Welcome to the 7th edition of Open Call! Today we are talking about fear. The other day at work we were talking about scenes from horror movies, specifically if there were any scenes from horror movies that you watched as a kid and stuck with you for a time as a funny and irrational day-to-day kind of fear. I explained how after watching that part of Nightmare on Elm Street 3, where the faucets turn into Freddy’s hands, small-child-Patrick Shillenn who had the same faucets taught himself how to turn the water off and on using the least amount of faucet to hand contact possible for fear of getting grabbed. It was weirdly impressive. Dream Warriors.
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I am a current student pursuing a career as a gallery artist. Last year I had the privilege of participating in a themed exhibit. The gallery had sent my work back to me shortly after the show had ended; the pieces were not easily sellable for their client base. I have been struggling to find a gallery that will display my drawings that were based for this specific theme. Would you have any advice for artists that may be going through the same situation?
Thank you for your time,
My advice would be to take a look at how you are presenting the unsold work after your first gallery experience, and don’t be afraid to move on if these pieces aren’t getting the results you want. A common fear that we’ve heard a lot from artists who are just starting out is that they’re nervous about creating a surplus of work, that if they do it will “look bad”, or keep piling up indefinitely and becoming monoliths of unrealized potential, but the truth is pivoting your efforts back and forth between brand new and older works is something that most artists, even those who are more established, can relate to.
You can always move on and go back to these works at a later time. But when you do, think about how you’re presenting the work, whether that be to a gallery, or to your own base, and ask yourself if you are doing that in the best way possible. We get a lot of submissions at our gallery and sometimes an artist will email us and they’ll say something like, “here is some old work I did a couple years ago, its been in a couple different galleries but no one wants to buy it, and I thought maybe you might want it. I don’t know.”, and you’ve got to wonder why they thought this would be a compelling opportunity for us to work together. Although most of what we show is brand new work, if we do an open call or emerging artist showcase, we will sometimes show work that is not, so there may still be an opportunity. Some galleries even have an annual or semi-regular show that brings together a bunch of past works, so maybe in the future if you are uncertain about there being a strong demand for your work, maybe you should look for galleries that make a longer term effort beyond just the initial exhibition time.
If you take a close look around at what other artists are doing, you’ll see many different ways to deal with older work. For example a pretty common and real simple thing is older works coming (back) onto the market directly from the artist and they’ll say something like they’re about to start on a new body of work and need to clear out some studio space, or even that they “just found a bunch of past work”, and decided to put it up for sale, and although it doesn’t seem like much, what makes this work better is that the emphasis is on a new opportunity, even though it’s older work, and people respond better to that.
Just don’t get stuck.
I was intrigued by the question about being too old. This is something I’ve been asking myself a lot this year since I turned 40. I have a lot of regret for not pursing a career in art sooner, the way I had planned to do when I was in high school. I think like many young people though, I didn’t believe in myself and allowed fear to wash over me. I didn’t give up art completely and have always found small ways to continue working it into my life. However, over the last couple of years I have found a new drive and passion for getting my graphite and colored pencil work out there and fighting for my chance to do something I truly love. While age can bring years of honing talents and technique, and sometimes even a confidence you didn’t have when you were younger, it also brings new challenges. I’m personally facing trying to balance time with my son and husband, my day job, building a portfolio, while also trying to get my name out there in the art world. I don’t have the same amount of time to give that someone who’s younger might have. I find it especially hard to find time to figure out all the ins and outs of marketing myself. Like with pricing my work, whether or not to set up an Etsy shop or put my work on places like Society6, which galleries to contact, which social media platforms to utilize, where to get prints of originals made, whether they should be giclée or just a really nice digital print, and so many other questions that keep me up at night. I feel like if I put too much money into getting started and choose the wrong path, then my family will suffer for it. What advice can you offer someone getting a late start?
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.
I would give you the same advice that I would give a younger artist who is just starting out. Don’t be afraid to try, just be smart about it. For every younger artist who seems to be cruising right out of the gates, there are many others who didn’t find their groove, or see any real success until they were a little older, so don’t get trapped by the misconception that your deadline to succeed has already past.
The passion you have will go a long way if you use it to keep working, and to motivate yourself to get better and not be discouraged. You are driven to make work and create art, and you should keep doing that no matter what. Beyond that, and into becoming a working artist, a lot of that planning should be like starting any small business. Use common sense and although there’s usually a lot of investment in the beginning, financially, time, effort, etc., you should choose to start in a place that you think is sustainable. It’s okay to take risks but if you’re concerned about consequences within your family, try to establish a clear idea of what level of risk is acceptable before you jump. If you are apprehensive about putting too much time and money into it in the beginning, it’s okay to start small. Try out some of the ideas you have and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and invest more effort in what worked.
Things that can be greatly beneficial like giving yourself a presence on social media, speaking with galleries and being more active and present in the art scene, talking with other artists about their experiences, these things can be monumentally valuable and they are totally free and always a great place to start.
So I’m feeling stuck and think that perhaps a mentor or someone of this nature may be able to shed some light on what I am doing wrong with my art career. I feel as though I am always emerging as an artist, never really there yet, and I wonder if you feel that an artist may benefit from having a mentor of sorts, or at least someone close to them who is objective about the work, and honest about their impressions there of.
If so, is that something a gallery would do? Or should I look elsewhere?
Thank you in advance,
I think there are tons of benefits to finding people who you respect and trust and asking them about mentorship. In my experience, establishing this formally is great, but don’t be afraid to seek out and take in other’s experience and advice in more casual situations too.
Fear and doubt can be huge challenges for anyone, and having someone, or several mentors to talk to and listen to can be a priceless tool in overcoming some of these things.
In my opinion the gallery that you work with should be able to provide a lot of what you’re looking for at least in terms of trust and the ability to share and use their own experiences in ways that help you to improve and move forward. But honestly not every gallery is going see it that way, unfortunately, so be upfront with what you’re looking for and if you go this route, be selective in choosing who you put in this role, and don’t let your eagerness to gave a mentor allow you to choose a sub-par, or unwilling one.
In my experience a lot of people who found great mentors were very honest and upfront with that person. Even if it’s a small commitment at first. If you have someone in mind, I would suggest reaching out. Explain why you are contacting them specifically. Ask if they would be interested in sitting down, talking to you, and sharing their advice and experience. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no, but if that happens, don’t be discouraged. The best mentors are willing ones, so keep looking. And keep listening and watching to those who inspire you in the meantime. There’s a lot all of us can learn.
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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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