Taken in part from my forthcoming artists’ book:
Presenting Photography to Curators and Museums
Young photogs coming up may look at Eggleston’s half million dollar tricycle or the million dollar potato and think ‘maybe my pix of a tricycle or potato will be worth millions.’ Or they may hope my star trail or burning steel wool photo will be worth a fortune someday.
Now, don’t let me be a dream killer for ya. Sure, there is always hope some curator or collector will get hard-on for a bullshit pix and pay a fortune for it. But the reality of the photogs world is this…it can be hard to even give away photography for free.
Today I wrote to the ICP to check on copyright permission for a Weegee pix to use in my artists’ book Piercing Darkness. They sent me an out of office reply. Part of the reply contained the following…
Please Note: We currently don’t take any donation or acquisition proposal until further notice.
ICP as well as many art museums don’t want to look at photos, even if they can acquire them for free.
If you have not seen this series, do so.
Whether painter, draftsman, photog, writer, musician, sculptor or poet, the series will give you an excellent rundown of the trials and tribulations facing many an artist. You can get it from your library.
I try to always encourage artists to test things out for themselves – don’t listen to the dream busters. When I started out with museum placements I was discouraged by everyone, from family to professionals in the field. If I had listened to them, I would have been sunk. There is lots of jealousy and hatred in the art world…esp in photography circles.
But, just so there can be no misunderstanding on your part, realize this…it is much easier for you to become a rich and famous actor or actress than it is for you to become a rich and famous photog…and you know how hard it is to succeed in the acting field.
A big problem with working in the art field is that there is so much competition. This is how it was in 1952…
All this competition makes it hard to distinguish oneself from the pack. Photography especially is the easiest art to get into and one of the hardest arts to be distinguished in. I read that they are predicting 2 billion cell phone cams to be in use worldwide in 2016. I mean, don’t all the star trail photos or the smoky water with obligatory dock and sunset in the background, start looking alike after a while?? If you’re not doing something different…you’re not doing anything.
Like clockwork, every year art schools churn out graduates, all hitting the streets looking for jobs.
In the real world there is there are just not enough jobs to absorb the never ending supply of artists the schools churn out. This is not taking into account all the self-taught and informal artists that are out there as well.
What follows is a project taken from my artists’ book Presenting Photography to Curators and Museums. This exercise will not only give you a good grounding into the real-life art market, but more important, it will provide you with the benefit of exposing your work to a large section of the art world.
Here is a list of photo galleries.
For artists working outside of photography, here is your list of art galleries.
Solicit them for accepting an artwork from you that you will donate for free for them to sell with the understanding if it does sell they will represent you. It is a no-risk offer for them. They only need to invest a little square footage of display room, but that is it…you even pay for shipping with your initial artwork.
Contact them via mail, email, send a CD, a ‘leave behind’ or even sample prints. Don’t call them, art is visual – send visual solicitations. See what type of response you get (if any) for offering free artwork to them.
Just make it clear that your offer is subject to prior placement. This will allow you to pick and choose which gallery you wish to work with if you get a few takers and you are only offering one artwork for free. You always have the out of ‘prior placement’ in your corner – unless you wish to offer free artwork to a few galleries to get things going quicker. Now, I’m not telling you this to play games, I am just telling you to protect yourself when you make free offers.
If your an artist that is looking to enter the field of museum placements, here is a list for you to work on.
It is better you make your mistakes with smaller museums than larger institutions. So, start out with university art museums. I didn’t do that when I started out and made some mistakes that ended up hurting me. I didn’t have anyone breast feeding me how to go about it – I learned from the school of hard knocks. If you have an academic connection to the institution, that may help you a little. But if your art is not to their liking, connection or not, you won’t get in.
For book arts…here is your list.
Museums seldom buy art unless it is something they really, really want. Art museums acquire most of their art via donations. The general rule is this – if you solicit a museum to acquire your work, they would expect it being offered as a donation. If the museum solicits you to acquire your work, you may be in the position to negotiate a sale.
A photography curator at a smaller, regional museum told me in her 15 years on the job the museum only purchased 2 objects. The rest of the photography was acquired as donations. Every museum is different, but the fact is most of the art that makes up a museum’s collection are acquired as gifts. So, if money is what is a driving force in your art – museum placements can be a tough way to generate income unless you are someone very special.
Additional information on museum placements:
As you solicit galleries, museums and institutions I suggest you work blind. Just go down the list of contacts A,B,C,D,E,F,G all the way to Z. You never know where a contact will lead you…don’t second guess or overthink things…work blind!
Even if you have no success, when the list is finished start back up with the beginning to re-solicit with a new approach, new projects and new art. Over the years I’ve changed my approach on solicitations a number of times as I have refined things.
Just keep your name out there. A big part of the success in anything is to not quit before you start and to show up and do what needs to be done.
Still you will need talent, luck, promotional skill and a big part of the equation is having powerful people or people in the know backing you.
The benefit of this exercise I’ve outlined above is twofold. You will most likely receive a lot of rejection from your efforts. This trains you to ignore rejection and move on. The life of an artist is chock full of rejection…so get used to it.
I’ve worked on projects for almost a year full time, investing nearly $15,000 of my own money in it…and I failed to even give it away for free. The projects were landmark and had outstanding content. If you’ve seen my work you know I don’t sign my name to garbage. But that is how it can be with art. Don’t take any of it personally, you just keep moving on to the next project. Expectations are pre-planned resentments. This is why I tell you to work blind and not build up expectations.
The second benefit of the exercise is getting your name and art out there. You will be get more bang for your buck with this experiment than if you spent a couple thousand dollars flying to a city for a portfolio review to show your work to low level people you would not really want to show it to anyway.
While portfolio reviews can help an artist, their raison d’etre is for the promoters to make money and for the reviewers to get a little junket. Portfolio reviews are not made for your benefit or to purchase art from you. Sometimes they will start a fundraiser to buy a sample or two of art from the review. Again this is done to dangle the carrot in your face and keep artists coming to future reviews…look, this could have been you!
If you’re on a budget and want a portfolio review, you can do it online. You can get a few online reviews going for a lot less money than f2f reviews. Invest the leftover money you saved in working direct as I have outlined here. Although take any review you get with a grain of salt. My online reviewer discouraged me from pursuing museum placements – currently my work is in 101 museums and public collections around the world.
Good luck with your efforts! Just remember…no matter what direction your art takes, if you do it for love of art, you will never be disappointed.
“Please, I don’t need any more photographs…the world is just polluted with photographs.” – A curator’s reply to me when I got a little too pushy.