Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Updated Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

This past week, I served as one of three jurors for a residency program. Over the course of 7–8 hours, I reviewed 116 applications and selected my top five picks. The odds for being one of my picks were one in 23, or 4%, of applications. (The organization will consider all three jurors’ picks and make final selections.)

I am sharing my notes as a reminder to myself—I fall short, wait to the last minute, and submit underwhelming applications—as much as it is an attempt to offer transparency and feedback to fellow artists. It’s also a win-win: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient. Obviously, this is highly subjective; different jurors and programs have different approaches.

I’m incorporating these notes into a similar article I wrote two years ago, when I was a juror for another residency program.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. In 2015, I spent about 16 hours reviewing 65 submissions, and rating and submitting scores. I did not receive a stipend.

If jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby and find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying. In fact, this week, I noticed that being annoyed by bad applications made me happy to reward well-prepared applications. I tried to be objective, but the emotional relief of reviewing clear, organized, compelling applications may have swayed my favor.

The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!

The best applications are well-oiled machines.

I was most excited to see a clear artistic voice: an intangible whole that is the sum of smaller parts working together:

  • Well-documented bodies of art that demonstrate consistency and an advanced practice.
  • An artist’s statement that jibes with the work samples and speaks to intellectual engagement (in other words, that you’ve been thinking clearly and rigorously about what you make for some time).
  • Work samples that show that you can pull off what you say you want to do in your proposal.
  • A proposal that is ambitious and considered, demonstrating an accurate grasp of your capacities, areas where you need support or are taking risks, and program offerings.

CRITERIA

In this week’s jury process, the organization sent a link to their Submittable account. They didn’t send any criteria, so I came up with my own based on my experiences as a past artist-in-residence there and former juror elsewhere:

  • Clarity and strength of proposal: up to 3 points
  • Ability to make the most of the opportunity: up to 3 points
  • Work samples: up to 10 points
  • “Diversity”: up to 1 point

I awarded one bonus “diversity” point for artists whose work, either in content or execution, provided a perspective that isn’t often seen in the art world. It was not awarded purely on demographics. In the end, though, that bonus point mattered little.

This Is a Competition: Be Competitive!

Generally I prefer cooperation over competition, but applicants should embrace a healthy sense of competition in order to make your application rise to the top.

With a total possible score of 17 points, only two applications received 15 points. Four received 14 or 14.5. Eleven received 12-13.5. Many pretty good applications plateau’ed at 10-11 points.

I’m including this chart to emphasize: This is a competition. 

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The organization requested that I submit my top five picks.

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The top five applications scored 14 to 15 points.

Most of the applications scoring 10 or 11 points didn’t achieve excellence across the three primary criteria. Their proposal, fit, and work samples were just all right, but nothing special. (A few were just uneven: one application disappointed when great work samples were paired with a very low-ambition proposal that didn’t warrant a six-week residency.)

Applications that scored 7 points or less generally were not competitive across the basics—work samples and an artistic voice and vision—to garner a merit-based award. Fortunately these are all improvable with effort and dedication.

Overlook the written portions at your peril. For efficiency, jurors may start looking for reasons to eliminate applications. When I started seeing the points distribution, I realized that my top five picks would score at least 13 or 14 points. That meant that applications that scored low in the first two criteria didn’t have a chance of catching up in the third criteria, work samples. In these cases, I viewed at least three work samples out of due diligence and principle. Applicants should be aware that jurors only have time to skim their applications, which may extend to their work samples.

Sometimes applications are exercises in getting better at applications (which is worthwhile). To improve one’s competitive edge, try matching or exceeding the time, effort, focus, rigor, and work that competitors are investing—in their applications and their practices.

WRITING

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, propose specific projects, goals, outcomes, and benefits. Discuss materials, techniques, scales or area of inquiry that distinguish your practice. Why are you interested in this particular program? How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Try to show how your goals fit with the program’s unique qualities or equipment. This requires you to research and understand the program, and synthesize it in your proposal. Misalignments result in lower rankings.

Don’t rehash truisms about life for many artists, like:

  • Wanting more time or freedom from day jobs.
  • Wanting a change of scenery, or to travel or network in other cities.
  • Wanting a community of artists for feedback.
  • Passion from a young age.
  • The high cost of living in your city.
  • Not having space in your apartment to make larger work.

Plenty of deserving artists need support! General artists’ needs don’t speak to this specific program, and what you offer in return.

If your proposal includes an interactive or relational element, demonstrate a capacity for collaboration and some thoughtfulness about exchange. Why are you asking people to contribute to your project? Why should they?

Writing proposals is challenging. It’s one of my least favorite parts in the application process. It’s hard to tailor a project you’ll feel passionate about in 12-24 months that aligns with the organization’s goals and program. But proposals matter because they help jurors identify who will make the most of the opportunity. Many organization’s worst nightmare is to award an artist who squanders the program.

Convince jurors that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. If your conceptual intent involves word play, keep it short—don’t list noncritical allusions. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Minimize jargon, personal asides, and creative brainstorming (save that for your sketchbook). Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “Good art can speak for itself.” I don’t believe that you can truly understand an artist’s practice by seeing 10 JPGs, even if their work is primarily visual. That’s why up to 37% of the possible points I awarded this week were based on ideas and intent.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Proof-read and edit.

Make every word work. If a word is not adding anything new, omit it. If you can shorten long sentences, do. Know that jurors are skimming. Make it easier by summarizing main points, preferably at the start of every paragraph.

WORK SAMPLES

Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Reviewing images this past week, I enjoyed the inclusion of well-done exhibition photographs. They revealed scale, ambition, and a higher level of professionalism.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Technical tips for linking to images and videos.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption.

Special notes for project-based, performance, or social practice artists. Be sure to give context and explain what’s going on. What is process? What is product? For social practitioners, articulate the relational aesthetics at work. Explain how these projects relate to any 2-D or 3-D work samples.

If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

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Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

Recently, I was invited to serve as a juror for a residency program. I was able to review submissions at my own pace, so I started taking notes for my own reference in future applications. Then I realized I should post my tips here, because it’s a win-win situation: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. I spent ~16 hours just looking at artist’s proposals and work samples (65 submissions at 5 to 15 minutes each), and rating and submitting scores. I am not receiving a stipend.

Yet if jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby, find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying, and start looking for reasons to eliminate applications from consideration. The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!

WORK SAMPLES

Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Make it accessible.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption. If you are a project-based or performance artist, give context and explain what’s going on. What is process, what is product?

WRITING

Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Articulate and organized applications suggest responsible artists who won’t fritter away an award. Jurors are not tasked with finding decent artists with OK work ethics; we want to award the ones who are ready and eager for primetime.

Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “the art can speak for itself.” That makes for texts that are neither competitive or memorable. It seems lazy and can be off-putting in its disregard. Jurors are ethically obligated to take the time to read your words, even the ones written (or copied and pasted) with minimal effort.

Proof-read and edit. Exercise attention to detail in your texts, just as you would in the display of your art.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, list specific outcomes and benefits. How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Why are you interested in this particular program? Link your goals to the program’s unique qualities.

Many other applicants can and will list generalizations (such as about time, day jobs, a change of scenery, their passion from a young age, etc.). Those are off-the-cuff responses and they’re a dime a dozen. Plenty of deserving artists need support; stand out from the crowd. Convince us that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.

 —

If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

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Meta-Practice

Notes on the Bronx Museum Artists in the Marketplace Program

Some reflections on the 13-week professional development AIM program.  

I gained tangible advice and tools.

For example, in the writing workshop led by Martha Schulman, we workshopped our artists’ statements. Martha shared great, mechanical advice for writing (focus on verbs and nouns, use an inverse pyramid model) and strategies for editing (print it out and cut it up, or highlight different things in different colors). My statement was due for an overhaul; have a look at the result.

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento’s legal and contract workshops were informative, interesting, and immediately useful—they helped me summon the courage to negotiate better terms in a contract. He’s a super engaging speaker and I recommend artists attend his workshops or art law performances anytime you have the chance.

In her funding workshops, Melissa Rachleff gave me great advice for in-kind donations for a project whose budget is only partially funded. She also organized group mock review panels using a criteria-based rating worksheet. It was terrifying yet effective to see proposals from this perspective.

There were other sessions that validated my existing or past practices, and others that my peers found beneficial.

A cohort. Having relocated to NYC in 2010, I wanted to be a part of AIM to gain a sense of community. In this regard, AIM has been a great gift.

This year’s cohort of 36 artists is pretty awesome, for two reasons. It’s diverse: in age, educational background, media, conceptual interests, and geography (recent international transplants, born-and-bred-New Yorkers, artists from across four boroughs, plus Jersey). (It’s also 2/3 women!)

At the same time, everyone is smart and interesting, and their studio practices are advanced.

This combination offers huge potential for rigorous dialogues and cross-pollination.

Though the cohort was split into a Winter and Spring session, we were encouraged to organize visits each other’s studios to get to know each other. This was an opportunity that I didn’t want to let pass, so I started organizing with the help of Maria and Margaret. Everyone was interested and flexible. The dialogues were thoughtful and engaging, and I really hope they continue into the future.

One of the first art world things I did when I moved here was to volunteer at Art in Odd Places. I met and “helped” BROLAB, a collaborative of AIM alumni. Their level of activity is inspiring. I’m eager to see what productive, alternative things can happen among our little group of like-minded, enthusiastic colleagues.

Thanks to Lia Zaloff and Sergio Bessa for their hard work and vision in realizing AIM, and to the Bronx Museum and its funders for making this opportunity possible. And thanks in advance to Hatuey Ramos Fermín and Laura Napier, curators of the Bronx Biennial, for the exhibition to come!

The application for AIM 2015 is now open. The deadline is September 5, 2014. The open call is competitive—good luck!

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Meta-Practice

For Your Information

Some theoretically useful links.

Christinew Wong Yap, Prototype and Schematic, MegaPennant/MegaPentimento, 2012

Christinew Wong Yap, Prototype and Schematic, MegaPennant/MegaPentimento, 2012

I’m preparing a presentation about my work and professional practices for a class. To simplify communicating links, I’m listing them all here.

[If you’re not in the class, this may seem out of context. Think of it as a box of bonbons. Surprise!]

Residency @ Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art

Michelle Blade

Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) / As Is Transcript

Art Practical

Haim Steinbach

Happiness Is… exhibition

Susan O’Malley, artist

Leah Rosenberg, artist

Montalvo Arts Center exhibitions, residency programs

Martin Seligman, author, Flourish

Franconia Sculpture Park

Creative Capital Goal Setting Tips

Artist’s Resources page

Residency tips on Daily Serving/Help Desk

Should I Stay or Should I Go?” on Art Practical 

Portrait of an Artist, Wily and Engaged” on Art Practical 

Hank Willis Thomas, artist

Art in General, NYC alternative art space

Listings Project (Stephanie Diamond’s list)

my site

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Research

“…the real force of wisdom lies in its timely deployment: not just what you say but when you say it, at the precise time the person you’re talking to needs to hear it.”

–Barry Schwabsky,  “Permission to Fail,” The Nation, January 21, 2014

[Isn’t that true of aesthetic experiences too? Mine included; especially as they relate to positive psychology or optimism.]

Timing is everything

Quote
Meta-Practice

Living and Sustaining a Creative Life

Practical advice from artists. I share my favorite quotes from Living and Sustaining a Creative Life about time management, navigating inside and outside of the market, how artists shape the art worlds we would like to participate in, optimism, and gratitude.

Sharon Louden, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Sharon Louden, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

I recommend Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (University of Chicago, 2013) to artists.* It’s a conversational, engaging read with 40 short essays or interviews with visual artists on the practical matters of being an artist.

Common topics are:

  • time management; notably, many artists are parents and talk frankly about juggling family responsibilities
  • gallery relationships, roles, responsibilities
  • acknowledging assistants and vendors (something that is nearly invisible in the art world)
  • day jobs—many contributors are working as teachers; others are art handlers or artists’ assistants, or as as Sean Mellyn describes, “the post-art school, low-wage worker force—artists that make the art world run”
  • studio time: how to use it wisely, and not taking it for granted

The book is full of useful insights, but it doesn’t include one-size-fits-all secrets to success. Rather, readers learn about the diversity of artists’ lives and strategies.

There are as many ways to run an artist’s studio as there are ways to make art.

—Brian Tolle

in the same way that you’re in your studio coming up with a very individual body of work … your career should be the same way. …no two careers look exactly the same.

—Bill Carroll

Resources

I’ve struggled a lot with managing time and space since moving to New York. It feels like a catch-22: you work more to afford a space, leaving little time to use your space. This seems like a nearly universal challenge, and artists use numerous strategies. One I’ve started exploring is waking up early.

Time

Finding time… is the most valuable commodity.

—Blane de St. Croix

everything is made little by little… process is key.

—Annette Lawrence

There are never enough hours in the day. [After having a child] I’ve pretty much stopped procrastinating; I just don’t have the time.

—Ellen Harvey

my work is so incredibly labor-intensive that time is more precious than space.

—Michael Waugh, on subletting studio space instead of keeping a day job

Scheduling Studio Time

at least several times a month, I will wake up … 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. … The amount I’ve accomplished over the years in these pre-dawn hours has been significant.

—Richard Klein

As teachers, [my husband and I] are both designated atypical work structures…. This flexibility provides for bursts of creative output throughout the year. The downside … is inconsistency. We are in a regular state of building a graceless schedule…. with the exception of an early 4:30 a.m. routine that gives my studio practice its resolute rhythm.

—Michelle Grabner

I … get up at 5:30 a.m. … to work.

—Austin Thomas

I maximize my time—I usually work seven days a week.

—Blane de St. Croix

…during the academic school year I spend three days a week at my teaching job, and three days a week in my studio.

—Carson Fox

A day of rest.

Being self-employed, I am susceptible to the impulse to work every day. To avoid burning out, I take one day off every week… on Sunday. The double benefit … is [looking] forward to Sundays [as well as] Mondays, eager to begin working again.

—George Stoll

Setting Boundaries to Protect Studio Time

For me, the studio is for working: painting, drawing, developing ideas. I try to allocate three to four studio days a week. …this means nothing else is scheduled on those days.

—Julie Langsam

on days that I am not teaching [I] regulate all non-creative tasks … to the morning so I can be an unfettered artist in the afternoon and evening. At least one late night in the studio every week helps tremendously.

—David Humphrey

Nothing is more critical to my process than time…. [after having kids] There is no room for waste. I try not to schedule meetings/appointments during studio time, and to keep clear lines around work and play, which requires a great deal of discipline.

—Amy Pleasant

I manage and try to keep up a reasonable balance between studio and home. I … have rules … only working during daylight hours and very rarely on weekends … based on aesthetics… making my professional life comfortable naturally leads to that life being sustainable.

—Justin Quinn

I needed to harmonize the ecology of studio life with life in the world. The necessities and imperatives of one don’t always support the other. … Paying bills, maintaining jobs and relationships persistently threatened to pop [the studio’s] protective bubble of productive dissociation, while success itself created tasks and responsibilities that also encroached on the time necessary to sustain the very process that produced it.

—David Humphrey

A note of self-forgiveness.

It’s impossible to do all things right at all times, and so in deciding to be an artist, I finally put my practice above all….

—Melissa Potter

Sacrificing Relationships

The biggest struggle throughout my life as an artist has been to put my studio time first. This doesn’t always sit so well with the people in my life, but after 25 years I have managed to surround myself with those who accept this as a given in our relationship.

—Julie Langsam

Nourishing Relationships

Family time and time spent away from art-making allow my studio experience to be more focused, essential, and creative. … life has to be nourished first. Creativity follows sustenance.

—Justin Quinn

Having Flexible Space

I maintain a smaller live/work studio, and get larger space when big projects require it. This helps me maintain my overhead.

—Blane de St. Croix

What previous tenants had used for a living room, I use for a studio … I’ve been able to tame my freely spreading work space by renting storage nearby.

—George Stoll

Maintaining Proximity

My studio is in my home, so I don’t waste any time commuting.

—Ellen Harvey

With the studio door about 18 steps from the bedroom…, I’m able to get up and immediately go to work.

—Richard Klein

Home, university and studio are all within walking distance from each other.

—Justin Quinn, who lives in a small city in Minnesota

Having my studio, [home and job] in close proximity … is very important in order that I spend as much time as I can working on my artwork.

—Brian Novatny

Money

Space and time need to be purchased and it converts many artists into responsible money-makers.

—David Humphrey

20% for savings, 30% for taxes. This leaves 50% for me to live on.

—George Stoll

Find Your Own Way

Working Within the Market

[Living from sales] means I sometimes live well and at other times marginally.

—George Stoll

Just because you’re showing, you’re not making, necessarily, enough money to pay the bills. And … it’s just very up and down. That’s the thing all artists have to contend with.

—Will Cotton

The sales from my work support my family.… a situation I tried hard to avoid…, because I didn’t want to be beholden to the marketplace.

—Beth Lipman (who formerly worked as an arts administrator, which left 8 hours/week to make art)

The Market’s Myths

…many artists with apparently thriving careers and gallery representation still had day jobs. …the art world is at least 50% smoke and mirrors. … tons of brilliant and well known-artists (and curators, and critics and art dealers) are utterly broke, working full-fledged outside jobs [and/or] relying on money from their families.

—Jennifer Dalton

Working Outside the Market

the work I love to do best involves interactivity, community action, and … political topics…. A huge part of my success has been in coming to this realization early, because I think artists can get very mired in success models that are really not applicable to a particular life.

—Melissa Potter

I refuse to be depressed about what happens in the art market, and I am always willing to act, to take risks against the status quo, and to create the kind of work that I want to do.

—Jenny Marketou

Opposition to the Market

[the 1% is] the way the art market works: a hierarchical structure in which only a limited number of artists achieve any lasting recognition, usually with their work acquiring tremendous value, while other less recognized art workers exist at the margins. … [There is] inadequate support available to most contemporary practitioners, including not just monetary compensation, but all the factors that contribute to the legitimization of an artist.

—Maureen Connor

my practice … has remained oppositional to the gallery system. And rather than hide behind the false idealism, I am forced to find alternative ways to make my living and support my studio and art practice. I have decided to engage myself in … projects which engage new audiences outside of the art world—and which can be sponsored and commissioned by alternative art economies and shown by museums, festivals, foundations….

—Jenny Marketou

Working with Galleries

Sometimes that it’s what’s in [galleries’] best interest that is their top priority. To them it’s not personal, it’s business. But for an artist, everything about their work is usually personal….

—Julie Blackmon

I don’t have time for the drama of dealing with galleries that don’t pay their artists.

—Ellen Harvey

The one deal-breaker for me is non-payment without negotiation.

—Peter Drake

I have taken a sabbatical from showing with commercial galleries….

—Brian Novatny

that is a very dangerous myth…: that somehow a gallery is an artist’s parent…. I think an artist should want to be an equal player in their career…. There should not be this infantilization of the artist.

—Bill Carroll

Seeking Out Alternative Institutions

It has been a conscious decision to keep my work unimpeded by seeking non-profit project spaces, institutions and museums that would fund my … projects and research.

—Blane de St. Croix

I’ve been working independently for some years now. …I don’t have a main gallery representing me…. I often work directly with clients and institutions.

—Peter Newman

It does not make sense to get invited to show in an institution where everybody enjoys professional working conditions but the artist. …an artist fee is obligatory….

—Thomas Kilpper

Growth

Maintaining the Integrity of Your Process

The important problem … was to establish and sustain a routine in which study and learning could be braided into the activity of making artworks….

—David Humphrey

Efficiency in my practice means that I engage in willful awareness that my work is not simply a product of consciously directed, linear intellectual work….

—Laurie Hogin

Keeping a healthy balance between my art practice, the market, and demands of a career by buffering myself financially has been beneficial…. The pace and progress of the work are determined internally, rooted in process…

—Annette Lawrence (who holds a university teaching job)

…I heard Chuck Close on Charlie Rose saying, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.” …I always have to remind myself, while … searching … resolution to one problem or another, that showing up and doing the work will get me there. And so it always has.

—Timothy Nolan

I’ve always admired those artists whose careers went through … creative transformations challenging what they know about themselves.

—Brian Novatny

Luck

Serendipity is underrated.

—Brian Tolle

Strategies

So much of my growth is strictly about visibility, so I am continually looking for opportunities to keep my work out in the world, whether it is through my website or exhibitions.

—Amy Pleasant

Artists frequently feel forgotten … so it helps to curate a show with yourself in it or have people come to your studio.

—David Humphrey

Cultivate Community: Contributing and Crit Groups

Real artists buy other artists’ work. … From working in the arts, to running a gallery space, to curating shows…, and [reading] art criticism, I have become part of a community where I help people and in turn be helped.—Austin Thomas

…the last aspect of my life that … has been crucial … my community of artist and arti-involved friends. [Our] crit group … forced each of us to keep making our work when no one else cared whether we did or not.

—Jennifer Dalton

…I’ve been in several artist groups where we … give each other unstinting critiques, with a real commitment to honesty …. I’ve learned from teaching that we almost have to pay to get truly honest critiques.

—Julie Heffernan

I enjoy [professional commitments such as lecturing, being a selection committee panelest, etc.] very much. …they also reinforce my interest in serving as an active citizen in the arts community…. Undoubtedly one of the most sustaining activities of my life as an artist.

—Timothy Nolan

Collaboration

Collaboration is grueling and incredible. I highly recommend it for getting out of our own headspace, which we can all start to privilege a lot more than it warrants.

—Jennifer Dalton

Engagement: Shaping the World/Art World We Want to See

[My project’s] call is meant to challenge artists to think about what it means to be active citizens, and how their critical and creative tools might work to create humane alternatives to all those bestial acts that keep the 1% alive at the expense of the rest.

—Maureen Connor

[I started my artist-run space to investigate] What direction of contemporary art production do we want to see flourish?

—Thomas Kilpper

Motivation

Day-to-Day Motivation

I like to work but don’t always like to start, so I make it as easy to begin as possible.

—George Stoll

Everyday I create a problem for myself to solve, a battle that within my four walls is the only battle in the world.

—Amy Pleasant

Since my work is labor- and time-intensive, I set doable goals that insure progress from day to day. … Typically an extended body of work will take two to three years to complete.

—Annette Lawrence

Fear is a tool—it is more frightening to think of not evolving within my practice than not selling the work.

—Beth Lipman

Lifelong Motivation

I like the challenge of making art and my primary motivation is curiosity. I really do want to know what something will be like if I make it. The most satisfying aspect of being an artist, for me, is to spend most of my time working out ideas.

—George Stoll

in the end it is the everyday-ness of the studio practice that yields work that has significance and a life that has meaning.

—Julie Langsam

I have come to realize the sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis… things… a social life… people… [but as] my painting professor, Stanley Whitney, said, “Even if you had every day for the rest of your life to paint, it still wouldn’t be enough.” And that wakes me up each day.

—Amy Pleasant

Attitudes

Respect, flexibility, and honesty

Respect is also a key part of my business. … In a profession ruled by deadlines, shifting priorities and unforeseen challenges, the ability to work well with others and to adapt quickly to changing circumstances is essential.

—Brian Tolle

the best professional relationships that I have had have been open and honest. The art world is an extremely anxious and subjective world; the last thing that you need is to be second-guessing your work or your relationship to your dealer.

—Peter Drake

Being Optimistic

a sense of humor really helps…. And by that I mean a sense of perspective. I think that artists who come into this with a very specific idea of what’s supposed to happen [in their careers] are setting themselves up for disappointment.

—Bill Carroll

I believe that [artists] will always find creative ways to overcome obstacles and support ourselves… and I am proud to belong to such a dedicated, hard-working lot.

—Amanda Church

I continue to be inspired and challenged by the smart people around me, who make me always want to be a better artist.

—Jennifer Dalton

Ultimately, the key to running my studio relatively successfully has been my ability to interweave all these realms of art; to be nimble, to recognize the strengths and talents of the people working with and for me, and never associate myself with those who say that something cannot be done.

—Brian Tolle

Being Grateful

Every day, I feel so fortunate to be able to go into my studio and make art.

—Beth Lipman

Despite … leaving New York…, I make more art and am happier than I’ve ever been. … I’m creatively stimulated almost all the time, which is an amazing place to be.

—Melissa Potter

I am living exactly the life I wanted to live…. I feel very lucky to be part of this community….

—Erik Hanson

[Working seven days a week] is not a sacrifice. I enjoy my artist life and need and want to be in the studio. It is a reward not a task.

—Blane de St. Croix

being in your studio should be its own reward. And if it’s not, then you might want to reconsider what your goals are. If it is, you’re going to be happy no matter what happens to you.

—Ed Winkleman

*Cynics may wonder what practical advice the Yale-MFA-owning, NYC-based author can offer. But I found the NYC-based essays counterweighted with non-NYC contributions that frankly covered the advantages and non-impacts of their locations. MFAs were a non-issue; practical concerns like making ends meet, were dedicated more attention.

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