The first stone is cast when a child expresses artistic aspirations and is met with: “Yes, but what will you do to make money?”
Although these norms shift with each concurrent generation, for many of us, the idea of being a career artist has been synonymous with risk and a desperate hope, bordering on delusion. With age and experience, the meritocracy we once imagined twisted into a nepotistic country club and forced a fabled exchange — passion for security.
If you’re reading YNST, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve embedded yourself in an artistic community. I am sure you proudly possess the art of your friends and peers — reposting, pinning and sharing. If so, you have personally invested in the success of an emerging artist. But can you confidently say that this investment was to the artist’s benefit? Is this something you take into consideration when buying or selling art?
For context, not many people do. It is one of the chief contributing factors to the inaccessibility of today’s art market. Foundational changes are possible, but not without the acceptance of new perspectives and self-education. By better understanding the inner workings of this field, we can begin to erode the homogeneity of the art world.
Artists and non-artists alike:, do not shy away from networking on another’s behalf. This is not a suggestion meant to interfere with an artist’s autonomy, but rather to encourage the frequent and avid boosting of creators. In a survey I conducted of over 20 emerging, mid-career and established artists, 90.9% said connections and contacts were integral to their career growth. Be assertive and speak to the artistic endeavors of your community.
By now, most of us are familiar with how social media algorithms work. Be a conscious consumer, and use this to your advantage. Unabashedly interact with the pieces you love at every opportunity in every dimension! A shared post, passing comment or authentic recommendation may equal rent, groceries or insurance; personal curation is as much a boon to the artist as it is to you.
To be an ethical collector is to understand that an artist’s humanistic value outranks any personal desire for their creation, no matter the circumstances. Any relations that you may share with an artist, whether friend, lover, family member, peer or adversary, should never compromise this core tenet. The chief driving force behind all collecting should be a desire for mutual success and satisfaction, not the exploitation of others.
Never bargain with an emerging artist. Self-pricing art is an extremely difficult component of this career field and many artists already undervalue their work to appease buyers. To collect ethically is to recognize the efforts of others and to validate them justly. Avoid offers of free work unless you are confident that no power imbalances will occur as a result.
In the survey referenced earlier, 46% of artists said they felt unsupported or dissatisfied by their current representation. Some stated that they felt a lack of freedom and support, while others mentioned a need for mentorships and guidance. Take a moment to reflect on your experiences. Can you picture a time in your career when another artist’s advice would have been helpful?
This field has purposefully fostered an unnecessary divide between the established and the emerging, selectively bridged by academia. It has resulted in a commercially-encouraged environment urging each artist to be an island unto themselves. Recognize this deficit, open communication channels and allow professional vulnerability. While seeking outside representation is surely important, it is paramount that artists recognize their own powers of advocacy first. Third parties can provide resources, but not absolute dedication; you have the capability for both.
The word community holds a different meaning in Appalachia — it’s a little weightier, a little more intimate, even sacred. It represents a living, breathing cultural web of relationships older than most institutions running the art market today. I believe that this communal intelligence, unique to the region, is the most important quality if we’re to restructure this elitist art world, and self-advocacy is the first step forward. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
This article is part of an ongoing study researching artist self-advocacy. If you have 5 minutes and want to share your perspective on the art industry, please fill out this quick survey!