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The Biggest Tip to Succeed as an Artist: Be Open

SCAD panel; from left to right, artists Angel Otero, Marcus Kenney, and Ingrid Calame (Photo by author)
SCAD panel; from left to right, artists Angel Otero, Marcus Kenney, and Ingrid Calame (Photo by author)

SAVANNAH, Georgia — The primary goal of any creative practitioner is to make good work — visual artists must make great art. But producing work is only the most visible part of an entire career, encompassing everything from getting your name out there to that eternal bugbear, making a living from art. An artist panel on “professional practice” at Savannah College of Art and Design’s 2013 deFINE Art conference tackled this topic with useful advice.

The panel featured three artists in different places both in their practices and geographically. Angel Otero is a New York-based painter represented by Lehmann Maupin, Savannah-based painter and photographer Marcus Kenney, and painter Ingrid Calame (represented by James Cohan), who are all featured in exhibitions around SCAD. Each brought their own perspectives on how to develop a sustainable artistic practice, but the exhortation to “be open” was the theme of the night.

Some lessons on just how to be open are bulleted below.

Angel Otero's "Royal" (2011) (Image via Lehmann Maupin)
Angel Otero’s “Royal” (2011) (Image via Lehmann Maupin)

Engage Your Community

One of the early points of the panel was that it’s not entirely necessary to be in an artistic center like New York to launch a career. What’s more important is to be connected within your own creative community and find other artists and creators who inspire you. Kenney’s career has been more of a slow burn than Otero’s, for example, but he has discovered a supportive network within the same city where he went to school.

The artists on the panel also formed connections by working in other artists’ studios as well as museums and galleries, getting to know how the art world works and, perhaps, cultivating future fans.

Be Able to Talk About Your Work

Hosting studio visits and connecting with other artists, critics, and curators is a huge step to creating that supportive network for yourself. Fostering connections doesn’t have to mean networking — it’s about discussing what you’re passionate about and finding likeminded people. The excuse “the work should speak for itself” just doesn’t cut it and can actively turn audiences off.

Write!  

As well as working in museums, galleries, and studios, Ingrid Calame was an active critic, writing for publications like Frieze. When it came to her first solo show opening, the gallery was packed with her writing community — the lights of the criticism scene in New York (some of whom actually bought work). What better way to foster critical attention than being a part of the scribbling set?

Ingrid Calame's "#258 Drawing" (2007) (Image via James Cohan)
Ingrid Calame’s “#258 Drawing” (2007) (Image via James Cohan)

Artists Refer Artists

How to find a dealer is another eternal question of being a professional artist. The consensus among the panelists was that it’s not about sending out portfolios or CVs but meeting dealers and collectors through other artists. “Artists are who find you a dealer,” Otero said. “It’s through trust and relationships.”

Allow Your Work to Circulate

Potential collectors and fans could see your work in group shows or at galleries, but they might also see it at friends’ homes. Otero was a proponent of getting work out into the world; he set low prices for selling work out of his studio partly in the hope that it might be seen by new audiences. At this mature point in her career, Calame likes to give work away — it’s like “printing money,” she said. Trading is always good, too!

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