Episode 97 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Preparing for a Meeting with a Curator

Preparing for a Meeting with a Curator

The idea is to get a meeting with a curator, any curator at the museum, and this is what you will do once you get the meeting.

You will prepare yourself for the meeting in the following ways:

  1. Bring a printed image, not a laptop with pictures on it, but a printed image and preferably less than ten, on eight-by-ten sheets of glossy paper (or a similar size). They can be print-outs from your computer, but keep everything very neat and organized. Do not bring original work or anything that is awkward. The idea of this meeting isn’t to evaluate you or your art, but to make a proposal.
  2. Decide what you are going to ask the curator. Yes, you are going to ask them a question, because if you don’t ask them something, you will have a pleasant meeting that will end with the curator saying, “Thank you and let’s keep in touch,” and you do not want that! You want something more valuable from the curator, which is a reference. But what will you ask? What will you propose? This is the fun and creative part. It depends on your medium, of course, but think about how you would like a show of your work to look. How many pieces would you put in that show? Will the show have a message? Is that message political, personal, spiritual, or something else? When talking to a curator, it is easiest to talk about ideas, because quite honestly, talking about art is difficult. It is usually difficult for the artist as well as for the person viewing the art, so talk about ideas.

It’s about Ideas

Make your idea succinct and understandable. Perhaps you are telling them you want to have a show of paintings or sculpture or something else. Say exactly how the show would be put together and why it will be exciting. Tell them why you think the show is important. You should be able to say all that in less than one minute. Then wait for the curator to respond with something like, “Oh, that is interesting.” Then tell them that you want to present this show, do they know of any venues that might be appropriate for it? Wait for an answer; do not jump in with nervous talking. This method gets the curator off the hook from having to talk about their museum, and most likely there is little they can do for you there. However, they know other people that may be able to help you, and they might say something like, “Oh, you should talk to X, that gallery might like it, and also X, because that is a space that encourages dialogue,” or they might even say, “So-and-so at this museum might be interested.” Whatever their answer is, explore it a little, ask more questions if you don’t understand something they say, and take notes! Then thank them and leave.

The Pen is Mighty

When you get home, write them a brief thank-you note. That is the way I got a solo show at the Whitney Museum, which I will go into detail on in chapter 8. I made an appointment with a curator I did not know, and I did not bring in any images at all. I described three ideas to the curator, and she told me two places for the first two, and for the third, she suggested another curator at the museum! It is really that simple if you just make the meeting and think of something to say. We are all interested in ideas, and especially when the person talking about the idea is enthusiastic and positive. When I talk about ideas to a curator, I am very excited about it, like I was as a child getting a new toy that I always wanted for my birthday. People are very attracted to others who are sincerely excited and happy about a creative project; it is the life force we all desire and live for.

We have covered how to present your work to a museum, either for review (if they have a policy for that), or by talking to a curator about your ideas. Presenting your work in these cases is fairly straightforward, with the exception of talking to a curator, which is more creative and personal.

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.

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