So you’re an artist and you want to know how to navigate the “art world” better. Well, I don’t have all the answers but I know a few things that could help you along the way. Whether you’re just getting started with your art practice or you’ve been quietly creating for quite some time, ready to show the world what you have been up to, here’s a list of 5 things that can get you steps closer to having your work shown on the freshly painted white walls of galleries.
1. Find a Mentor
This is so important. Now, way back in the 16th century there were things called Artists Guilds. Within these guilds, masters were registered, pursued their own artistic practice and took on apprentices. These apprentices worked in their master’s studios for years until they gained all the knowledge and approval to register with the guild and take on their own apprentices. So, you need to find your present day “master”; I know, not the best term but essentially your mentor. This will be someone who has been at this art thing for quite some time and will be able to show you the ropes of what you’re interested in.
I have been very blessed to have several mentors. This is not the only route; everyone’s journey will be different. It doesn’t matter if the mentor you seek has been involved in showing his/her work on a local, national or international scale. What matters is even if they’re making artwork in a quiet space and only a few see it, they will have more knowledge than you and that’s a candidate worthy to have an apprenticeship with. How do you go about finding this magical person, you may ask? My answer? Be proactive. If you’re in art school, connect with those whom you feel can help you on your artist journey.
Emails can be tricky if you haven’t connected with them in person because nobody likes some random person hitting them up, but you may be surprised. There are artists out there who enjoy sharing their knowledge with others. If you get the cold shoulder from someone you admire, try someone who is more willing. Remember, if you are going to pursue someone’s valuable time, you better be willing to work hard.
2. Art School
School is not for everyone. I get it. But art school is a place where you can find most of the things on my short list, where you can explore your “crazy” ideas. Now since this is The Black Men’s Guide, I’m going to keep it real because BMG is the new Black: art school can be difficult for Black students. Like Greg said on our Instagram page last week, “being black is lit”. It is. But some challenges can come in the pursuit of happiness. Yes, that includes art education. The reason being, is that the best schools are predominately white institutions with majority white faculty that fails to understand the artwork the students of color are creating. This can be a huge psychological obstacle, especially if your artwork deals with issues of race. Some professors would rather talk around these issues out of fear or assign racist ideas to work simply because you are Black. But the positive is, art school can be the place where you’ll meet other students exploring similar issues in their artwork. A place of comradery.
Art school will give you an idea about how your work may be perceived in the real world. You will also meet art curators, art critics, and possibly art collectors. So go ahead. Give it a try.
3. Art Community
If you choose not to pursue the last two options, this is a big one. Get involved with the art community in the city you live in. Find out where the latest art opening will be. Make a list of all the galleries you’re interested in and visit. Look for artwork that you admire and talk to the artists that created it.
Having an art community is big because creating can be an isolating process. But the community you connect with will give you people you can bounce ideas off of, giving you a break from the typical solo art studio.
Research art organizations doing murals or benefits for the community and see how you can get involved.
4. Be Seen
You cannot just sit and make work quietly, you need to be seen. If you’re not David Hammons, it’s not going to work. I don’t know, maybe you do have that special persona where you don't have to be seen. But if you are like the rest of us, you need to go to art openings and art events. You also have to talk to people at these things. Trust me, I am an artist who actually prefers looking at the artwork over socializing but remember, there may be someone there who can help you navigate the art world.
Also, being seen does not mean going to one opening every six months and saying to yourself, “Whew! That’s enough. I did my part.” You must be consistent. You don’t have to become a regular but you want to be in a place where you become comfortable in these spaces. These are the places where you can be introduced to a curator or where someone may approach you with, “Hey! I’ve have seen you around. What do you do?” Attending openings is the big bowl of networking. Do it. For the sake of your art and to support your fellow artists.
5. Make Work
I cannot stress this enough. Make artwork. I mean like, all the time. You should be making something, even if you have a space too small to create in. Make art anyway. You cannot expect to show your work --or sell it for that matter-- if you have the same thing that everyone has already seen.
It should go without saying, but if all you have are three pieces that you made 4 years ago, no one will take you seriously.
The Golden Rule: Consistently make new work!
Again, this is not an art handbook on how to do it, but a few starting points that has helped me on my journey.
THE BMG would love to hear your thoughts! comment below.