If you recall the announcement I made on my email list (you are on my email list, aren’t you?), I was invited to appear at Stanford University to speak about, well, my favorite topic, artist survival…
These are the questions that framed what I talked about. This recording is a reprise of that presentation. I hope you early career artists enjoy it and learn a few valuable tips from this audio. And for you veterans and rock stars, please pass this on to your mentees! Thank you Ellen Oh and Jeff Chang for the invite and warm welcome.
Mentioned in this episode:
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|Art Of Hustle 010: Art is My Occupation||Click here to READ>|
Art is My Occupation
Anthem: Hello everybody and welcome to Art of Hustle’s podcast series. My name is Anthem Salgado and today we have an interesting episode in that we don’t have any special guests. It’s just going to be you, the listener and me, your host. Today I am going to be delivering a reprise of a talk that I gave at Stanford University just a few weeks ago. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the details I’m going to share some of what that event was all about. It was titled “Art is my Occupation.” And it was presented by the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, the Art & History Department, the Career Development center, and Stanford Arts Institute. So I want to give a sincere thanks and a big shout out to everybody that helped put that event together. It was definitely a combination of forces and of shared missions. So it was a beautiful thing. Thank you to Ellen Oh, Zoe Luhtala, Margot Buck Gilliland, and Stav Ziv. So I super appreciate that you guys have that vision and put so much heart in assembling that wonderful function. It’s something that I wish as a young artist I had way back in the days. So when I see people pulling resources, you know really thinking about the futures of the seedling and emerging artists in their various programs it really delights me and I am honored to have been a participant in it.
That event was attended by many artists in various programs as well as people who maybe considering going into the non-profit work in arts administration. I have experience in those fields and I’m going to be sharing my life lessons from the past 15 years in the next 45 minutes.
The arts and martial arts
For those of you who have visited Art of Hustle or who spend time speaking with me regularly you’ll know that I am a martial arts fan. And I’m not a martial arts fan in the way you know ten year old boys are martial art fans. I feel like martial arts, when you look at the narrative and the practice and the philosophy, it has a lot of things that are applicable to many parts of life and whether you practice martial arts or not, those things are — I feel like there’s a lot of valuable lessons in it. One of those lessons that I’d like to share right now is that there are marital artists that practice in the studio and they practice a lot of forms but when you don’t spar, when you don’t practice live situations then you will pretty much be not that prepared in a real life self defense type of situation when you need to apply your art. And similarly there are artists, visual artists, theater artists, writers, all kinds of people who practice their craft, again also in a studio type of setting in a controlled environment and don’t think as much about putting their art out there, practicing their art in the field and when you don’t do that, you, just like the martial artist that I just mentioned will be more susceptible to getting your butt kicked. Something that happened to me over and over and over again throughout many parts of my career, I think a lot of times completely unnecessarily a bunch of those. You know certainly you have to take your shots and learn a lot of things on your own. There’s only so much preparation people can do for you. But at the same time I feel like if there were certain things that I had trained myself on or if my mentors had trained me on, then I could have saved myself a lot of hear ache and that’s pretty much what I’m hoping this talk will do for you, is save you a lot of heart ache and frustration a lot of which is just — it’s grueling work staying in this field. So I’m trying to hook you up. I should also say that this talk will be, the one that I’m doing right now, recording at this moment, is going to be a little bit more conversational than the one that I delivered in Stanford in that it is in the middle of the day, I have a full cup of coffee and I am in my home studio. So I hope you enjoy the more casual version of the talk.
The artist myth in America
First of all, let’s begin with beliefs. And I know this is not supposed to be a motivational talk and I’m not here to, you know, get you to analyze all of your life right this moment, but we do have to talk about beliefs because I feel like the artists in America pretty much all subscribe to the same master narrative. And it’s so obvious. It’s so obvious what those details of that narrative are, but unless you actually look at it, you don’t realize how much it is or more so isn’t serving you correctly, okay? I mean beliefs are important because they determine what you do. When you believe something in a certain way, it determines your actions. And of course your actions, the steps you take determine your results and then your results determine your circumstances, which pretty much determines your reality. And so they all kind of connect together and I think not often enough artists don’t analyze the things that they believe. So, I’m just going to go over a couple of things that I feel like artists train themselves to believe or are trained to believe by various institutions and various teachers along the way. These things of course, again after having graduated and have been out in the field for many years, I realize are pretty bogus and can stand to really damage your ability to have a career, to make advances in your field, and to put food on your plate, literally.
Number one myth and very commonly practiced belief is that money is evil. We hear that a lot. Money is evil. We think that artists who focus on receiving money for their art might be called sell-outs. Those artists might be called commercial. We think it’s pretty much a common practice to be anti-corporate even though most people don’t even know what that means. And for those of you who are curious about what corporate actually means, it’s a legal status. And you would be surprised how many businesses that you actually love and adore and support are actually small little corporations. Not all corporations are equal and not all corporations are evil. So you can’t just be blanket anti-corporate because that would be silly. A lot of artists believe in non-profit work but unfortunately I feel like a lot of artists also equate the word non-profit with anti-profit, which are two different things. Also I should say non-profit is also itself a legal status. And I want to emphasize that because it’s something that you would impose or label the way you do business as it is defined by the government. It is not an identity and it shouldn’t be. Non-profit is not who you are. It’s a field in which you work – huge difference.
The getting discovered myth
Artists also like to believe that their artwork will speak for itself and consequently they don’t want to do any marketing because of course marketing sounds commercial. And commercial means sell out. And you don’t want to sell out because money is evil. And you can start to see how all these things really tie into each other and create a whole narrative that a lot of people begin to participate in.
And so if the artwork speaks for itself, how the heck do people have careers? Well here’s another myth, artists get discovered. You just hang out and make good work and then your art will get discovered. And once your art is discovered, you’ll be taken care of. And that’s not selling out because you’ll just have a very wealthy benefactor who’ll just take care of you, again another huge myth. A person, a visual artist that I interviewed in one of my other podcasts, her name is Jennifer Wofford and she likes to call this phenomenon “getting sprinkled with pixie dust,” or fairy dust. And what that means is it may happen. An artist may get discovered. But more often than not everybody has to put their work in, everybody has to grind, everybody has to carve their own path because there is no artist career path that you could just follow like a template. We’re pretty much our own people and in a sense we are entrepreneurs which is why the tag line for Art of Hustle is “Where are meets entrepreneurship,” because if you’re going to stay in this field you have to start thinking like a, forgive the expression, like a boss. You know, you’re not just going to be this person that hangs back and waits to be discovered. You have to be proactive. You have to be proactive. You have to look at your situation and own it and make moves that you think are going to be good for you.
The starving artist myth
So all of this of course leads to the last myth that I want to share which is that of the starving artist. And of course there are many starving artists. And I feel like they probably exist unnecessarily. Unnecessarily starving because we don’t get a chance to really analyze these things that we believe in which determine how we activate ourselves in the world or how we don’t activate ourselves in the world. The consequence is that we are starving. It’s not a fact of life. It is a fabricated circumstance in my opinion. And it’s one that we have complete control over and it’s just a matter of redefining first and foremost what we believe we are and how we believe we should be making moves in this world.
Who these beliefs damage the most
I also want to share that these belief systems affect most negatively people who come from already historically disadvantaged communities of which there are many. People of color, women, immigrants, you know, the queer community, so I just want to say if you thought life was already difficult, you’re probably already making it more difficult for yourself by subscribing to these beliefs that insure more than anything that you don’t market your work, that you don’t get your work out there so we remain unknown and then you end up broke. So do yourself a favor and just analyze those things. And it’s going to take some time, but you got to get to work on reversing a lot of those negative belief systems that don’t serve you well.
The marketing myth
The next section we’re going to talk about is on marketing which is a favorite of mine because the way I look at marketing, marketing is not just advertising. A lot of people think marketing, and they very quickly equate it to advertising. To me marketing is an extension of outreach. Marketing is an extension of community dialogue and marketing is a facet of community and audience engagement. And when you look at it that way, you realize that marketing is actually not just a service to the work that you do, but it’s a service to the community.
Very often when I speak to people about marketing, folks who again share and opt into the belief systems that I just mentioned, they’ll say, “Well I don’t want to get into marketing because you know marketing seems so self serving. It seems so self-indulgent. I don’t want people to think I’m a selfish person. It’s so selfish and ego and I don’t want to be that person. And that’s all well and good but it’s actually backwards. And I’ll give you an example why, if, just imagine right? This is the way I look at it. If the thing that you are offering, whether it’s your art, whether it’s a product or a service or anything else, can possible benefit anybody, make their life better, give them a smile, give them something to think about, enrich their experience, then it’s actually more selfish not to share it. And just as a quick example, imagine if doctors and hospitals didn’t share their services, their phone number, their address. Imagine if your favorite massage therapist didn’t want to have a website. Imagine if the mechanic or the handyman or any band that you listen to wanted to be so underground that you didn’t even know about them. Wouldn’t that be a disservice to the community? It’s actually more selfish to not share your work. The way I look at it is marketing is selfless because you are risking that personal vulnerability in service of the greater good, the greater community and so that’s the way I look at it. If your big thing is to actually not be selfish, you should be doing more to market your stuff because people need to know what you could possibly bring to the world, if it could in anyway help them, benefit them. So let’s just get that out of the way quickly.
Artists’ marketing and organizational marketing
Next thing I want to share with you about the marketing thing is I had the good benefit to be a program manager at a small scrappy arts non-profit organization that did wonderful work. We did a lot of programming in the years that I was there. And as the program manager, it was my job to collect artist information. And I’ll tell you a lot of times artists would submit information and it would be incomplete or it would be late or it would be substandard. And I was thinking as I was working there at my desk having to correct people’s work and having to email them all back, wow, these guys are so unprepared. They have no idea how they’re potentially stifling advancement in their own careers. They have no idea.
And so I want to share with you what that looks like on the flip side, not on the artist side, but on the art’s producer side so you get a glimpse of how this all works. And it was something I had the good fortune to learn working within the non-profit system. I encourage you to get a job at an art non-profit so you can get a better idea of how it all comes together for yourself. But just to give you this quick view, whenever somebody’s going to produce something, whether it’s a visual arts event, performing arts event, or anything else it typically works in this way, the program director or the artistic director will conceive the idea. They’ll research artists; they’ll book the artists. They’ll draft contracts and letters of agreement. A production schedule will be created many months out ideally. A press release will go out. Materials will be assembled for a marketing plan that will take place probably over the course of probably a few months leading up to the big event. There will be a social media plan. Volunteers will be recruited and will have to be coordinated for various positions come the big day. There’s going to be a house manager. There’s going to be a box office manager. There’s going to be all kinds of teams and people involved in the creation of any event.
And the reason I want to emphasize this is often times artists have a limited view of all the things that have to happen that they think that their part in doing the work is creating the art which is actually just not true. Everyone’s got to do more than just create the art. There are a lot of actions and systems that have to be in place in order for the art to make it out into the world. So what is an artist’s responsibility in participating in this whole big crazy sequence of events leading up to the big event? Well number one you have to have your marketing and publicity materials ready all the time, everyday, and whenever anyone could ever potentially ask for it. That would be what is often referred to as your artist kit. I could also be called your media kit. It could also be your press kit. Whatever name you have for it, it typically consists of your resume. It also has your biography. It also has your artist statement. It has high-resolution photos and, if applicable, videos.
So, now let’s go back to the beginning of the sequence, the artistic director decides he or she’s going to put on a show and they start doing research for artists. And now let’s say I’m the program manager and I’m working for the artistic director who says call this artist and see if they’re interested and if they are, collect their materials. So I give you an email or a call or a shout out and then I say, “Hey, we’d like to book you for this show, please send me your artist biography, your artist statement, and at least three high resolution photos of your work.” It sounds simple and it should be. But again you’d be surprised at how many people don’t have these materials or if they do have them, they’re very poorly prepared or they just don’t follow instructions. And so now I’m having to spend extra time collecting your stuff when really it should be fast and you are actually holding up the entire process. And what you’re not realizing as the artist is that you are hindering me from doing my job which is to produce you and make you look good, which is why I often say artists who aren’t prepared are inadvertently shooting themselves in the foot and I don’t want you to be one of those artists. I want you to be ready for the benefit of anyone who ever ends up producing you and more than anything for your own benefit.
I’ll tell you right now when an artist gives a producer or curator a really difficult time you’re probably not going to get booked again. And it’s not because anyone’s against you or that they’re being jerks. They probably just want to work with people that they consider professional. And if you don’t show up looking professional, then you’re not going to get called back. And of course on the flip side of that, artists who do show up ready, prepared, doing all they can to help in a production, those are the artists that end up getting mentions in random cocktail conversations and they get booked by other presenters and producers. Because people like to recommend to their colleagues artists that they’ve had good experiences with. And again it’s not a conspiracy, it’s just natural. You know you want to hook people up with good people. So when someone shows up showing their best then that’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to say, “Hey I had a really good experience with this artist.” And that person will get more bookings, more gigs, and that’s pretty much the beginning of your career right there. So believe it or not your artist kit is your make or break moment when you’re just starting out. You have to have it.
Have a website
I should also add to that that you should also have your website because, well, because it’s 2013 and everybody needs to have a website. Nobody is excused from having a website. You just need to have one. You have to have one. I’m trying to come up with reasons why you wouldn’t have one and you just don’t have a reason. You know everyone’s got to have one no matter what your profession is. And by website, I mean something professional. Of course, we all do things in social media for fun. You might have a personal blog where you talk about food and random epiphanies throughout the day. That may not be considered your professional website. Your professional website would basically host your artist kit. And have more work samples and things like that. So it’s the equivalent of what a business card was back in the day. You know you give someone your business card because you want them to know about you. You want them to know how to get in touch with you. Similarly your website operates in the same way. I should be able to visit your website and see who you are, what you’re all about, what you represent, what your work samples are, and again going back to the booking thing, a lot of producers will go to your website first before you even get that email or phone call. Even if they’ve heard of you, even if you’ve been recommended by a colleague that they trust, people are going to go to your website first and they’re going to get an impression of who you are, how you work, how professional you are by what is available on your website. So you got to have a website. No excuses.
If you’re just not technically savvy at this time, that’s totally okay. There are workarounds. So I just want to share some of what those are. You can have a WordPress blog. I’ve seen a couple of free WordPress blogs that look pretty good and operate to fulfill the needs that regular website provides and Tumblr is also pretty good for that. Again as long as it focuses on your art work rather than just your favorite random things. For visual artists and photographers, Flickr is decent if you need to host images. I’ll tell you right now though, it gets very, very, very tricky when you’re dealing with copyright stuff and publishing yourself on photography sites like Flickr. So I would say just be a little bit cautious about how you proceed in that sense. I know a lot of artists, visual artists in particular can be worried about it but if you’re a performing artist, I think certainly you can have production photos up on there and that may be a good — not good but a decent thing to have your photos up on until you figure out all the technology required to have your own site.
I would recommend, and yes this is a little bit of a plug because this is the hosting service that I use but I recommend Bluehost. If you want to look up what that’s about you could go to my website. There’s an affiliate link in the side bar but if you also go into the search field you’ll find some tips on website stuff. Bluehost is great because number one it’s one of the more affordable services. It easily beats GoDaddy by a mile and GoDaddy also has really, somewhat controversial borderline offensive advertising so if you just want to go with a straight up good service, Bluehost is great. I think they charge five dollars a month which is really good, unlimited space which is really good, and I think you can buy a domain name for as cheap as twelve dollars. And beyond all that, again for those of you who are technologically challenged, they have this thing called single click installation so you can actually click a button on the dashboard side once you’ve logged in for WordPress. And they will install Word Press for you on your site. It looks just like how WordPress should look if you did it the long, manual, tedious way. So they have this awesome single click installation, which I really love. I had my website literally, literally, no exaggeration, literally up and running in less than five minutes after I bought the domain name. So look that up.
Your artist’s kit
The next thing that I would like to speak with you guys about is more details about your artist kit. Since we’ve already started talking about it. What goes in there? A lot of people feel really intimidated. I am going to simplify the process. You will be amazed pretty much at how easy it is. I’m going to let you guys know that I give workshops and classes on this in real time and also on my website. So I’m not going to be able to drill down into all the details because that might take another one or two hours and this is a recording. I want to make sure it’s efficient and effective given the time and the medium that we’re using.
First thing you’re going to want to do is create your resume. And I love starting with a resume mostly because most people already know how to make one. You must make your artist resume. And the reason why you start with your artist resume is because it informs your biography. So many people visit my site trying to figure out how to write an artist biography. And my quick tips begin with your resume because you already know how to do that and I’m going to show how that all goes.
So what goes on your artist resume? Naturally your full name, your contact information, your address, your phone number, your email, and your website. You’re going to want to include, and I’m just going to go through all of this semi-quickly, so please write it down if you need to. These are sections you will have on your resume, education. Exhibitions for visual artists, for performing artists you might want to say performances, for literary artist publications. If you are neither, meaning you if you’re somebody who works in between worlds, those would be set designers, stage managers, sound technicians, etc, you might just want to call it work experience. And you already know how — I’m guessing you already know how to format that okay? You’re going to want to include all the details, dates, the name of the organization you worked for, your title, etc. Another heading section that you will have will be press, another one will be awards, and of course education, most of you guys know this, what is the degree you earned, when did you graduate, what was your focus or major area of study, where did you graduate from. So for the body of your resume where you will include all your wonderful experience, you’re going to want to include the title of the event, exhibition, publication, or play which ever is appropriate for your field, if you’re an actor or dancer, the name of the character that you played. You’re going to want to include the presenter, the curator, the publisher, or director, again according whatever your genre is, the venue if applicable and the year that happened, okay? Moving forward, press; include the title of the article, the name of the publication or website, yes websites count. Printed material is not king anymore. So if your work appears on a legit website, feel free to include that. Feel free to also include the direct web link if applicable. If you’re submitting your materials electronically by way of PDF for example, that web link will be valuable because then the person looking at your materials can just click on that hyper link and see where your work has appeared or has been reviewed. Include the name of the writer and include the year. For awards, I think this is pretty straightforward. This is going to include any decorations you have received in arts culture or education, grants, residencies, scholarships, fellowships, prizes, and similar recognitions. You’re going to want to record the name of the award, the name of the grand tour, and the year it was received.
Boosting your resume
Even with all of this material sometimes people feel like their resume is looking very thin. People are like, “Ah man I’m just a student or I’m just starting out my art career and I don’t have a lot things even with all those.” Or some people didn’t even go to school. I have met many artists who got their start in art through community or cultural work and aren’t formal artists or wouldn’t be considered formal artists. And a lot of people, even after I give them all these headings will say, “My resume still looks really thin. What should I do?” And they stress out about it. And I’m going to tell you right now, the purpose of the resume in my opinion is not to show off that you have so many accomplishments, right? The purpose of your resume is to demonstrate that you have been active. That you have been active and that you are committed to your work as an artist. What people look at when they look at your resume isn’t that you’re a big shot. Especially if you’re an unknown or if you’re emerging or you’re just starting off, of course your resume is going to be a little bit thin. Don’t worry about that. Demonstrate that you have been active. So the first tip for resume that I want to share with you or the thing that I want you to think about is if you’ve ever shown work anywhere, then include that in your resume. It doesn’t have to be what you would consider very harshly to be a legitimate venue. A lot of art is happening in non-traditional spaces these days. And those need to be included on your resume. So I’ll just give you an example, if it’s in a café that’s okay. You hung your work in a café, that’s not bad. If you’ve performed and it happened to be at a bar, that’s okay. Include that. And you know I just want to tell you this one funny story. I gave a workshop once where this guy tried to argue with me that he shouldn’t be including those things because people will know he’s a fake. Young artist, very passionate, and very ignorant, I mean listen, people looking at your resume will know what those venues are. They’ve been in the business. You’re not trying to fake them out by salting your resume or fattening it unnecessarily, you’re basically showing them again that you have been active. I’d rather see, personally as a potential producer or curator, I’d rather see an artist who was active and shown in all different kinds of venues than an artist who is only shown in one space that was “legitimate.” So include all that stuff. It’s part of your journey and guess what? It’s part of all our journeys. No one graduates and shows up in all the big galleries and museums and stages right off the bat. Of course you’re going to perform at a couple small houses or non-traditional spaces. But that doesn’t make it any less part of your journey. And like I said producers, more than anything in my opinion are looking to see that you’re active. They want to see that you’ve been moving and shaking and making things happen no matter what. So include all those non-traditional spaces.
On top of that here’s a bunch of stuff that you could also use to demonstrate that you’ve been active. These are additional headings, pay close attention. Training, okay you’ve already included education but now you can include training. This includes special classes, workshops, or seminars you’ve attended. If the trainer was somebody notable, or if the organization was one that is notable, feel free to mention it. What was the name of the training? Who was the presenter and what year did it happen? You can also include special skills. Now this isn’t going to be formatted in your usual resume fashion. Special skills would basically be a list of key words that demonstrate what special skills you have with out all the description and detail. For example computer skills in programs, graphic design programs, editing software, QLab, which is a sound design tool. Do you have team or project management experience? You could put that in there. Teaching or workshop facilitation, craft or mechanical skills, special equipment for instance light grid, soundboards, cameras, etc. Language capabilities, puppeteering, tap dancing, copyediting, ghost writing, I mean the possibilities are nearly endless. The point is if there are any talents that are even remotely related to your art, to your craft to the focus of your work then you should include it in this section called special skills. It will help portray the breath of your study and interests and experience.
Bodies of work
So this next section now is one of my most favorite and this is called bodies of work. Bodies of work are awesome because again you’re demonstrating that you are committed to your journey and that you have been active. So even if you have not been produced or presented by many places or let’s say by any places at all you could still include a section called bodies of work that demonstrates what it is that you have been creating even without the presentation opportunities. You would include the title of your bodies of work and follow each with a brief description. For instance a photographer might say title Northern Lights: a photographic document including 20 full color images that explores the effect of the Aurora Borealis on snowscapes in remote Finland. I just made that up. I mean not just now but that is a made up thing. I have not taken such photos but the idea is I can have three or four or five different bodies of work, right whether I’m a choreographer or spoken word artist or anything. If I have bodies of work it shows that I’ve been producing this stuff this whole time. So if I, me, am a potential presenter I can look at your resume and see something that peaks my interest and I can then call you or email you and say, “Hey I’m interested potentially in seeing your collection of Northern Lights photos. And that’s the beginning of a conversation and maybe that will lead to me presenting you. Who knows? But the idea is even if you haven’t been presented, including a section called bodies of work may lead to you being presented. Again, demonstrate that you’re active. Demonstrate that you have a portfolio. I’m using the word portfolio, which a lot of visual artists will relate too, but again this applies to everybody across genres.
Next thing you’re going to want to include potentially is travel. A lot of us in the arts are often affected in our creative process by geography. So if this is the case for you and your work feel free to include travel as yet another section. You can include all the destinations you’ve ever been to in your young adult and adult life. And this can be simple, no extraneous details necessary. Include the city, states, and countries separated by a semicolon and that’s it. It’s just another list, nothing too crazy unless of course it was like some kind of big scholarship. I mean if you got a Fulbright, yeah you’re going to want to explain that in fuller detail.
Another good one would be employment history. A lot of us who are artists also have a lot of work in the arts. And so if that’s the case for you, you could potentially include employment history to fatten up your resume and to demonstrate your commitment to this field. So you guys already know how to do that. I’m not going to get too much into it. You would include your title, your place of employment, and when you worked there, the years that you worked there.
Additional headings and I could go on forever so I just want to mention these, not to complicate things or to overwhelm you but to let you know you have options. Additional headings for you resume could include teaching, lectures, readings, interviews, panels, special projects and collaborations, residencies, workshops, conferences, internships or volunteer positions.
Okay, so quick tip for formatting your resume, use simple fonts. Don’t be creative when it comes to your resume. Sometimes artists feel the urge to make everything creative in a representation of their genius mind. The function of your resume is to make communication with potential presenters and producers very easy and sometimes if you get too creative with your resume, crazy colors and pictures and fonts that are difficult to read, if you over design it you actually do yourself a disservice. So keep it simple. No one needs to see your creativity in your resume, save it for your art. Of course if you didn’t already know, PDF your files. That’s because when you send your documents over email or through your website, there’s a strong chance that as it’s traveling across the internet, the formatting will change and get really crazy and then when someone opens your document it could look really sloppy and you’re the one that ends up looking unprofessional and sloppy when really it’s something that the computer did. There is a workaround for that and it is PDFing your files. So that basically preserves the integrity of your original formatting so that’s something you’re going to want to do as you send in your stuff.
I also want to say that your resume, you should have one version that I like to call the master resume. The master resume pretty much means you only add to it. Only add to it, never subtract from it and don’t do any crazy editing to it. So anytime that you send in your materials for any particular position or presentation opportunity you’re going to refer to your master resume and pick and chose the best pieces that you feel like would be suited, most suited for the opportunity that you’re applying for whether that’s a scholarship or a residency or anything else, okay?
So keep a master resume that you only add to. Every time you accomplish something new, go to your master resume add it, add it, add it. After a few years it’s going to be ridiculous because it’s going to be one big long scrolling document. And that’s what it’s supposed to look like. So don’t edit that, just add to it. And then create new resumes from that master resume. I guess we could call it your parent resume. That might be a more appropriate term.
Keep it professional
Moving through the tips quickly, use a professional email address. Don’t have cute email addresses. Again, just keep it real people, save your humor and creativity for your art, preferably, in my opinion @gmail or at your personalized URL for your website. Every time I get AOL or Hotmail or yahoo, I get really worried. Because to me it means the person that I’m messaging is not up to date on their communication practices, which means they might not even be receiving my emails. So if you got yahoo or AOL or Hotmail or any of that stuff that came out in the late 90s, just start over man. You’re going to want to switch to Gmail or your own personalized URL.
Phone greetings, keep it professional. No one needs to hear your favorite music in your phone greeting. If I call you for an opportunity, you’re going to want to have just a nice simple outgoing greeting. So keep that in mind.
Also I already mentioned that your website should focus on your professional history and your artwork. If you have a blog dedicated to other parts of your life, you should try to keep those private, you know people will look you up and you don’t want them to find the wrong website.
So now your bio, here’s the easy part. With your bio you basically just take all the things that you’ve already just written on your resume and write them out in narrative, AKA sentence form. So you could say — here’s one I just made up, “Rhonda Dos Santos earned her BA in urban design from Institute of the Arts Alaska. She has studied under Antonio Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Jane Jacobs. Her work has been seen in San Francisco MOMA, The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, and The Tate Museum in London, England. She has had the opportunity to research ancient structures such as pyramids of Mexico, the statues of Easter Island, and the Parthenon in Greece. She is the recipient of the MacArthur Grant. Dos Santos currently works at ABC Non-Profit as a teaching artist.” So there’s her bio. And what’s awesome about that bio is you don’t have to really think about anything. You basically take all the highlights that you feel like best represent your work from your resume and write them out into sentences, and voila. You have your bio, fast. The hard work is getting your resume done first. And if you haven’t already noticed, you’re going to be writing that from the second person, okay? Mostly because when someone asks for your bio that’s probably going to appear in a program or in a press release of some other outward facing document, so better to do it in the second person.
Now your artist statement is probably the most difficult thing. Again I could probably give a whole workshop just on writing your artist statement. But if I could give you a couple of quick tips, this is what I would offer. You don’t want to write your artist statement like a review of your own work. And so if you’re getting artist statement ideas from reading the writing of critics, that would be a bad idea. And you always know when people are doing it because they give away too much interpretation. In my opinion, and there are many in the world. In my opinion your artist statement will serve you and your art best when you give in sight into how you got into your work. Why did you get into your work? And by that just tell a simple story. Tell a simple story. You look at your art, whether there are photos or paintings or dance or acting and you can say, “I’m inspired by blank. Or when I was seven I went to my first place and I realized blank.” You know like just more personal the better in my opinion, tell a story, and make it as concrete as possible. And the reason is some people write things like, “My work is about transcendence in time. It’s about loss of memory.” And you know what, that’s cool, maybe that’s true about your work, but it doesn’t help me understand your work any better. You know what I mean? If it’s about loss of memory it might be more interesting to say, “My grandmother had dementia and growing up, our family had a hard time struggling with it. Our experience working with her through that illness inspires my work.” I literally just made that up just now. But the point is when you get really specific and when you tell a story, it helps me understand your work more than if you said, “My work is about,” and you started using all these buzz words. Oh my God, I really hate buzzwords. They’re the worst. Again, save them for the critics and the reviewers. Let them talk that way. You know what I mean? But if you’re going to represent your work, keep it as real as possible. Write a review for your art? Just tell a good story.
I should also say as a quick tip, again of the many I could possibly offer, overwrite, write, write, write. Write too much. Too many people sensor themselves as they’re writing and they never get anywhere because the critic, the inner critic takes over too soon and before you know it you get writers block. So the most important thing I could emphasize in this time that we have together is write a lot. Better to write three pages and then cut it down to a paragraph then to start with a paragraph and then cut it down and you have nothing. So you’re going to want to write more than you’re comfortable with. So push, push through that.
Now after you write your resume, admittedly a lot of artists will say well I’m not a writer, I don’t know if I’m doing this right. Well first of all you have to learn how to be a writer, you just have to. But I get it. It is a skill and we should respect that. And having that understanding, you know what to do next. Recruit a writer to look at your stuff and lend some edits. Again going back to the artist myth, a lot of times we like to view the artist as a solitary person who creates work within the confines of their studio and genius just channels through them. Truth of the matter is a lot artists, one of their best skills, the most successful ones that I know, have a knack for cultivating and developing a team around them. So great, you’re not a writer. That’s fine. You know be okay with that. You still need to write your artist statement and you need to find a writer. Either hire one that you trust or recruit one, a friend of yours or colleague, someone who’s got more experience than you, someone who is a professional, someone who majored in English, someone that you feel you trust their expertise.
The new minimum requirements for being an artist
Time is moving right along and so I’m going to keep this at a really good pace. I just mentioned to you about how it’s important for you to learn how to write. The other things that I want to let you know is the minimum requirement for what it takes to be an artist. That bar is rising every single day, mostly because of how fast technology is moving. So maybe in the age of, I’m just going to say Michelangelo, maybe the only requirement he had was to just be a good artist, though I’m not sure if that was exactly true. But I am trying to illustrate a point here which is today you can’t just be an artist. You can’t just be an artist, you can’t. And again this goes back to our beliefs systems and our understandings of what it means to be an artist today. You have to have many, many, many, many skills. And I’m going to name what these skills are right now. It’s important for you to understand marketing. So start looking up marketing lectures, marketing books. You need to understand business. How does business work? How does money work? A lot of artists don’t have a good handle on their finances. They don’t have a good relationship with money. Well you could begin to solve that by looking up some business books. Management skills are really important and by management I mean team management. As I mentioned before a lot of very successful artists know how to manage a team, whether it’s formally or informally. It’s like they understand that they’re surrounded by very talented people who have skills and resources and sometimes you got to think of ways to work with people. You know, find common missions. So those are skills you’re going to want to develop, skills of collaboration, negotiation, project management but also time management. A lot of artists in my experience don’t have a good handle on time. I do a lot of personal coaching and almost in every single instance everybody has to reacquaint themselves with their calendar, mostly because you have to apply yourself in many ways, not just in the creation of your art. So time management becomes especially important. I already mentioned having the skills to create your media kit, having the skills to create your website. This includes basic HTML. Folks you’ve got to have the basics because even if someone designs your website, you’re going to still need to up keep it which means you need to know basic HTML. You got to have basic writing skills. You got to have basic Photoshop skills, no matter what your genre I don’t care what it is if you’re an artist coming up today, you need to know basic Photoshop. You need to know basic video editing. This stuff is hyper important. You also need to know basic social media skills.
Isn’t marketing someone else’s job?
I know that some people might be thinking, why do I have to do all this marketing stuff? I mean after I get produced or presented, isn’t that the job of the institution or the organization that’s showing my work. And I’ll tell you right now; you would be lucky if that was case. A lot of times artists are getting shown by small organizations before they get shown by bigger organizations. I mean naturally those smaller organizations do not have a full fledge marketing team and marketing budget the way you imagined. So in the very beginning of your career you’re actually going to be holding a lot of your own marketing weight, even after you have been chosen to be presented or produced by an organization. You still have to be responsible for all that stuff and not until you’re way further down the line in your career will you be able to let go of those reigns and even then, I would say you might not want to let go of those reigns because at the end of the day you have to be responsible for presenting and representing yourself. You don’t want to just give that away either. But in the instance of writers for example, I just want to share this quick story. I know a lot of writers who you might consider big time or established or veteran who after they get their book deals the publishers are like, “Great. Now you need to promote the work.” And even the ones who you think of as being trailblazers in the later part of their career are still being asked to promote their own work, being asked to start blogs and websites. So I’m only sharing that story so you understand and get a clearer picture of what to expect when you get out there. You are not actually going to be exempt probably ever from having to participate in the marketing of your work wherever you are in your trajectory. So number one, get used to it, but number two, also enjoy it. It’s your ability as I mentioned earlier, it’s your opportunity to engage with your audience. And I think that’s really important. You don’t want to be the hermit, elusive artist. That might work for Banksy, but again Banksy may have had the fairy dust sprinkled on him. So he might have the benefit of living out that magical experience and benefiting from not having to seemingly market his stuff as much. I bet you if you got into the insides of it, he probably does a ton of marketing that you aren’t even privy to as an outside viewer.
Be proactive with your career. You will not get discovered. And that’s not being a negative Nancy, I’m just saying be proactive. Own your journey. It’s your life. You’ve got to practice self-determination. Submit frequently, get accustomed to rejection. The more you put yourself out there, the more acclimated you will be to managing fear and failure and it’s amazing what that does for your character when you are always putting yourself out there, submitting your work to various things and dealing with various kinds of rejection. And I say that because a lot of artists, who don’t make it, don’t make it because they’re too fearful. I see that a lot. My whole thing is if you’re going to get your butt kicked, let it happen because you gave it a solid shot, because you invested in skill building, and you were courageous, not because you were fearful, you didn’t have the knowledge and you held back for fear of losing some shallow sense of safety, okay? Get yourself out there.
The last bit of wisdom that I’d like to share with you and leave you with is this, save creativity and in parenthesis, not the arts. What do I mean by that? A lot of times there are save the arts campaigns. You know save the arts, save the music programs, save the visual arts program and you know I’m in support. I just want to say that out right. I am in support of saving the arts. But there is something more important than saving the arts and that is saving creativity itself. The benefit of young people in our schools receiving arts education is not that they can make a painting. Sorry, but I feel very strongly about this. The benefit is not that they can play a tuba. The benefit is that they get to look and experience the world in a different way. It opens your mind. That’s the thing that we love and appreciate about art. It is imaginative. It’s inventive. It’s innovative. It helps you see and experience things differently. So rather than saving the arts, saving a genre, saving a product of the arts, saving the arts truly would be to save creativity itself. And I think too many times artists get out into the world having been trained in a particular craft or having been trained in a particular speak. But the creativity is what’s going to save you at the end of the day. If you can apply the creativity, that same sense of adventure that you have when approaching a stage or a page or a canvas and apply that to your management, your business, your marketing, then you’ll pretty much be unstoppable. I said that in podcast episode number one and I’m going to say it again. Your creativity cannot be limited to just your art. Let it free flow. Let it spill over to other areas of your life. And you will find that your ability to problem solve and to manage your career will be enhanced in a major way. Again the great benefit we get from the arts is that we see solutions where other people see roadblocks. And that’s more important than anything.
That’s the end of this podcast. I hope that gives you a lot to think about. Again I could talk your ear off for days if you let me. But this episode does have to come to a close at some point. I think that would be a good spot to leave it. Thank you again to all the wonderful folks at Stanford. I hope you enjoyed this recording. Naturally there’s lots more information and dialogue and conversation to be had at the website. If there’s anything I missed or if there’s any questions at all that you have, please leave a comment in the blog post and you know, Art of Hustle is my life right now so I will answer your questions. I will respond to your comments. So go ahead and do that. Thank you very much and see you soon.
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