—————— The Big Picture
The art world is full of people who like saying “there are no rules in the art world,” which is only sort of true. There’s certainly nothing written in stone (there’s barely anything written on paper). And sure, what you do in the studio is entirely up to you; there aren’t any rules about what you choose to make or how you make it. But there are
general customs in the art world, and widespread expectations among arts professionals, which you should know before you head out of the studio and start meeting these people.
————— “Artists’ first responsibilities are to themselves and their own work.” Lauren Ross, curator, Richmond, VA
————— “It’s not the job of other people to tell you that you’re ready. That never crossed my mind. I felt I’m going to be the judge of whether this is ready or not.
“You’re part of a network of artists and you feed off each other. You don’t have to have a big gallerist telling you you’re a genius. You can see how your friends are reacting and whether your friends are telling their friends, even though you didn’t ask them to.” Jane Hammond, artist, New York, NY
The customs have changed, too. It used to be a given, for example, that you would need many years of studio time before a gallery would look at your work. And making money was pretty much out of the question. Today, galleries compete over the newest talent to come out of school, even trying to scoop up MFA students before they’ve graduated. That’s not to say everyone needs a commercial gallery. But because there’s a real possibility to earn income as an emerging artist, you have to confront issues, and understand how the art world works, in a way that emerging artists never had to before.
Of course, you don’t have to follow custom or accept other people’s expectations. We’re not prescribing a bunch of rules that you need to follow. If you want to buck the system, go right ahead. Do the wrong thing. Do your thing. Just do it on purpose, not by accident, and know why you’re doing it.
Also, what worked for someone else may not work for you. You have to weigh the information and recommendations in this book according to your personality, your goals, your art. Aiming for a big New York gallery, for example, is very different from establishing a regional practice in a smaller city or selling your work directly from your studio. Maybe you’re not trying to sell anything. No priority is better or worse—it’s your definition of success that matters and no one else’s—and each one calls for a different approach.
Who are we to be telling you all this? We have about thirty years between us of experience working in and around the arts, one of us as a nonprofit and for-profit gallery director, curator, and arts consultant; the other as an arts-and-entertainment lawyer and business-development director for an online gallery. Over the years a lot of our artist friends have asked us a lot of the same questions—about career choices, business issues, and legal problems.
————— “When you look at the history of art, you see a history of mavericks—people doing the wrong thing. I wish that I saw more artists doing the wrong thing. That’s really more in the spirit of art that I love.”
Fred Tomaselli, artist, Brooklyn, NY
After a while, something obvious (in hindsight) dawned on us. Unlike other creative professionals, artists typically don’t have agents or managers to deal with these issues for them. They have to do it all themselves, at least until they’re very successful. Galleries are supposed to act like agents for their artists, but not all of them live up to that standard. And even the best ones still have to balance the needs of their artists with the desires of their collectors—a conflict of interest that simply doesn’t exist for agents in other creative fields.
————— “Every five years the art world here in New York is almost a completely different place. You can be swept up into it. And you can also be pushed completely out of it. It’s fluid and malleable. But most importantly, to me, it means that you can invent it.” Matthew Deleget, artist, curator, educator, founder, Minus Space, Brooklyn, NY
————— “I understand there are perceived, and real, power dynamics in the art world, but the artist is the critical center of all we do. In a larger sense, they are the driving force that will matter in history—there is nothing I can do without an artist. At the same time, in the immediate process, I don’t feel any more or less important to what feels like a large organic system where we’re all trying to achieve the same thing (in the best-case scenario). I know it’s complicated, but if you treat it that way, you can encourage real exchange that produces good shows and good work.” Shamim Momin, director/curator, LAND, Los Angeles, CA; former curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
————— “Being a curator is using pattern recognition. You see one thing happening here and another thing happening there and you start to sense a new swelling wave of something going on. You build an exhibition around it to take a pulse of the current moment. For me, it is something pertinent or relevant that I want to pin down in a show. It could be a single artist or a group of artists. It’s like throwing down the gauntlet and saying, ‘This is important and we should pay attention to it—we should champion or recognize these artists.’ ” Michael Darling, chief curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
So we thought it would be useful to write a book that tells artists how to act as their own agents and managers—a book that answers all those questions people keep asking us.
We knew that the only way to do these topics any justice was to find out what other arts professionals had to say about them. For the first edition, we interviewed nearly one hundred people across the country—gallerists, curators, accountants, lawyers, and, of course, artists—and spent the better part of a year synthesizing their opinions, and ours. Eight years later, we reconnected with many of them to see how their views had evolved, and talked to over forty more people. Their quotes appear in the margins throughout this book, representing the most commonly held—and occasionally diverging—views in the art world.
QUICK TOUR OF THE ART WORLD
There are a lot of people in the art world who play crucial roles in how your art is made, shown, understood, sold, and remembered. First, there are all the people who can help you develop your art, your ideas, and your goals: other artists, your professors, the directors and staff at residencies and foundations that support artists.
There are the framers, printers, fabricators, and other production people whose skills you may need to tap (or learn) to finish your work. Art handlers, art shippers, and art-specific storage staff make sure your work is treated with the utmost care.
(from the Latin meaning “to take care”) choose the work for group and solo exhibitions. They usually have an
academic background, with a master’s or PhD in art history, an MFA, or a degree in curatorial studies. The ones on staff at museums or nonprofits are called institutional curators. Independent curators
freelance, putting together their own exhibitions or collaborating with museums, commercial galleries, nonprofits, and alternative spaces. There are also private curators
who work for corporations or big collectors,
maintaining and developing their collections.
Art advisors and art consultants help individual collectors, corporations, and institutions buy work, for either a fee or a percentage of the work’s price. Some of them focus on emerging artists and may want to visit your studio or introduce you to their clients.
————— “The art world is full of invention and reinvention of personas. Invention and reinvention of roles as this beautiful model for the rest of the world. That’s where its great beauty is.” Michael Joo, artist, Brooklyn, NY
————— “None of us exists without the artists. You have a pyramid. There are only so many dealers, critics, etc. Artists are the biggest portion. The base.” Tony Wight, manager, Spencer Fine Art Services; former director, Tony Wight Gallery, Chicago, IL
————— “When graduating from art school, you’re leaving with a cohort of people who will be advancing in the art world alongside of you and you honestly don’t have any idea where they’re going to end up. Some may leave the art world entirely. Others might be the next big gallerist, curator, or critic. You don’t really know, so maintaining and fostering your relationships is really important.” Matthew Deleget, artist, curator, educator, founder, Minus Space, Brooklyn, NY
Dealers show your work and try to sell it. They tend to specialize in either the primary art market, meaning art sold for the first time, or the secondary art market, meaning resale. Primary market dealers often represent living artists and manage their careers. Secondary market dealers sell work that’s already been bought at least once. They don’t usually work with artists; they usually deal directly with collectors, artist estates, and other dealers.
Many primary market dealers call themselves gallerists, to emphasize their roles as curators, collaborators, managers, and producers. Others stick with “dealer” because they don’t want to downplay the commercial aspect of selling art. (We’ll use the term gallerist throughout this book, although we think the distinction is only as meaningful as you want it to be.)
Whether nonprofit, alternative, or commercial, most venues have some kind of staff to run the space. The organizational structure and employee titles vary but the main tasks include:
————— “There is art and then there is the art market. For me, they are separate.” Fred Tomaselli, artist, Brooklyn, NY
————— “I feel artists are at the cutting edge of everything created by humans in our society. I would love for artists, young and old, to remember that for the Art World to exist, the first thing that is necessary is art. No gallerist, museum director, preparator, or museum guard would have a job without an artwork having been created.
“Without remembering this, artists can lose sight of their power and worth. We begin to believe that the art world came first and that we need to change, appropriate, adjust, or edit ourselves and our work to fit into this world. This does not need to happen, and should not happen.” Stephanie Diamond, artist, New York, NY
Archivist: cataloging all images, press, and written materials.
Art handler (or “preparator”): packing, shipping, and storing the work that moves through the venue; installing and ...