Professional practice goes a long way for emerging artists. Don’t make a rookie mistake. Read these handy DOs and DON’Ts by guest writer Stephanie Anne D’Amico to make sure you’re not blacklisted before your promising career has even started.
SHOWING YOUR ART
DON’T: Walk into a gallery and ask, “How do I get a show here?” While there is value in being forthcoming, this question only indicates that you haven’t done your research. Take the time to find out which galleries in your area are publicly funded, commercial, or collectively run and adjust your expectations accordingly.
DO: Peruse the websites of local galleries and take note of which organizations accept proposals (either for exhibition rentals, participation in group shows, or even for their general programming). Subscribe to e-mail lists to get advance notice for submission opportunities.
DO: Apply for grants. Having a grant attached to your project will help it get shown, and having a secured venue for your exhibit allows you to apply for more grants for exhibition assistance. Get familiar with the deadline schedule for the Toronto, Ontario, and Canada councils, and warm up to the idea of throwing your hat in the ring on an annual basis.
DON’T: Bring your uninvited portfolio to a gallery and ask for an opinion. Many galleries employ administrative staff who aren’t being paid to give impromptu crit sessions. It’s akin to bringing your latest culinary creation to a restaurant and asking the waiter to taste it– he may be a foodie, but you’re probably just going to get him in trouble. Even if you do encounter the gallery director/curator, s/he is unlikely to entertain your request, as it is almost always an imposition.
DO: Seek out community crit sessions like those offered periodically at O’Born Contemporary. These events are a great place to meet and discuss work (including yours!) with a variety of arts professionals. Take note: these sessions are open to the public, but you still have to register, unsolicited portfolios are unacceptable.
DO: Seek out mentors. Consider working or volunteering as a studio assistant for an artist whose work you respect, and while you’re at it, be sure to pick his/her brain for some tricks of the trade! When you’ve established a positive relationship built on mutual respect (aka- longer than 15 minutes into your first day on the job), politely ask if s/he would be available and interested in offering some insight on your latest body of work.
DON’T: Cut corners on your business cards or website. When you scrawl your flickr or DeviantArt URL on the back of your home-printed, perforated business card, you are metaphorically writing yourself off as pre-professional.
DO: Invest in a few key promotional tools, namely, a website and business cards. If you’re trained in graphic/web design then BONUS, you can manage your brand on your own. If not, seek out free educational resources (ahem, YouTube) that can help you learn a simple CMS like WordPress. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to hire a professional, or to barter skills with a colleague to help cut costs. If cash flow is a serious issue, leverage free owned media like Twitter and Facebook to get the word out about your practice, and to connect with other artists and gallerists. Then, get a job and pay someone to make you proper business cards and a website.
DON’T: Assume the community is impenetrable. It’s not.
DO: Attend openings on a regular basis. Make a concerted effort to see what’s opening each week, and keep track of galleries whose stable of artists make work that resonates with your own. Then go to the openings. If I see someone at 3 consecutive receptions and I don’t already know who they are, I always make a point to introduce myself and get their story.
DO: Use Google to get familiar with the faces of local gallerists, curators, and artists. This is a huge help in gauging which openings attract which crowds, and can help you strategize about where to spend your time. It’s also just good practice to know who’s who. I once had a chat with a well-known and widely respected gallery director who I did not know by face. He was pretty befuddled when I asked him who he was. I’m still living it down.
THE KEY TAKEAWAY:
DON’T: Panic if you’re already guilty of one, or more, of these missteps. What matters most is that you make genuine and continued efforts to be active in the community, to give as much as you can to your peers, and to make some damn good art.