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Book Review
‘Starting Your Career as an Artist’ by Angie Wojak and Stacy Miller
Apart from possessing immense talent and intrinsic vision, sincerity and sensitivity, expertise and experimentation, dynamism and diversity, what does it really for an artist to become ‘successful’? Well, connotations of the term will definitely differ from past era to the present, and from one practitioner to another. But to establish a strong foothold in today’s competitive and challenging art scene, an artist must possess some basic characteristics. In fact, most successful artists have certain qualities in common irrespective of the form, medium and era they belong to, believe Angie Wojak and Stacy Miller. The two have spelt out the secrets in their insightful book, entitled ‘Starting Your Career as an Artist’ (Publisher: Allworth Press; Pages: 256; Price: $19.95).

It contains vital information for creative minds keen to launch or enhance their careers. Angie Wojak is associated with the Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Stacy Miller is the faculty at the Parsons School for Design, teaching in the photography department there. Having served as the Director of Career Services both at School of the Arts, Columbia University as well as the Parsons School of Design, the former has decades of precious experience in the domain. Miller also has been part of the College Art Association, as the research and professional development director.

Owing to their rich background, the two possess considerable expertise on what constitutes a successful artist’s career and how one can go about building it gradually. They have culled it all together in their insightful documentation, as an introductory note elaborates: “The book covers topics essential to the emerging artist like artist’s resumes and CVs; building community through meaningful networking, constant collaborating, and finding mentors; setting up a studio; developing solid marketing plans; locating alternative exhibition venues; and refining career aspirations. It also includes inspiring interviews with well-known players in the art scene and professional artists.”

Conceptualized as a comprehensive guide for emerging visual artists - painters, sculptors, video artists, installation makers or photographers – the book offers precious insights into building a successful and lasting career. While interacting with established artists, gallerists, arts administrators, educators, and curators, the duo noticed specific patterns emerging for assured success in the field. All of them mostly agreed, the two found, the path to success was largely ‘self-determined’. The broad consensus, which emerged was: ‘To be a successful artist, one ought to figure out a way to be unique. Get in the studio day in and day out, and work towards building your own brand and cultivating your unique community of advocates and fellow artists.

The impetus for writing this book was their vast experience gathered through watching and evaluating different art career development needs over the last few decades as they mentored students and alumni. The two noticed that many emerging artists often facing the similar kinds of hurdles: financial, emotional, long term planning, issues relationship building, networking, having realistic expectations, taking their mind/body out of the studio, and so on. The duo stated in an interview: “It’s vital to understand that making an artwork is less than half the battle. But we found that there was little grasping of the basics of marketing their work on their own and how to build a loyal community to sustain themselves. Artists must entrepreneurial and proactive and business-minded rather than they turning inward and simply rejecting the business and social side of their art practice in every way.”

Here are some of the tips the two recommend to ‘start and develop career as an artist

•Specify your end goals and plan of action. Be clear about what exactly you want your work to achieve. There are different types of communities that support the artists and there are ways to support your own artwork available than ever before - offline and online.

Keep your thought process simple in order to maximize your creative output in the studio! This is a sincere, life and art-affirming action you must undertake or else you might end up isolating yourself and burning out. Continuously check out if you are still learning and growing; constantly evaluate whether your life/work is moving in the proper direction.

Teaching can add another crucial dimension to one’s work as it can inspire and feed creative faculties. Watching students grow is a gratifying experience. So the experts recommend that artists should consider teaching to looking to sustain their studio practice.

•Expand your network and build your public profile. An effective networking strategy they recommend is employing one’s alma mater to access the alumni networks, social media connections like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc, seminars and other special events for reaching out to people and building knowledge about the field. It’s an effective way of building your public profile and expanding your network.

•Mentors are equally critical for success. Immerse yourself into a reliable network of mentors, family, colleagues, and friends. Schedule an occasional studio visit, or an informal meeting to keep yourself updated.

In essence, ‘Starting Your Career as an Artist’ is a perfect step by step guidebook for aspiring art practitioners who will follow how to handle their careers, as well as leverage technological advances and utilize the several opportunities and tools available in today’s marketplace, even while staying true to your inner voice and pursuing your boundless passion for art.