General 12-14-2003

The Art World is Bursting Apart

An Art Consultant’s Insight into the Myths and Realities of the Artist’s Life

“The art trade is a discreet, unregulated, and highly fragmented industry. Auction specialists and dealers who have been in the business for decades cannot pin down how many art dealers exist or the breadth of worldwide annual sales.”
— ARTnews, January 2000

The art world is bursting apart. It has literally fragmented into pieces — and turned on its head until it is unrecognizable. All signs predict it will continue its headlong course, exploding well into the next decades.

What does it mean for the artist? It means a lot — more than most are prepared for. It means that artists are being forced to take on new roles and change the way they think about themselves and the way they conduct the business of art. The phenomenon fueling the change is quite simply the current proliferation of artists, most of whom dream of one day exhibiting in a gallery. But the dream is increasingly difficult to realize. Already, the world is seeing successful artists serve as their own gallery dealers, their own museum curators, their own publicity firms and all-round promoters. Artists have to wade through the choices offered by Internet galleries and artist-run web sites. It means they have to learn to be their own business managers. And it means they have to move far beyond the traditional gallery-artist relationship because they will have to market their work directly to their clients, while developing a working association with museums and galleries.

What can you do to prepare yourself for these challenges? First, develop a positive attitude. This means you must go beyond some of the myths that are still perpetuated in the art world, which prevent you from reaching your goals.

Myth No. 1: I have “sold out” if I take over the marketing and promotion of my art career. Truly successful artists no longer think this way. They can’t afford to if they want to succeed.

Myth No. 2: I will be discovered. Gone are the days of artists being discovered while hidden away in their studios. Artists now have to have a more visible, consistent presence in the art world.

Myth No. 3: Society owes me a living. People in the art world are not interested in artists who think they don’t have to do anything but create art.

But a positive attitude alone is not enough. You need to develop a game plan or road map. Consider these three steps:

1. Define your goals. Give serious thought to what you want to achieve with your artwork, such as lifestyle, income, and level of recognition. Where do you want to be in six months, one year, five years, 10 years? Be honest about your goals because if you are to reach them, they must be realistic.

2. Develop a strategy. You must formulate a marketing plan that ensures that collectors, museums, gallery dealers, and arts writers will see your work. The plan should look at both short- and long-term strategies.

3. Implement the plan! Once you have designed a strategy to achieve your goals, break it down into day-to-day activities. Set aside at least one day a week to work on your plan. Also look at what it will take to continue to implement the plan.

Rebecca Bluestone, a Santa Fe-based fiber artist, followed this very kind of planning, and it has contributed to her success. Bluestone exhibits her work both locally and throughout the country. Her show at a local gallery this summer was acclaimed — and profitable — and she has just completed a large commission for the new courthouse in Albuquerque.

“It took me several years to figure how important a well-defined strategy is for my art career,” Bluestone said recently. “I am interested in long-term success. I work with both the public and private sectors of the art world. I have to be organized and look at my schedule years in advance. If I didn’t have my game plan, I don’t think I could have gotten this far.”

In addition to planning a strategy, you need to take your creativity out of your studio and use it to plan novel ways to market your work. Here are a few tried-and-true ideas to incorporate into your marketing plan.

Develop and work with your own mailing list. Assemble a client list that includes friends and family, collectors, gallery dealers, museum directors, the media, and arts professionals. A well-organized, updated mailing list will sustain you during your entire art career, so take good care of it. Send out postcards, newsletters, press releases, and articles about your career at least three times a year to this list.

  • Have your own exhibitions. With a little effort, you can organize your own show in an alternative space, such as your own studio, a coffeehouse, bank, office, or even a friend’s home. You’ll gain a following while getting the attention of arts professionals — on your own schedule, not someone else’s. And when you schedule an exhibition, make sure to gain maximum exposure from this opportunity by sending out invitations and a press release to the media.
  • Create the best possible presentation packet you can. This means have professional photographs taken of your work. You cannot afford to be showing dark, fuzzy, amateur pictures of your work to other art professionals. They will immediately doubt your commitment. Your portfolio should also have an easy-to-read, updated resume, brief artist statement, and labeled color copies of the art in it. Once you have a good portfolio, you can use its elements for a multitude of things including a handout to distribute at studio shows, elements for producing a press release, and good visuals for creating postcards.
  • Work with art consultants. They are basically private art dealers. They sell your artwork to corporations and individuals mostly from photographs and slides. There are hundreds of art consultants throughout the United States; they are looking for professional artists to work with. The Art Marketing Sourcebook and Art In America Annual Guide are both good resources for names and addresses.

Margot Luisa Guerrero, a Santa Fe miniature painter, is an innovator in marketing her own work. After she made color copies at a local photocopy service, the service gave her a sheet of stickers composed of 108 tiny reproductions of one of her paintings. She gave the sheet to her daughter’s school class. One of the other parents saw the stickers and bought one of Guerrero’s paintings. Another parent commissioned a miniature portrait of his three children.

“Sometimes unusual opportunities are just handed to you,” Guerrero said of the experience, “and you make the best of them.”

Of course, many artists still incorporate galleries into their overall marketing plan. If you are one of these artists, be sure to have a gallery strategy. Research the correct galleries for your work and have your support material well organized before you approach them.

Galleries certainly appreciate an artist’s professionalism, but some may object to an artist taking the reins of his or her career. “Sometimes I get the feeling from gallery dealers and museum curators that it is wrong for me to be doing my own career development, and if I am doing it, to keep a very low profile.” commented Bluestone. “The problem with that thinking is if I didn’t do any of this, who would? It’s kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But I know this: these people wouldn’t know about my work unless I got it in front of them.”

Successful artists cannot afford to wait around to find someone to manage their career. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will be on your way to success in this changing art world. I have suggested some of the myths that are stumbling blocks for artists as well as some tools to incorporate into the business of your art. And if all of this seems as if it is too much too fast, just keep in mind what French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle said: “Even a bad plan is better than no plan at all.”

Geoffrey Gorman, a former gallery director, attended the Maryland Institute of Art and the Boston Museum School. Five years ago he founded GG+A, an artist career development firm that works with artists individually and through workshops.

This article was originally created for It appears on NYFA Interactive courtesy of the Abigail Rebecca Cohen Library. It appears on courtesy of the New York Foundation for the Arts.  For additional information about NYFA and its programs, please visit the NYFA Interactive website at  For information on NYFA Source, a national directory of programs for artists in all disciplines, go to, or call live technical assistance for the visual and performing arts at 1-800-232-2789, or email for (visual arts), or (performing arts).