Periodically, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.
It can be challenging to balance artistic creation with the financial, marketing, or other career aspects of artists’ work. Artists are encouraged to see their art career as a “business” – but how does that translate into practice? We asked artists in different disciplines, What is your approach to the business of art, and how has it changed over time?
Part one of a two-part discussion.
Caleb Neelon, international public artist
Last year while on a mural project in Sarajevo I passed a funny milestone: first time out at some bar (legally) downing beers with people half my age. I was 38 then and the guys were 19. They were eager young graffiti writers and they were taking the chance to grill me with nerdy graffiti history questions and ask about their favorite international graffiti writers that I had met or painted with over the years. They wanted to do their own individual version of what I had done, which was to make a career out of the doors-of-possibility-blowing-open passion of my youth. And one thing that I realized, and said to them, was that while I had been in some way a professional artist since I was their age, and those 20 years feel like forever, I’m consumed with how I positively navigate the next 40, or however long fate has in store for me. In many ways, the goals for me have shifted from a list of specifics (show here, sell for this much, publish this, paint a mural there, etc) to the end goal of doing good work up to the time I’m done here on Earth.
Crystal King, novelist, writer, and marketing/communications professional
Over the last few years, I’ve taught many classes to artists and authors on how to use social media. Many of them are there to learn only because someone, usually an agent, has told them that they need to be on Facebook or Twitter. Often, they are not happy about it. Some people do their best to engage with and build their audience. Others start social accounts but let them languish a month or so after their show or their book comes out, then bemoan the fact that no one is interested in their work.
To me, the business of art is just as important as the art itself. This is a world in which anyone has the chance to be successful. But unless you’ve managed to get lucky, you have to pay or play for your art to be noticed. If you can’t pay for publicity, then you need to learn and work for it. I’m always baffled when people are unwilling to promote themselves. If you believe in the work that you do, why on earth wouldn’t you do EVERYTHING you can to help others see your vision? This is more important than ever for me, as I prepare for my own book to come out in 2017.
Mariko Kusumoto, metalworker and textile artist
My artistic choices have changed over time, and the business side has followed the creative. Metal constructions had been my main focus since 1995, but in 2013 – after completing a very involved and technically challenging metal piece – I felt the need to move away from using purely representational imagery and do something more abstract, organic, and in a different material; the result has been fabric work. Fabric is completely opposite metal, and I like the softness, gentle texture, and atmospheric quality of the fabric I use.
In a formal manner, the financial aspects of my work are completely managed by my gallery although we work in unison to establish pricing. My metal pieces are quite expensive. But in developing smaller-scale fabric pieces, I felt that a wider audience/collector would find them more accessible, both aesthetically and financially. The public exposure for this new work (e.g., print, websites) has expanded audience interest as well.
What else has changed over the course of my career are opportunities and invitations that require an increasing amount of time to attend to thus removing me from the necessary concentration needed to make my work. I am flattered and grateful for the interest, but I have to politely refuse certain requests.
Top: metalwork by Mariko Kusumoto from 2007; bottom: Mariko’s recent textile work
Crystal King (crystalking.com) is a 20-year marketing and communications veteran who has directed global social media programs for companies such as Pegasystems (were she currently works), Keurig, CA Technologies, and Sybase. Crystal is also a writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. Her first novel, Feast of Sorrow, will be published by Touchstone Books in 2017. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, and UMass Boston. At Grub Street Writers’ The Muse and the Marketplace Conference (April 29-May 1), she will present workshops on electronic tools to streamline writing and self-promotion using social media.
Mariko Kusumoto (marikokusumoto.com) is a metalworker and printmaker who is now working in fiber. Her intricate metal box sculptures have exhibited at Fuller Craft Museum, Morikami Museum, Racine Art Museum, and Society for Contemporary Craft, and her fiber creations have been featured in American Craft and Fiber Art Now magazines. She is represented by Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge, which has a Spotlight Exhibition of her work thru April 16, 2016.
Caleb Neelon‘s (calebneelon.com) wall murals and other works have exhibited in dozens of countries and in many galleries, museums, hospitals, and educational settings. Along with his artist monograph Caleb Neelon’s Book of Awesome, he is the co-author of The History of American Graffiti, Street World, and Graffiti Brasil, among other publications. His most recent projects, the documentary film Wall Writers: Graffiti in Its Innocence and an accompanying art book from Ginko Press, are forthcoming.
Images: wall mural by Caleb Neelon in Somerville, MA (basketball court is by Maria Molteni); Mariko Kusumoto, RYOUNKAKU (2007), board game, metalworks, 27x9x1-1/2 in, photo by Dean Powell; recent textile work by Mariko Kusumoto, photo courtesy of the artist and Mobilia Gallery.