J a n u a r y   2 0 0 1

Guest Writer

So, you want to be an artist
Art Scene
by Tania Rain

You create. You paint, sculpt, draw or take photos. But do you have what it takes to be a professional artist and be successful?

Art is a form of communication. Artists must be willing to communicate and to translate, especially when they are seeking to exhibit their work.

There are a few rules to follow when marketing your work:

1. Create a proper and professional presentation
2. Research and find the right gallery
3. Work with the gallery

First, it is your job to create a portfolio package with three key elements to sell your work to the gallery market. Your resume, artist statement and sheet of slides must be presented in a professional manner. You have exactly 35 seconds to make an impression on the person who opens your material.

Does your material slip in an out of the envelope easily? Does your package have all the necessary elements? Is it clean and labeled properly? Is it simple and easy to understand?

Initially, someone, most likely the director or curator, will remove your sheet of slides and look at them on a light table or through widow light - not removing them from the plastic sheet they are in. If your slides are not good, you don't have a chance. The image must be centered and exposed correctly. Do not use mylar tape. If you cannot shoot your own slides, find some one who can. If you cannot pay them, trade them for artwork. All slides must be labeled: Identify top of slide, your name, the title of the piece, medium and size. If you cannot fit this information onto your slides, label each with a number and enclose a slide script. A slide script is a sheet of paper that lists each slide number and the pertinent information.

If you pass stage one and the person screening your work likes it, they will read the enclosed information. It is very important that your artist statement correlate to the slides you are presenting. Steve Frazier from the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Ore., urges artists to have friends read the statement and look at their slides. If there is no relationship between the two, the statement needs to be rewritten. As your work evolves, so should your statement.

David Lawrence, photographer and owner of Lawrence Photographic Gallery in downtown Portland, shared the elements an artist statement needs. Half the statement should describe why you do the art you do; the other half should be about the process. What is pertinent to your work? What are the aesthetics? What issues are you exploring? Where do you see yourself in the history of your medium? Who are your influences? What makes your work cohesive? These are among the questions that need to be addressed.

Your resume should be straightforward and to the point. You want to get into the door - not overwhelm anyone. Your resume should list your experience as an artist, seminars you have attended, what influences you have, your education, who taught you (are you self-taught?), your process and your exhibition experience.

Type your resume and artist statement. Do not print it on handmade paper. If you cannot do it, go to a place like Kinko's that can. You do not have to do the whole nine yards yourself. You are the artist; all you really have to do is create the artwork. But to get an exhibit you have to meet the requirements.

Second, finding the right gallery can be overwhelming. Make a list of galleries where you would like to show your work. Always call first to make an appointment with the person in charge of screening portfolios. Most likely you will be asked to drop off your presentation package and it will be mailed back to you or you can pick it up a few days later. Never stop by without calling first and expect the gallery to receive you with open arms.

If you are unsure of where would like to exhibit, make a list of galleries you want to find out more information about. Steve Frazier suggests to call and interview the gallery director - everyone likes to talk about themselves -- or even volunteer a couple hours a month with the gallery to find out more. Make sure you want to be represented by the gallery before you ask them to show your work. Why would you want to show at a gallery where you find out the director is fascist? Do not lower your standards because you want to be exhibited.

Third, when working with a gallery you need to know the protocol. Recognize that the gallery is providing a service. Galleries are in business to make money. Be flexible enough to walk away.

Be prepared to sign a contract or loan agreement. Always read the fine print and never assume you are going to be taken care of. You may decide to get an agent who is there to protect your best interests and understand the business side of being an artist.

Once you have landed your exhibit, relax and enjoy. The hard work is over -- for now.

Special thanks to Steve Frazier of the Schneider Museum of Art on the campus of Southern Oregon University in Ashland, and to David Lawrence of Lawrence Photographic, 205 SW Pine St., downtown Portland.

See more from Tania in our archives.

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