Essential Marketing Materials for Artists

Now that it is a new year, and almost a year into artistserv’s existence, I thought it would be a good idea to refresh some of our early posts.  Hopefully this will remind our followers of the importance having the basics, and to stop procrastinating.  If you have not started on these, make it a priority for 2016!

Focus on the essentials that every artist should have for marketing.  A lot of this will be “known” but it sets the stage for more detail, which I will address more individually in the future.

  • Your website is your most important marketing tool, it is the international headquarters of your business and should mimic your portfolio (see the portfolio section below) along with images of your work organized into groups, or “bodies of work”/ “series,” and a blog.  It should be clean and user-friendly, don’t get too creative with your design here, you want people to navigate easily.
  • Social media, at a minimum you should have:
    • a facebook page (for your art, separate from your personal page)
    • a twitter feed
    • an instagram account
    • a linkedin profile
  • Your portfolio should have at the least:
    • a clear, concise artist statement
    • separate statements for each body of work or series
    • your bio
    • your CV (Curriculum Vitae) or artist resume
    • high quality images of your work with a details list (medium, size, price, etc.).
    • The portfolio needs to be up to date so create it digitally in multiple formats (DOC, PDF, Presentation) so you can easily make additions as you make more work and get more shows!

Like I stated, I will address all of these details on their own (and in depth) in future posts.  In the meantime I suggest you review your materials and use these tips as a checklist.  Of course, many artists haven’t the time or desire to work on these materials, they would rather be in the studio, or maybe they lack confidence in their writing web skills.  Let me know, that is what I do for a living, and so you don’t have to.

Just Announced – Artistserv Partners with Xico, Inc for a Series of Professional Artist Development Workshops

XicoFlyerWorking in the Phoenix art community for more than a decade, Justin Germain saw first-hand the many obstacles local artists faced trying to develop their careers and build their businesses. He set out to change that.

Armed with a Master’s degrees in Art History and Public Administration from ASU and University of Phoenix, respectively, the longtime valley resident had held a series of art gallery positions, both formal and informal, before finding a new calling. “It’s not uncommon at smaller galleries for staff to work as curator, marketing director, and operations manager, all rolled into one job position,” chuckles Germain.

Wearing many hats, however challenging, proved to be invaluable training. While he was adept at addressing many of the issues that came up in his day-to-day gallery work, Germain saw something he didn’t have time to address. “So many artists would simply send me a link to their work, or sometimes to a poorly designed website or Facebook page, and somehow expect me or someone else to ‘discover’ them; meaning that an artist would somehow soar to success overnight,” says Germain. “This can happen, but more often, it takes years to be ‘discovered,’ if it happens at all.” Some of the major challenges for artists are their lack of professional skills and materials to meet the standards of high-level gallery programs and their inability to directly market their work themselves,” says Germain.

Finally doing something about a gnawing feeling that he could do more to help artists, Justin became founder and chief consultant of his own freelance company, Art(ist)serv, dedicated to helping artists think of themselves and their art as a business.

“Today, with a little know how, an artist can market to the world while building an impressive resume and sales record that will attract gallerists and collectors. We can help artists at any stage of their career market themselves to increase their growth, recognition and success.  In this way, artists have a greater opportunity to expose their art to a bigger audience,” says Germain. “By developing their business professionally, artists can increase their opportunity for gallery showings, potential representation, and create a greater market to sell their work,” he explains.

Those past years of multiple art gallery positions now provide invaluable industry insight that Germain uses and shares with artists as they establish and build the commercial side of their craft.  While a handful of museums and other organizations offer some ‘ways to succeed’ for artists, Germain’s company is one of few locally offering specific marketing support for art and artists in the Phoenix area, according to Germain.

Now, in partnership with Xico, Arte y Cultura, a non-profit arts organization and gallery in Phoenix, Germain will lead a series of three Professional Artist Development (PAD) workshops on marketing strategies and must-haves, just for artists.

Donna Valdes, executive director of Xico, selected Germain for the series because she feels he offers an in-depth, hands-on review of marketing for a group of professionals most focused on the process of creating something, often without the tools, resources, or training to sell it. “The intent of our professional development workshops is to help our artists be successful,” says Valdes. “The PAD series, offered at an affordable price point, holds the promise of real net returns for the participants,” she adds.

The workshops will be from 6 to 8 p.m. July 24, 31 and August 7 at the Xico Galería, 1008 E. Buckeye Road, Suite 220, Phoenix 85034. Cost is $50 for all three workshops, or $20 each. Artists should attend all three as each builds on the other.

For more information, or to pay for workshops, please contact Xico by emailing info@xicoinc.org or by calling Xico at 480-833-5875.

Artist Tip – Marketing is part of your work

I talk to a lot of artists who love their studio time and make a point to schedule it so that the rest of their lives do not get in the way. They are making great work and have a decent amount to show and potentially sell but it just sits. If you can relate I have one comment… you are not doing the job of a working artist.

A working artist practices their craft weekly, daily, all the time, but they also put a good chunk of their time into marketing the work so they can make a living from it. So, what is marketing?  It is promoting the work to the world, making it visible, getting people interested, the things that lead to sales.

One thing about marketing is it has to be consistent, the other is that is cannot be half-hearted. If an artist is dedicated to really being a working artist they have to market, weekly, daily, all the time. As Crista Cloutier recently wrote, ” To play in the big leagues, you’ve got to up your game.”

So my advice today is–dedicate some time to your marketing, plan blocks of time each day or week to devote solely to promoting your work on your website blog, social media, contacting galleries, or reworking your marketing materials. If this is really not your strong point, then maybe you need a coach, consultant, or professional writer to help. Luckily, you know of one…

Artist Tip – Funding

I have spoken with a few artists who have not sold much work lately but have projects they want to begin.  It is tough as an artist who feeds a project with the profit from the last.  One key area that artists do not tap into enough is grants.  I know some local artists who do not even worry about selling their work because they fund it primarily through writing for grants.

There are many local grants through the art institutions and organizations so make sure to follow them all and keep up with their cycles.  Unfortunately the AZ Commission grants will be cut drastically but there are a lot of other options out there, it just takes some searching.  One resource I recommend is The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg.  It is easy to read and gives some great strategies for writing winning grant applications.

Find it HERE on Amazon

The Red State of the Arts

There is a long, and volatile, history between the arts and government in the U.S. The debate has raged for many years about the benefit of government subsidy to the arts. We all have seen the drastic changes to education based on the importance of art in public schools reaching record lows in recent years. For proponents, the arts are viewed as an economic stimulus while the opposition sees funding for the arts as a detractor from other important areas needing government funding.

Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the arts as a crucial aspect of building the economy after the Great Depression. He established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 as Part of the New Deal to give creative individuals more employment opportunities. Over the eight years the agency was in place (it was dissolved in 1943 because unemployment dropped exponentially in the wake of World War II) in employed millions of Americans. The art program, Federal Project No.1, employed over 40,000 artists in the first year alone, while setting up 100 art centers serving over 8 million people. Some of the well-known artists involved were Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock.

In 1965, the federal government created the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as an independent agency to support and fund arts projects and organizations through a network of state agencies and organizations. The funding appropriations started in 1966 at about $3 million and rose to $175 million by the early 1990s. The ring-wing has regularly attempted to abolish the agency because of its support of controversial artists and claims that it is unimportant, wasteful, and elitist. During the Republican Revolution of 1994 Newt Gingrich led the attack to eliminate the NEA, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Public Broadcasting System. The attempt was unsuccessful but did result in major funding reductions ($65 million cut in 1996) and eliminated grants to individual artists. More recently the funding appropriations have been stable around $150 million per year.

Here in Arizona, we are now in the wake of multiple crises relating to government and the arts spearheaded by right –wing conservative and capitalist agendas. Most recently, newly elected Governor Doug Ducey (Rep) signed the state budget for fiscal year 2016 that cut the $1 million allocation that began in 2014 to the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The cuts came in light of a revelatory document produced by the Arizona Citizens for the Arts. The 2015 Arts Congress speaking points show the impact of the allocation over the past two years and what an increase in the allocation would provide the state economy. The claim is that the additional funding, derived from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, was not available due to budget balancing amidst a significant revenue shortfall.

View the AZ Citizens for the Arts 2015 Arts Congress talking points HERE

In 2014 and 2015 the additional funding was applied to all agency grant programs, including those for the individual artist and art businesses. According to the Arizona Commission on the Arts Director, Robert Booker, the cut may reduce the organizational funding to a 30-year low. Therefore, in order to protect priority public programs, there will be reductions in all areas of administration. Many of the initiatives meant for individual artists will be eliminated, and there will be less opportunity and more competition for the programs that remain. One might wonder if the elimination of these programs is strategic, instigating uproar from the individuals most affected. Mr. Booker does provide some optimism, though, stating that the agency is ambitiously working to map out a bold path for the arts in Arizona. We can only hope that there will be a heavy focus on fundraising activities and entrepreneurship programs for artists.

Read Mr. Booker’s statement yourself HERE

Shortly after the news of the budget cuts came the 2015 Governor’s Arts Awards, which recognize achievements in the state art community. In Governor Ducey’s introductory speech, he gave praise to the arts, a sector that generates $500 million in economic revenue plus millions in state taxes and employs 50,000 Arizonans. He made statements about how the arts are a “critical part of building our future” and that art “enriches communities” and “contributes to the economic health” of the state. Instead of use funding for the arts as an economic catalyst that could help balance and even improve the budget he supported drastically reducing the support for the sector. As one could imagine, the speech and his claims were met with respectful, but unenthusiastic applause as people thought about the contradiction between his words and his actions. But what did we expect from a man who has an insignificant political background and built a reputation as an ethically questionable businessman? That is red state politics at its best folks.

Downtown Phoenix businesses have been at war with the city government in the last few years due to capital support for gentrification and wrong-fit infill projects in the arts districts, such as age and income restricted housing along Roosevelt Street (wouldn’t all the noise complaint calls be exciting on a First Friday?). Gentrification is nothing new to arts districts. It is a typical cycle in large cities. Dilapidated areas invite artists because of the low-cost for living and studio spaces, which then brings other creative businesses and galleries to the area. An arts district is formed and becomes the place to be, which inspires developers to cash in on the neighborhood’s popularity with the young and hip. Before you know it, you have nothing left but luxury condos and retail chains, and the artists have all but disappeared.

But, in Phoenix this could signify the end of the local arts community. The focus on Roosevelt seems to be on high-end live/work spaces, which will not only push out the artists, but also many other low-income residents. The authenticity of the neighborhood is also in danger, with many significant buildings being razed to make room for contemporary high rises. Business owners have voiced their concerns for a few years now, and the Roosevelt Row organization seems to go back and forth over which side to support to create a stable neighborhood. The outlook is intriguing, it is an area that can use some upgrades and there are certain types of infill that will work well in the district. The main issue is that the city and the developers have no concern with those who are already there or what types of projects will work best in the area. We hope to see some adaptive re-use projects that incorporate the need for affordable housing and studio space for artists as well as low-rent commercial spaces for the galleries that focus on early-career local artists. There is plenty of room for that along with spaces to invite high-end galleries as well as money-makers who can afford to buy luxury condos and buy local art to fill them. It should be a diverse community that supports itself. The fear is that it will take the look of Mill Ave in Tempe and push out the culture that we experienced around ASU in the early 2000s.

At this point, gentrification may be inevitable on Roosevelt, it has sprung up just in the last 5 or 6 years without any foresight to confront the looming capitalist invasion. We must note, development is not bad, but there will be more compromise from the local businesses in order to create the inclusive neighborhood it should be. So, we hope to see those who can fight the good fight, but in the end the businesses have to focus on building their sustainability. On the other side of downtown, Grand Ave. took steps to protect its authenticity long ago. Key merchants, like Beatrice Moore, made sure to work to zone the neighborhood in light of potential influx so that affordable live/work spaces will hopefully remain in the surrounding area. Because of the efforts of Moore and the Grand Ave. Merchants Association we won’t be seeing any high rises in this walkable district and as it continues to grow and gain recognition it can definitely flourish. The next step is to attract more artists and galleries while marketing the businesses to a broad audience. Maybe displaced businesses will move from Roosevelt to Grand, and that will become the next hotspot, with protection of course.

Artist Tip – How To Approach Galleries

We recently discussed looking for as many opportunities as you can to earn a living using your creativity and to directly market you art. But of course most artists hope to get gallery shows and even representation, as they should. Here are some pointers when you are ready to approach galleries, and by ready I mean that you have all the basic marketing  materials for yourself–a simple website with all of your written materials and images with detailed information.

– Get to know the galleries. Visit as many as you can and get a sense of what kind of art they show and if your work would fit with the aesthetic and focus of the gallery.  If not you would be wasting your time submitting your work to them.

– Introduce yourself to the employees at galleries you would be interested in showing at.  Find other artists that have exhibited with them and learn more about how they work.  Attend as many events at the space as you can; staying active makes you more memorable.

– Do your research and find out how they prefer submissions to be sent in and what materials they require.  Pay attention to the details so that you can edit anything you need to before sending it. Professional galleries that have an open submission policy should have detailed information on their website. Also make a note if there is a time of year that they accept submissions or if it is year round.

– If the galleries you are interested in have group shows submit work for them. If you can get one work in the gallery it could lead to more in the future.

– When you send your submission, personalize it to the curator and explain why you feel your work fits in the gallery, and what you bring to the table.

DON’TS

Do not send a mass email to all the galleries in your area with vanilla information.

Do not send emails to curators without ALL of the requested materials

Do not send a link to your website without anything else asking them to “check it out,” they won’t.

Do not take your portfolio into the gallery during an opening or without an appointment. Gallerists are very busy people and they don’t usually have time to review your work out of nowhere. Submission reviews can often take weeks, especially if they have a pile of them with you at the bottom.

Do not make threats or claims that express your ego–be humble in your approach.  If you are approaching serious, successful galleries this type of behavior will get you blackballed from the community quickly.

As always, let us know if you need help developing your materials, formatting images, or organizing your submissions.

Artist Tip – When Do I Start?

Over the years I have run into a reoccurring challenge with artists; they think they aren’t ready to promote themselves. Realistically, if you consider yourself an artist and want to make a living creating art you must start now. If you have a decent amount of completed work, 5-10 pieces, it is time to promote yourself.  Of course, your ducks must be in order but the most important part of getting started, is starting. If you struggle with “launching” pay attention to the following steps:

  • Make the decision to get started and create a plan
  • Create your written materials – Artist statement, Bio, CV immediately
  • Capture high quality images of your work
  • Build a simple website with the above
  • Use a blog to start building content
  • Engage with social media to promote your website/blog – you can even link them so they are efficient
  • Build your network on social media
  • Visit local galleries and other venues that show art and see if your work fits in
  • Attend art events and introduce yourself
  • Join local art groups
  • Find group exhibitions to submit to

If you don’t start sometime you never will, and no time is better than now.  If you don’t have all the answers you will learn as you grow. We are here to help.  If you need help to build any of the above materials or get to know more about the art market follow our blog or contact us for a consult!

If you have art business questions you would like to see written about in this blog email them to us at artistserv@gmail.com

Local Representation in Art Institutions – Why Not?

Many local artists and galleries have voiced concerns about a lack of support for the Phoenix art community by the local arts institutions.  There is a sense of a proverbial “they” when it comes to Phoenix Art Museum, SMOCA, ASU Art Museum, etc. as a conglomerate entity ignorant of the local scene and preferential to blockbuster international exhibitions and artists championed by Board members and the elite decision makers at these institutions.  Some concerns are metaphorical conspiracies suggesting a plot to dissolve the contemporary artists of the valley and implant a new regime, as if they wish to introduce an intrusive species into the desert to gorge on resources hidden from locals.  We propose that what exists is a lack of critical thinking and understanding of the position that institutions populate within the community, along with a total disregard for the purpose of a museum.

A museum is an institution that collects and/or displays objects of historical value and makes them available for public viewing on a permanent or temporary basis. Most museums are also places for academic research and education. Today, the museum has evolved into a place for social interaction, social justice, and community engagement.  A priority is also placed on spreading creative innovation, as Holland Cotter states, “Their job as public institutions is to change our habits of thinking and seeing.”  Therefore, they are spaces meant to expand creative and critical thinking about the ideas and objects in our world.

Most importantly, museums typically serve the general public by bringing ideas and objects to them not seen on a regular basis where they live.  Let’s look deeper at this through the mission statements of the three largest institutions in the Phoenix area:

Phoenix Art Museum: Our Mission is simple – Phoenix Art Museum is a vibrant destination connecting people to great art from around the world to enrich their lives and communities.

SMoCA: The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art champions creativity, innovation and the vitality of the visual arts. We seek to build and to educate audiences for modern and contemporary art, as well as to provide opportunities for the artistic community— locally, nationally and internationally. SMoCA provides a memorable experience of art, architecture and design by exploring new curatorial approaches and by highlighting cultural context. We interpret, exhibit, collect and preserve works in these media.

ASU Art Museum: The ASU Art Museum’s mission is to be a meeting point for the exchange of new ideas, perspectives and experiences among artists, students and the public through our exhibitions, residencies, collections and programs. The Museum forges meaningful connections across all areas of research in order to create a better, more sustainable future.

We could continue to explore the mission’s of other local institutions and there are a few common themes—engaging the public, educating visitors, and advocating for the arts.  Further, museums collect, conserve, and store objects for academic research in order to continue to expand discourse on society, politics, culture, and much more.  Only SMoCA even mentions opportunities for the local artistic community, but when we look in depth at the activities of the local institutions we find a great deal of support.

Contemporary Forum (CF) is a support organization for contemporary art at the Phoenix Art Museum. CF awards up to seven grants to Arizona artists each year, totaling over $224,000 to 168 artists since 1986.  The recipients are selected through a jury process of an annual open call.  The selected artists are also exhibited the following year in the Lyon Gallery at the museum. Additionally, the Arlene and Morton Scult Contemporary Forum Artist Award is presented annually to a mid-career artist to be used for the further development in the field of art—so far granting $30,000 to six artists, who have also been featured in solo exhibitions in the museum.

The annual CF art auction is often a source of heavy debate in the local art community.  The main concern is that CF asks local artists to donate their work to the auction and the funds raised are used to procure a work of art from an internationally recognized artist from elsewhere in the world. In light of our exploration of museum missions, this now appears logical, as well as beneficial to local artists.  CF offers each artist a percentage of the funds for their work and gives them an opportunity for exposure to a wide array of art collectors and museum supporters.  The funds are used to bring a new work to the museum for the benefit of the artists—to engage with new contemporary work by an established artist—and the public.

As for exhibition opportunities, there are plenty for local artists if they know where to look and qualify for the institution guidelines, although there have been relatively few major exhibitions featuring locals.  In 2009, Phoenix Art Museum organized “Locals Only,” curated by Sara Cochran (former contemporary art curator at the museum, now Associate Director, Curator, and Educator at SMoCA).  The exhibition presented the work of 12 Chicano and Latino artists based in the Phoenix metro area and focused on issues of identity, cultural tension, and shifts in art practices.  The limited scope of the exhibition definitely excluded many local artists but was a great step in the right direction with the inclusion of local contemporary artists at the museum.

There are many opportunities for local artists to submit their work or exhibition proposals to the other major art institutions in the valley. SMoCA, Mesa Art Center, Chandler Center for the Arts, Shemer Art Center, and the West Valley Art Museum all actively call for and review submissions from any artists and have a history of showing locals.

There have also been complaints in the art community that the museum curators do not pay attention to local artists, which in our experience is not the case.  Cochran and PAM curators Vanessa Davidson and Becky Senf are regulars on the local gallery circuit.  Heather Sealy Lineberry from ASU Art Museum can also be found making the rounds on many First or Third Fridays.  There has also been more collaboration between museums and galleries recently.  Last December Phoenix Art Museum curator worked with the monOrchid to continue the exhibition “Focus Latin America: Art is our last hope” (which included many local artists) at the gallery after its run at the museum.

Bottom line—the local institutions are here to inspire, not only artists but the entire community.  They are places to explore history, engage in ideas, and use as launching pads for artistic experimentation.  They bring important work from history around the world to Phoenix so that we, as a city, can experience something not of our own place and expand our horizons.  An artist who has not done anything to build their resume, explore the limits of their work, or develop as a professional artist has no room to complain about the lack of support from the institutions.  Especially when that perspective is ignorant of fact. One suggestion to artists, stop thinking so narrowly.  Institutions around the country provide opportunities and there are so many calls for art to be found online.  Look outward to build your resume, then maybe more institutions would take notice.

That said… there are some improvements that would definitely foster connections and increase appreciation for the museums.  It would be outstanding to see more involvement in the local art community from PAM and CF, especially with a new director and hopefully soon a new contemporary curator.  New PAM Director Amada Cruz has stated that she would like the museum to organize more travelling exhibitions that originate here.  A suggestion—maybe an exhibition featuring the cream of the crop from the local talent pool. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an assistant curator at PAM also be someone who has been immersed in the local art scene?  An idea down the line may be to inaugurate the first Museum of Local Art… It would also be amazing to see a group step up to form a Phoenix biennial that would engage the entire valley and bring art collectors in from around the world. Tucson has one, why not Phoenix! The month of March comes to mind… Use Art Detour as a launching point and get all the cities, institutions, and galleries involved.

Featured Artist – Denise Fleisch

IMG_6656_2Local painter, gallery owner, and curator Denise Fleisch calls herself an “Arizona girl” since she has lived in Phoenix most of her life, moving to the valley when she was two with a stint in Cleveland after she married. Fleisch started painting over 20 years ago when she viewed masters such as Monet and Van Gogh and wanted artwork in her house. She says bluntly, “I wasn’t very good, but I didn’t care. I just continued to paint.” Over the years, she developed her abstract style which she links directly to the expanse, bright colors, and diverse textures of the Arizona desert. She also found that she had to be an artist, there was nothing else that fulfilled her like painting, whether it sold or not. So, she made it her career.

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When Fleisch moved back to Phoenix from Cleveland in 2002, she found the Phoenix art scene and she fit right in. She showed at the Paper Heart Gallery for five years along with any opportunity she could find in restaurants, salons, offices, libraries, and even the Phoenix Art Museum on one occasion. She also found donating her work to charities for fundraiser events became a great way for people to experience and notice her art.

In 2008, she and another artist opened a gallery Grand Avenue. With a lot of support and encouragement, she kept painting and started selling really well, which kept her gallery in business. About three years ago she moved her gallery to Roosevelt and named it Lotus Contemporary Art. She currently sells her work, shows a few other artists each year, and has some group shows in the space.

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She recalls a lot of rejection as she was establishing her art career, but she always had support too, especially from her fellow artists and gallerists locally. She learned to grow a thick skin and be persistent. In order to support her painting habit, she has to sell her art, so she has continued to build her knowledge by gathering advice from successful people around her to enhance her art business.

Fleisch’s advice to all early career artists is that even though they might not always want to run the business side of it, it is essential. She states, “It’s not just about painting. It’s about marketing, communication, social media, and having great people who love art and believe in the work. Also believing in one’s self-worth.” A key to her success has been to make sacrifices, surround herself with other like-minded, entrepreneurial artists and art professionals, and immerse herself in the local art scene. She makes a daily effort in marketing, whether it be social media posting, reading about the art business, applying for art exhibitions around the country, or sending information to other galleries.

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She shared a great recent experience that shows follow up can lead to success. She booked artist James Hernandez to show at Lotus in April 2015 and decided she wanted to do some outreach to her contacts around the states. So she had some cards printed of her work along with information about the upcoming show and sent them out. Shortly after, she received a call from a gallerist in San Francisco who is interested in showing (and selling) her work at their gallery! She also was invited to a meeting that led to an opportunity to show in a showroom at the Arizona Biltmore soon.

Fleisch is a model of persistence, which will take her career to the next level for sure.

Art Education VS Art Industry: The various paths, issues, and opportunities for professional art education

Untitled-1One of many complaints from gallerists and art dealers, especially those that primarily exhibit early-career or local artists, is the lack of professionalism by the artists themselves. Any gallery employee likely has many a story about odd and unprofessional ways prospecting artists approached them, and this is not a challenge just localized to Phoenix, but an issue in the art industry worldwide.  The stereotype of the flighty artist who simply is “discovered” or convinces galleries to exhibit them solely on talent and ego is a thing of the past. Today’s artist must present themselves professionally, and adhere to standards set forth by the industry. Even more so, today’s professional artist must be an entrepreneur and initially focus on directly marketing their work to build interest and success. The pointed question then is, where do artists learn to be professional?

It is no secret that there is little alignment between the art industry and art education. There is not a singular path to becoming a successful, professional artist. Like any business some people have the talent, some have the business acumen, some have both, and some have neither. But art education is sorely lacking in terms of providing a well-rounded education that will lead to a stable career as an artist. Some institutions are aware of the gap between education and employment in the arts. Notably, here in Phoenix there are innovators working to create more diverse training for art students, which in turn benefits the local art industry.

It is an old school joke that art students are regularly asked, “What are you going to do with that degree?” Realistically, there are numerous professions that art students could enter, but they have to mold their knowledge with their talent and creativity to find the best fit for them. Art graduates can work in nearly any field, from marketing to healthcare, education to social work, manufacturing to design; the possibilities are endless. The key is how to use their creativity and implement it into a field of interest. Most art students, rightfully so, want to be professional artists, gallerists, or museum professionals, and like other areas of study should be trained in the business of the industry. So, why aren’t they?

Before the 1960s, very few artists had degrees, and those who did seldomly studied art in school. The public viewed art as a trade and many artisans studied under masters as apprentices before branching out on their own. Then art became a commodity; prices rose by record amounts, and the big business art industry was born. Educational institutions took advantage of the trend, and schools created more art degree programs. Today it is considered a near necessity for an artist to have an MFA to be considered somewhat professional. The students also had a great deal to do with the shift to academic art programs. The thought was that if they could get a degree in art then they should have the ability to make a great deal of money using it. Virtually, art degrees became an attempt to create artists.


There are numerous avenues to pursue an art education. Art school is defined by the Princeton Review as an institution dedicated only to the arts. Other than basic general education requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education, a BFA from one of these schools focuses on total immersion in technique. Approximately two-thirds of the coursework is in the studio, leaving very little time to explore various other fields in any depth. It also is important to note that everyone attending these schools is in an art program; therefore they are entirely surrounded by other art students with little to no interaction with people studying other disciplines.

Traditional colleges and universities may also offer BFA programs but allow for greater expedition into other disciplines. They allow for more flexibility in coursework so the student can broaden their knowledge and build more applicable skills used in a variety of fields. These schools also offer other types of degree programs, such as business or graphic design, which allow the student to explore courses in the arts. A student could major in fine art and minor in business, which is not a bad idea.  Or they could major in business and take art courses as electives.  The classes usually have a mixture of students majoring in arts and non-arts degrees.

Community colleges also have fine arts courses and some have Associate degrees in art related fields.  The main focus of Associate degrees is general education requirements for entry level workforce skills with a minute amount of specialization. A benefit of the community college system is that they are often located closer to home and a broad demographic of people can take individual classes and learn the basics of the arts, business, or any other field of interest.

An alternative to the academic route is to take technical classes at art centers, museums, or private run businesses that teach studio courses or workshops. Some aspiring artists find an established artist to mentor and learn from.  Or, some may choose to bypass the academics altogether and learn themselves. Like many fields of expertise, one can learn through practice and experience, and some are just born talented.

The individual has to determine which path is best for their goals, so it is important to know there are many options. It is also essential to understand the realities of the art industry and think long term. No matter which route they take, a vast majority of artists will have to work in other jobs for some time, if not the rest of their life. Some people never reach the point where they can support themselves as full-time artists, just like not every person with a degree in architecture builds skyscrapers.


Another reason these options are important is this; art school (or for that matter any higher education) is expensive. Any potential college student should be looking for the potential return on their investment in themselves. For example, a BFA at one of the top art schools, such as the Rhode Island Institute of Design, can set a student back up to $250,000! A good formula when considering educational return on investment is the potential yearly salary five years after graduation should be greater or equal to the cost of the education. How many BFA holding artists make 250k within five years of graduation? RISD is an exceptional institution of higher learning in the arts and has a low acceptance rate based on talent. It is a prime breeding ground for extraordinary artists whose candidates are scouted by high-end gallerists from day one of their first class. But there are only three open elective courses in that program, and no courses dedicated to the art business, leaving very little room for the entrepreneur artist to refine the skills needed to work for themselves.

At Arizona State University, right here in the Phoenix area, a BFA could cost around $50,000, one-fifth of that at RISD, and there is an extra elective! Plenty of funding left for the MFA, which could cost between $25-60,000. Lower price than RISD, yes indeed, but how many artists are earning 110K annually five years out of ASU’s School of Art. But, ASU also offers interdisciplinary courses that provide a more diverse education and build skills that can help artists find work in other industries in addition to building their art business. Local community college systems offer a reasonable tuition rate at around $100 per credit for in-state students also. Phoenix College and Scottsdale Community College have exceptional fine art programs. Local art centers such as Mesa Art Center, Shemer, and even smaller places like BRIO in Scottsdale teach studio courses for all skill levels too.

Any educational path is a tough decision, and not one to be taken lightly, especially for one who wants to make a career from their art. The reality is art school teaches technique, theory, and some history; it severely lacks depth in essential elements for entrepreneurial artists, such as writing, business, marketing, and insight into the art industry. The best advice for any potential college student is to study an interest or field that has the potential for a personally and financially fulfilling career. One can always pick up a class here and there to improve artistic techniques; if your art is a hobby, enjoy it as one. Husband and wife art critics Roberta Smith (New York Times) and Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine) recently addressed the issue of art school in a panel discussion in New York City. Their message was that art school is for artists who live and breathe art and cannot function without it; it is not for those who wish to become an artist. They were also very blunt in stating that “there are too many artists” and “we have more art than we need.” Their comments are poignant in a saturated art market. Their point is, do not totally invest yourself as an artist unless deep down inside you have to. If someone who does not have that absolute need to be an artist tries to make a career in one of the toughest industries in the world, they will end up a miserable, starving artist, and that does not benefit anyone.


Let’s take a break for a quick metaphor.  Keep in mind the cost of art school outlined above along with the formula about educational debt. We have all heard the statistics about how difficult it is to become professional athletes; the statistics on professional artists are similar. Every year approximately 3500 eligible football players apply to the NFL draft, and about 10% (350) make a team’s roster. The league minimum salary is $435,000 per year (players only on the practice squad get $6,000 per week), and the highest current salary is about $25 million per year. There are around 2000 players in the NFL each year. Oh, and most of these players went to college on scholarships and paid very little themselves. So in theory, professional football players have little to no debt and can make a lot of money right out of college, some never even need to complete their degrees. Those who do not play professionally also have an education to fall back on so they can pursue other careers.

In comparison, the 2010 U.S. Census reported more people claimed “artist” as their occupation than “lawyer,”, “doctor,”, or “police officer” combined; and each year in the U.S. 100,000 students graduate with art-oriented degrees. A survey in New York City in 2010-2012 reported 85% of art degree graduates (BFA/MFA/PHD) work in other non-arts related fields with a median earning of $25,000 per year, which is half of the average for all professionals in New York City. By these figures alone one can see the potential to make a substantial living right out of college is nearly as low as the chance of making a professional football roster, and at nowhere near the salary.

The statistics here prove that the current standard of arts education focusing on technique without any real business skills is truly outdated for today’s market. Graduates know how to make their product but little about how to make a living from it. We need a paradigm shift that teaches artists how to create opportunities for themselves instead of hoping that they will be discovered. Creating an entrepreneurial environment in art education will empower artists to experiment, innovate, and change the dynamic of American creative capital. A primary focus should be on how to use their creative talent to serve others in the pursuit of making a living for themselves. For many artists, competing for commercial opportunities and finding niches to fill with what they do best, fulfills their financial needs. If they can learn how to do this themselves, they will have more autonomy and less reliance on agents and galleries. Self-sufficiency is the goal!

Self-sufficient artists create opportunities by understanding the market and inserting themselves into it, filling the gaps. There is, of course, the resistance to “selling out.” This term is as antiquated as the standards of art education. Let’s choose to look at it this way, selling out is a positive, especially if your entire solo show or inventory is selling out. If an artist can use their skills and business acumen to win commercial jobs that pay well, what is wrong with that? They can always continue to pursue other artistic interests, and having a paycheck helps keep those art supplies stocked! It is possible to create a unique aesthetic, articulate its value, find an audience, and consistently create content that people want to own, and do it on your terms. An artist must find that content and their voice while structuring their art career as a business. By doing this the chances of success increase exponentially.


Many art schools see the benefit of more business-focused education in art programs, but some are reluctant to change because the formula works just fine for them. Students who are dead set on art school should choose a program that will allow for exploration and customization. They should also take classes in marketing, business development, public relations, web design, journalism, and grant writing. These classes will all benefit artists in their careers. Artists who have already completed their formal education can still learn these skills too. There are plenty of options, and dedicating the time is worth it. Learning, whether in the studio, the classroom, or the real world should be a continuing theme throughout an artist’s career, there will always be something new to add to the toolkit. Students should also get out of the studio, go to museums, galleries, events—network! Get to know the people working in the industry in your area. Phoenix has a vibrant community of artists and art professionals! Find a mentor, volunteer in an art space, get to know the industry.

ASU faculty member and gallery director Peter Bugg sees a definite need to incorporate more economic aspects into art degree academics, especially for undergraduate students. Luckily, ASU has been open to introducing business to art students earlier, and the most resistance has been from the students themselves according to Mr. Bugg. Cyndi Coon’s course, “Professional Practices for Artists,” teaches the importance of business plans, business structures, contracts, and best industry practices for artists, but it is not required for graduation. Mr. Bugg teaches the required “Professional Exhibition and Portfolio” course, and he works to develop an industry ready document with each student. He also brings art professionals to speak to the class about the important realities of the art business. He stresses the need for more immersion as well, for students to learn outside of the classroom.

“They need to complement their coursework with being a part of student organizations and professional development outside of school.” He encourages his students to attend conferences and look for internships or entry-level jobs in art businesses while they are in school, so they have a better idea of how the industry works. Potential opportunities in galleries, museums, public arts organizations, art magazines, or as assistants for professional artists and designers could provide valuable insight and prepare them for the real world when they graduate. “They will get first-hand experience and be better able to articulate why they would want to work for those sorts of places and what would make them suitable candidates.”

One area of opportunity he observes is in teaching art students how to write about their work. Not only for exhibition submissions and applications but to help them articulate what they do, and why it is important. He would like to see a substantial artist statement by the time they get to their senior exhibition, a goal that could be accomplished with more interdisciplinary study perhaps?


Overall the common outlook for art students is too black or white–celebrity artist or starving artist—what about the middle-class artist who is comfortable and able to create what they want? Bottomline, if one chooses to pursue a career as a professional artist they need to know more than how to make art. There are many ways to learn and no one formula to success.  Each individual must figure out what areas they excel in and where they have the opportunity to grow. There are very successful artists who are self taught and naturally gifted in promoting themselves professionally.  On the other hand, there are artists who studied at the most respected schools, and may even be supremely talented, but know almost nothing about being a professional.  Even less talented artists might find ways to create a business around what they can do. Inevitably the artist has to control what they do about their career. If they want to be successful, they need to know how to make art, communicate it to others, market themselves and their work, look for opportunities, and build their career. No one is going to do it for them, and it is not easy, but the rewards are there for the taking. Of course, if an artist would rather focus on the creative and hire a professional to help with the business, we are here to help.