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Business Smarts for the Creative Arts (October 2014): Career Planning

By Caley Cannon

Career Planning

In The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, Margaret Peot addresses gaps in traditional art educational settings and shares the knowledge and skills she has gained since her years as a college student.  A freelance artist for over twenty years, Peot offers her insights into self-promotion, setting goals, pricing creative work, and writing an artist’s statement, along with other practical suggestions, to help budding creative professionals work effectively and efficiently.  Another comprehensive guide to career planning and development is Jackie Battenfield’s The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love.  Battenfield believes the key to a successful creative career lies in careful assessment and planning to manage the business aspects of being an artist.  As she tells readers, “an artist’s life embraces every job description of a small business: creative director, marketing director, bookkeeper, construction manager, secretary, janitor, technician, and publicist … being an artist is a profession.  It is not a vow of poverty.”  Battenfield, a practicing artist herself, aims to guide other creative professionals toward a successful career.

Heather Bhandari and Jonathan Melber draw on their own experiences and interview nearly a hundred curators, dealers, and other creative professionals to convey practical guidance applicable to all stages of a creative career in Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) as You Pursue Your Art Career.  This comprehensive guide to creative work offers an explanation of business and legal issues that creative professionals need to understand in order to protect themselves and their work in a competitive field.  Bhandari is a gallery director and curator.  Melber is an experienced art lawyer who has offered his expertise through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a pro bono arts advocacy/legal support community and website that offers educational services and legal aid to artists.  Art/Work offers a wealth of practical guidance on many issues of concern to creative professionals, including time management; tracking inventory; receipts, expenses, and other budget matters; networking; submitting work to galleries; writing a résumé and artist statement; and self-promotion.  The authors also offer advice for creative professionals searching for information about pricing and selling work, applying for residencies and grants, handling rejection, packing and shipping work, dealing with consignments and commissions, loaning work, and finding gallery representation.

Now in its sixth edition, How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist by Caroll Michels presents similar assistance from the perspective of a sculptor and artist-advocate.  Michels’s handbook covers all stages of an artistic career, including overcoming career blocks, such as misperceptions about what it means to be an artist; low expectations and insufficient training; and intimidation and “denying art is a business … if you want to sell and/or exhibit work, art becomes commerce and it is business.”  Although her book expresses many of the same sentiments as those conveyed by Peot, Battenfield, Bhandari, and Melber—in terms of career preparation and development—Michels offers a rich selection of additional resources from which creative professionals may draw.  The book’s lists of organizations, agencies, publications, websites, and books are organized thematically, and regionally as appropriate.  Readers may quickly identify specialized resources in areas such as accounting practices for artists, apprenticeships and residence programs, artists’ books, studio/performance space, arts services organizations, care and maintenance of artwork, and handling creative challenges and career blocks.

Another practical guide to establishing a creative career is offered by Angie Wojak and Stacy Miller in their comprehensive manual Starting Your Career as an Artist.  Their book covers many familiar topics for artists and designers, such as developing a career plan, finding exhibition opportunities, promotion, and legal resources.  However, Wojak and Miller also delve into issues of health and safety, the environmental impact of creative work, selecting formal educational programs, teaching, and lifelong learning.  They aim to dispel the myth that “artists need to suffer to make good art,” and they discuss the factors that contribute to a fulfilling creative practice, such as self-assessment to reflect on career goals, building a supportive community, and maintaining a positive attitude and work-life balance.

Stuart Horodner offers a more philosophical perspective on creative careers in his edited The Art Life: On Creativity and Career.  This collection of essays and interviews with creative professionals touches on issues of internal motivation and creative processes, community engagement, and living an inspired life in the challenging and joyful world of the arts.  This is not a guidebook to professional practice and success in the art world in the vein of the previous books mentioned, but rather a collection of selected opinions or a dialogue with artist peers.  Most of the essays represent the visual arts, but other forms of creative expression, such as literature, film, music, and design, are included as well.  The range of opinions illustrates the intensely personal nature of creative work because “you give yourself a creative life—pursuing those questions and aesthetic conditions that mean the most to you.”  This thought-provoking and well-researched book (an extensive bibliography is included) offers a clear glimpse into the “art life” and a contemplative analysis of motivations, goals, and influences that affect artistic practices both internally and externally.

Finally, in Taking the Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist, Cay Lang focuses on the process of establishing an audience and exhibiting work both within and outside the traditional gallery system.  In her book, Lang outlines the structure of the gallery system and how to work within it, and acknowledges the challenges presented by its often mysterious and secretive nature.  She offers a chronology of changes in the art world over the past thirty-plus years and their effect on the pricing of artwork.  Additionally, she provides guidance on navigating and coping with the rapidly changing art market, goal setting and strategic planning, creating time lines to manage projects and exhibitions, and connecting with the arts community and wider audiences.

Works Cited: Websites

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