Sunday, March 11, 2012

Art as Business: book review

Yes - my series Art as Business is back! The content will be a bit different - less about me (already been there), more about others. I will also now and then review books relevant to the subject (If you have any book tips, I'm grateful!) and here comes the first one: 

How to make a living doing what you love
by Jackie Battenfield

I read this book (guide) over Christmas as part of my preparations for my own Art as Business class over at Camp Pikaland and was very pleased with the book. Reading it I was nodding and humming, yes, yes … I agree …that’s something I should do. Hahaha .. just like I always say …

This is a serious guidebook for Fine Art artists. Here I really make the distinction between Fine Art and other art – because these worlds function differently in many ways. Many of the things you need to know and that you are not taught in art school you will find in this book. The author Jackie Battenfield is an artist herself sharing her own experiences as a self-supportive artist for the last 20 years, but also her experiences as a former gallery director in New York before that. The book contains also example from other artists. In addition more or less every page has quotes from artists and other art professionals (like gallerist, curator, art advisor) in the margins adding more thoughts about the subjects. For example:

“You have to find a balance between getting yourself out there – networking, meeting and greeting people – and not letting that distract you too much from the work that you re doing. Your job is to be in the studio from at least 9 till 5, if not more. If you don’t want to do that, then you shouldn’t be an artist in the first place. But networking is a big part of it. When you are not in the studio, you’ve got to get out there”
- Christin Tierney, art advisor

(Not saying that I agree with this quote. I don't think Jackie Battenfield does either - it would mean no artist could have a family with children)

I must say this book keeps the promise it makes on the back cover “Finally, a comprehensive guide for visual artists that imparts the practical knowledge you need to build a flourishing life and career” (and I am always a very critical reader especially if something sound even the tiny weeny bit like success literature. This book is not at all that). Some parts though are specific for the United States.

But what does it mean - a guide book? It could have very different content and still be a guidebook. As this is the kind of information I'm always looking for when judging if a book should be something for me, I'm of course getting into that. The artist's Guide is divided into four sections:

Taking charge is divided into two parts: planning/taking action and Tools to support your work. The first shorter part is about how to know what you really want to achieve and how to plan for it. (This is something you will and should find in any serious book about reaching your goals, no matter in what field you work) The second part is about how you should work on assembling tools to support your work (photos, artist statement, CV etc) I very much like that Battenfield initially motivates why you need good photos and text to be able to convince about your art. Jackie Battenfield then goes into how to think when for example documenting an exhibition/performance/installation, how to mark your work samples, describe your work in text and write your artist statement etc. She gives examples from several artists.

Circulating your work starts by acknowledging that there is not one simple way “for making it” and that there are different art worlds. This section describes the different fields you should know about. It goes into peer networking and creating your own opportunities, the professional community of non-profit and commercial venues. It is very good how Battenfield here actually mentions timing; that it is also important to know when you yourself as an artist is in a certain phase when you should wait to show your work (for example when you are changing material or taking any other new direction and need to mature in what you do). This section of the book is also about how to do your homework about where you want to exhibit and what should be in your “artist package”, how to build long-term professional relationships and contains an exhibition checklist.

Supporting your work is about artistic survival: how to secure material, space and time to make the artwork. Battenfield here starts by writing about the importance as an artist to have multiple sources of incomes. Further this section is a bit about pricing, knowing how much you spend and making a budget. When getting into tax reports and credit cards this part of the book - of course - gets very specific for the states. The same goes for the following chapters about fund-raising and legal stuff, but you will find some more general information about how to apply for funds for art projects and making a budget for an art projects, that I think will go for most countries.

Maintaining your practice is about day to day practice; knowing how your spend your time by tracking it (here I smiled in recognition!), organizing and record keeping of art works, getting an assistant (yes, please!) and community building. The last one is a lot about supporting each other as artists emotionally and for sharing information. In this chapter Battenfield also discusses handling rejections and remembering to relax from time to time…

I would like to underline that this book is not just text about what you should know. The artist's guide also contains suggested exercises, for example: how to research your regional non-profit art exhibition opportunities, brainstorm on new ideas to get more exposure for your upcoming exhibition and how to get about to write your artist statement. Every section has also listed resources for further reading


I would first of all recommend this book to fine artists starting out, but this book is also useful for artists at almost any stage of their career feeling a bit lost. You can always learn how to do things better or be reminded of how important some things are. I was myself reminded of the importance of saying “thank-you” and got some tips on record keeping and brain storming for an exhibition. (This book is less suited for an illustrator or someone into arts and crafts)


annton said...

after a long sunday, pushing my brain cells from one side of my head to the other and back, this post comes at a perfect time. thank you for that.

Natalie said...

Thank you so much! I'm going to request this from the library RIGHT NOW.

Daniel Milton said...

Låter som läsning jag skulle gilla, drar till Amazon direkt. Annan bra bok är Sarah Thornton's "Seven days in the art world".

Daniel Milton said...

Den fanns på bokus och är på väg till mig nu. Tack för tipset.