Whether you’re studying art or want to get your work seen by a larger audience, there are steps you can take to help develop your career. We ask art world professionals and graduates for advice and experiences in getting organised and starting out.
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
Galleries, collectors and critics need to see your work before they can decide whether to buy it or write about it. Self-promotion may sometimes be overlooked when starting out, but it is unavoidable for any artist who wants an audience and the following are the cornerstones for promoting your work:
- CV Ensure this is accurate and up to date. It should be tailored according to circumstance, but a good general CV must include name, contact details, education, exhibitions and other arts-related professional activities.
- Artists’ statement This should be concise and in plain English, preferably in the third person so it can be quoted by others in press releases and publicity.
- Images of your work Good quality, high resolution jpeg photographs are essential. Record all your work and file it carefully with your name, title, date, material and dimensions, in that order. More and more work is initially viewed in digital format, so this must represent your work well.
Excellent in-depth advice on how to prepare a CV and artists’ statement is available at www.artquest.org.uk. Once these are ready, consider where to put them. www.artslant.com, www.wooloo.org and www.re-title.com are global websites that host artists’ profiles.
Rachel Hinde and her partner Steve Rushton established www.re-title.com in 2004 to present contemporary, emerging artists in an easily searchable and well-referenced directory used by gallerists, curators, collectors and media. Artists’ profiles are accepted by application only and there is also an annual subscription which helps maintain a high level of professionalism that’s trusted by gallerists and curators.
All these websites have an international focus, so an artist in Chicago can be seen by art world professionals in London and Berlin. Research the one that suits you best and use it. It’s possible to maintain a profile without a personal website, but eventually you should consider one and an online directory will help drive traffic there.
Prizes and group exhibitions
Entering competitions and prizes is a great way for emerging artists to be seen but can be time-consuming and costly – so it’s worth researching the ones that suit you. Look at who the judges are – do you want them to see your work? Take a look at Parker Harris (www.parkerharris.co.uk) which lists high profile prizes and competitions.
Opportunities in the UK that support recent graduates include:
- Bloomberg New Contemporaries
- The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize
International prizes open to emerging artists include:
- The Celeste Prize, open to artists worldwide
- The Aesthetica Art Prize, offered by Aesthetica magazine
The “jobs and opps” section of Artists’ Newsletter (www.a-n.co.uk) is a good place to find calls for artists to take part in group exhibitions. When Bea Haines graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2010, she set about entering a number of open call exhibitions. Bea selected those that were in areas of London that were “up and coming” in art world terms at the time, such as Peckham and Deptford. Her experiences were broadly positive, but one exhibition was in a badly lit railway arch with sloping walls, so Bea suggests finding out as much as possible about the space and the other artists before committing to an application.
Peer groups, colleagues and friends are also an invaluable resource to any artist and organising your own exhibitions with like-minded people is a great way to get your work seen.
Generally, it is good practice to enter lots of prizes and open-call exhibitions. Gallerists and employers like artists who are independent and willing to promote themselves. But be selective and research each opportunity carefully.
A supportive commercial gallery is the ideal career scenario for many artists. Zavier Ellis, the director of CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, has this advice: “Visit all the art fairs to gauge which galleries have a suitable programme for your work. Join their mailing lists, go to their openings and try to get to know people. Find out if they like to look at new artists and if so in what format.”
Every major city will have a number of art fairs where commercial galleries hire a stand and show work by their artists. Remember that galleries are at art fairs to sell art, so this is not a time they will want to speak to emerging artists. Go to the gallery for a private view, or during an exhibition, and find out how they like to be approached.
“On leaving art school, don’t depend on your college to springboard you into the art world,” Bea Haines says. “Be pro-active and relentless in doing your art and getting it out there.”
Re-title’s Steve Rushton adds: “Join mailing lists of organisations that provide art information and artist opportunities. Prepare for the long haul and look for a job within the arts for your income. Be aware of the art being made around you, both locally and globally. Don’t do it alone: create your own network of artists and curators and work with them.”