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  • Writer's pictureLucy

Paths into the Art World

[BLOG POST 11/12/23] As I get to know different artists I always ask about how they handle the business side of art. Over the past few years I've noticed some overall trends, or paths, into the art world. Briefly, and in no particular order, here are my top 10:

I. Regional/National/International Art Organization Shows

No matter what medium an artist works in (oil, watercolor, acrylic, pastel, etc) there is probably some sort of organization for it locally, nationally, and internationally. These organizations offer paid members classes, shows, meetings, libraries, contests, etc. Typically the membership are tiered – basic entry level all the way to whatever they call the "best of the best" (Master, Eminent, etc). Working your way up these organizations requires entering lots of shows, winning awards, and participating in the organization.

II. Gallery Shows

Working with a gallery has a lot of advantages – they are dedicated to selling your art and dealing with customer service, shipping, advertising, etc. They generally take 50% of the sale price and, as a business, they obviously only want to show art that will sell. After all they have bills to pay too. This means that they want artists with either "buzz" around their art which will bring art collectors into the gallery, or a proven track record of sales. If an artist doesn't have either then the likelihood of a gallery taking a chance on them is slim.


This encompasses a broad number of approaches to getting artwork seen and sold. Everything from pop-up shows to online sales to social media campaigns to artist dinner salons to studio tours to anything an artist can think of. To be successful they require a good idea, a good location, time to organize, a solid advertising campaign, access to art collectors, and excellent execution of the idea.

IV. Residency Programs

There are lots of "artist in residency" programs around the world, they offer a way for artists to focus on their work without distractions for a certain period of time. Some residencies expect the artist to produce work while others are happy to provide time and space for an artist to recharge and emerge ready for a new project. The best residencies don't ask the artist to pay for anything and are highly competitive. Other programs ask the artist to "pay to play" and can cost a very pretty penny. Regardless, many artists say that their experience at a residency program is a game changer as they find inspiration, expand their network, and gain exposure.

V. Rich Friends / Acquaintances

Several artists I know had "day jobs" that put them in proximity of very wealthy people who decided to support them by purchasing their art and by introducing them to their wealthy friends. Great connections are priceless! Generally speaking anyway an artist can interact with people who have disposable income and a love of art it is a win win!

VI. Higher Education

Art collectors, curators and other gate keepers often keep a close eye on graduating students from esteemed art schools. Usually the art institutions have student shows that are well attended by people looking for the "next big thing". Additionally many artists teach art classes to make money and expand their network. Western academic institutions require teachers have advance degrees to teach so a masters or higher is key. (I've found that an Atelier education doesn't count.)

VII. Art Markets

Many communities have art markets where artists set up booths and show their work to crowds passing by. During the summer Santa Fe has art markets almost every other week! They usually fill up the downtown historic Plaza and spill over into other nearby streets and are attended by tens of thousands of people over a weekend. Artists pay for a booth and then are on site ready to interact with visitors. By all accounts it is an exhausting experience but usually at least somewhat successful in both sales and exposure.

VIII. Art Fairs

These are high end exclusive events where prestigious galleries pay for exhibition space to showcase their best artists. Usually held in large cities with a history of supporting art (think Paris, New York City, London, Venice, etc), they last 2-4 days, have expensive tickets, and sometimes are by invitation only. Getting into one, even as a visitor, isn't always easy. One artist I know took matters into his own hands and paid a lot to have his own pop-up gallery near the main entrance to an art fair. He found it to be somewhat successful in sales and exposure but only did it once.

IX. Art Industry Jobs

Getting the foot in the door is a big deal and sometimes it's by working somewhere in the art industry: sales in a gift shop at a museum, admin/sales work for a gallery, organizing collections in a museum, or curating a show for a local art society. The trick is for artists to still have the time and energy to create their art while working. Plus they have to know when to promote their own work and not get "stuck" on the sidelines.

X. Museums

Museums provide incredible exposure for an artist. Getting a solo show is extraordinarily competitive. Generally speaking it requires a bold vision that will capture the imagination of both the museum curator and the viewing public. Oftentimes a project that is large scale, current, meaningful, thoughtful, and even controversial is a good fit – depending on the museum that is. From artists I've spoken to, pitching an idea to a museum is requires a lot of research and a very well thought out proposal.

Overall I've noticed several common denominators to making these paths successful:

(1) NETWORKING. Knowing someone who knows someone gets an artist further down the path than walking alone.

(2) PATIENCE. Meaningful mutually respectful relationships take time to develop.

(3) PERSISTENCE. Most of the artists I've met have done many of these "top ten paths" over their careers.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Well I'm really telling myself.

I needed a little reminder that there are options and to keep going – to keep trying different paths until I find one that works for me.

If you know of any other paths or have any connections to any of these options please let me know! 😊

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