I recently spoke to a young artist in Dallas. She was/is frustrated. And I totally understand her frustration because I’ve been in her shoes. There really is no blueprint for people like us. There is no direct path. Some things work for some artist, while other artist fall flat on their face trying to duplicate those same footsteps. So what do you say to these young and eager artist that are ready to grab the world by the collar to get attention?
There are a few things I’ve learned over the years, that I WISH I would have known or applied in my practice when I was her age. First and foremost, it’s always great to have passion in whatever it is you do. It is that passion and drive that fuels success. You can define “success” in any way that fits your criteria. So yes, continue to have that passion and desire, because that is what helps you to create art. Now how do you turn that passion and hours of painting into some type of profit margin? There are two quick and direct answers – find out what type of artist you are and then identify your audience. Many young artist mimic their favorite artist or create work they think is wildly popular. Which may be ok for short term success or just personally building your skills. In the long term outlook, it’s far more important to develop who YOU are as an artist. I should be able to look at a piece of art from across the room without reading a signature and KNOW THAT WORK CAME FROM YOU…… develop your style and personal stamp within your art. Quite honestly it doesn’t matter how great or bad that art is – because what I may see as “bad” there is always someone that thinks its “great.” That is your audience. Everyone has an audience …… just ask Tyler Perry.
So as you are working hard creating this work and developing into whoever you are to become as an artist, get to know your artist community. That community exist in 3 levels: other artist, organizations and of course art collectors. Have you ever been introduced to someone more than once, and you swore this person has seen and talked to you on many occasions – and yet, they act like they don’t know you from a hill of beans? This is not out of the normal, so don’t take it personal. Some people take this as a sign of disrespect or even more hurtful, a bruise to the ego. The truth is, it takes a person an average of 8 times to meet or be in the same room with someone before they actually learn your name or recognize you. If that is a fact, then you have to make yourself seen and reintroduce yourself quite a bit. To some of us introverts, this is a very unnatural state of affairs. You HAVE to fight against nature. You HAVE to shake hands and open your mouth. As wonderful as your art may be, it may sit dead and unseen if you never take the small steps of introducing yourself over and over and over. As easy and natural as creating the art can be, the opposite end of the spectrum is as hard to take it to the public. Some artist are GREAT at this…. Theaster Gates is a GREAT people person. Raub Welch is wonderfully social. These qualities are very helpful in your practice.
Lastly, I have found if helpful to gain wisdom from artist that have been around longer than me. That may mean finding an artist that does similar work than you and seeing what galleries they show their work. But more fulfilling, is having conversations with artist that are on a level you wish to be at. Are all artist willing and able to guide or part words of wisdom to younger artist? Hell no … Some artist may look as you as a threat… or perhaps they feel “I made it my way so you find your own way.”….. whatever the case, it is always helpful to just soak up good words from experienced artist. I’m forever grateful to artist like Joyce Owens and Dayo Laoye. I have sat in Dayo’s studio and just listened and learned. I was a young nobody, and I remember talking on the phone to Abiola Akintola, and him offering to send me his book that listed every art exhibition and fair in the country. It’s these types of artist that not only help elevate the next generation of artist, but teaches the valuable lesson of community. Ted Ellis is constantly teaching not only other artist, but the community as a whole. There is enough world for everyone to eat and be happy. Find your place. Make your mark. Pass on your wisdom.