Marketing Mondays: "The Artist's Guide" and Other Books

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Talk about timely. Just as the art world is shaken to its foundations by the economic downturn, along comes The Artist's Guide: How To Make A Living Doing What You Love by Jackie Battenfield. I'm not being flip. Even though galleries are downsizing or shutting their doors, artists are still making art and still need to find a place for themselves. This book explains the art world (to the extent that something as multifaceted, international, freeform and unencumbered by "rules" can be explained) and offers clear and useful steps to setting goals and achieving them--information that until recently most artists never learned in art school.

Let me say up front that Jackie and I have seen our professional paths cross and weave into a fabric of mutual respect and friendship. We have taught together. We have shown together. She even interviewed me for this book. We both teach the business of art (she at Columbia University; I at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. )

But I can be totally objective when I say that this is one well-timed and well-written book. For mid-career artists especially, it's important to know that things have changed from when you were in art school. If you’re operating on the ideas and assumptions you formed 20 (or 30) years ago, you may be trying to navigate the contemporary art world in a Datsun—or an Edsel. Jackie gives you a capacious new Mercedes loaded with business information, marketing advice and
encouragement for a 21st century approach to your career. If you’re a recent graduate, she expands on the information you received—or should have received—in your last semester.

Jackie is writing from her experience as a successful exhibiting artist, lecturer and teacher, and gallery director (she founded the Rotunda Gallery, a non-profit Brooklyn institution). Her information is therefore not theoretical but steeped in firsthand knowledge. Sidebar quotes--she calls them "Reality Checks"-- from artists, dealers, critics and curators underscore the relevance of the material. One of my favorites comes from Camilo Alvarez, principal of Samson Projects in Boston, who makes an art world distinction: "A gallerist will send a collector the artist's bio, whereas a dealer sends them the invoice.")

There are exercises and lists to get you revved up, or to shift you into the next-higher gear, but I have to say that it's the guidance and observations I like best. "Much of my advice is not secret information," writes Jackie. But it's rare to find it compiled so well. Here's some of what I like:

. "What you reveal reflects a delicate balance between expressing your ideas and providing just enough information for viewers so they can start their own process of engagement. Your artist statement is specific and poetic at the same time. . . It takes a lot of messy writing . . . to get less than one page or even a paragraph of a finished statement." (pps. 49-50)

. "Promoting your work requires that you be assertive. It does not mean you are impolite, disrespectful or inappropriately aggressive. At an opening, it's the difference between saying a few words about the show to the curator and imploring them to visit your studio. . . You need to untangle promotion from your feelings of self worth and proceed as if it is another part of your artistic practice."(p. 99)

. "Money is the ten-ton elephant in the studio that most of us would like to ignore. . . While you’re in school, the connection between art and money is suspended. . .Eventually reality intervenes. "(pps. 159-160)

. "Constantly asking for money is called 'begging"; purposefully asking for support is an 'empowered request.'" (p. 197).

. . . While you're in this section, be sure to read artist Jody Lee 's story of how she funded her studio by lining up patrons to support her studio.

. "In every project you need to consider how to pay yourself. This is an artist's fee. . . . A funder expects to see this expense on your budget, so don’t eliminate it thinking they will reward your selfless commitment. Instead, they will see it as a sign that you do not think of yourself as professional." (p. 227)

. "A cardinal rule to follow is that whenever a work of art leaves your hands, it must have a paper trail. (p. 262)

. "You may make the art by yourself, but you'll need a community for advice and support." (p. 311)

. "If I'm not being regularly rejected, it means I'm not pursuing opportunities." (p. 327)

. "Every day you have the opportunity to make the art world a more generous place." (p. 340)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Two more current or recent volumes to round out your bookshelf:

. Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, published this year. One author is a gallery director, the other is a lawyer. A peek into the pages of the book via the Amazon website shows a layout similar to Jackie's that features the authors' text bookended by related and supporting quotes from artists, dealers, curators. It appears to cover all the current issues, from Art Fairs to Courtesy Discounts to the nuts and bolts of preparing, pricing and promoting yourself and your work.

. I'd Rather be in the Studio: The Artist's No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion by Alyson B. Stanfield, published in 2007, offers solid, well-organized advice from a Midwest-based professional who has been a museum curator and business coach. The focus here is squarely on promoting your career, not on the larger topic of the career itself.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Now over to you:
. What career books are on your bookshelf?
. What career books would you recommend?
. Is there any career advice you've read that has been extremely helpful--or egregiously unhelpful?


Anonymous said...

I am sad to say there are no books like this on my book shelf. The title that says it all for me is "I'd rather be in the studio". Alas. I do send out emails each week to galleries in a very passive attempt to connect. I used to work in two galleries in NYC and I know that this type of approach is almost as successful as keeping a snowball intact in Hawaii. I have had some good responses from my website but more in the way of 'love the work' but we can't take on anyone new or not right now.
I will be reading one or all of these.

Barbara Cowlin said...

I think Alyson Stanfield's book is great. It's been very helpful, with lots of practical advice. She knows all the excuses, and how to get beyond them. I also enjoy her newsletter. And am currently in her twitter book group #dekooning!

For more general motivation, I like Jack Canfield's The Success Principles. The first time I read it, I'd pick it up first thing in the morning, then head to my studio ready to set the world on fire. I'm re-reading it again more slowly.

I just ordered The Artist's Guide, thanks to your suggestion. Am looking forward to receiving it!

As my art school experience was 30 years ago, it totally lacked any practical advice. Saddled me with a lot of concerns about selling out, etc., which I still deal with.

Stephanie Clayton said...

On my studio shelf:

"I'd Rather be in the Studio" (yes, it is a very helpful, insightful read- I highly recommend)
"Business and Legal Forms for Artist"..comes w/ a CD of the forms. Don't know what I ever did without it.
"Presentation Power Tools for Fine Artists"...also recommend.
"The Artist's Mentor" (a book of artists' quotes- inspirational)
...And books on Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn & more.

Jackie's new book is on my list..will be ordering it very soon.

Tamar said...

Over many years in the studio, much of what I've learned about the business of being an artist has been by doing--with some successes, and some misses. Topics that you routinely address in your blog were never, ever discussed when I was in school.
It is terrific that there are now several well-written books to help artists think about the business of being an artist, and that many artists are freely sharing what they've learned.
Your marketing Mondays column, as well as a number of other blogs, have become a routine part of my professional reading materials. And yes, as a mid-career artist, it is particularly helpful to re-orient how I spend my time out of the studio. Thanks for posting the info on the book launch. I plan to be there!

Anonymous said...

I am half way through "The Artists Guide" and already making changes to my marketing strategy. This book should be required reading for artists everywhere.

Kelly S. said...

I bought the book "Art/Work" that you mention. I highly recommend it--it really covers everything and is handy to use. It's organized like a workbook, making it easy to look up answers to questions.

Linda Womack said...

I bought "The Artists Guide" at the Encaustic Conference and am anxious to read through it. Thanks for the suggestion. I also enjoyed "I'd Rather Be in the Studio".

I am happy to hear an old favorite of mine has just been updated, "How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself without Selling Your Soul" by Caroll Michels. This is the book that got me started on the right marketing path, and has served me well for years.

Donna Dodson said...

I've read Eric Rudd's book, The Art World dream and it was good. Thanks for the heads up on this book- it sounds great and I look forward to reading it.

Nicole Strasburg said...

Thanks for the new title Joanne. I feel like you can never stop learning about the changing market. Social marketing is the next book that needs writing, it is a vast ever changing landscape of technology for entrepreneurs and self promoters.

Some of the books I've held onto over the years as reference material:

Taking the Leap by Cay Lang (a bible)
How to Survive and prosper as an artist by Caroll Michels (invaluable)
The Way of the Accidental Entrepreneur by Molly Gordon
Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Art & Fear by David Bayles
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by by Stephen Covey

Newsletters online:
Alyson Stanfield's ArtBizBlog
Molly Gordon's Authentic Promotion
Sylvia White's Art Advice

Thanks for the great post and I'll look forward to perusing the new business book.

Carla Hernandez said...

Thank you for this post, Joanne- I really appreciate your Marketing Monday posts. I'm just curious to know how The Artist's Guide compares with Art/Work, which I currently own and am reading. Are they similar enough to get by with just one (being economical here), or do they compliment one another too well to pass up reading both?

Joanne Mattera said...

Potatobanana 76 (are there really 75 other people with that name? wow!),

I have not seen Art/Work in person. I was able to "browse" through a few pages on the Amazon site, but I did not get a review copy of the book, as I did with the other two.

Bearing in mind that I have no stock in any of these books, I would say that if you can acquire more than one, you'd have the benefit of multiple voices and points of view. Just as we artists are not monolithic, neither are others in the art world, including dealers, critics and curators.

At the very least, look at these various volumes in a book store to see which you want for your bookshelf. Or get a little reading group going, each person buying at least one of the books; that way you'll get to read them all without buying them all.

Anonymous said...

Two great sources of information: "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell and the other is in the form of a CD, from a live lecture, "How to Speak the Secret Language of your Prospects", as told by Tom Schreiter. Outliers is a very interesting study of what makes people successful while the CD lecture is quite funny and very important knowledge on how to talk to people so they will listen. The single most important element to success in any enterprise is a high degree of proficiency. Work HARD in the studio, first and foremost. Then learn how to communicate your ideas to people. Good luck and happy hunting!

Hylla Evans said...

"The Creative Habit," by Twyla Tharp, helps to focus energy on The Work.
Jackie Battenfield's book will help artists transform the work product into a most desirable, marketable, commercially feasible long term business. Rather than selling out, artists who embrace success and financial independence are creating yet more time to spend in the studio.
Though 30 copies of Jackie's book sold out in one day at the Montserrat conference, another 30 are ordered and will be on my website for sale shortly.

Supria Karmakar said...

I have loved both: "Living the Creative Life - Ideas and Inspiration from working Artists" by Rice Freeman-Zachery and "The Artist's Way at Work" by Mark Bryan with Julia Cameron and Catherine Allen....these books are full of inspiration and motivation to keep on the journey in pursuing a career in the art field...
These books inspire dedication, persistence, belief in oneself that a prosperous and joyous career in the art world is all possible.

Angela Wales Rockett said...

I just recently heard about "The Artist's Guide" and wondered whether I should add it to my collection, so thanks for talking about it. I have many of the books listed here already, and I've read most of the others. Though many have great advice, the one I turn to again and again is "How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist" by Caroll Michels. Another book I would recommend is "Creative Authenticity" by Ian Roberts - it reminds you why you're doing this in the first place even if he doesn't talk a lot about galleries and such.

The worst piece of advice I've ever gotten or read is "you should paint more like (fill in the blank)".

Kathy said...

"If I'm not being regularly rejected, it means I'm not pursuing opportunities."

What a great quote! I have often learned as much from my mistakes as I have my successes.

Catherine Carter said...

I agree with Hylla -- "The Creative Habit" by Twyla Tharp is inspiring and motivating.

I also think "Creating A Life Worth Living" by Carol Lloyd is helpful.

But the best book on the planet is "Wishcraft" by Barbara Sher; it's packed with encouraging words and practical advice that works for ANY goal. When I first read that book in 1989, I was working full time as a secretary with a vague dream of becoming an artist. Following her suggestions for gently "wading into" the career you want, I tried an internship in a gallery, then earned a bachelor's degree and finally an M.F.A. I now teach art at the college level, and have had great luck exhibiting and selling my paintings. Barbara ROCKS.

Karen Atkinson said...

Just wanted to let you know that we have a professional practices blog at GYST Ink (Getting Your Sh*t Together) at We also have software for artists that Jackie mentions in her book as well. So come check us out and give us your feedback, questions,etc.

Karen Atkinson, founder

Matthew said...

I was on the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) website and found that Jackie Battenfield (The Artist's Guide) has a Podcast: