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Art vs. Mediocrity

How to Turn Your Art Out

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs regularly hosts and coordinates panel discussions, workshops and events for Chicago artists. The event written about here was a panel discussion called, “How to turn your art into a successful career.” A podcast of the discussion should be available on the CAR website soon.

For the most part, the panel discussion focused on elementary studio practices (aka. the “successful habits of successful people”). The artists on the panel highlighted persistence, resourcefulness, self-confidence and networking as essential tools for the arts professional. As in any field, it is hard work and tenacity that will allow you to outlast your competition. But, even if you have the focus, the talent, the drive – how do you sustain your material self? For those who have made it, in retrospect, it looks easy. They worked hard, they hung in there, they defied rejection. And, they were lucky.

How do we, as emerging artists, make our own luck without sliding into magical thinking or giving up? All of the panelists agreed that when it comes to making your own luck, you have to be resourceful. To paraphrase photographer Dewoud Bey, we can interpret, “That’s interesting, keep in touch.” – as a pointed rejection or take it at face value – and actually keep in touch. The right place at the right time ultimately translates to being prepared and open for an opportunity.

Collaboration and networking, recognizing the value of our peers and using that community for support and motivation was touched upon several times, especially by artist Tony Fitzpatrick who implored us to all exchange e-mail addresses and just call each other up and hang out, and then he gave us his e-mail address and said we could call him with any questions – it was very generous and communal and if he weren’t so darn special, maybe I would!

The audience was concerned with very basic issues; “How do I price my art?”, “Should I have a website (or will people steal my ideas)?” and “Should I sell the rights to my art?”. The answers are (respectively); “Research”, “Live a little.” and “Hell no!”.

More advanced questions for those balancing on the next peg of the professional ladder, “Okay, so what if you want to have an apartment show and advertise it to the public – how do you deal with permits and liquor licenses?”, went unasked (I couldn’t think of what I wanted to ask at that exact moment). Legal concerns seemed to be covered by the blanket mantra: Don’t wait for permission, ask for forgiveness. Which I admire as bold and subversive but not quite in harmony with the you are now in business warning that art organizations and the City of Chicago are keen to impress upon us creative types. I am not so much a rebel, I want to comply with the rules and regulations. But, hypothetically speaking, I going to be arrested and sent to jail if I were to paint in my residentially-zoned apartment now that I’ve lost my studio space? Or, what if I invited a buyer or gallery owner to stop by and view my new work, and then they bought something spontaneously, would that make me guilty of retail activities? It’s confusing. My semi-recent trip to the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing was not very illuminating either. Thinking back on the moment I came face to face with the stone-wall of insensate bureaucracy, perhaps … I did not get the right answer because I did not ask the right question. But – that’s another story.

Maybe I’ll call up Tony and ask him what he thinks.

The very important thing I learned, if not the ultimate truth in the slow-but-steady lane to success, is that we all have a persistent complaint. Mine is that I have no time to make art. As with all persistent complains, we allow them to persist. We encourage them and drown them in our solicitous tears until they mature into the dreaded, and yet highly anticipated, self-fulfilling prophecy. (Except for this week which is totally different: I really do not have time to do anything except work on a certain design project.)

The point is, if I want to be a painter than I have to paint – now, today! The idea that I have control over my time and can be empowered to do what I really want to do – is challenging and threatening – because if that is true, than there are no more excuses.

Things I was inspired to consider:
1) Host a networking party and invite 10 artists that I know and ask them to invite 10 artists that they know (or, maybe 5 and 5).
2) Curate a show and ask a business to host it.
3) Go to some art openings around the city – and make time to paint.

Emily commented on: Artist at Work Series, “How to Turn Your Art into a Career”. Arts writer, activist and curator Paul Klein invited artists Juan Angel Chavez, Dawoud Bey, Tony Fitzpatrick, and Joyce Owens to discuss how they’ve turned their art into a career. Hosted by The Department of Cultural Affairs, Chicago Artists’ Resource. Check the CAR website in 2 weeks for audio download of the discussion.

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