Having your own professional artistic practice today compared to 20 years ago differs significantly. Now more than ever before, artists are able to gain agency over their artistic practice. Taking matters into your own hands brings about a lot of opportunities to advance your artistic career, but it comes with a set of challenges and important decisions to make.
We share the know-how for establishing your artistic practice in a sustainable way. The sustainability of your artistic practice consists of multiple elements, and only the combination of all these aspects defines whether your artistic practice is sustainable. We share our insider knowledge on achieving this below:
Hope is not a strategy
Although hoping for overnight success is nice, hope is not a strategy. Don’t get stuck hoping for that “discovery” moment without thinking about a strategy that can sustain your practice. Know your work and never stop questioning how and where it fits in the context you are a part of. That being said, don’t do the opposite either! Are you familiar with the saying “analysis paralysis”? Do not get stuck overanalyzing, without taking action to get your work out there.
2. Be independent
It has never been a better time to be an independent artist! Independence increases your negotiation strategies and puts you in control of your oeuvre. Do not be afraid to organize DIY exhibitions and show your work. Look around, there are a lot of empty spaces with the potential for a very good exhibition, so be creative. Anybody who is interested will be a great contact for expanding your network. Throwing DIY exhibitions will contextualize your work and “test” it, giving you insight into how the audience relates to it. This will also enable you to build your audience and expand your network. Some may be interested in looking at your work, some in buying, some in collaborating… The word will spread and it may lead you to relevant and important contacts. After all, people attract people.
3. What is your position as an artist?
A whole lot of things happen because of the story behind your oeuvre, or you as an artist. Thinking about your work involves much more than simply describing what you are creating. What kind of an artist are you? What kind of work do you make? What type of gallery are you looking for? What kind of art collector are you looking for? These are the questions that are essential to ask yourself. Let people know that you are a part of the world we live in, that you observe a context and question your position in it. Keep confronting and thinking about your work. If you are making an edition of 10, ask yourself why you are doing that in the first place. How are the editions going to function with your gallery? And with your collector? You may think these questions are not a part of your job as an artist, but they are, in fact, essential.
4. Pair up with other artists
Do not underestimate the power of joint resources! Pairing up with fellow artists to organize independent exhibitions, talks, parties, art studios, share production costs, and contacts will help you broaden your network and potential audience. It will also help you cope with the financial load of organizing events. Be generous yourself and share relevant contacts. This will help you create and be a part of a sustainable ecosystem. Remember that the artworld is not a zero-sum game. It is not uncommon for galleries to exchange artists who are working together or provide relevant contacts after they see you as a part of the ecosystem. Young artists and young galleries often go through the same struggles, and having each other’s backs reinforces your professional position.
5. Find the right gallery for your work
Remember that the goal is not to find a gallery, but the right gallery for you and your work. If you do not find the right gallery, it will not be to your advantage. Bear in mind that growing with your gallery can be very advantageous for both parties. If your gallery has the ambition to grow, they will likely take you along the journey. However, don’t forget to be generous yourself! If you grow as an artist, let the gallery take part in that. Importantly, don’t only think about what the gallery can offer you, but what you can offer to the gallery too. Rather than having a gallery spend a lot of time inventorying your very chaotic work, organize your work yourself so they can spend their time finding you shows, collectors, exhibitions, other galleries, etc. Working with a gallery is not a given, and if you organize yourself and help them out, it’s to your own advantage.
6. Find the right collector for your work
Bear in mind that selling your artwork is not the goal, but rather the outcome of all the relevant actions you take as an artist. Allowing people to see your work in an exhibition context will help them understand you as an artist. This will enable you to build sustainable relationships with collectors, as they will be interested in your oeuvre, rather than one artwork. They will want to support you as an artist and more often than not encourage others to do so as well.
7. Making work is also knowing your work, and that’s organization!
Keeping track of relevant information about all your artworks will allow you to show galleries and collectors you are a reliable partner. Being able to provide them with the correct information quickly will help you strengthen your position as a professional artist. Ultimately, do not lose control over your oeuvre! It is up to you to maintain agency over your work, and that requires you to know it.