Studio Materials 2

Studio Materials 2

Monday, May 23, 2011

Yes To Change

I’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last few years. I got divorced (well, it’s not quite final but pending), I moved, I’m making a living as a teacher not as an artist at present, I started a new relationship (keeping it light, though), I’m living with a teenager (not my own), and last, but certainly not least, in fact most importantly, I’m saying yes when, in the past, I usually said no.

I suppose most of the changes in my life are due to my newfound tendency toward the affirmative. I entered into my current relationship not because I was lonely, but because it felt good, even though most people I confided in warned me that it was much too early for me to get serious about anyone. This relationship felt so good I moved in, again ignoring the naysayers. I liked what I saw happening at the house, I liked the house, and I liked the neighborhood. I have river views out my front door. Sweet!

The house has a charming little courtyard out back. We had a rough winter and are experiencing a very wet Sring, so there is much debris, city grime, and moldy slime all over everything. Cleaning this up is requiring some major work. We rent, so there is only so much time, money, and energy we want to put into any one project at this place, cool as it is. But, dammit, I want this little gem of an outdoor space to look good, and I want to enjoy it this summer. So does my guy. Budget? Sort of. I’ve bought some plants. I’ve got my eye on a nice little bistro set. I’m hoping to get a coupon online. I’m also asking for free stuff, giveaways and discards from my friends. Guess what. I’m getting free stuff. YES!!

I’ve said yes to just about every teaching opportunity that comes my way, mostly because I need the money. Artwork just isn’t selling like it used to. Besides, I’m rather good at teaching and I enjoy it immensely. I didn’t used to. I found it stressful. I used to plan my classes from start to finish. You know, I was trying to control them. Now, I just show up, and I am very present. I listen to my students more now than I used to rather than talking at them and hurling information their way.

When I thought again about learning to cook (for the 50th time in my life) I finally found myself saying, “YES!” Do it. What are you waiting for? As it turns out, my timing was perfect because I had recently met a chef who wanted to start teaching people how to cook. We both said yes at the same time. Perhaps serendipity comes more often to those who say…well, you know.

When I was married we said no a lot. We were frugal with our money, and we worked a lot, so we said no to many social opportunities. We felt obligated to have a hard life, for some reason. There was always something more important to do than nurture our lives with fun activities. I don’t think anyone was to blame; it was just the dynamic of that relationship at the end. Actually, it was how I treated myself. Now, I say yes to joy. I say yes to frivolity (within reason-I am cash challenged). I say yes to silliness. I say yes to new things that either present themselves or that are required in my life due to …well, change. I say yes to change and it’s pervasiveness. 

The View From Both Sides: The Reconnaissance Mission

The Reconnaissance Mission

In my first article on artist/gallery relationships, I discussed whether you are the type of artist who would benefit from gallery representation and then what type of galleries might be appropriate for your work. Now, let’s look at specific strategies for obtaining the right relationship for you.

I already touched on the concept that a good attitude makes the difference between success or failure with galleries, and I would like to further stress that adopting a positive and proactive attitude will indeed guide you in whatever situation that arises in your new relationship.

Let’s begin with the notion that although you may conduct business as partners, any gallery owner/director you choose to exhibit with ultimately works for you, not the other way around. You are hiring someone to sell your creations and therefore you will be looking for certain characteristics in your new employee that will aid you in advancing your sales and overall exposure. Wow! Take a moment to let that sink in before we proceed!

Gallery Shopping: First Impressions Matter

With your newly adopted sense of empowerment, approaching a gallery should feel more like completing a task. Not filled with emotion and doubt, you are merely walking through a process toward your goal. Don’t hold a defensive stance toward gallery employees, but, instead, go on the offense. Take yourself out on a fact-finding errand, a reconnaissance mission if you will. Visit potential galleries as a business owner conducting interviews for an open position in the company. Be open and unbiased, giving these potential new employees the opportunity to pass or fail.
Take note of how you are greeted and how the staff interacts with you and other clients. If you are ignored, or if there is a general lack of enthusiasm, clearly this may not be a business that promotes good sales. Worse still, if there lingers an attitude of superiority among the staff toward the clientele, consider moving on to the next gallery. Nothing is more detrimental to the art world in general than a gallery owner/director who acts condescendingly toward the public or the artists. If, however, you are greeted warmly and asked whether you need help, you may have found the type of place you are looking for. Tell them you are just looking for now, and continue on your mission.

The Nitty Gritty

Now, take note if the overall gallery space is pleasing, and if every piece of work displayed be reasonably viewed.  Some galleries have minimal space and cram too many pieces into inadequate areas for viewing. Keep in mind, however, the concept that may lie behind an exhibition on display. For example, a local gallery recently hung their holiday show salon style (floor to ceiling). The layout was appropriate for the show and the customers enjoyed and appreciated the art “wallpaper” tremendously.

Is the gallery clean? This seems trivial, but a dirty gallery may reflect badly on your work if you are sending your clients there.

Genre Displayed:
Is the subject matter and style of artwork exhibited similar to your own? Would your work compliment the collection offered or would it look hopelessly out of place? Does there seem to be a theme to what is offered or is there a lack of continuity, a random selection of pieces that don’t seem to have any relationship to one another? (You may also want to keep this particular question in mind for your future gallery interview.)

Artwork Quality:
How does your work compare with the level of work represented in this gallery? If you don’t think you measure up, please don’t despair. Now is the time to put your ego aside and be honest, open minded and businesslike. The director may see potential in your work and may give you the opportunity to exhibit and learn from other artists. Stepping into gallery representation at a lower level can be strong motivation for improvement. Remember, a good attitude is the difference between success and failure. If you are comfortable with the other work on display, then this may be a good venue for you. If you, however, have many years of gallery representation under your belt, perhaps it’s time for the challenge of a gallery upgrade. Approach a gallery where you know the work displayed makes you feel a bit inadequate, stimulating yourself to push ahead of your new colleagues.
Appropriate Pricing:
Walk around the gallery and take note of the prices of the pieces you admire or those somewhat related to your own. Are your prices comparable? Is your work priced too low? Keeping in mind the specific marketing region, subject matter, medium, artist recognition, and current economic conditions, it is no wonder that this is a sensitive
subject for artists, and a potentially dicey one for gallery owners. A good strategy may be to offer your work somewhere in the lower median range of prices already established. It is a safe place to start out and small adjustments can be made later depending on how the work is received by the clients. Remember, though,  that once you enter this arena, your pricing needs to stay consistent, regardless of whether your work is sold through a gallery, a juried art exhibition, or from your home.

Reveal your True Colors: Second Impressions Matter

You’ve now gone through your checklist and feel you have selected a good venue to display your work. It is now time to introduce yourself to the gallery director as an artist looking for representation. How does he/she react to this news? This is a very important moment for your potential employee. You’ll want a director who is receptive to your introduction and honest with you about the potential for setting up an appointment to view your work.

In the next segment of this series, I’ll discuss what preparations to make for the next phase of this interview including questions you’ll have for your potential new employee, what materials you’ll have conveniently brought with you, and what reasonable expectations to have.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The View From Both Sides: Part 1

Several years ago I submitted a series of articles to the Philadelphia Water Color Society Newsletter. In these articles I provided information for artists on how to gain gallery representation and then how to manage that business relationship. I will be posting these articles here, perhaps one a week or so. Some of the information is a bit outdated (I began the articles in 2004), so if new information is necessary I will provide it in a post script. I'd love to get your feedback. Thanks for reading.

The View From Both Sides
by Donna N. Cusano

Having worked as a professional artist for nearly twelve years and as a gallery employee for three, I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the business side creativity. Since I have some perspective from the each side of the contract, so to speak, it is natural for me to understand the concerns of both gallery and artist. In this first installment of an ongoing series of articles, I will try to shed some light on how to achieve and sustain a mutually beneficial relationship with a gallery.

Gallery Pros and Cons: Is a New Relationship Right for You?

It’s a good idea to do a bit of self-analysis to determine whether you are the type of artist who would benefit from gallery representation and then what type of gallery might be right for you. Here are a few things to think about before you approach any gallery with your work.

Let’s begin with the potential difficulties in establishing gallery representation which include reduced contact with buyers, dealing with high commissions, and a commitment to leaving inventory for long periods of time. Establishing gallery representation is like gaining a business partner to handle sales for you. It may be challenging for you to hand over control of sales to a gallery director if you are an artist who prefers contacting your clients directly, are comfortable with the process of selling, and easily divide your time between painting and marketing your work. You may need to ask yourself if you are ready to incorporate a partner into your sales equation.

Secondly, if your work has up until now remained inexpensive it may be necessary to increase your prices not only to compensate for a gallery’s commission but also to establish them within a similar range as comparable work already on exhibit there. In addition, most galleries will require that, regardless of any exhibition you participate in anywhere, your prices are fixed and hold consistent to those established in the gallery. 

Lastly, since it's necessary to leave work at a gallery for three or more months at a time, moderately prolific artists may find it difficult to commit work for these lengthy time periods while fulfilling requirements for other shows. When considering gallery representation, you may find it necessary to edit your show schedule in order to provide your business partner with a variety of high quality work to show off your talent to it’s best advantage.

Now let’s look at the positive aspects to gallery representation. Generally, exhibiting in galleries will improve your sales because they provide a professional atmosphere where your buyers can count on seeing your work on a regular basis in a well lit, climate-controlled and comfortable setting. Other shows and festivals, while prestigious or potentially profitable, are short-lived, may move from one venue to another, and may not run during a convenient time for your buyers. Having a gallery is like having a home base for sales.

A gallery owner or director is an equal partner in the development of your career and the best ones are adept in the art of selling your work. Let’s face it, few of us creative types are also talented salespeople. It is certainly a relief to know that someone who has educated themselves on your work and biographical information is also making every effort to place your pieces in the well-deserved home or office of a satisfied client while you are busy completing, perhaps, their next purchase. In addition, there is a perception that if you are exhibiting in galleries you are committed to your work and the advancement of your career. There will exist a certain cachet surrounding your artistic endeavors which will aid in leading you down a path to success.

As you investigate the gallery scene, you will quickly realize the need for more decision making. From barn shops to exclusive, appointment-only establishments in “the big city”, there are as many different types of galleries as there are people who own them and it’s up to you to determine which best suits both your personality and that of your work. A good percentage of artists prefer displaying their work in middle-range galleries since these venues tend to be conveniently located, offer moderate pricing, and specialize in promoting local artists. Most galleries fall within this category and their inherent informality is appealing for both artists and patrons. Coffee shops and the like also provide an informal setting for displaying your art. However, these owners and managers generally are not in the business of aggressively promoting your work and do not offer insurance, although they are more than willing to have you fill their walls for them. They may offer to make sales for a nominal commission or require that any potential buyers contact you directly.

On the other hand, some artists have consciously sought out or have been invited into galleries that have propelled their work into the national spotlight and toward a higher spending, albeit more exclusive clientele. Most of their pieces are priced at above average to high levels, excluding much of the general public. However, the ability to streamline an exhibition schedule to one or two shows a year while still making a comfortable living can be highly appealing and worth the risk of reducing the number of collectors. The move from middle-range to high-end gallery can be one of choice or of career evolution.

By far, the best strategy for those who are just beginning to map out their exhibition goals is to take advantage of as many opportunities that become available. From locally promoted gallery “galas” to nationally juried shows, this inclusive approach to exhibiting your work will gain you as wide an audience as possible. In addition, your future career choices will be made from experience and not from hearsay. You may also stumble upon an ideal situation, a venue custom fit for your personality and artwork, which you may never have envisioned.

In conclusion, please keep this one thought in mind. As the artist, creator of “the product”, you are the one who is in charge of how it is packaged and marketed. At the end of the day, this is a business about moving product, just like cars, bed sheets, and canned vegetables. Though it is difficult to separate the highly personal process of creating from the business of selling, it is always a good idea to keep your emotions out of the latter. As the Godfather says, “ It’s business, nothing personal.” With a sound state of mind in tandem with high quality work, it is likely that you’ll bring to the table an offer a gallery can’t refuse.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Practice Makes....Practiced

Yoga is not about being able to do the posture. It’s about learning to do the posture through practice, practice, practice. After you’ve learned the posture, you will love it. And after you’ve learned it, you will practice your skill, and you will love you.” Postcards From The Heat” by Yoga Lily.

I remember when I was very young, my teachers, parents, and other grown-up types would use the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” I assume they were hoping to instill in me a sense of self worth through hard work. It was suggested that if I practice (my violin, swimming, my times tables, my field hockey goal shots, my drawings of horses) that some day I'd be “perfect.” The definition of perfect in my mind was quite specific: perfect meant that whatever the task at hand, my execution of it would result in the best possible results. If I practiced, I would play my violin with supreme accuracy and inspiration. If I practiced my hockey shots, I would always score a goal when I had acquired the “perfect” position on the field (I played right wing- OY! All that running!). If I practiced I would be able to draw a horse in any position; rearing, standing, galloping. OK, I actually was able to achieve that goal. Yay me!

I developed very high standards for myself at a young age. With those elevated yardsticks came quite a bit of anxiety, which I grapple with to this day. There have been many activities I have bowed out of because I knew I couldn’t perform at a high level. I was afraid to start at the beginning and possibly embarrass myself. In addition, I had set such high standards for performing tasks in which I am competent that, at times, I was stuck in first gear for fear of not reaching preconceived goals. Not until I entered therapy about 2 ½ years ago did I begin to think about how I have been conducting my life and whether the decisions I have made for myself have yielded me a life I want to live.

Through this current self-awareness I realize that I have made some poor decisions for myself, decisions that were unconscious. Many decisions were made in haste to please someone else when I might have spent some time considering what I needed and wanted most. Though I was performing tasks at a high level, I was not practiced at being present with myself. So, when that feeling of being burned out, and generally unhappy came over me like a massive menopausal hot flash, I had no choice but to stop everything and just be for a while. I stopped trying to be perfect and I started just practicing at life. I allowed myself to know nothing….and it felt so good.

The one constant I have had these last few years has been teaching. I am a good teacher, especially now that I have stopped trying to be perfect at it. Many of my painting students ask me how I know to use a certain color here, or how I came to draw a line with such expression. Of course, my response is, “ Practice.”  My students are adults and so they are impatient to gain a high level of competency in a short amount of time. We all know it doesn’t work that way. The doing of a thing over an over again, the practice of it, will gain you competence, and, some times, will make you a poet, a leader. The time invested brings the reward.

Lately, I have been asking myself these questions:  “Does practice make perfect?” “What is perfect?” “Who defines perfect?” I believe we each have to define what is perfect for ourselves. I also think we move the perfection bar as we grow into our wisdom. What was perfect for me as a 25 year old (parties every weekend, 6 AM trips to the gym 3 times a week, watching endless television, people pleasing) is no longer right for me. Actually, come to think of it, those activities may not have been perfect for me then either.

There are standards of perfection that have been established in some areas. I remember the 1976 Summer Olympics when Nadia Comaneci scored the first “perfect 10” in gymnastics. When the movie “10” came out in 1979, Bo Derek became the definition of female perfection. Turns out, in the movie, she wasn’t perfect for Dudley Moore’s character after all. My own standards of perfection in painting have altered radically. In truth, I’d say they are nonexistent. When I start a new painting these days, I rarely expect to make a perfect painting. A good percentage of those I begin end up getting painted over, and that’s OK with me. I’m good practicing. The doing is the reward, and, sometimes, something sublime can result.