anonymous registrartist wrote:Winkleman follows:
I'm an unrepresented artist working in a Chelsea gallery 40 hours a week and doing my studio thing nights and weekends. There are so many of us artworkers/artists, I wonder what the dealers think about us. Is it generally frowned upon when aspiring artists are known to work gallery day jobs?
I think there can be biases working against you in this. Not insurmountable, and not concentrated in any one dealer, but spread throughout the industry, and there's no point in not talking about them openly, if only to dispel them.
The first bias was expressed by super-dealer Jeffrey Deitch at a panel lecture he participated in about 8 years ago now. I don't want to try to quote what he said because I can't recall the exact wording, but what I took away from his statement (and I'm fairly sure this is accurate) was essentially that he wouldn't even consider working with an artist who held a full-time job. He noted how a fulltime job (outside the studio, that is) implied the artist wasn't serious enough about their artwork.
The second bias possibly working against you is the assumption that you might be too close to the business side of things (i.e., have inside information most artists are not privy to) to work well with a different gallery. This is much more subtle, and most dealers probably wouldn't even recognize it in themselves if challenged on it, but sensing it a bit in myself, I can't believe it's just me….
Perhaps the underlying anxiety, subtle as it is, stems from many dealers' fear that they're doing so much of their job poorly. There is no manual on how to run your business as a dealer, and trial-and-error is how most of us come to make decisions on the finer points of relationship management and other strategies. This, I can confirm, is felt by more dealers than just me.
There is a third potential bias at work here as well, but this one is even more difficult to describe, and, to be honest, I'm not so sure it stems from the galleries as much perhaps as it's merely a reflection of the artists working for galleries that the artists think they see in dealers (and perhaps because in the context of working for a gallery, they, as an employee, don't get the same star treatment that they see the dealer showing to his/her artists), but...the notion exists that only an artist with self-doubt about their art would work to support the careers of other artists. Again, I've never felt this myself, but I do sense it among some artists who work as art handlers or assistants or for galleries. And because I sense they feel it, perhaps I reflect it back to them merely by recognizing it.
I think Ed has mostly identified the basic biases – there are more but these seem to be mostly the broad strokes.
Firstly, the “Deitch” myth that a working artist is not as committed to their work is simply generalized garbage. It’s a myth that may as well come straight from a GOP talking point. When I hear this sort of slur, it reminds of sentiments that assume poor people are defective or lazy. This is likely no more than a glib position to hold that makes filtering easier for him and his clients. That being said, it is a generalization that does match up with the myth that a real artist sacrifices everything including their health for their art. Call it the starving artist myth which somehow has survived in a multi-billion dollar industry. It exposes the rampant classist attitude prevalent in today's art world. Ultimately a reflection of the times we live in.
I think Ed’s take that gallerists are insecure about there business practice also holds true. It is shocking on one hand but understandable that the sole proprietor could feel vulnerable, furthering proof that there is no accreditation process for becoming a dealer. As the industry becomes more standard perhaps more professional behavior will result and insecurities such as these will subside.
As to the third bias, (I do like Ed’s reflection observation because that is there) I think this is a very dangerous bias to hold. That a lack of confidence motivates one to work in the arts seems like an odd way to view things. To work in the art industry seems an obvious choice for artists as employment. For the majority, it is all they know as they have been educated almost exclusively in the arts. The “lack of confidence” shows more that they are afraid of other industries for employment. An art degree doesn’t exactly put you at the top of the recruiters list at Morgan Stanley - some exceptions of course. I think you also have to consider the psychological impulse of artists to not only make work but to be around the culture of art in general. Many artists that support other artists believe in the bigger picture that they are contributing to the cultural life at large. Not saying everyone is a martyr but many of these art workers consider this. It factors in to why they tolerate the low pay and perhaps the internal angst of watching others succeed in the field to which they are aspiring.
So what does an artist gain from working as support or admin. In the gallery game? This wasn’t really covered in Ed’s post or the comment thread but there are some skills and educational benefits.
1. You learn how a small business operates – and succeeds/fails.
2. Organizational skills that can be applied to your own practice – being an artist is also being your own business.
3. You get to see how relationships work – artist/dealer, dealer/collector, and so on. This can greatly enhance your understanding on how to present yourself and interact with those that will aid and augment your career.
4. Learning how to protect your self in business dealings and how the business works. Also, learning what it costs to do business – very important.
5. Depending on your role, you look at a lot of art. It does fill educational gaps you may have as an artist. Also learning who the people are that make the big art engine move, not just in NY but across the country and internationally is a big asset to an artist. This is especially so when you consider being an artist as a lifetime commitment.
The negatives of these jobs are obvious as the biases show. If you are lacking confidence in your work, you many want to reconsider. I’ve seen it kill many studio practices. If you believe though that your work matters, then the dreaded art job may be a boon to your understanding of the bigger picture. That being said, do not go into under the illusion that you will make tons of connections as an artist. You won’t, you’ll make a handful perhaps, but it needs to be approached with the understanding that this type of job is to pay bills and sharpen your game plan by becoming a less naïve artist in the market place.
I'll close with saying that the comment thread on Winkleman is quite the read so if the topic hits home, definitely check that out.