THE BLOG
12/05/2014 11:03 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

How Have Fame and Fortune Shaped the Business of Being an Artist?

In the second installment of my interview with Rick Kinsel, Executive Director of the Vilcek Foundation, Kinsel offers advice for artists based on over twenty years of experience in the art world. His work in both the for-profit and not-for profit sectors includes time at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Coty, Inc. Rick is part of the first group of Visual Arts Curators supporting the launch of Pen and Brush's new programming.

To learn more about Pen and Brush's open call for literary or visual art submissions please visit PenandBrush.org.

Janice Sands (JS): What advice would you like to give to emerging artists?

Rick Kinsel (RK): The emerging artist has to develop his or her vision from scratch, and then choose very carefully just how and when to place that vision before the world. My advice to the emerging artist is to think very carefully before making that first move, since with so many young artists out there, you really only get one chance to make that great first impression.

JS: What about mid-career artists?

RK: The mid-career artist, by comparison, faces an equally difficult set of challenges. He or she needs to keep his vision before the public, remaining recognizably him-or-herself, while innovating enough within that vision to not seem repetitive or tired. The mid-career artist is basically a comeback artist every time he or she has a show -- the challenge is in reinventing the self and the vision in a way that keeps people who already know your work interested in what you are doing now. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, he or she has to be both an impresario and a businessperson: setting the stage for the art to be recognized and applauded, and at the same time, managing what is essentially a small business.

JS: In your experience, what is the common denominator shared by successful working artists?

RK: In reviewing the winning applications for the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise each year (an annual prize awarded to emerging immigrant artists and scientists), the common denominator I witnessed across all spectrums of the arts -- from filmmaking to literature to music -- was the single-minded commitment of artists to their craft.

These people work incredibly hard, are passionate every day about what they are doing and they never let up in the pursuit of their dreams. In order to be successful, many of the prizewinners had foregone the possibility of a stable income, a secure home life and, in some instances, had even put off having children. Nearly all of them had put in years of hard work before achieving any sort of recognition.

JS: What changes or trends have you seen that have had an impact on artists in the past 20 years?

RK: I think that the youngest members of our society are increasingly worried about making their way in the world, and their anxiety is shaping the way that some of them approach being an artist. For example, many younger artists are focusing from a very early age on creating a business model for their art practice, and that's something new.

In the earlier years of this century, art was the opposite of a business -- it was a calling or vocation. Today, though, fame, critical recognition and monetary rewards are all things our society is obsessed with... and artists are no exception. Andy Warhol celebrated those ideas in his work and embodied them in his career as an artist, and over the past twenty-five years, many other artists have followed his example -- artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. But I'd like to think there are other, perhaps better, ways of being an artist, and I hope that in the coming decades we'll see a return among younger artists to something larger and more lastingly important than fame and fortune.

The themes that most interest me as a curator are ones that address social and political injustice, as well as the impending ecological crisis faced by the entire planet. Social and political themes are ones that we have supported strongly at the Vilcek Foundation over the years, and that I personally will continue to support whenever I have the curatorial opportunity.