THE BLOG

Where Can Fine Artists Receive Career Help?

09/22/2010 12:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Career advice to artists comes in a variety of forms. There are workshops that nonprofit arts service organizations offer from time to time, focusing on specific topics (tax time accounting, law, finding a gallery, for instance) and workshops -- the online ones are referred to as "webinars" -- that for-profit organizations offer, usually addressing the same topics. The continuing education divisions of some art schools, or universities that offer art degrees, may also hold workshops and classes on these and other subjects. State arts agencies periodically offer seminars on how to apply for funding to them. An assortment of business and career books for artists are available as well.

For those who prefer the more personal touch, artists may consult on a wide range of career matters with artists' advisors, either face-to-face or over the telephone, depending upon where each party happens to live.

Advice sometimes is free, oftentimes not. State arts agencies usually do not charge for their seminars, and continuing education talks are either free to the public or a nominal fee is asked. Nonprofit arts service agencies generally charge their members lower rates for attending the workshops than nonmembers ($20, for example, as opposed to $30), and career books usually cost somewhere between $10 and $30. Artists' advisors are the most expensive option, charging hourly rates (not including the cost of the telephone call) of between $100 and $500 per hour. (Katharine T. Carter & Associates of Kinderhook, New York adds travel time and travel expenses to that $500 fee when making an in-studio consultation.)

Artists' advisors can be distinguished from business managers (whose job is to run the artist's career) and reps (whose aim is to sell work) and public relations firms (whose aim is to publicize) by the fact that their primary goal is to set the artist on a career path. Advisors may draft a press release or a press packet for an artist, in the manner of a publicist, but more likely they will offer ideas on how the artist could create the release him -- or herself. Rarely if ever will an artists' advisor take on the job of contacting members of the press.

In some instances, advisors will help artists set up simple bookkeeping procedures, establish a basic price structure for the art, provide rudimentary instruction on copyright and other legal protections for artists, and assist in negotiating any agreements with dealers or print publishers.

Advisors offer business and career information, tailored to what individual artists need to know, and they also offer suggestions about a given artist's work. Some tell artists how to locate appropriate galleries or shows where their work might be displayed, while others may produce a list of likely galleries or exhibition opportunities that the artist might try. Some take a very hands-on approach -- suggesting that a particular artist concentrate on prints instead of painting, for instance, or recommending an artist develop his or her work to a full extent before attempting to market it, or even advising an artist use certain popular colors in a painting -- while others choose not to meddle with the artist's own creative processes. Some advisors are best equipped to help emerging artists, while others have experience assisting mid-career or even relatively successful artists. Some advisors have greater success with artists who work in a specific medium, such as prints, for example, and others may not know as much about the market for abstract or progressive art.

Some advisors are strictly business-focused, while others take on more nebulous realms, such as personality issues and spiritual motivation. Alyson B. Stanfield in Golden, Colorado, for instance, refers to herself as an art career expert, and her Web site (www.artbizcoach.com) offers a taste of her approach, which contains helpful and practical hints for the marketing-challenged artist and Susan Schear in Newark, New Jersey (www.artisin.com) offers a strict diet of business planning and development, while the Web site of Caroll Michels in Sarasota, Florida (www.carollmichels.com) contains a resource directory of services for artists, in addition to information about her workshops and consultations. Lucia Capacchione of Cambria, California, on the other hand, describes herself as a "Fulfilling Dreams Expert," while Molly Gordon of Suquamish, Washington is a self-described "Entrepreneur Expert," Nancy Marmoleho of Anaheim, California is a "Visibility Expert" and Mari Smith of San Diego, California is a "Relationship Expert." For some artists, the issue is not so much how to compose a press release or make a sales pitch but whether or not they give themselves permission to nurture their creative interests. Some of the strictly business advisors also may address some of the emotional and self-esteem issues -- Alyson Stanfield has a page on her Web site devoted to "affirmations" ("As an artist, I see things differently," "I am valued in my community" and "I practice gratitude every day" among them), which suggests that she will counsel on these areas if an artist-client wants -- but it is less likely that a relationship expert will help establish an artist's marketing plan.

The job of an artists' advisor is not easily summarized, as it may involve a variety of chores -- developing a marketing plan with this person, coaching another person to take a more positive attitude -- and the line between career planner and therapist is often crossed. If the art world has its unknown soldiers -- artists who forge on with their art even in the face of indifference or hostility -- it also has its artists who exist on fantasies about their place in the art world or, to borrow a term from psychology, live in a state of denial.

Advisors don't travel from artist to artist, and artists who do not live in the same town or state as a particular advisor usually must speak to them by telephone. As one advisor said, "I have a cauliflower ear, and my voice never gives out." Artists pay for their own calls, and consultation fees are paid either by check or credit card.

Because artists are paying for the telephone call as well as perhaps an hourly consultation (divided into 15-minute segments), they should come to the telephone with prepared questions and stick to the point.

The wide assortment in types of advice one may receive through various media (book, face-to-face, telephone, video, online) indicates the growing amount of information that artists require. If all the ideas that an artist needed could be found in one book, there would be no need for anything but that one book. However, different people have their own perspectives, their own sources of information, revealed in the less general tips they provide. Nowadays, artists need to develop their own resource libraries that include various career guides (books and/or videos) and telephone numbers.