Daniel Grant of Amherst, Mass., is an experienced arts writer and the author of The Business of Being an Artist.
We asked him about the origins of his book and what artists need to know about their careers and current trends in visual arts.
What led you to write your book The Business of Being an Artist?
When I entered the arts service field, in the mid-1970s, the most commonly asked question was how and where to apply for grants, and most of the career books for artists of that time and into the 1980s devoted the majority of their pages to this topic. Perhaps the reason was that public arts agencies were being created on the national and state levels during the 1960s and ’70s, and their budgets increased every year. Career seminars for artists during this time also focused almost exclusively on the grant application process and, still today, the most common form of “technical assistance” that state arts agencies provide to artists and arts organizations is information on how to fill out their grant application forms. (In fact, state arts agency Web sites primarily exist to allow applicants to download applications: The Internet is a labor-saving tool, rather than an interactive one, for these agencies.)
These days, the question of how and where to apply for a grant seems less central to the careers of most serious artists. Ongoing and increasing public financing of the arts appears to be less assured than it did just 20 or 30 years ago. The budgets of many public arts agencies and some private foundations have been reduced or just not kept up with even modest inflation, and the competition for every available dollar is ferocious. Artists who tie their career hopes to grants and awards are likely to meet with repeated frustration. Instead, artists must see themselves as entrepreneurs, learning how to earn rather than simply apply for money.
It is to help artists who realize that there is much to know about the techniques of marketing and selling their work, as well as how to present themselves to a larger world that does not always hold fine art in high repute that I wrote this book.
If you could convince artists to change one thing about the way they approach the business aspects of their careers, what would it be?
Artists (and craftspeople) need to look at how people in related businesses and other fields approach the process of selling to see what they can learn. Art galleries, for instance, know to provide buyers sales receipts, one or more images of the artworks they sell and certificates of authenticity, and they also maintain up-to-date price lists, biographical material on the artists they represent and computerized inventories of all the objects they have sold or have on hand for the benefit of prospective buyers. Realtors collect information on what prospective home buyers are looking for and what they can afford, while brick-and-mortar and online merchants make note of what buyers have purchased in the past. And they all maintain communication with potential clients in one form or another, especially when there are sales or other events, so that they are not forgotten.
Marketing means finding one’s audience, and once potential buyers are identified there is a need to accumulate information on these people so that the potential has a better chance of becoming actual.
What are some trends in the art world that artists need to be aware of?
Artists often put a lot of stock in dealers and galleries to sell work and promote their careers, but the fact is that galleries are able to do less and less for the artists they represent, especially galleries that work with emerging and mid-career artists, in part because they themselves are financially stressed. It is rare that galleries will advertise in newspapers and magazines upcoming exhibitions or print and send out brochures to regular gallery clients unless the artists contribute to the cost of running those ads or the printing and mailing charges; similarly, their willingness to publish exhibition catalogues, especially, catalogues with paid critical essays, has diminished without equal contributions from those artists. The differences between commercial art galleries and what used to be called “vanity” galleries have narrowed. Artists cannot assume that gallery exhibits will be written up or attended without their active participation.
Daniel Grant is the author of six books including The Business of Being an Artist, How to Grow as an Artist, and The Fine Artist’s Career Guide (all published by Allworth Press). His articles and essays have appeared in such publications as ARTnews, Art in America, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New Criterion, Art & Auction, and Art & Antiques, among others. He has taught courses and lectured on career issues for visual artists at numerous colleges and public arts agencies in the United States.