Saturday, August 09, 2008

My Art Advice: Should I invest in my career?

My Art Advice: Should I invest in my career?

Q. I’ve been working two jobs saving money so that I can buy a larger house. Lately I’ve been thinking that I should invest some of that money into my art career as well. I’ve known other people who have done this and the outcome was good. One friend opened a gallery and has been very successful with it. She has a studio in the back room and displays her art in the other room. What advice do you have?

A. You have to remember that investing in anything is a gamble. I’ve not seen your work so I can’t tell you if your career investment is a viable solution for successful expansion, so to speak. I also don’t know how much money you are talking about. With that said, there are a few things you should consider before deciding what to do with your hard earned money. First, there are ways to gain exposure without investing money-- though you will need to invest time. Second, you need to have some honest feedback about your work before you make a leap like that-- family and friends will always say that they “love’ your art, but that does not mean it will be marketable elsewhere. Most importantly, what worked for your friends may not work for you.

There are many ways to gain exposure online for your art without investing a dime-- aside from Internet fees-- and I assume you already have a computer and access to the Internet. Do you have an online presence? Do you interact with online art communities? Even if you are a novice with a computer you can still do many things online that will help establish or strengthen the market for your art. Years ago art professionals scoffed at the idea of selling art online. Some have yet to get over the stigma of past online failures as far as the art market is concerned. However, times have changed and there are thousands of artists earning a decent profit by selling art online or selling with the help of connections they have made online. Needless to say, I’d invest time before money if I were you.

Create free accounts on sites like,, and so that you can network with artists, curators, and potential buyers. Posting videos of your process on can also be a very good way to gain exposure-- just try not to be tacky about it! You will be surprised how many curators and collectors can be found on the Internet. Just make sure that you focus on building good rapport-- you don’t want to be annoying nor do you want to appear desperate. “Hi, I’m an artist. Will you represent me” or “Hi. Would you like to buy some of my art.“ is NOT a good first impression offline OR online. Again, I don’t know every aspect of your situation-- maybe you already have a market for your art? If you have already established an online presence I suppose there are a few ways you could invest in your career. However, regardless of what you do you will still need to network with other artists and curators-- and doing that online is the most time effective option.

You might consider opening your own exhibit space like your friend. However, there can be unwanted consequences from doing that. The simple truth is that artists who run galleries almost always end up being just an art dealer-- and more often than not they become shoddy art dealers. Running a gallery-- even if it is just for your art-- is very time consuming. Even with assistants it can eat away at your day. How much time does your friend actually spend in her studio? How does she define success-- financial wealth or simply the joy of doing what she wants to do? Are you prepared to socialize instead of working on your art? Are you prepared to cancel plans due to the need to have regular business hours? Can you handle creating art, running your space, and working a day job as well-- in your case two jobs? Again, I don’t know the specifics of your scenario, but these are issues to consider.

If you do open a gallery you may also want to consider the geographic location of your gallery. You will want to open a space in a community that is known for supporting art. For example, having a gallery in a small town is not a financially sound choice in the majority of cases. You will also want to consider the expense of running a gallery-- utilities, shipping, fine wine for all… and so on. In the end you will be investing more into your exhibit space than your initial investment. Running a co-op in which you share the burden of monthly expenses with fellow members might be a solution for that. However, if you take that path you must come to terms with the fact that your art will not be the main focus of the space-- which may defeat the purpose of your original intention. Running a co-op gallery can be a MAJOR hassle… especially when half the members decide they can’t pay dues all at once.

There certainly are some things you should definitely avoid as far as investing in your art career is concerned. For example, don’t allow yourself to be seduced by vanity publications. True, those publications might end up in the hands of potential buyers, but your art will also end up in the same pages as artists you may not want to associate with. In most cases anyone can be published in a vanity art publication simply by paying the fee. Those publishers often do not care about the quality of the art submitted as long as their own wealth is increased. The outcome can be very embarrassing-- do a few searches online about vanity publications and I bet you will find hundreds of horror stories. Vanity art publications will not validate you as an ‘artist’. They are more apt to become an obstacle later down the road as far as success is concerned.

What about your studio space? Do you have enough room? If you buy a larger home, as you mentioned, you will hopefully purchase one that allows you room to create in comfort. Buying a larger home might give you the opportunity to create the studio space that you have always wanted. If you are working in a space that you enjoy you will most likely be more productive. A larger living space will also allow you to invite more guests if you decide to host an open studio visit or something along those lines. In that sense, a larger home might be the best investment you can make for your art career and for your lifestyle-- though one could say creating and selling art is a lifestyle, correct? Just remember to set aside a specific area for your studio.

Another thought… if you honestly want to invest some of the money you have saved into your art career why not use it so that you have more free time? Perhaps you could drop one of your day jobs or simply work less hours? Having some money in the bank will no doubt take away from some of the stress of economic woes. Instead of being worried about bills you can focus on your art. In the end you will have to rely on great art in order to be successful. Again, I don’t know your situation and maybe that is not an issue for you, but it is something to consider. The extra money could also be used to explore new materials or to buy extra supplies for your creative purpose.

To sum this up… it is your dime, your time, and your decision in the end.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Good advice. I think you kinda need to have a market already if you plan on investing money in growing that market. If this person is just another run of the mill Sunday artist it would just be a waste of money. Good tip on vanity catalogs and magazines. They can ruin your name fast in some circles.

Anonymous said...

Opening a gallery is hard even if the only work shown is your own. Coop galleries can be nice but they rarely function well.

Ted Stanuga said...

Solid thanks Brian. Ted

Scott Allen said...

Very good article indeed, and the vanity publications portion is a subject every artist should be aware of. But it brought up a question. You mention you might be included with other artists you don't want to be associated with(in the publication), because it might interfere with your image. Well, I just started showing art in group shows just to get exposure, but 95% of the other artists' work is on a different level, if you know what I mean. Should I continue to show, just to be out there, or wait until I get my dream portfolio and submit it to galleries?
What I'm trying to say is, are group shows as serious as vanity publications when it comes to image and future marketing opportunities?

Balhatain said...

Hi Scott, if you wait to create your dream portfolio you may end up missing out on opportunities. Also, it is better to exhibit where you can--if it is a legit space-- than to wait for something that may never come.

I don’t know your geographic location, but it is always good to exhibit with non-profit art organizations and colleges in your area if they have exhibits featuring local artists. That is a good way to network… which can result in better opportunities for you. I always suggest a ‘work from the ground up’ approach-- so it is always good to focus on regional success if possible.

Be wary of galleries that ask a huge fee for exhibiting your art. More often than not those galleries are vanity galleries. My guess is that you would know if the galleries you show in are vanity galleries or not-- go with your gut and watch your wallet… if either hurt you know you are in trouble.

Vanity publications concern me because they often try to appear more important than what they actually are and they often state that the artists in their publications are the “best of the best“, “rising stars” and all that jazz. If anything they are good for a laugh.

Vanity publications normally make their money from submission fees and from copies of the publication that are sold to the family and friends of artists who have been “accepted”. Sometimes artists can get accepted without having shown examples of their art! Your art could end up next to someone who has only painted one canvas in his or her life-- the same painting that happened to be “accepted” by the publication! I’ve heard many horror stories about vanity publications. Stay clear of them!

When it comes to vanity galleries and vanity publications I would say that vanity publications are the greater evil… mainly because they offer more documentation about your involvement in that copies of the book serve as a paper trail, so to speak. They can be seen as a physical reminder of past desperation.

Can they hurt your career? Not necessarily. However, they can be a source of embarrassment if you do reach the level of success that you are seeking-- especially when the other artists included in the same vanity publication mention that fact in order to validate themselves by revealing their association with you. That is something you want to avoid. Why submit yourself to that, right?

Scott Allen said...

You make some great points Brian, and thanks for taking the time to tackle this issue. The only paper trail I'm leaving are from the flyers to these shows. But I appreciate the heads up for the future. Take care.