Crash course in promoting visual artists
May 18, 2010 2:37 PM   Subscribe

How can I get the inside scoop on the business of selling art?

Several of my favorite people are talented visual artists working in photography, painting, drawing, and/or printmaking. I'd like to learn more about the business side of making it as a successful artist, so that I can help them promote their work.

I enjoy networking, relationship building, creative promotion and all that kind of thing; I've had some success using these abilities in other fields. But I know very little about the specifics of how to succeed in the art world. How to get a gallery show, how to obtain representation, how to work with art dealers, how to get press and publicity. What's considered classy and what's considered gauche. How artists really get discovered.

Some other things which might be relevant:

1. No artistic talent or interest myself -- I'm just a fan.
2. Some knowledge of art history and the current art world, based on college classes and dilettante interest.
3. I live in NYC so I can easily go to galleries, parties, etc.
4. In case the above sounds presumptuous, this question was inspired by a request for my help... I'm not just butting in.

Can you recommend books? Magazines? Articles? Blogs? NYC events? Or general tips and ideas based on your experience?

Thank you!!
posted by crackingdes to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I loved Duveen: The Story of the Most Spectacular Art Dealer of All Time, and found I Bought Andy Warhol interesting .

Duveen is more historical but interesting and hilarious. I'd recommend that first. Neither book is really a 'how-to' but a 'learn from other's experiences' type thing which you may find useful.
posted by evadery at 2:44 PM on May 18, 2010

i learned a lot about the business of selling art by working as a gallerina. i mean art gallery director. you can read a lot of books and go to a lot of galleries and parties but really you aren't going to get the real 411 unless you actually work at an art gallery and get an inside look at the finances, basic day to day upkeep, various forms, legal issues, etc.
posted by raw sugar at 2:50 PM on May 18, 2010

oh whoops i misread your question, i thought you yourself wanted to start a gallery or something.

exposure helps. the interweb these days is a big boon. weirdly enough i've gotten gallery representation (i'm an artist) by exhibiting/selling prints at indie art conventions.

and it is very much luck based.
posted by raw sugar at 2:58 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: Joanne Mattera (successful artist in NY) blogs here largely about art biz
Edward Winkelman, art dealer blogs here
Janet Bloch, artist career coach (I've known Janet for years and worked with her)
Alyson Stanfield, artist business coach - I know here online only - her book is excellent
Chicago Artist Resource - useful site
lots of art biz groups on FB - Mattera and Stanfield both are active there.
posted by leslies at 3:16 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm writing as an art world insider, former gallerist, and confidant of people in all levels of the NY and LA contemporary art world. It's all about the social. That's it. Nothing else matters. Assuming it's not horrible, art will sell or not, become collectable or not, become valuable and exhibited or not based almost exclusively on the social life of the artist and that of the artists fans and promoters. And this is even more true in NYC than anywhere else. If you like networking and relationship building, that's all you need to do.

Get out and get to know the people who write about the kind of works your friend(s) make, get to know the gallerists, the gallery staff, the regulars in the scene, the artists who show at the gallery your friends want to be showing in. Once you know them, and they trust you, you will be able to drop talent in their lap, after that it's up to the artist to make the right impression and have work they believe they can market.
posted by jardinier at 3:17 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

An artist ex-boyfriend of mine found How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul to be quite helpful. I read some of it, too, and think that it could be helpful to a non-artist support person / cheerleader / salesperson as well.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:41 PM on May 18, 2010

Absolutely seconding jardinier.
posted by suedehead at 7:33 PM on May 18, 2010

Know that there are several art worlds, not just the Chelsea gallery scene. Selling art to major collectors and getting artists placed in museums and selling for millions at Christies...... the chances of this happening are so slim. Most people working this top market were born into it, and the more you know about how they succeeded, the more despicable it seems. It's all who you know. And that's not a sustainable business model for a newcomer.

The best way to promote art is to know your place. Maybe it is at a small art fair, or in a regional market, or maybe your artists show better at non-profits than big white commercial spaces. Speak to your artists, and ask them what they want: international notoriety on the level of Damien Hirst? Well, that's just pure posturing. Instead, you'll find that most artists just want to make a living from their art. That doesn't mean they need to be millionaires. There are a lot of ways to be a sustainable artist. But there is no rulebook. Really, there is no rulebook.

Here is an interesting book: Lynne Basa, The Artistʼs Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions. I'd bet so many artists would love to win a public commission, and that's far outside the gallery system. Good luck!
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:16 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: I am a sculptor/installation artist, and I have found Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton to be an incredibly insightful look into the inner-workings of all aspects of the art world (critique, gallery representation, art dealers, the Venice Bienniale, Art Basel, etc). I also second How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist.

You also live in NYC, which is pretty much the trading room floor for the world art scene, so absolutely hang out at the galleries, schmooze with the artists/critics/patrons of the arts.

Jardinier has hit the nail on the head. Talent doesn't matter; social skills do.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:16 AM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much for your helpful suggestions and recommendations.

Based on my other experiences I'm not surprised to hear that networking and meeting people is the most critical aspect... I just want to learn as much as I can before I jump in, so that I don't inadvertently embarrass myself or my artists. :)

Thank you again... I will be checking out these blogs and books.
posted by crackingdes at 12:18 PM on May 19, 2010

« Older Branching out from cigarillos...   |   Proposals/Marriage: Does the subsuming feeling of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.