For many years Jeff Guido was the Artistic Director and help many emerging and established artist at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia. He has genuine interest in the health of the field, and is a promoter of emerging artists. Jeff has his own studio practice in Philadelphia, while maintaining his commitment to ceramics.
Advice for Young Artist – Essay
All professions face unique challenges, and being an artist is perhaps one of the most challenging. Upon completion of ones education, a BFA or MFA is not the most marketable degree. One does not finish school, join a company, learn the ropes and move up the ladder. Artists typically learn from other artists. Most schools do a very poor job of preparing their students for the realities of the life of a maker. They rarely equip their students with the tools necessary to survive and succeed in their chosen fields, specifically the business side of being an artist.
The tips listed at the end of this document are applicable to all, regardless of the type of work that one makes. Having said that, there are strategies that one can plan, depending upon one’s chosen career path. The following demonstrates most career paths that ceramists take and briefly identifies how to begin traveling down that path.
Studio Potter/Practitioner: In many ways, this chosen track is the “easiest”. I place quotations around “easy”, because it is far from easy. However, pots are accessible to most (both financially and conceptually), and the number of venues one can use to sell them is numerous. A strong line of work can be marketed via Art fairs, Consignment in galleries/stores, Media specific non-profits (Pewabic Pottery, Northern Clay Center, Baltimore Clayworks, The Clay Studio etc.), wholesale shows (ACC and Rosen Shows for example), and Home/Studio sales. Good promotional tools are essential, in particular a good postcard with a strong representative image (which, as a visual artist, should really be your business card). A line sheet detailing all you make with prices (retail or wholesale depending on the audience), dimensions, medium, and a good one page written biography, process and philosophy statement (what your pots are about) are also essential. Good business practices are essential for success – know what it costs to make your work, to run your studio (fixed overhead expenses) and make sure the retail cost of your work covers those expenses. Learn what it takes to run a small business, because that is what you are doing.
Tenure Track Position: Be prepared to move, to be mobile for a period of time. It is imperative that you build both your teaching and exhibition histories. Take adjunct positions at universities, colleges and community colleges, sabbatical replacement positions. Teach in adult education programs, at community art centers and non-profits. Apply for national juried exhibitions, and call for entries etc. Participate in National conferences (CAA and NCECA). Build up a great slide history of your own and your student’s work. Define, refine and think about your teaching approach and philosophy. Become an excellent teacher. Consider tech positions to gain access to programs and departments.
Representational Sculpture/Vessels (smart pots): Build up a strong body of work. Identify galleries that your work might be a good fit for. Know who they show, the kind of work they represent, their aesthetic, whether they show mature, mid-career or emerging talent. Find out their policies for reviewing work and follow them. Have great images, a tight body of work, press clippings, artist statement all impeccably prepared. Be Professional and represent yourself well. Look for alternative sites for showing your work, apply for shows, national calls for entry – Be Visible. Consider high end “craft shows” such as the Renwick’s show or the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s shows.
Conceptual/Installation Oriented Work/ Non Representational Sculpture: This career route is by far the hardest path. Typically, the more difficult and challenging the work is, the smaller the audience will be. What was stated above regarding galleries also applies here. University Galleries and alternative spaces devoted to contemporary cutting edge work should also be identified and made familiar with your work again in the manner outlined above. Good reputable slide registries should be explored. Often used by independent curators, curators aligned with institutions, art consultants and dealers to identify new artists and their work. Apply for calls for entry for exhibition opportunities, curate your own shows and find space to make them happen.
So, here are my tips in no particular order:
- Master your medium. Your work is only as good as your understanding and faculty of your chosen medium.
- Take pride in the craftsmanship of your work.
- As an artist, recognize that you are an independent business, a sole proprietor responsible for all that is essential to the success of any business. This means you are an accountant/book keeper, marketer, photographer, preparatory [sic], shipper and archivist, to name a few. You are your own business manager. Have a sound understanding of each.
- Always represent yourself professionally. Have quality images, updated resumes, well written artist statements. Honor deadlines and commitments. Invest in a good quality post card or business card with a great image of your work and use it.
- Constantly update your images, resume, and artist statement.
- Keep good records as to where your work goes/whose collection it is part of.
- Believe in yourself and your work.
- Become comfortable with rejection. Recognize that taste is subjective.
- When approaching galleries, do your homework. Find out if they have specific procedures for the review of work and if so honor them. Know the kind of work they show, the artists they represent, and extrapolate whether your work would be a good fit or not. Have a strong, tight, finished body of work to present.
- Always have a good inventory or work.
- Maintain low overhead – the less you spend the less you have to earn. Share living/studio space, buy good used equipment, and be frugal.
- Know what it costs to run your studio, how much it costs to make your work and keep track.
- Apply for group exhibitions nationally, look at call for entries, get your work out in the world.
- Research grants and fellowships that can provide needed support and apply for all you qualify for.
- Be smart – read, look, research, look beyond your chosen medium for inspiration and aspiration. Think about your work!
- Be original, or as close to it as you can be.
- Be honest with yourself. Look at your work and honestly evaluate it. Is your work strong, relevant, and marketable? Is there an audience for it?
- Surround yourself with smart people, with successful artists who can serve as mentors to you.
- Work hard and consistently. You are entitled to nothing.
- Recognize that it is challenging and difficult to balance one’s creative life with the realities of daily life. There is no magic trick here – it is always, always hard.
- Be prepared to sacrifice for what you want.
- Listen to constructive criticism from a trusted few, but do listen.
- Schmooze and network. Who you know really is important and brings opportunity. Attend lectures and openings, conferences and happenings.
- Act on opportunity when presented. (This ties in to #8.)
- Trust your gut. Your base instincts are your best friend.
- Price your work affordably. Sell it and get it out into the world, into people’s homes and collections. Strong prices are earned and not an immediate right.
- Few artists are “discovered”. Be aggressive. Don’t wait for things to happen to you or for someone to discover you. Make them happen yourself.
- Organize shows in alternative spaces, present curatorial concepts to NCECA, apply for Emerging artist awards, portfolio sections of magazines etc.
- Identify all of the media specific non-profit galleries and art centers and make them familiar with your work.
- A successful career is about exposure, about getting your work seen.
- Know what you want. Define your goals. Visualize your life, the environment you want to live in, and map it out. Literally map it out and plan to make it happen
- Have goals and aspirations and strive to reach them. Develop a strategy and work to make it happen.
- Barter your work for needed services if possible.
- Consider donating your work to select auctions or charitable events for exposure and networking opportunities.
- Maintain a mailing list with everyone who has ever purchased your work or expressed interest in your work. If your work is sold through galleries, make it clear to them that you want every name of every individual that has purchased your work. Use it to sell and promote yourself. This is so important, I cannot stress it enough. Keep in touch by doing at least one mailing annually.
- Work with art consultants, architects, interior decorators – make them aware of your work. They are often times looking for artists to do commissions or are seeking out work for specific environments.
- Read trade journals – magazines specific to your field and medium. They oftentimes contain invaluable information that can be put into immediate use within your own business/studio practice.
- Have a good web site.
- Use the same creativity in your life outside your studio as in your studio.
- Develop a skill where you can earn the most money in the shortest amount of time to allow for the most time in your studio as possible.
- Work for the joy of creating, the need and love to make, not for fame or recognition.