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Thursday, June 23, 2016
HEY WORLD I'M AN ARTIST AND I'M HERE! Getting Noticed in Today's Art Market
As artists, we do a lot of complaining about the lack of opportunities for us to show our work and be acknowledged in our field. Believe me, I was one of them and still am to a certain extent.
I live in the third biggest arts city in the United States. Logically you would think this means that there are tons of opportunities for unknown artists to get seen. Sadly exactly the opposite applies. I speak to a lot of artists who say the same things about how insular the arts community is here. If you don't know someone who knows someone then your an unknown locked out from interacting with the inner sanctum of the accomplished art world.
I used to do a lot of complaining about it. In fact for a time I'd given up on New Orleans completely and utilized the internet to create international connections in the art world. But one day a few years back I said to myself, "you have to stop complaining and you have to start making opportunities for yourself and for other artists facing the same problem".
So I took a month or so to virtually move back to the New Orleans art market. I'd lived here for 13 years, but as an artist I'd left a long time ago.
My first step was to take a good long look at what area was the most under served. How could I accomplish my goal of being identified with the art world and help others to do the same? I identified two areas that I felt I could contribute to. The first was the "unknown artist". The second was the "LGBT artist" Believe me there are a lot more substrata of artists that are under served, but I felt these were the two where I could do the most good.
But what could I really do? I was just some dumb hack artist. How could I make a difference? But when I sat down and identified my own talents, I found I knew a bit more than I realized. I had skills as a painter, a sculptor, a photographer, a body artist and a digital artist. As an experimental artist I'd developed techniques that could be of value to others. I was damned good at social networking online and proving that an artist could get their name out there with little to no resources.
So a plan began to emerge in my head. I had no budget whatsoever. How could I do anything if I was struggling to survive myself? But I realized straight on that the exchange of information cost nothing. There was nothing but my own time that I was losing in order to teach others some of the things I knew.
I think we are conditioned to equate time spent to money earned. That's not always the case. While many of my colleagues told me I was stupid and wasting my time, it was my time to waste and I didn't consider it a waste. I was creating a name in my own local market even if others couldn't see how. If I found it impossible to get a gallery owner to look at my work then I would damned well make the gallery owners know my name regardless.
So one night I posted an ad on the artists board of Craigslist seeking LGBT artists for internships in the studio. I made it clear it was not a pay position, but a way for an unknown artist to learn new skills and more importantly learn how to operate a studio. It would focus on mentoring, not school teaching. And while it would involve imparting skills to each intern, the emphasis would be on what do you need to do as an artist to survive.
I waited patiently. I reposted that ad five times before I got any interest. But to my surprise there was interest and I started to book interviews with various inquiring artists. With each interview I reassessed my own plan finally deciding on two good candidates that had both a level of interest and a level of skill that made it worth investing time in their education. The first two chosen worked with me for four months, once a week. I constantly evaluated what I was doing but there was one thing I knew for sure. It felt good! This was the right thing to be doing. In fact I'd come away from an internship session so pumped that I often couldn't sleep.
With each new batch of interns I'd carefully tweak my program and try to give them as much advantage as I could. There were unforeseen advantages. One was that it was creating a group of linked artists who even after the internship was completed still played a part in the studio and its activities. Some vanished after it was over. But at least one from each session still was an active partner in studio activities.
Now along about the third cycle of interns I began to launch the second phase of my "HEY NEW ORLEANS I'M HERE" plan. Now it was time to focus on the "unknowns". I felt like I had a firm footing working with unknown artists already. So how could I make this work?
Earlier in my planning I'd decided one thing I had to do was to get out more and see galleries and art facilities around the area. One of these involved going to see a new art center that wasn't even open at the time. This 4 million dollar facility would help kids from 15-25 to become artists. At the time I'd interviewed the building their director mentioned that they would be renting out the space once open and when classes were not in session. I'd made a mental note of it at the time.
Now about this time an artist colleague who lived in South America queried me on finding a space to do a show in. If I could find him a space would I consider showing also as he did not want to do it alone. I made a few calls including the new art facility I'd toured and found to my surprise that they required no up front deposit, but would be willing to host a show if artists didn't mind 20% of their sales going back to the facility to cover costs.
Now I knew it was time to start my second phase. I told my artist friend that as long as I was in charge of the setup and planning I would guarantee a spot in the show for him. Since he had no qualms about showing with other artists I began a serious effort to put together my first major New Orleans show. Not through a gallery, but completely orchestrated by myself and the artists involved.
While I won't go into the details of the show planning here, the important thing to know is that there were three major artists and twelve unknown artists showing work. There were close to 300 pieces of work and created a platform for artists to show their work in a professional setting and to learn the process of curating and presenting their work without the assistance of a gallery.
Once that show was complete I immediately launched into a smaller monthly show that was done right here at the studio. As of the writing of this article I've done four such small popup shows with more planned throughout the year.
Both plans had come to fruition and created a name recognition locally that was so badly needed. While I wasn't a household name by any means, I'd created some recognition locally that would continue to grow if I continued to work at it. Suddenly I stopped complaining so much about lack of opportunities because I'd created my own.
Now as of the writing of this article I am launch into a third phase that involves installation art and putting teams of artists together to participate in large scale projects. There are also more advanced exposure plans in the works for the coming months.
Simply put, if you don't want to be a nobody artist waiting for someone to see your work and take notice of your skills, you must put yourself out there in a way that gets the attention of others. Some artists do this by volunteering to worthy causes. Others do it with massive installation pieces that get the attention of others. But however you do it, the old days of submitting a piece of art to a juried competition and hoping a gallery owner might spot you are over.
The artists of the new era find ways to get noticed.
Its not easy. In fact it can be hell. And it will definitely not get you instant gratification. But if you take your time you might be surprised what attention it gets.
And always remember THE REVOLUTION BEGINS WITH BEAUTY!