behaviour which is innate with me. However, now I’m convinced that everybody in this ephemeral life may have numerous lacunes in his everyday life. Thus, we must defy the ups-and-downs of life and above all help each other. I hope you grasp how I’m yearning to visit your wonderful country where painters are priviliged in the scope of création. Here in Morocco painters — mainly self-made painters — are marginalised. Believe me my way of painting is very important in the sense that I don’t know whether my technique exists or not because I discovered it by way of chance.
Who am I to be happy?
by Janet Molchanko, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
When I am in my studio I feel great, even if my painting is not going well and I am frustrated, I feel good knowing that I am doing what I enjoy doing and that my life is going in the direction that I want it to. I realize too that many people do not feel this way — they have placed themselves in situations where they are not happy with their lives etc. so in this regard I consider myself fairly lucky. I have to live with my parents in order to be able to paint 5 days/week but other than that…
Anyway, sometimes I feel as though I am being selfish in doing the things I want, I mean, how long can I live at my parents’ house and dabble in my art? Who am I to not work 9-5 in a real job and doing adult-y responsible things? How can my art, which makes probably only me feel really good and whole, be so much more important than other things? Do you understand at all? Have you ever felt selfish in doing what you want to do? Or is it just a symptom of low self-esteem!!? (i.e. who am I to be happy?)
Advice when broke
by Linda Timbs, Vancouver, BC, Canada
A young man from Vermont wrote to you expressing his angst at his inability to make it out there in the huge, wide open artistic market. My advice to him comes from personal experience. Unless you believe that you are marketable, that you have something to offer the general public, something that they can relate to with that ‘Ahah!’ response, then you will not make it as an artist.
It is often a good learning and rewarding experience to be able to look back on a time when one’s income was zero. One gains an appreciation for the sanctity of life, and often the artists among us produce their best works when exposed to the hardships of abject poverty. This phenomena occurs, I believe, because one learns to derive pleasure from the small, often overlooked things in life, the capacity to be helpful to a stranger, song birds singing arias at the birth of their young, the smile of a complete stranger. When one has nothing, one has nothing to lose! Financially difficult times are not best spent bemoaning one’s fate, but rejoicing that one has the time to enjoy the small things, that in future, one may not have time to enjoy, owing to one’s prosperity!
What is the measure of a person’s prosperity? Yes, most certainly we all need a cash flow to pay the monthly bills, but more importantly, we all need a generous heart and mind. And we must remind ourselves that we paint, play the piano, write; not only because of the love for our endeavors, but for the sheer pleasure it gives other people.
So, to the young man Jason, my advice would be, continue your struggle, your devotion to artistic creation is at its height right now, while you struggle the most. Your efforts will be rewarded, maybe not today, nor next year… but learn to enjoy these cashless years of character building. Try not to be in too much of a hurry to open yourself up to the world… you may be gravely disappointed at this critically young stage of your career. Meanwhile, throw a studio party, invite your friends, and casual acquaintances that are big time names in the art field. Work on your self-esteem, and never doubt your capabilities. The most important advice I would give this young fellow is to learn to laugh, hang onto this skill, and cherish it throughout the rest of what I hope will be a gratifying career. Remember too, any artist is a true artist, only when he/she gives up the notion that their abilities leave them far from the madding crowd… because, in fact, if they have any talent at all, they paint what IS the madding crowd.
Art and artifacts
by Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington, USA
I was touched by the passionate letter you received from Mr. Klinger, in Scotland. I concur with his thoughts that we are pressured to “Be somebody, be somebody. Fast”, almost before we have ceased being children it seems. Driven by economics perhaps? Artists supplies are costly.
Thinking of art versus artifact makes me question just how we define art. Artifacts are who we were, our history. We learn from them. I don’t discount the beauty I feel in holding a shard of clay unearthed from an archaeological dig. Art in its most liberal sense, is profound emotion recorded with our eyes and ears, all our senses perhaps, and very unique to the individual. Those elevated moments when we feel we finally may be close to understanding what it’s all about. It’s a connection, a very personal communion that arouses passion, makes us feel alive, makes us think, or not think, perhaps just remain in mute awe.
Being the practical type though, with perhaps more good sense than I need, I cannot discount the pedestrian, just as I will not discount my pleasure in artifacts. We exist in the gray, I think. Like litmus paper, we aspire, watch and gauge our progress through many shades of gray for those special moments of elevated enlightenment. The walk is still necessary if you ask me, and not entirely unenjoyable. Although I too seek to find communion in poetry, music, art, and people, and am a frequent star-gazer, I tend to keep an eye on where my feet are going. Sometimes I find art in the most unlikely places!
Still, I applaud Mr. Klinger’s teaching style and his attempt to teach his students to take the time to savor, feel, register, rather than just duplicate what there eyes see.
Good advice for any artist, I think. I share his pursuit of communion, whether through poetry, music, art, or people. We all must maintain our love affair with life, because we are all going to be just artifacts one day.
by Sasa Kolic, Yugoslavia
I am contacting you from Yugoslavia. My name is Sasa Kolic, I was born in 1969, and I am painter. I have professional status recognized from 1995.
It is very hard to find in the world a country with as much borders as Yugoslavia – borders in every possible level which in the basic ruin and overwhelm every human creativity, and turn up reality into brutal and grotesque survival. It is illusory to talk about difficulties, hopelessness, and humiliation that is almost every-day-reality for Yugoslav artist. The most important thing is that when one successfully overcomes every possible obstruction (and I have to say, that is, now and here, piece of the great art, and I think about including that in my biography), becomes a parent, paints, and supports oneself and one family then one becomes aware that it is futureless, and further prosperity is not possible — not in this country. There is lack of communication, there are no influence, movements, there is no energy — no neither positive nor creative one… just silence, fear, and ominous sound of guns.
I’m still painting. And more then ever I believe in art. Still, I need more space, more fresh clean air, air without apathy, hopelessness and fear.
I traveled a lot. Mostly through Europe and a couple of times through Asia. In the beginning I was traveling by train, plane, bus, and in the end by bicycle. My Last trip was 4200km long trip, from Yugoslavia to Jordan — Akaba — Red Sea, through Bulgaria, Turkey, and Syria. It took place in summer-autumn 1997. And every time when I was travelling, I feel my heart beats stronger, and I feel new energy flows into me. And every time on my travel, rolling, sliding, running – runs into my vein and moves my art slightly further…
Now everything becomes harder. Borders become every-day-more realistic and uncompromising… Therefore I call you and I ask your help. Your considerable help would lead into engagement, which would allow me to be part of art-reality (to meet artists from other countries, but not just over Internet), to organize painting exhibition in some European country. Please, be constructive at least in informing me about any form of cooperation, like participation in art manifestations, group exhibitions, performances, art-projects, etc. After all, please answer me because the silence is worse than a negative answer.