Re-entering the Visual Arts?


Many times we receive telephone calls from artists who have taken time out from their practice and even if this is only for a very short time, they feel that the art world has changed, and in some extreme cases appears to have left them behind. There is a certain sense of fear in these conversations, and even with the most experienced of artist there is a sense of helplessness. Based on these conversations we have prepared this basic guide to “Re-entering the Art World”

Our first piece of advice is “Get up to date on what is going on.” This is a simple matter of research and following the news. A good place to start is by subscribing to Visual Artists Ireland’s eBulletin service and the Visual Artists Ireland News Sheet. Both of these, with our website, on-line presence and smartphone App, offer the most up to date information of what is current in galleries and other venues around the country, as well as offering opportunities for artists such as calls for submissions and other forms of supports and revenue generation. Using this information it will be possible to see what different types of galleries are showing, and potentially which of them will be interested in your form of work. Don’t assume anything. Go to their exhibition openings and get to know them in person. It is really obvious to gallerists and curators who has engaged with the space before making a proposal, and those artists who are simply scatter gunning galleries for exhibitions.

The jobs and opportunities also provide a good guide to the expanse and the limitations of what is out there. Use them to build a realistic picture of what the art world is offering. Looking back through recent archives and keeping up to date will also start to show patterns that will help to know when to step back in again. There is also an immense wealth of handy hints, information articles, and advice on how to protect yourself from being taken advantage of.

The next piece of advice given is to “Get up to date with technology.” It is important to make it easy for people to find out more about your work and how to contact you. No matter what opinions may be held about having an email address, and we hear many, get one NOW. As part of our membership services we have a directory that artists can join and provides a place to give some information about your work, as well as a place that people looking to make contact can use while at the same time maintaining a level of privacy (keep in mind that spam merchants love unguarded email addresses).

A website always appears to be a daunting task. But keeping it very simple with the basic information of background, examples of work, and a simple statement on practice are the minimum and most important content. Simple, clean and clear are the key tenets. Like any good exhibition, the website is your shop front on to the world. So, it is not a place to put every piece of work ever made. Instead it should have selected samples of recent works, and where pertinent highlights of past work. A good hint is to get help from a fellow artist or curator in terms of selecting the works to be shown, and also to ensure that the images used are composed so that the works are clear and unambiguous. Some installation shots can also give a level of engagement. There is much assistance to be found in this, including a regular professional development workshop run by VAI on presenting your work.

So, with an email address, a clear website, registration in the VAI directory, and a clearly prepared statement about practice and work, the next steps are to look into what social media can do. This has become more important in contemporary society, and as can be seen from VAI’s wide ranging presence, there are many ways to get a message out, as well as create opportunities of networking with fellow artists. Like it or not sites like Facebook and Twitter are a great way to keep people up to date, and also to see what is going on with other artists around the globe. Remember to “Keep it professional”, and give people a reason that they want to come back and subscribe to your updates.

This brings us to our next point, “Network with fellow artists and art world professionals.” Everywhere we go in Ireland we hear the same thing: “I feel isolated, I’m not part of the crowd, I don’t know what is going on!” There is really no excuse for this anymore. Apart from the regular networking events that VAI holds around the country, there are many formal and informal artists groups that can be a great way of building a local support and information network. Being an artist can be one of the most solitary professions, and keeping a positive attitude and the creative juices flowing can be hard. But through these local groups, and also the annual Get Together event that VAI holds, it is possible to find other artists who are more than willing to talk about their work, share experiences, as well as understanding that key point “You’re not alone”.

We also get asked for advice on artistic direction. VAI runs peer critique groups on a regular basis throughout the year. We advise artists not to be afraid to put themselves forward for these, and have found several groups who have met through a peer critique session and have maintained a supportive contact with fellow artists afterwards. The VAI offices meeting room is available in Dublin, but having some artists do reciprocal studio visits can pay many dividends when there is a level of professional appreciation and trust.

Let’s assume that all of the above have been done, and that the habit of regular studio time is in place… the next big question is “how do I get my work out there? How do I get curators to notice me?” Frankly, if there were any simple answers to this then we would write that book and live off the royalties. But, there are some very simple steps that increase the possibility. Why not consider “Curating yourself!” There are lots of local opportunities to be found in places such as small museums, interpretative centres, and local galleries. These may be places that would like to engage with the visual arts and will find it interesting to have an exhibition or simply have blank walls that they are looking to use.

Also, in the eBulletin there are often calls for submissions that are a good way to get curators to see your work. Selection panels often contain key decision makers that use them for their active research. Even if you are not successful, curators sitting on the selection panel will get to see your work.

Another good option is to put together a carefully edited and documented group of works and indicate their availability through the VAI website Exhibitions for Touring feature. Just remember that it is key to “Present yourself with the highest level of quality and professionalism.” Review, edit, review, edit and get advice from friends on how your proposals look. Assume that the selection panel will never have heard of you and check that your submission gives them the best clear picture of your proposal.

It is almost too obvious to say, “Approach galleries and curators.” But, this simple act can be expensive, and may not yield results without some careful consideration. Using the research above, find out places that show the type of work that fits best with your own practice, and start from there. Make sure that you have a clear statement that can be easily understood. One of the most remarkable things at a recent VAI networking event that included curators was the number of artists who came with no images of their work. This left a lasting bad impression. So, get some advice on presenting yourself, and also do some practice run with other artists and friends.

Lastly, when you have had successes “Celebrate them.” This is not just that glass of wine shared with friends after an opening. Make sure that you update the general public with them. Share them through your online presence. If there are any curators who have asked to be kept up to date, then make sure that they know that you have a show on, or that your work has been written about. Never assume that people are out there looking to find out what you are up to. Instead, have a mailing list of people who you know want to be regularly kept up to date on what you are up to.

So these are a few simple steps. By its very nature this article is short and not fully inclusive, but it is a good with a number of simple first steps for re-entering the art world.

Summary

  • Don’t despair you are a not alone
  • Do your research, including the extensive self-help and advisory articles in our Resources Section
  • Get an email address
  • Become a member of Visual Artists Ireland
  • Subscribe to VAI’s eBulletin and Visual Artists News Sheet (delivered to your door if you are a member of VAI)
  • Look out for networking events and make a point of going
  • Develop a professional looking website and web presence
  • Use to the web to increase your professional network
  • Look at what VAI professional development workshops and peer critique sessions are suitable for you to attend (members get big discounted rates on these)
  • Maintain contact with like minded people that you meet at these events
  • Look for local opportunities to show your work
  • Apply for the opportunities advertised in the Visual Artists’ News Sheet and eBulletin that are suitable for you
  • Be prepared for refusals, but use them to learn by asking for feedback
  • Target galleries and curators that you feel will be interested in your specific work after researching carefully what they show (there’s no point in offering your paintings to a curator who only shows moving image etc.)
  • Be professional at all times and have a clear statement about your work, and professional images in electronic format
  • Use the supports that VAI offers members to their best advantage
  • Be careful out there, there are a lot of unscrupulous people around at the moment.  Use your VAI membership to get advice on who and what to avoid using our help line +353 (0)1 672 9488 or info@visualartists.ie
  • Above all, remember that it is about making work and the rest is just the business surrounding it, KEEP AT IT.