My #1 Tip for How to Move your Art Practice Forward
Stop entering juried shows.
Because they are a distraction without a solid end game.
I’ll explain why I think this by sharing the history of my art practice.
First a quick aside.
What is an end game? It’s the part at the end – after you’ve done all the set up work. End games that are challenging and offer rewards for improving your skills are the hallmarks of good games. It makes all the hard work at the beginning of the game and time spent mastering the skills worth all the effort. You want to keep playing games with great end games.
Take monopoly for example. The beginning of the game is moving around the board buying up all the properties. The middle game is trading properties until you have full sets and buying houses and hotels. The end game is cycling around the board until all but one person goes bankrupt paying rent. Kind of fun but there isn’t a lot of strategy or challenge and after playing a few times the game gets boring because it is the same thing every time.
There is no opportunity or need to expand or grow your monopoly playing skills after you grasp the basics of the game because there aren’t new paths to winning. It’s the same each time. There are also no greater rewards to be had at the end if you invest years of your life into mastering monopoly strategy.
Monopoly, like juried shows, lack a solid end game.]
Now back to my story…
Early Game – Juried Show Confidence
When I first started working as an artist (mid 1990s) I had a very simple process: I would come up with an idea – I would make a piece of art. I had a notion that working in a series was a good idea but other than “make it in a different color” I really didn’t know what that meant. I made a lot of one-offs. And one-offs in a variety of different colors.
I also did what many new artists did because I had no idea how else to share my art. I entered my one-offs into juried shows.
Because coming up with a brand new idea for each piece of art is a lot of work. I often used the juried descriptions to guide the themes and topics for my artwork.
The end result of this effort was a lot of confidence – because I got in to most of the shows I entered. I even won several awards.
Juried shows can be a good way to get into the art game.
By working this way, what I didn’t have is cohesive body of work. I never found my voice.
I also didn’t end up with many sales. Or even have any idea how I might start selling my artwork on a consistent basis.
I had an art practice making work for juried shows for many years. And I knew there was much more out there. And I wanted more.
Middle Game – Education and Focus
In early 2001 I made two significant changes to my approach that greatly enriched my art practice:
First – I learned how to work in a series and I started doing it. I stopped making one off art work.
I completely stopped entering juried shows for a few years.
I was no longer distracted by other people’s themes and size requirements. I was making work that was meaningful to me.
I also freed up a lot of energy that was being used to enter juried shows. I refocused that energy into making a cohesive body of art.
As a result I found my artistic voice.
Second – I learned how to be an artist and how to market my own artwork.
I took classes, read blogs and did a lot of research to understand the life of an artist beyond the juried show circuit.
Prior to this it was a mystery to me how one might sell art or find gallery representation.
Essentially what I learned (and what I practice today) boils down to this – you have to take responsibility for marketing your own artwork and getting it out into the world.
Juried shows are the easy way out – because you don’t really have to interact with anyone. You fill out a form and send in a photo. There is little invested and if it doesn’t work out you just enter another because there are hundreds of juried shows every month.
With juried shows you don’t usually don’t connect with the public. You don’t have to have a mailing list – you rely on the show to get people in the door. And those people are there to see the art of dozens if not hundreds of artists.
Basically juried shows are really easy. And they feel like progress “look another line on my resume!” Every once in a while they even result in sales.
After learning how to be an artist I was super charged and excited to start down the path of having solo shows and selling my artwork.
Instead I fell right back into the trap of juried shows because, as I noted above – they are easy. I didn’t build my own art practice – I built a resume full of juried shows. Sometimes entering and being accepted into 15-20 exhibits a year.
I was no longer making one-off artwork and I had a cohesive body of work. But I was too scared to put to use what I had learned. I wasn’t up to the task of taking responsibility for own career.
Juried shows were an easy out – I was exhibiting my work, but I was running in place.
I couldn’t get traction on sales. I couldn’t show my body or work together in one place. I wasn’t building an art practice. I was treading water.
And I wanted more – sales and a chance to exhibit my work in a solo show. And I knew how to do it. I was just scared.
End Game – Taking Responsibility for Me
What we don’t do is as important as what we do.
In looking to grow my art practice it became clear I needed to stop entering juried shows, again.
I needed to stop getting that occasional confidence hit when I was accepted into a show. It was deceiving me into thinking I was making progress.
So I stopped. And instead I took my terrified introverted self out into the world and I found galleries to represent my work. I started selling my art direct to the public. I secured and held solo shows. I found art consultants and placed work with them. I took my contact list seriously. I built a following on social media.
I took responsibility for my own marketing and exhibits.
I now have consistent sales (over 300 in the last 5 years) and exhibits (7 solo shows in the last 5 years).
Basically all that I learned worked. I achieved my goal of having a much more rewarding art practice.
How did I do this? I started working with a coach. Not a business coach that told me how to run my business – that really isn’t coaching – it’s consulting. I worked with a life coach – someone to help me with my mindsets. To help me get over the fear.
And now in this end game of art – any thing is possible. I see no limits to where I can take my art practice. The end game is so much more exciting than “make a piece, exhibit it”. If I want to focus on sales, I can do that. If I want to focus on museum exhibits, I can do that. I have the tools to build exactly the career I want.
And to make sure I keep headed in the right direction, I have to actively fight my urge to enter all the cool sounding juried shows out there. Why? Because they give me a false sense of growth with little to no real benefit.
Master Class 2017
One of the major motivators in creating my Master Class was to help artists move beyond the juried show circuit.
There are two flavors of the year long program – the first focuses on studio practice.
This is for artists that don’t yet have a cohesive body of work and are looking for the structure and feedback to make that happen.
It is also for artists that are further down the path in their careers and feel like they have lost sight of the studio and they are looking for a year of focus back on the studio.
If you’d like monthly feedback and critique of your artwork (along with coaching and a lot more) this is the group for you.
The second group is focusing on exhibit and sales.
It is easy to say “stop entering juried shows and have a solo show” – it’s a lot harder to do it in practice. What steps do you need to take? What should your website look like? Where do you start?
I have an extensive artist blueprint that walks you through step by step how to exhibit and market your work beyond juried shows.
And that fear piece? I worked with a coach to help me sort that out. And so I became a certified coach to help other artists do the same.
The combination of coaching and practical how-to art business advice from a practicing successful artist makes the master class a rather unique program.
And as a bonus – I’m also a software engineer with a master’s degree in computer science so I understand how all of the technology we are using to run our businesses work.
I actually understand facebook, twitter and Instagram and can help you understand them also. Social media and marketing are an important part of this program.
Enrollment Open Now
I only open enrollment for the master class once a year.
The next session starts in March – if you want more information please check out the webpage: The 2017 Masterclass
There are currently 2 spaces available in the studio focused option and 3 in the exhibit and sales.
If you have any questions please let me know.