Being an artist involves a lot of schlepping, which is not something you are trained for in art school.
(Come to think of it, are you trained for anything in art school? But we digress.)
Schlepping is pretty much thought of as hauling, carrying, lugging, dragging a burdensome load (with some interesting deviations from google.com) . . . and artists have many, many opportunities to practice schlepping in their art practice. Schlepping canvases, paints, brushes, solvents, easels, and more, back and forth from supplier to studio. Then there’s the schlepping of framing, glass, framed pieces, finished artworks, etc. back and forth to coffee shops that agree to exhibit the work, to art festivals where artists withstand the elements to get known, and to art galleries that agree to show their work. Then back to the studio with the art that doesn’t sell. Commitment to your art involves commitment to schlepping, too.
Was there a Professor of Schlepology in the fancy art school you graduated from? Not likely. Wouldn’t artists become discouraged in undergraduate school if they learned that their career success owed a heavy debt to the art of schlepping?
Photographers schlep as well, on a near-daily basis, and all the more so if they are location photographers. And no matter how small memory cards get, cameras and lenses and lights and battery packs and laptops and handy gear never seem to get smaller. Even when they do get smaller, there are still more small nifty accessories to add to the camera bag.
Photographers, at least, are able to solve the schlepping problem by hiring lowly young assistants-in-training. Assistants work for the more established professionals in order to learn from them, and then end up learning how to schlep, too.
Artists are a bit more on their own to become creative when it comes to schlepping. You can go through friends who are willing to schlep pretty quickly in this career.
There are some successful artists who have solved the schlepping problem rather neatly by choosing their partners wisely. I was quite envious upon meeting the husband of a noted Austin-area artist who rather cheerfully introduced himself to her studio visitors as “the artist’s slave.” While the artist’s statement lists many accomplishments in abstract and expressionistic painting, she does not list “schlepping” among them. Apparently she owes all the schlepping her success entails to her husband, the self-described “artist’s slave.”
Artists whose spouses would never describe themselves as “artist’s slaves” nonetheless understand the important role they play in (literally) supporting their creative mates. “See, I just schlep what she tells me to,” one artist’s husband explained to me. They schlep the artwork around, from the art studio to openings and art fairs and back again. Thus their appearances at openings and festivals are understood to be mandatory–especially since they’ve schlepped all of the art in and out.
How much time have you spent schlepping v. creating in your art career? What are your strategies to minimize the schlepping, and maximize the making, of art?
We are continually amazed (yet entertained) by Dumb Things Artists Do To Try to Get Into Galleries.
Dumb, because they’ve given no thought to their target audience, and how to best reach its members. Instead, they’re wasting their valuable time and they’re damaging their art reputations in the process.
Today’s favorite is dubbed The Half-Assed Approach. In which a man toting a portfolio over his shoulder bursts in, announcing, “I’m a half-assed artist, I heard about this place a few months ago . . . do you print here? What’s your website? How can I get someone to look at my art?” while he’s on his way back out. Since he considers himself half-assed, why wouldn’t we?
Last week, our favorite used The Craigslist System. This takes the form of a posted ad: “Art Galleries: I invite you to my store to scope out new talent.” Apparently the artist didn’t realize that art gallery owners don’t scour Craigslist ads each day, hoping to find serious artists whose work sells.
Some artists prefer the Portfolio on My Cell Phone Method, as in, “Here, take a look at this picture on my cell phone. By the way, do you exhibit photography?” We all know how valuable photography on cell phones is.
Many artists have not thought much about fit (with the gallery), professionalism (theirs) and most importantly (for them): Opportunity Cost. Here’s a multiple choice question, where you can pick the choices that artists often don’t:
A) Is this an opportunity that’s right for me to spend my (valuable) time on?
B) Is this opportunity worth some effort on my part, in order to yield good results?
C) Here’s an Opportunity, and It Costs Me Nothing (And There’s Certainly No Effort Due).
Correct answers: A & B. Because nothing beats market research, followed by an understanding of the target audience, with effort given to finding the most likely-to-succeed approach.
Research. Understanding. Effort. Translates to Most Likely to Succeed. It worked in high school, didn’t it?