There are lots of educated, talented artists out there who are producing solid art, but who are failing. Failing to get into juried shows. Failing to obtain grants. Failing to get into galleries. Failing to sell their artwork.
Now, I’m not an artist, but I am an arts administrator. You’d be surprised how much information you gather and subconsciously soak-up while working with artists, fellow arts administrators, gallery directors and art collectors. I’ve followed jurors around as they dismiss work they don’t like and comment on work they do like. The following is advice not only from me, but advice I’ve gathered from all those mentioned above.
1. Submitting Slides
It happens every year. I’ve seen it in applications for the Statewide Annual Exhibition and in the Fellowship Competition. I’ve overheard and sometimes have been told by jurors about how the slides they’re looking at aren’t good. Everyone knows that professional slides (or professional-looking slides) are key to impressing the jurors (apart from the obvious quality of your artwork of course). But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about which slides you select to submit. Townsend Wolfe, juror for the UAC 2002 Fellowship, commented how most of the slide sets he viewed “lacked a consistency in the quality of a body of work.” It’s worth the effort to submit ten high-quality slides of high-quality work. Don’t throw in a few duds because you’re short a couple slides, hoping that the juror will overlook them.
The most important part of his statement was “body of work.” Submit slides that share a theme or are representational of the same style. It’s like answering an essay question in school: you make up your mind on an answer you believe in and then thoroughly cover the topic at hand. You don’t bring in a bunch of outside ideas hoping that the right answer is in there somewhere. Many artists are multitalented in different styles and mediums. Although that does show your versatility and broad range of talent the juror doesn’t necessarily care. The juror wants to be consumed and convinced by one idea or theme that you’ve explored. That is what makes an impression.
2. Follow instructions:
A. If the application asks for slides, send slides. Don’t send photographs placed in a nice book. Don’t send prints or Xerox copies. At the Arts Council we’ve received all of these. Slides are placed in carousels and mailed to the juror. Although you may have great photographs or prints of your winning artwork, the juror prefers slides.
B. Pay close attention to instructions about how the slides are supposed to be labeled. Then follow those instructions.
C. Fill out the address and information sheet completely. If your address and phone number weren’t needed, there wouldn’t be a little asterisk by it with a footnote saying, “required.” Also, if you’re going to fill out the application by hand (which is perfectly fine), write legibly. If your ‘5’ looks like an ‘S’ or if your ‘4’ looks like a ‘9’, those administering the grant or competition might have a difficult time figuring out what your address or phone number really is.
3. Join Artist Co-ops: Organize with other artists in any capacity you can. Do group-shows. Solo shows are great, but when you’re still establishing your reputation, it’s possible that a wider audience will see your art when it’s associated with other artists because other artists have friends and acquaintances that you don’t know.
Join Artists of Utah, a growing network of artists is becoming aware of this great resource and directory. Join the Utah Watercolor Society, Clay Arts Utah, the Salt Lake Photo Print Society, the Utah Designer Craftsmen Association, etc. Be social. Talk to other artists and see what’s working for them, and support each other. Being artists in the same area isn’t necessarily a cutthroat competition.
4. Pricing your Artwork:
You have to gain somewhat of a reputation before you can allow your prices to get big. Many artists — very talented artists, start out with great artwork. If you want to sell it, you have to have a track record of selling before you hike up your prices. Start the prices out as being modest.
After a couple shows producing substantial sales, and after being approached by collectors and other galleries, then your pieces are worthy of a price promotion and people will confidently invest in you. Remember, it’s a lot easier and looks a lot better to raise your prices once you start selling rather than lowering your prices because nothing is selling.
Remember, there is more to being a successful artist than producing great art. Follow the suggestions above and soon you’ll be on the way to success.
This article appeared in the July 2002 edition of 15 Bytes.
Laura Durham works for KUED Channel-7 in the Creative Services Department, curating community engagement projects for both PBS and KUED productions that foster trust and value to the communities in Utah. She also produces Contact with Mary Dickson and Contact in the Community — a digital series featuring arts and culture groups in Utah. Prior to her work at KUED, Laura spent 15 years at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums in the visual arts program and later managing communications, branding, marketing, and public value projects for all arts and museums programming. She has served the Utah community in various capacities with her role as Vice President of the Salt Lake Gallery Association and Program Director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. She lives in Salt Lake City, sings with Utah Chamber Artists, and loves to contribute to 15 Bytes as often as time allows.