How to navigate the art world as an early career artist, according to Delphian
The gallery shares an excerpt from its first book, which shares lessons on selling work, social media and how to approach galleries, as well as tips from Jake Chapman and Maureen Paley.
- Jenny Brewer
- 14 July 2020
Delphian Gallery has published its first book, hoping to guide up-and-coming artists through the tricky first years in the industry. Navigating the Art World - Professional Practice for the Early Career Artist “pulls back the curtain on rarely discussed topics,” says gallery co-founder Nick JS Thompson. “We basically wrote a list of things we wish we’d known at the beginning of our careers, and set about trying to shine some light on those things.” Spanning topics such as getting your work noticed, finding an audience, selling work, how to approach and engage with galleries, DIY exhibitions, patrons, collectors and collaborations, it covers it all, with tips from the gallerists themselves alongside curators, collectors, artists and gallerists, such as Jake Chapman and Maureen Paley.
Here, Delphian has shared an excerpt from the book’s foreword, on how seeing your art career as a business is vital, though it isn’t always inviting.
On being a business
Achieving any kind of success in the art world depends on two things: making interesting art (that goes without saying), and being good enough at getting that work out there. These two essential elements of an artist’s practice could be referred to as the Creative Side and the Business Side, and both are as important as each other.
Many artists have a romantic idea of the profession; one centred around an almost complete rejection of the business practices that sustain the work. Unfortunately, this conception of an artist’s profession is one better suited to the fantasy of film and literature than it is to actually making a living. Some galleries sign artists straight out of art school, but this is vanishingly uncommon and not something the vast majority of artists should be banking on. Galleries want to see a proven trajectory in an artist’s career before they are going to invest time and money into supporting them. They often do a lot of careful research before even thinking of visiting an artist’s studio, and so as an early career artist, it is your responsibility to make your work discoverable.
The first part of this journey is identifying that no-one is going to do all of this admin for you. Managing admin is not what anyone, least of all artists, want to be dealing with. However, the sooner artists wake up to this reality the sooner they will begin to see the progression in both their career and in the work itself. Social media is, for better or worse, something that we simply have to dedicate a substantial portion of this book to. This is because social media is now a huge part of how artists present their works to the world, and a huge part of how we, as both galleries and fans, discover art that we then go and seek-out in the flesh. Whilst social media definitely has its downsides, it is also an incredibly useful tool that far too many artists neglect at their peril. In the vast majority of cases, what is seen on your social media will be the first impression people get of your work. If this isn’t the case, then upon discovering your work elsewhere, most people go immediately to your social media to learn more about you. Where a well-designed website was once the most important way to deliver further information about yourself and your practice, now your social media has filled this role. Social media is dynamic where a website tends to be static, and as such people don’t look to the latter for regular updates. Social media is fluid and ever-changing, so when done well, can keep yourself and your work fresh in people’s minds.
If you are one of those artists who neglect social media on the basis of “just not being good at it”, you are only disadvantaging yourself.
If you plan to sustain yourself working as a professional artist the first thing you need to do is start thinking of yourselves as a business. Once you do so, it becomes clear that there are areas beyond the making of art that require real, concentrated attention.
It takes time, and it takes practice. But our aim here is to try and bridge a small part of that gap between what you make and how you forge a career with it. This book is a compendium of all the things we as practitioners have learned – often through trial and error, experimentation, jumping in at the deep end, and sometimes, simply winging it.
Navigating the Art World – Professional Practice for the Early Career Artist is designed and supported by artist-led independent publisher Foolscap Editions. It is now available for pre-order, released on 27 July.