Welcome to the 4th edition of Open Call! Today we’re discussing the ways we, sometimes, make difficult things even more challenging, and the ‘jack of all mediums’ whose desire to jump styles simply cannot be caged.
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Hi Patrick, thank you again for your great article! I absolutely enjoyed reading it and I am looking forward to all upcoming articles from you!
I have a question about [one of your past answers where you mentioned] “accidentally competing against yourself”. Do you mean by that, if an artist sells his work outside a gallery or only if the artist does that without maintaining the same prices? Or do you mean something else?
All the best,
I think the idea of ‘working against yourself’ is something that most people regardless of profession can catch themselves doing every once in a while. With artists it could be through inconsistent pricing. It could be over-saturation. It could be running too many promotions at once. However, I could never make a list of things that would universally qualify. When I say, ‘working against yourself’, it has less to do with actions and more to do with results. Being an artist, like with a lot of different careers, allows the opportunity to take diverse and sometimes drastically different paths to reach similar goals – even paths that have never been taken before. Conversely, you could perfectly mimic the actions of a very successful artist, but that doesn’t mean their results are going to be transferrable.
In the letter you mentioned, the artist had stated that his goal is to show in a gallery, but had made an observation that his conversations with galleries always seem to break down when he talked about making prints, and as a digital artist printing is an unavoidable part of bringing his work into the physical world. Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with prints, we do releases with some of our artists and lots of artists including very successful artists release prints in some capacity, and lots of very successful and wonderful galleries sell prints and work with artists who do the same. But in this instance the galleries in question dismissed him because they wanted an ‘original’. What this code really means is that either they’re concerned about things like value and exclusivity as they pertain to his work, or maybe just don’t understand his work at all, and therefore don’t understand why it would possess value as a work of art or could be at all exclusive. So with both of those possibilities, by either continuing to approach galleries that just don’t get his medium, or by not directly addressing the gallery’s concern by putting together a convincing argument about his work and process its value or pursuing ways it can be adapted to better fit into a gallery setting, and instead resigning to the idea that as a digital artist his physical work is inherently mass produced, he is not necessarily doing anything wrong, but he may be an active participant in creating circumstances that make the way to his goal more difficult.
There are lots of examples of how this happens to all of us. It’s frustrating. It can be disheartening. But this is one of the ways we can learn and improve, and be better. Each example could get its own column, but the context is so crucial. Think of ‘working against yourself’ as a less dramatic ‘I am my own worst enemy’. Or the evil twin of ’work smarter not harder’. And if you keep doing the same thing over and over and it’s not working for you, take a close look at your plan and be honest with yourself, and don’t be afraid to change the plan.
Thank you for this opportunity to ask questions!
I am a professional multidisciplinary artist who excels in several mediums and also taught at the university level as an adjunct for several years and have exhibited internationally. I am currently on teaching sabbatical.
Currently, I have a gallery,but only for my drawing and painting (or all 2d). I would like to find a gallery for my sculpture as I am lately focusing more on this medium. I have heard from several people that a scattered portfolio is not a good thing, but, my work will never fall into the consistent modality of expected work praxis, as I feel limiting oneself to one style or medium stifles creativity.
I wonder what gallerists think of artists working in several different mediums and what artists can do to instill confidence and commitment to artistic practice to the curating viewer when submitting work?
Additionally, I am curious about the necessity of MFA degrees for mid career and emerging artists? How relevant or necessary is this piece of paper when submitting to galleries,despite an obvious commitment to studio and artistic practice? Does the work speak for itself or is this degree a large component of who is chosen for representation or support?
Thank you very much for this opportunity and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
In general I would never discourage you from working in whatever styles or mediums you want to, I don’t think that there are unbendable overarching rules that painters have to stay painters, or sculptors have to stay sculptors, and if experimenting with different things is part of what keeps you inspired I think that’s great. In fact at our gallery there has been at least two instances in the past where we were working with an artist who was known for paintings, but each of those two artists came to us at different points with some ideas or an interest in creating sculpture and we ended up being very encouraging and doing our best to create an opportunity for them to realize some of those ideas and the end result was awesome and it worked out to be really successful for them.
As far as portfolios go, specifically portfolios as part of your first conversation with a potential gallery, I do think that you should consider streamlining a bit if the gallery in question appears to have a focus of its own. Just like artists, different galleries have different strengths and focuses and I think when an artist and gallery partner up and those things line up and compliment each other is when the best work gets done. If I’m working with an artist and let’s say for example I know they move between sometimes making really interesting illustrative work, other times they make these big conceptual pieces – I would encourage them to work with us on the former. But it’s important to understand that is not at all to suggest that their range is a bad thing, or to discourage the other type of work – it’s just being honest about where our strengths are, who our clients are, where we have the best press relationships, etc. and attempting to foster a situation in which there is a higher probability of success and where we feel confidently able to do the most we can for them.
For your second question – I think this is a good question and if there’s interest I would consider making this its own Open Call. But until then, my short answer is no. Of all the things we consider, an MFA or lack thereof is not something that we care about at all if the work is great and the rest is there.
Thanks for writing.
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Patrick Shillenn is the co-founder and director of Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He just wants to have the conversation.
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