More than adding contacts to LinkedIn and following accounts on Instagram, networking is a huge component in the art world and as an artist, it is essential to build your network to help your trajectory. Tuck in, because this week, we’re here to give you the do’s and don’ts of breaking through the opacity of the art world to help build your career.
Perhaps fresh out of grad school or coming back to your practice after a hiatus, developing your career in the artworld can be a challenge at any stage…those headline grabbing stories about young engenues being picked up by blue chip galleries are the exception rather than the rule, unfortunately.
In any event, building and maintaining relationships with your network and helping others on their journey can lead to opportunities and new connections down the road. Before delving into our tips, it is important to consider and outline clear objectives for your career development. Being open to opportunities is important, but having a larger “ultimate” goal will help keep you on track working towards this ultimate goal benchmark by benchmark.
So how do you start? Beginning with earnest visits to galleries and previews is one of your best bets. The more you show your face, the more familiar you will become to the people you are looking to connect with and can organically begin a conversation. Leave the portfolio pitch at home for the first visit (unless this comes up organically) and focus on making genuine connections. These impressions will help open the door for you to get to the next step.
Make a list of Short Term Goals
Fire up Google and start searching the upcoming exhibition openings, previews and fair dates to make a calendar of key events and locations of interest. Start looking within your own network to establish some deeper connections which can help lead to other contacts in more senior roles.
Try to keep your short term goals as the priority to not get overwhelmed with your to-do lists and wish lists. Keeping your goals grouped into realistic portions that can be accomplished will help you on track and focused on your longer term goals. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have it all figured out – in fact, that can actually be very limiting – but having an idea of where you’d like to see yourself can help you keep focused.
Here are a few examples to keep in mind:
- Studio Spaces: if you’re in need of a studio space, make a list of possible spaces and book visits to see spaces.
- Check out our recent Survival Tactics Article on how to set up your studio!
- Supplies and New Tech: Prioritize getting any new tools or new equipment (cameras, lighting, video editing software, etc) so you can dive into your practice with all your tools ready. This may mean expensive upgrades, but keep prioritizing the most critical pieces and look into trades and rentals if buying new is out of the question.
- If you’re a digital media artist, check out our recent Survival Tactics Article on advancing your digital art practice!
- Website: a clean organized artist website is a fundamental calling card to direct potential galleries, collectors and other stakeholders to your work.
- Website templates are abundant, so take some time to find an aesthetic that complements your work and don’t forget your (shameless plug) dotART domain!
- Don’t forget to link your socials!
Safety in Numbers
As a great first step, look into Vvrkshop and consider joining their community of artists looking for a foot in the door. The platform boasts services to help engage with new exhibitions, connect with curators and galleries, and assist with building the career you want.
Founded by writer and educator Paddy Johnson during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, VVrkshop’s flagship membership program, Netvvrk, helps support emerging and mid-career artists. This innovative networking platform helps build the networks necessary for creating a sustainable living in the arts.
Paddy’s blog entries contain a wealth of knowledge on specific issues and questions that will come up along your career path as an artist and are an excellent roadmap. Everything from navigating awkward social situations (what if my friend isn’t a good artist?) to reasons why you’re not getting visibility as an artist, Paddy breaks it down in honest and witty fashion to help you along the sometimes bumpy career path.
Keep in mind that building a network of peers is just as important as getting your foot in the door with tastemakers. As your collective careers develop, having confidants and relationships based on shared experiences will help you navigate the twists and turns of the art world and open doors you didn’t even think were options.
Do your homework
Ask questions and develop genuine relationships – be open, be kind, and be truthful. Being prepared before launching into conversation will highlight your dedication to your own practice and also impress others on your knowledge of the market. No one operates in a vacuum, it is important to keep informed and leverage that knowledge for deeper connections.
Avoid bombarding people with too many questions– there needs to be an exchange and dialogue before asking for a favor or opportunity. When it comes down to it, networking is relationship building. These relationships can then lead to representation in galleries, connections with collectors who may support your career, and other art world professionals who can help you along in your career such as curators, board members, selection committees and more.
- Have talking points, ask insightful questions past “Are you looking for a new artist?”
- Make connections with other shows and artists to discuss parallels and facilitate a dialogue.
- Things to consider:
- can you make any connections with other current shows, installations, public exhibitions, or performances?
- Have you seen any other pieces by the artist that you can speak to?
- Is there an art fair around the corner that the gallery usually exhibits that you can ask about?
- Do your research on key players and their career trajectories:
- Who are the gallerists that interest you? What was their history? This groundwork can also help you navigate awkward scenarios by unintentionally offending someone who had a checkered past with a colleague or firm.
- Being interested in a gallery solely on name may not lead to success. Of course these players are important to keep engaged with in the larger picture, however, consider their vision as a gallery, the kind of works they tend to exhibit, the artist’s who are on their roster…connecting with like-minded gallerists and artists will be to your benefit in the long run.
- You may also find other threads of connections to help strategize meetings and have additional speaking points.
- Leverage your current work or projects:
- If you’re working with an artist run center, an art collective or collaborating with another artist, these are great points to discuss with others to help contextualize your own work.
- Just finished a residency? Talk about what you learned, explored and uncovered along the way! This helps facilitate dialogues and make deeper connections with you and you work.
- Social media! Take advantage of your own social media outlets and personal brand and regularly engage with others to show you are active and supportive in the community. Check out our How To Guide on building a beautiful Instagram feed to set yourself apart.
Key Points of Advice
- Galleries: Go to the opening nights, but avoid gate-crashing; if it’s invite-only, it’s invite-only. Bucking decorum will not score you the brownie points you think it will. If you can get an ‘in’ with another invitee, then all power to you! As an artist, regularly attending these events to support the gallery and your peers helps build trust and recognition with the gallery and will help with introductions for your work.
- Art Fairs: A fantastic one-stop shop! This is a great opportunity as an artist to get a snapshot of trends, tastemakers, players and to generally people watch. Satellite fairs and parties also offer great opportunities to see what is up and coming and engage with others in the art ecosystem that you may not have otherwise met.
- When attending a fair as an artist, be realistic with your goals of the fair visit. I.e. Going to Frieze and expecting to speak directly with David Zwirner or Larry Gagosian is not exactly realistic. Do some recon before the fair to highlight some more accessible spaces as a starting off point (See above homework!).
- Fairs are a great place to get inspiration, identify trends, see how things operate and see what some of your “wish list” galleries are showing.
- Artist-forward fairs are also great opportunities to get yourself and work out there. Fairs with artist-run booths/ exhibitors are great opportunities to directly interact with collectors, visiting gallerists and other art world professionals hungry for new talent and perspectives.
- Museums: This one is trickier by the nature of museums and their size and “upstairs-downstairs” structure. Special events such as exhibition openings with special talks, and even library and archive events are ways to interact with curators and supporting staff. Through other connections and networking, you can try to get introduced to a current employee and network into the fold from there.
- Another great arena to meet peers, younger collectors who may be interested in collecting emerging artists particularly during their young collector/patrons events.
- Regular visits helps train your eye by exposing yourself to some of the best examples of artist’s works and can help you better identify curatorial strategies. This can all help inform and inspire your own practice to bring back to the studio.
- Grants and Residencies: Networking with peers can also really help you through the grant and residency application processes. Learning with others on how to navigate the process and asking questions with one another can help develop new relationships and help in the future.
- Check out our Survival Tactics Article on grant writing for great tips and guides!
- Interested in working with a mentor? Check out our Survival Tactics Article on finding a mentor to help you navigate your journey! Building a relationship with a seasoned art world professional or artist can be a great support system and invaluable resource based on their lived experiences.
Don’t be afraid to send the email or introduce yourself in person. Networking largely comes down to timing and manners. Be gracious and polite, offer some insights from your unique perspective as an artist, have questions prepared, and put yourself out there!
Some final takeaways:
- Be open to new avenues, you may thrive in an area you hadn’t considered previously! This could mean working with an art collective when your dream has been gallery representation, or perhaps starting as an artist-exhibitor before graduating to the larger fairs. You just never know where your work might take you!
- Support your peers and celebrate each other’s wins! Positive relationships will help you with support through your own career journey and establish genuine connections.
- Stay in touch with your contacts! Social media is a great way to connect and keep engaged with these contacts. You can keep up with each other and develop your relationship further. Congratulate a gallery on their show, share an artist’s work on your platform, send your well-wishes to stakeholders during peak seasons so you’re front of mind with these gestures.
Networking is an inherently difficult process by virtue of the opacity of the artworld at times, but the more you make connections and grow your network, the more you will build your career.
Looking for more reading material for a deeper dive into your journey as an artist? Make sure to check out the dotArt Book Club for more great titles to enrich your understanding of the market!
And remember, just like Paddy’s often saying, SAVE THIS BLOGPOST!