Episode 96 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Presenting to Museums

Presenting to Museums

For museums, which are usually not for profit, what you are looking for is two things. One, you want to know who the curators are there. You want to know their names and what they have done in the past. It should be easy enough to find their names by looking at the museum’s website. If that is difficult, go to the museum and ask who the curators are for contemporary work. The other thing you would like to know from a museum is if they have a policy for looking at the work of new artists. You can write them a letter and simply ask that. Now let’s go to the next step of this situation. You have a list of the museum’s curators, and you have a sense of the shows they have, and perhaps they do look at the work of artists. If they have a policy of looking at work, simply follow their rules. Usually they ask for a letter, images, and a biography of yourself. Keep in mind that most museums that have policies of looking at artists’ work are usually not exhibiting those artists right away.

What they do is look at your work so that they can understand more about what is going on in contemporary art. Also, even if they like your work very much, they will want to see more. Normally you will get a letter back from the museum stating something like, “Thank you, please send us an update in six months.” The reason they are saying that is so they can see how your work evolves, and also to see if you are professional enough to keep sending them work on a regular basis. The next step with museums, which you can do at any time in your career, is to target a specific curator. In my experience, it is easiest and best not to target the top curator.

Look for a new curator at a museum, someone who is probably young and handles something that might not even apply to you, like booking performances or music. Write to that curator directly and ask him or her if you could meet with them to talk about a project that you would like their feedback on. I always ask if I can meet the curator at the museum café at lunchtime for about fifteen minutes. Usually that is hard to say no to. It is also helpful if you Google the curator and find out something about their past so you can make a reference to it in a letter showing that you know who they are! The letter might look something like this:

Dear [Curator’s name here],

I just read your text on the paintings of [artist’s name here; find this by researching on the web], and I thought you did a great job at articulating the importance and subtlety of her work.

I am writing to you because I would like to have a brief meeting with you at the museum café to tell you about a project I am involved with. It would take about fifteen minutes and will be easy. I value your words and the way you approach your writing and hope you can have this brief meeting with me to hear about an idea that I would like your advice on.

Is it possible to meet on [date] at [time] in the café? Sincerely,


To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 95 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Presentation tools and techniques for artists

Chapter 3

Presentation tools and techniques for artists

As computers and the latest social networks are changing the way we share images all the time, the way in which you present yourself and your artwork continues to change as well. To begin with, I will caution against a common practice of artists that usually gets them nothing but frustration, which is to send out a lot of cold letters. If you want to present yourself to a gallery, do not buy a list of gallery addresses and send them all a generic package with a CD, images, and a résumé. It is possible you could get a reaction from this, but the best tactic is to be targeted in your approach. First, choose the nonprofit centers within your reach and choose the galleries that you like. Not the galleries that you think would be appropriate for your work, but the ones you admire for good shows.

To do this is fairly simple. First, look at a map or just write down the name of your city. You are about to make a list and a plan. If you wrote down the name of your city, begin searching on Google for the word “gallery” and your city. Look for your state council on the arts and write down their number as well. I think it usually pays to take a trip to your local council on the arts. If you are living in another country in Europe or somewhere else, there is usually something like an “office of contemporary arts,” which is funded by your ministry of culture or similar. Wherever you are, you are putting together a list of everything in your area that is art-related, meaning galleries, museums, and nonprofit centers. The nonprofit centers are places of education usually. That means they are supported by your government because their goal is not for profit; it is to help artists in some way. Nonprofits, or in Europe, NGOs, are everything from community centers to granting agencies to foundations that have been set up to give money to artists, and also museums and universities could be part of it.

After you have made the list of art-related institutions and galleries within your area, begin to sort them by which ones are closest. If you have to drive more than an hour, in my opinion, that is too far. So pick all the places that are near to you and refine your list. Separate the types of organizations you are listing in different categories, such as galleries, universities, museums, nonprofits, art-related NGOs, and foundations for grants. Now you have a list of places and people to meet. Take it one step at a time and begin by deciding how many you are going to call and visit in a week. I would pick a low number, like three in a week. Pick a time of day that you can spend thirty minutes on this task.

The next step is to look at your three contacts for the week and do a little research on each on the web so you can understand more about what they can do for you. Ideally, you have done enough research on each that you know who the staff is at the places you are calling. Then give them a call or write them a letter. You are not sending them links or images of your work; you are writing them a letter to ask about their services. If they provide grants, you want to be on their mailing list and know when the next application is due. If you are writing to a university gallery, you want to know who curates their gallery and who you can send a proposal to for having a show there. If you are writing to an organization that supports the arts in some way, like an arts council or NGO, then you want to be on their mailing list, and you want to know if there are any opportunities you should be aware of, like competitions or grants. If you are writing to a museum, then you want to be on their mailing list as well, and you want to know if they look at the work of new artists. Let’s look at each case and exactly how to proceed.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 94 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Interview at the Whitney Museum

The Interview at the Whitney Museum

My wife and I went to the museum for our interview and made a decision not to bring anything with us, like a résumé. In the office, we were asked many questions, none of which were difficult to answer. At the end of the interview, with slight frustration, she asked if we could send her something about our past. We explained that we did not believe in the past! And with exasperation, she said, “Well, I don’t know if you went to art school, or any school at all, can you send me something?” Of course we said yes, we would. Then she handed us her card and said, “Please keep in touch about new projects you are doing.” We were thrilled but had no idea what had happened. At home, we decided that instead of sending a résumé, we would send her detailed biographies of both of us. That meant a long prose piece about where we were born and lots of excessive detail about our childhood, including things we made up. It was our answer to writing about the past. We wrote so much, which was probably useless to them, but they had also most likely made a decision by then.

The curators never came to our studio or asked to come. However, late in the month of August 2001, we received a call from the curator at the Whitney Museum saying we were invited to be in the Biennial! She also said that we could not tell anyone, even our parents, because they didn’t want the press to know before it was officially released.

The Story Every Artist Wants to Hear

Why is this the story every artist wants to hear, as the curator said to us? Because we were not chosen or sought after. We were not “solicited” by the museum. We had no gallery representation. We simply sent them our materials and a letter and got into the show. It is like winning the lottery, and as the saying goes, you have to play to win. We played, and of course you could too. Let’s analyze the approach for a minute so it can be adapted to you and your medium. To begin with, it is important to keep up on who the latest curators are for the Whitney Museum or any other museum or gallery.

I read the New York Times for some of that news and also the Art Newspaper, which you can get online. That was essential to read and keep up on what is happening in the art world. Then once you have decided you know who you want to reach with your work, send them a letter. The letter is the tricky part. What will you say, and will you include a statement and a biography? Of course it is up to you; sometimes a résumé is asked for or required, other times not. But remember you are writing a letter to a person, and that person has to read something that they think is interesting. Remember the dating analogy? You must decide what to say in the letter that will generate enough interest to have them look at your work. You can be as creative as you want. Send a poem, send a diatribe, a manifesto, or a joke or a very straight letter, it is up to you; just remember the goal—to get the readers’ attention and to have them open your images and look at them.

My meditations on seeing it all happen may or may not have had some effect. I feel that when you are focused on something, it brings in other elements that can help. So perhaps the meditation didn’t make it happen, but it did prepare me for the meeting. I saw myself relaxed as well as enthused in the office of the curator. I had no special philosophy or statement behind the work. I was able to be myself, more or less. If you are a painter, sculptor, video artist, or conceptual artist, you have as good a chance as anyone, but you must present yourself in a way that makes sense and is attractive. The moral of this story is, “If you do not ask, you will probably not be invited.”

In chapter 8, I describe the details of getting a solo show at the Whitney Museum and how, even though I proposed it, the museum promotional materials called it a commission.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 93 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Whitney Museum Calls

The Whitney Museum Calls

In April 2001, I noticed another news item that said people can send in their art to a particular person at the Biennial, the coordinator. I sent in a copy of the first package and also sent another package to two other curators at the Biennial. So that was a total of four packages with a letter and DVD to the Whitney Museum.

I waited and heard nothing, and it was the summer of 2001. I knew the names of the artists who got into the Biennial would be made public in November, so I was getting antsy. My wife suggested that we use meditation or mind-control to help us. That meant that we picked a quiet time each day (when the baby was sleeping) and did a specific meditation together. It was a version of the Silva Mind Control method. Here is how it worked. We would use a visualization of getting into an elevator and going down many floors. With each floor, we became more and more relaxed, and finally when the elevator reached the bottom floor, we got out in a deeply relaxed state and began visualizing what we wanted to happen. I pictured myself in an office at the Whitney Biennial being greeted by the curator. I imagined that my wife and I were talking to her, and very enthusiastically she said, “I would love you to be in the Biennial!” We did that every day. If nothing else, it made us relaxed and focused on what we wanted. Then in August, we got a call from the museum saying that they wanted to interview us.

Of course we were thrilled; we set a date to come in, and I began asking everyone what I should say at the interview. I got all kinds of advice from “Say something that sounds very important and interesting” to “Just be yourself, don’t talk about philosophy or history, just relax.” Many artists assured me that it was routine, and I probably wouldn’t get in anyway. That was my first taste of professional jealousy, and it made me feel awkward to think that some of my friends thought the interview was inconsequential and didn’t mean much. In fact, I learned that the interview meant a lot. It meant you were being considered, and now they want to put a face on it, to see what you are like, to make the final decision.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 92 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / My Son Is Born

My Son Is Born

Now we move forward to January 2001, and I am frantic and stressed out about how I am going to make a living with my art. So I made a video about giving out foot washings and hugs and decided I would send it out to people and ask for donations to support this. A DVD is really inexpensive to make, so the package was cheap to mail. I sent it to well-known artists at first. The first letter went to the artist Jenny Holzer. Now remember, I have had no major shows, and I am an unknown artist in New York. In the letter, I told Ms. Holzer that my wife and I were artists and this is what we have been doing. I asked her if she would consider donating a small amount to help us. She sent a check for $200! Then I began to search for other artists that I liked, like  Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I wrote them a letter and they sent me $400! The letters were not only inspiring, but they showed me that I could be a fund-raiser for my own cause!

I was getting the New York Times daily, and I would always read the section on the arts. And it was in February 2001 that I noticed a news item that said the Whitney Biennial curators had been chosen. That was one of the things I was after! I put together a packet right away and sent it to the museum. I put the curator’s name on the envelope. I also made an unusual decision. I decided not to put in a résumé, and I said that the work was a collaboration between two people. The reason I did not want to put in a résumé or biography was because I didn’t feel like I had a very glorious past. What would I say, “I lived on an island for almost ten years and had a show every year in my own gallery”? I felt that my past was also irrelevant to understanding my present work.

This again brings up the example of dating techniques. When you want someone’s attention and you want them to  like you, it is usually best not to tell them everything about your past, right? The reason for that is obvious, I think. Too much information! In this instance, it worked for me. I sent in a package with a short letter describing the work I was doing, and I signed it, “With love, Delia and Brainard.” It was an unorthodox package, that is for sure, but it was also a complete one. The museum had my name, number, and email address (I had no website), and a short letter and video describing the work. I waited and waited. Nothing came.

Ep 92

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 91 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / New York City

New York City

When I arrived in New York City, it was the opposite feeling. Since I didn’t know anyone there and the city was so vast, I felt as though I could do anything. The sense of no one knowing who I was, or even caring to some degree, gave me a sense of creative freedom. So I pursued the dream I always had for the city, which was to open my own storefront in the East Village and make my art there. Surprisingly, storefronts were cheaper than apartments, and still are in many areas of the city. It was a commercial storefront of about 250 square feet on Tenth Street. It was not built for living, but I made a loft bed and kept a clean clear space in the front to work. I began working on books and other work on paper. I had very little money, so I got a job as an assistant to an artist, and that kept the bills paid. Then I met the love of my life, and we began spending all our time together. In that state of abandonment that love often brings, new ideas came to mind of what she and I could do together out of our storefront. The idea we had was to wash people’s feet, give out hugs, and apply Band-Aids with a kiss on the bandage the way a mother would do.

I wrote up a small press release about what we were doing and said the store was opened on certain days. Then I printed out this piece of paper and actually walked around to all the newspapers and hand-delivered it to the writer I was after. I will never forget the feeling of walking into the Village Voice and asking to be directed to the arts writer. I was pointed in a direction, and all of a sudden, I was at his cubicle, interrupting his writing to say I am an artist and I have a press release for him. Though he was shocked, he was also very kind and thanked me for coming by.

I did get some press and a small show in a nonprofit gallery in Brooklyn, and then within a year, my son was born!

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 90 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Background

The Background

I attended undergraduate school at SUNY Purchase in New York, and I used to spend summers on Block Island, working in restaurants. After I graduated, I went to Block Island for the summer and decided to stay for the winter and open a gallery the next summer. My girlfriend and I did it together. The first step I took was to find a retail space and determine the costs of running a gallery. I didn’t have the money, so I went to the bank for a loan. Then I sent out a letter to a mailing list I got from the local news- paper. In the letter, I told everyone what I wanted to do: open a gallery and show contemporary art in the summer and have openings every two weeks. I asked for donations in different categories from $10 to $100. I spent almost ten years running that gallery and also started a small magazine that was funded by local ads, which I secured myself.

Neither of those businesses made a lot of money, but it was enough to survive on, travel a bit, and I learned a lot about what it looks like from the gallery end. I saw many artists submitting their work along with their art statement. What I found was that I tended to only show people I knew and rarely anything from images I was receiving from artists. It was not that I didn’t want to show the work of artists I didn’t know, but it was easier to work with people I knew. That taught me a lot!

The images I was getting from artists looked very good at times, but usually the artist’s statement that came with it was awful. I would look at work I liked and, when I read the statement, often felt the opposite. The artist statement had a way of undermining some of the best work I saw. However, with friends and people that came by, it became personal right away. They would tell me about who they were and showed me their work, and if I liked them and their work, I would give them a show! What that experience taught me was that it is all very personal. As people, we respond to others who make us feel comfortable or happy or angry and uncomfortable. If I want to work with someone, it is not only because I think their work is good, it is because I like the person and feel that I can trust them and work with them easily. That was the key I never understood. It wasn’t about the art entirely, it was about a good working relationship.

Eventually, I left Block Island and closed the businesses, not because I didn’t enjoy it there, but because I wanted to go to New York and pursue the art world. You see, on a small island or probably any small community, there is a wonderful feeling that you know everyone in the town. However, I found that it was creatively constricting and claustrophobic. I was making art all the time and having a show a year in my own gallery, and I felt I wanted much more. I imagined that I would do some kind of performance in my gallery, but I quickly nixed that idea when I realized it would not be received well by this conservative New England community.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 89 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Getting into the Whitney Biennial

Chapter 2

Getting into the Whitney Biennial

When my wife and I got into the Whitney Biennial in 2002, it was a turning point in my career. The Whitney Biennial is a show of mythic proportions. Besides the Venice Biennial, it is one of the most coveted shows for artists for several reasons. Besides its fame and notoriety and the overwhelming amount of press it usually gets, the Whitney Biennial is a show that attempts to bring together the best or most interesting works by American artists (and often international as well) that are living today. Which means that if you are a young artist in the Biennial, you will see your work hung next to others who are already major figures in the art world. Also, there is always an element of surprise about who gets in, and it is almost always controversial, which is always a big help when it comes to press! When the curator invited me and my wife to be in the Biennial, she said, “This is the story every artist wants to hear.” I am telling you this story because it tells the tale of how a relatively unknown artist who had no gallery representation or major shows got into the Biennial by asking.

What do you do?

My Story

On January 1, 2001, my son was born in a birthing center on Fourteenth Street in New York City. I was very happy about this, but also my perspective on the future changed instantly. Now instead of just paying the bills and wanting to get by, I had to think about the future, a savings account, my son’s education, and more. I had one great fear at the time. I was afraid that I was going to have to get a regular job, like teaching full-time, and that I would never make art again. The idea of spending most of my life doing something I hated was an awful thought. And for me, what added to this looming dark future was that I would be a model of compromise for my child. I would be showing him that you have to do something you do not like in order to pay the bills, and more directly, to pay for him! The thought of communicating that to a child, the idea that his parents are compromised because of him, was dreadful. What would that teach him in the end? Certainly not to follow your desires, but to pay your bills by taking a job that you do not like because your real passion is not financially feasible.

Within that first month of his birth, I made no art, which only increased my anxiety. I knew I had to do something, and what I wanted was to be in the Whitney Biennial. But before I explain what I did, let me explain briefly what I did to arrive in this position.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 88 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / External Judgments

External Judgments

Often, artists want to hear from someone else that they are talented or that their art is of value. This is almost like asking someone, “Am I attractive?” It is awkward and very subjective. If we take the example of wanting to know if you are an attractive person or not, it will help to understand this difficult question. What makes a person attractive? Besides the cultural implications of where you live and what the standards for beauty are in your community, there are several issues that make you pretty, handsome, or attractive. First, there is how you physically look and dress. That is what people first see, and it makes an impression. If you use an online dating service, you can usually see a picture of the person that tells a bit about who they are. However, the description of who they are and what they like is essential, so if we like the image slightly, we read the description of the person we are considering dating. This description is akin to an artist’s statement or the artist’s story, but we will get to that in a minute.

After looking at a person’s picture, we read about their interests, and either we want to know more or we do not. That means that how people describe themselves plays an important role in what we think of them. In fact, in the example of online dating, it makes all the difference.

With art, it is not so different. You want to know if your art is good or not, and perhaps beyond that, you wonder if your art has a place in the historical narrative of art.

To begin with, how you present yourself and your art will make all the difference. If you perceive yourself as a professional and act that way, you will be treated accordingly. Unfortunately, it is not solely based on your art, because everyone needs to know more, just like dating. This is where an artist’s statement comes in, or some kind of text that helps people to understand your work. That means being able to not just describe what it is you are doing, but also to make your text engaging and inter- esting, maybe even humorous. Again, the dating analogy holds, because you do not want to write a boring description of who you are; you want to say something that will pique the reader’s interest right away.

Consider for the moment the statement of the well-known painter Marlene Dumas, who uses the line “I paint because I am a dirty woman.” That is simple yet provocative. If she wrote her statement like many people, it would sound like this excerpt on her from Wikipedia:

Stressing both the physical reality of the human body and its psychological value, Dumas tends to paint her subjects at the extreme fringes of life’s cycle, from birth to death, with a continual emphasis on classical modes of representation in Western art, such as the nude or the funerary portrait. By working within and also transgressing these traditional historical antecedents, Dumas uses the human figure as a means to critique contemporary ideas of racial, sexual, and social identity.

That also sounds interesting, but her shorter version is less stuffy and makes you smile. We will be talking more about putting together your artist’s statement in chapter 5, but for now, it is enough to understand that there is no standard for beauty in art. There are many things that affect this situation, including how the work is described and presented.

Leaving the Question Aside

For the time being, I suggest you leave the question aside as to whether your art is worthy or good or exceptional or if you are talented. There are numerous historical examples of artists whose work was not recognized in their time, and after death, it found its way into museums. Van Gogh is certainly one example, but there are many others, and what about the artists whose work didn’t survive after the artist died? Could there have been extraordinary artists that we have never heard of whose works have perished? Absolutely. It is tragic, but it is also all too common. So rather than think about whether or not your work is good enough for a museum, concentrate on how you are presenting your work. The more time you spend in the studio making art, the more time you spend looking at your work, writing about it, and showing it to others, the more you will feel that you are getting better all the time and that your work as well as yourself are valuable and of quality.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 87 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Ego and Generosity

Ego and Generosity

The artist’s ego has a history. In movies and books, we often see the cliché of the artist as self-involved, egotistical, and blind to others’ needs. In some forms, this can be charming, but it can also be offensive. Since we have already talked about building your confidence and self-worth a bit, it is time to examine where you will go with it, and when to use checks and balances.

When I first owned a gallery, I was visiting an artist’s studio, which was a total mess of paint cans all over the floor and piles of work on paper. I wasn’t sure where to look or what to say about the artist’s work. Then she brought me over to a pile of drawings, many of which had newspaper pages sandwiched between them. She began looking through them and then stopped without showing me the drawing and stepped back. The artist said to me, “Oh, this is a wonderful painting [and in hushed tones], yes, this is really a great piece.” Then she carefully pulled out the drawing on paper with great reverence and turned it over as she herself seemed to be taken aback at its beauty. The drawing, which I now own, was a large splotch of brown. It looked like brown paint was poured on the paper and ran off in small rivulets, leaving a large brown spot and small drips running off the edge. I had no idea what to say when I saw the drawing. I didn’t think it was extraordinary at all and might have passed it by if I were looking at several works together.

But the way the artist treated this work and the pride she had in showing it to me made me reconsider. After all, if she thinks it is so amazing, I wondered, what is it that she does see in it? I was drawn in and looking for an answer, which I didn’t find right away. Her ego and sense of self were charming in this scenario. However, the artist who is always talking and never stops to listen wears out the welcome mat much sooner.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.