Last week we had a presentation that was given to our Art Seminar class by the Head of the Fine Art Department and Artist Thaddeus Holownia. He shared his most recent experience of having his work exhibited in The Armory Show, in NYC. He also gave an in depth overview of his experience within the art world as professional photographer. The discussion covered dealers, auction houses, and the issue of selling art as commercial commodity and all that it entails. It was extremely informative, enlightening, and a reality check.
Big City Success for the Small Town Artist: Part 1 - Going the Distance can be a Step Too Farby Brian Sherwin
This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
A recent FineArtViews article, titled ‘Communication Breakdown: Art Dealers and Cold Calls’, sparked a lively debate. In the article I discussed some of the do’s and don’ts concerning how to-- and when not to-- establish direct contact with an art gallery. The article spurred several readers to comment with questions that focused on how an artist located in a small town should go about establishing contact with an art gallery that is located hours away. Point blank-- readers wanted to know how to work around the barrier of distance in order to pursue exhibit opportunities in larger cities. I won’t claim to have all the answers-- that said, I do have some suggestions. The first in this series deals with going the distance.
What does a small town artist do if he or she desires to rub-elbows within art galleries that are located hours away? How can a small town artist overcome the distance barrier? Moving to the desired big city is a choice that comes to mind over all others-- it is a choice that many artists have made in order to solve the problem of professional distance. Thus, it is a choice that is very important to address.
Moving to the big city of interest is probably not the answer that small town artists are looking for. However, it is the most obvious solution to the problem of distance-- one that a large number of artists have decided on. That said, I don’t advise a physical change in location unless the venture is thought out in advance. True, it can be relatively easy to uproot and move to a major city in order to pursue art-related opportunities-- New York City being the most popular choice. However, do keep in mind that while throwing caution to the wind can be liberating-- it is only fun until the bills arrive.
Before you abruptly move yourself, and loved ones if that is a factor, to NYC-- or any other big city for that matter-- there are MANY things that you should consider. Artists who move to NYC often do so while chasing a dream. Unfortunately, reality always awakens the dreamer. Artists who make that bold move are more likely to discover high rent, high cost of basic goods, and a staggering decline in their standard of living than they are of discovering an art dealer-- or other influential individuals-- who will “discover” their artwork.
Visual artists flock to NYC for the same reason that actors flock to Hollywood-- the dream of becoming a star (though most will deny that if you ask them directly). The dream of finding someone who will magically propel you to stardom can root deep into your soul if you allow it. Unfortunately, the powerful individuals with the professional backing to cultivate your career-- artificially or otherwise-- are few and far between. Not to mention that they are likely preoccupied with artists whom they have already invested time and money in. In reality, it is doubtful that any of them will care about your financial situation or the sacrifices that you have made to make your dream a reality. NYC is not the place to play the world’s smallest violin-- few ears will listen. The dreams slowly fades-- the artist is left puzzled and defeated by his or her own ill planning due to the embrace of one of the most basic of artist myths.
My words, though harsh, offer only a small glimpse of the reality a small town artist is apt to face when chasing dreams in a big city. Call me a dream crusher if you want-- you don’t have to take my word for it. Having interviewed hundreds of artists I can tell you that cities, such as NYC, are tough ground to travel. Even famous artists whom I’ve interviewed-- the late realist painter Sylvia Sleigh, the Pop Art icon James Rosenquist (though he does not exactly appreciate the Pop Art label he has been stamped with for decades), and performance art legend Vito Acconci-- have suggested that mainstream success is hard to come by and even harder to maintain in NYC. Point blank-- moving to a big city, such as NYC, will not automatically open the golden gates of the mainstream art world upon your arrival.
Reaching a high level of instant success is a very rare occurrence no matter where you live. Thus, those who dream big in that respect often face a tragic reality in the big city they now call home. It is a gritty reality to find oneself in. The expense of living in a big city, such as NYC, can easily chip away at funds no matter how they are allocated. Those who move to a big city with reckless abandon will likely face hardship. Misfortune of that nature can easily devastate ones artistic direction. Suddenly the artist who arrived with hopes of success becomes little more than someone trying to scrape a living-- more so than he or she ever thought possible. End result-- the practice of creating art suffers.
The lure of canvas, clay, or camera does not have the call that it once had when a formerly small town artist is faced with the task of big city survival. I’m not suggesting that said fate is met by every small town artist who uproots to a big city. Those who plan well-- especially if they have a supporting partner or are financially secure-- can thrive where others falter. My point is that a permanent change of location-- though an obvious solution-- is not always the best answer for a small town artist who desires to solve the problem of distance.
It is true that there are specific areas in most major cities that are assigned for low-income individuals-- such as the majority of visual artists. However, do keep in mind that said locations generally have strict regulations for consideration or are in the process of being surrounded by high profile real estate. Wealthy individuals love to experience those lovely bohemian dens-- and it does not take long before the artistically inclined are pushed out of their dwellings due to the rise in expense that naturally follows wealth. The easy breaks for artists living in a big city are always on the verge of crumbling in a way that is not in their favor. That is one reality that you can be certain of.
There are rational options to explore if you feel that you must live in a big city, NYC for example, in order to physically network with various art professionals. For example, you could rent an apartment on a short term basis-- perhaps the span of a summer-- in order to focus on attending exhibit openings, making art-related acquaintances, and scoping out art galleries in general. Obviously this option entails having the financial resources and luxury of time needed to sustain such activity. That said, it is a far more rational choice than to uproot your entire life on a gamble.
Another option for living in NYC-- or any other major cultural hub-- is to find artists who are seeking roommates. Situations like that are more common than you might think-- and with a bit of research it can be a perfectly safe alternative. If you take this route, be sure to show your fellow artist courtesy by explaining your intentions-- that you will only be living in the city briefly.
Both of the options mentioned above involve expense. However, both are far cheaper than settling in a big city permanently. If you feel that you must experience living and creating within a large cultural hub I would strongly advise that you do one or the other instead of uprooting yourself and changing your entire way of life. After all, a few months of concentrated exploration is more than enough time to seek out opportunities and to see if anything will come of them. Those months can also help you to decide if a permanent move is viable.
In closing, moving is an obvious solution to the problem of distance that so many small town artists face when seeking gallery representation or mere exhibit opportunities. However, an abrupt move to a big city can be detrimental to the success of an artist who previously lived in a small town. There is a world of difference between the two locations. A small town artist who is thinking of moving permanently to a big city must take caution. Going the distance-- in this sense-- often results in taking a step too far.
Take care, Stay true,
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