Aug 6, 2010

The Business of Being An Artist

By Sharon Teal-Coray

Every artists dream is to have your artwork hung in a Gallery. If you paint I am sure you have thought about this, however, in order to do this you not only have to be an accomplished artist but a good businessperson. Also, if you want to succeed with your art you **have to know **what steps you need to take in order to succeed.
In 1978 I started teaching a small group of ladies in the basement of my home. For several years prior to that I had been busy learning everything I could about painting and improving my skills. I painted using every subject there was and then in 1986 I opened my Shining Feather Art Academy for Women. We built a large studio onto the back of our home in which I could comfortably seat 20 students at easels. There I focused on women because I felt that they needed an outlet and painting was a great, relaxing activity in which they could succeed and I also wanted to help promote the “women” artists. *** Women artists in the days of the old masters were not allowed to attend the art academies unless they had a father who was famous as an artist or they were aristocrats, but still they limited them. They were especially not allowed to attend any classes where there were nude models. They were not taken seriously as artists and lived in a male dominated art world. Even when I started to paint I was told by a few famous local artists to sign my paintings with my first initial and last name so no one would know that I was a women!

My time was spent teaching, studying and painting. During which time I started thinking about trying to be accepted into a gallery. I felt I was ready but didn’t really know where to start.

I had much to learn about the process of being accepted into this area of the art world and here are some of the things I discovered:
First of all you need to realize that no one will just happen into your studio and “discover” you. It will take* much work on your part with lots of preparation and much expense. You need to realize that preparing to having your artwork hung in a gallery can be a very slow and time consuming process. ***

You need to accumulate credentials; such as exhibits you have been in; awards you may have won; juried shows that you have been accepted into. A gallery will be more likely to take accept you** if they see that your artwork has already been selling and also wining awards.
Next you need to have at least 20 paintings that reflect your current work. All of your works need to be in the same style and on the same subjects. This will show that you can produce art that has unity. Showing **paintings of many different styles does not impress the Gallery owner and tells him that you are not a serious, well centered and educated artist.

Also, you will need to invest in business cards, colored brochures and also build a really good Slide or CD portfolio. Today I think the CD portfolios are more popular but there are still galleries out there that like the slides. Also, set up a website showing your current and very best artworks.
A question you have to ask yourself is “can I honestly accept a lot of rejection”. In many urban areas you have at least 1000 artists competing for every opportunity to exhibit their work. The odds are not good that you will be accepted into a gallery. You are going to have to face **rejection no matter how good your art is.

Last but not least, you will have to realize that being accept into a gallery may be the most exciting thing you will ever do, however, there is no guarantee that you will ever make a decent income from it. Most of my artist friends have either had a part-time job, a rich husband or have inherited money. Remember work very hard to produce your artworks and when and if they do sell the gallery usually takes at least 40 to 50% of the selling price of your artwork.
Where to start when I think I am ready:

Nowadays most galleries have websites, take some time to search out the local galleries to find out what their submission policies are. In the past you use to have to mail your submissions or deliver your portfolio in person, but with the new technology it varies from one gallery to the next. Most established galleries have a role of between 12 and 20 artists and are not looking for new ones, however if they are they will often state that they are interested in reviewing new artists on their websites.
Look for new galleries because they often are looking to accept new artists. The bad part about this is that static’s have shown the 9 out of 10 new galleries fail during the first two years. This is a situation that I have been in **and almost lost all of my artwork when the gallery was foreclosed on.

Investigate the artists that a gallery owner is representing, does your work look extremely different than the other art in there? If so, they are not going to be interested, you have to fit in with the other artwork they have hanging. A gallery owner has a vision of how they want their space to look; they are more likely to be interested in you if your work fits that vision so keep looking until you find one that has art that looks like your style.
NEVER make a “cold call’ to a gallery with your work as 9 times out of 10 the gallery owners will not be very polite as they show you the door and who needs that! I made the mistake of doing this once with a friend, I didn’t want to do this but she was very persuasive and talked me into it and it turned out to be a very large dose of humiliation as I was not ready to be in a gallery! I had not take the necessary steps to be worthy to be accepted. Since being in galleries, I have learned how to view this from the perspective of the gallery owner. Many, many times artists think they are ready to have their paintings in a gallery when they have only been painting for a year or two and have not accumulated a portfolio or credentials.

It is true that you have to pay your dues to be in a gallery. I am not saying that a person never gets a chance without all of the above, but most of the time this is how it works.

Knowing I needed to be established as an artist and have some credentials I began entering every art exhibit and show I could find; local shows, and shows out of state. It took time, effort and money, as there is usually an entry fee for each show.

I had been doing this for a few years and I started winning awards. All of which helped to build my credentials and also my portfolio.
When I finally decided that I loved to paint southwestern still life, I started researching everything I could about this subject. I took trips to the four corners area of the western United States where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet and where the Anasazi lived and there I met with archeologists. I learned so much about Anasazi’s lives and their beautiful art. I wanted to feel what they felt, so I visited the ruins where they had lived and finally I decided that I needed to know how they created their pottery so I could paint it. You need to have a through knowledge of your subject in order to capture it on canvas. Thus, I decided I needed go to the University of Utah and take a course on ancient pottery making. There I learned how to find the clay, make the pot, boil the bee plant to get the black paint they used and finally fire the pottery using cow dung. There were at least 20 students in this class and at the end of the session when we were all sitting there watching the fire pit in which we had carefully placed the pots we had made, we heard one “pop” after another and we knew we were not going to have very many pots come out of the fire in good condition. It is very intricate to make a coiled pot, thus most of ours exploded and I had only one of 10 make it. **It was very disappointing but it gave me the knowledge of how hard it must have been for the Anasazi people and yet they were able to make some of the most beautiful, thinnest pottery that has survived for many generations in the southwest.

Next I spent many hours painting and producing many paintings getting ready to submit to a gallery. After about 3 years of doing this, I took a giant leap and submitted my work to the “Artist of the West” magazine and they liked it and published a feature article about me and my artwork. After that I won the Winsor\Newton Award, a very coveted award for fine artists and this gave me the courage that I needed to send in an application to the biggest western art auction and show in the west, the C.M. Russell Art Auction in Great Falls Montana. To my utter amazement I was accepted. That was my big leap and it took me far. It was a very important step for me and opened many doors. After that I sent out what I called a Promo Packet, which I sent out to many galleries and this helped me to finally get my foot in the door and then many more opportunities opened up for me.

To be very honest, I have to tell you that I had many “rejection” notices, not every show I entered accepted my work. So I had to get what I call a “tough artist skin” so that I wouldn’t take each rejection personally, and if you don’t develop this you won’t survive.

A funny story from my very earliest days was one that just about made me quit, but I learned much from it. I was in a local art group and in those days the Shopping Malls loved to have us come and set up **big art shows. This was my very first attempt and I was real green. I was very nervous…. but I went and set up my art and I sat their painting while people walked by and stopped to chat. It was not so bad after all until the “dragon lady” came…I call her that because she was dressed in an oriental style dress and she had coal black hair pulled back into a knot. She sauntered up to my booth and stood there with her hand on her chin, not saying a word…this was very disturbing! Then all of a sudden she just said “you should not be in this show, your work is awful, my daughter is studying at the university and her work is 10 times better than yours, she should be here not you!” With that she turned and walked away. I melted into a fit of tears…. all of my friends who were next to me in their booths heard it and came to my rescue. But, I had honestly started packing up my paintings and such, until they physically stopped me. I knew that day that I had better learn how to hear remarks such as that and not let them get to me or I had better get out of the business of being an artist.

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