On September 17, 1997 I gave a live internet chat on the web. Some 200 or so people heard at least part of it, though many fewer asked questions. The following is excerpts from that chat (I have deleted the names of those asking questions and changed the format slightly.)
TOPIC: Advice & tips for artists!
QUESTION: What should I look for when I go into a gallery?
ANSWER: I think the artist goes to the gallery and looks around - gets a feel for the place - comes back for the next show - and probably has not even opened his or her mouth yet - then someday says - "hey - I like this stuff - do you ever look at other people's work?"
Look for a gallery that feels right to you - where the aesthetic is compatible and where you get a sense that you are comfortable with the people who work there
I have 2 or 3 artists I work with now - who just stopped by every month or so and would ask a question or two and then leave - eventually I asked them more about themselves and respected their answers and their opinions about what I showed. Because I cared about what they said I asked and was told they were artists, though it was not hard to tell, and asked if I could see what they were up to - it is whole lot better if the dealer asks to look.
I am not convinced that there are very many artists under 28-30 who should be in a gallery. I think that their work is in a state of flux - as it should be - and they should have the opportunity to create good art, bad art, goofy art, without the pressure of having it be successful.
QUESTION: What criteria other than talent do you look for in an artist? Longevity and commitment?
ANSWER: The gallery / artist relationship is about two things - liking the art, and anticipating a long-term relationship with the artist - which means you have to like him or her and want to work with.
I like sincerity - I want to believe that the artist believes in what he or she is doing - not that they are trying to be "au currant," but that they truly give a damn about what they are creating.
The most successful art is that which reveals the most truth and the most integrity. To accomplish this artists must allow themselves to be vulnerable and to share that vulnerability with an unknown audience. A difficult task.
QUESTION: Should young artists go to galleries and show their work, then?
ANSWER: Young artists should NOT BE INTIMIDATED by galleries and should be eager to take their work there, if only to say - "Hey, I am going to get somewhere someday, and I would be flattered if you would have a look at it now. I don't want you to represent me yet, I just want you to see it, and tell me anything you feel like saying."
QUESTION: What is the best part about running a gallery?
ANSWER: The best part of running a gallery for me - is the ability to interact with artists - to conceive of odd challenges and pull them off, for the benefit of the gallery, like last summer . . .
The street in front of the gallery was being repaved, the sidewalks redone and the street lamps replaced. The workers stacked up the old street lamps right across the street from my front door.
Well, I can take a hint, and called Josh Garber - a local sculptor we represent and told him I had raw material for him, to bring a torch and not show up before 5.
That evening Josh, an assistant and I cut up some 7 or 8 thirty foot long lamp posts and dragged them across the street into our sculpture garden.
The very next day - a city street inspector came buy - called me outside and pointing to the pile of cut up tubes - asked me if I saw it - "sure" I said - and he said that I better cover it up, because if he saw it he would have to arrest me.
From that "raw, 'found,' material" Josh made a gorgeous 24 foot tall sculpture - it was great - right on the site - collector's would climb up the scaffolding and deliver tubes to Josh to build - it was fun - that's the stuff I love! (You can see a photo of it on Josh Garber's page)
QUESTION: Paul, do you help artists with pricing their work?
ANSWER: Pricing is really only an issue with young artists - those who have never shown or have essentially no track record - once they do - if they sell - prices go up - if they don't prices remain the same. From then, it is merely a question of extrapolating from previous prices - and size (square inches) has a lot to do with it.
QUESTION: Do you, or your artists, ever get tired of what you do?
ANSWER: A few years ago I was really tired of the art business - and realized that I was not having any fun - since then I have prioritized enjoying what I do - and I have been making more money by trying to have a good time, than by trying to make money - I recommend the same attitude to artists - enjoy what you are doing - be you - put yourself and your soul into your art!
QUESTION: I went to a large gallery in town, and no one would speak to me. I felt like I was in a hospital. How do I engage someone in a discussion about artwork?
ANSWER: It is important to realize that talent is not enough - meet other artists - go out drinking with them - share ideas - meet curators - be real - be a human - don't kiss ass too much - be yourself - and realize that everyone has something to offer
Don't bother with stuff galleries - their heads are not into art - they are solely interested in capitalism - and that is not enough to make them a good gallery.
QUESTION : Do you mostly work with artists in your local area?:
ANSWER: We represent about 20 artists - maybe 5 live in the area - the rest are from all over the United States.
QUESTION: People have told me that if you want to be an artist you MUST move to LA or New York.
ANSWER: Hogwash - one of the artists I work with lives in LA - none in New York - one in Omaha, one in Sante Fe, one in southern Texas, one in Minnesota, one in Ohio, one in upstate New York, one in Washington, DC and like that.
QUESTION: What about collectors? What are they like?
ANSWER: I think most collectors (whatever a collector is - anyone want to ask?) are not very confident of their taste and either buy an artist with a track record/resume, or someone who is local - - young artists are probably well advised to exhibit locally before going way beyond their neighborhood - when they go out, shipping expenses, etc., rise.
QUESTION: What about art school? Do you think a graduate degree is important?
ANSWER: Not much - and I may be atypical - I look once - when I am considering the artist's resume, in the first place - only to see who their influences might have been and look for something to talk about - after that I forget - and don't worry about it again - I would have difficulty telling you which artists of ours have what degrees.
Some artists need the discipline that schooling offers and many do not - I think a college (bachelor's degree) is important - but beyond that I am not convinced that a graduate degree is beneficial - that said - some of the contacts one makes there may ultimately be important - BUT most artists are not doing their own work until they have been out of school for two or more years - under any scenario the whole thing takes time and it is important to let time be an ally.
Knowledge without experience is pretty empty.
QUESTION: What motivates your clients to buy the art they do ?
ANSWER: hmm - good one - not sure - always surprises me - I guess it is usually love.
QUESTION: Paul, as far as contracts go, do you go by an exclusive or does it depend on the artist?
ANSWER: Contracts are verbal with me - this may not be the norm - it is about relationships (again) and a contract just doesn't cut it - we have to believe in each other- and there is a sense of exclusivity within a certain region, say 500 miles
QUESTION: How does an artist figure out what to create?
ANSWER: Come from yourself, your experiences, what you believe in, what you know, what your love. Seek to either reveal or discover yourself.
Gimmicks are shallow - trying to figure out what someone else will buy is very tricky - it is best, easiest, and most genuine to do what one believes in. Don't do what has already been done.
Remember that as a human being, you are unique, somehow different than anyone else on the planet.
Strive always to be who you are, look for yourself in your artwork, become one with your art, find yourself in your art. Be you.
QUESTION: What is a standard mark up in Chicago? I know galleries that go from 20% to 70%.
ANSWER: Good one - and mark up is the WRONG way to look at it - the right way is to determine the value of the art, - - ask yourself how much a painting like yours would sell for in a gallery, or wherever, done by someone with a resume like yours. That determines the retail price - then realize that there is likely to be a small discount and then assume that you are entitled to 50% of that amount. I see no reason that an artist should ever get less than 50 percent of the selling price.
QUESTION: Well, what would be your advice to a young artist that wants to work his or her way to becoming one with their art?
ANSWER: DO IT - make art - do it again - make more - SEEK TO DISCOVER YOURSELF IN YOUR ART, put everything of yourself into it - be vulnerable - be honest, be real - be vulnerable - take chances - do it ----- and notice that I did not say - sell it or exhibit it - this matters some - but not as much as all the other stuff - ultimately sales only need to be sufficient enough to let you keep doing what you want to do!
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