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.


Episode 86 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Faking It

Faking It

Each thing you do to get your work out there is another step to build your sense of worth about who you are and what you have to offer. Another way to look at the issue of confidence is to begin by faking it. We have all been to interviews or situations where we were being evaluated, and rather than have the sense of self necessary to master the situation, we can get through it by acting as though we are calm and collected, even when we aren’t. When you are asked in a job interview if you can handle the job and if you have doubts about your abilities, what are you going to say? It is the same with your artwork, only the situation is a bit more tricky because you made the work yourself and have a very personal relationship to it. Therefore your approach has to be careful and planned.

Sometimes it is nice to see what it feels like on the other side for just a moment, so here is one exercise I like to do. Wherever you are, dress conservatively and go to a gallery that is the largest you know and preferably the most intimidating. Once you are at the gallery, look around at the artwork there and ask to speak to someone about it. Either a gallery employee or the owner will come out. They have no idea how much money you have, so ask the person approaching you to tell you more about the piece of art you are looking at. What you will hear and see is the selling of an artwork. And since you are perceived as a possible collector, they will do their best to sell you the work. The advantage to this is twofold. On one hand, you get to be the person in power, the collector, and on the other, you can watch as the gallery owner tries to sell your work.

The insight that you can gain here from listening is how they describe the art and what they do to try and sell the work. Pay careful attention because this is how the gallery owner likes to hear about work. You will learn how to describe and talk about art in terms of its value. Be sure to ask questions, such as, “Has the artist sold many of the works in this show?” or, “Why is the work valued at that price?” This can be fun and very educational. It could even start a new career for you as an art buyer for collectors.

However, for the purpose of this chapter, it is also about building confidence and getting out into the world of galleries without having to feel as though you are ready for it.

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 85 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Confidence and Why It Matters

Confidence and Why It Matters

The role of confidence in your art-making is one of the corner- stones of being a professional. If you can’t find a way to become confident about what you do, it will translate that way to the buying public. The first step to take, or acknowledge, is that you have something to say, a desire to share your work with the world. After asking yourself this question, “Do I have something worth sharing?” think carefully about your answer. Perhaps you are not sure, or maybe you do think you might have something worth sharing. Take your time with this question, because if you look over all the reasons you have to be an artist, one of them is surely that you have something to offer the world that is yours alone.

Art should be fun

Often when I am working with artists as a mentor, this is the biggest issue. Confidence is often something that is built up slowly, and deliberately. One woman I worked with didn’t show her work in almost ten years, and she was in her fifties, trying to sell work again. To build her confidence, she began applying to juried shows that you will see on lists like artdeadlines.com. They are not too difficult to get into and often cost you money, and may not be the best shows, but they build confidence because you will be accepted into many of them.

Then she went to the local council on the arts and found out about other shows in her area that were juried and began applying to all of them. Soon she got into a local show, not at a gallery, but a center for the arts or a library. It may not seem like a big show, but it built her confidence, and she was able to move on. One of the most important issues is how you communicate what it is you do and what kind of work you do. It is this that builds confidence, if you can answer that quickly and with a sense of enthusiasm.

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 84 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Art Online

Selling Art Online

There is an artist called The Me Nobody Knows or TMNK who sells his painting on the streets of the city and also on the Internet. He is always near his paintings and has made his living by selling work that is generally under $500, but sometimes more. He is also actively selling his work on eBay, and there, he shows images of himself selling work on the street, and the fact that he is auctioning his own work on eBay makes sense in this context. He is an outsider, generating his own sales on his own terms, and we buy it because it is working and he is a professional. What makes him professional is his consistency. He continues to exhibit his work, and has built a website that promotes his paintings and prints and drives people to eBay. The mystique that he cultivates is that he is a nobody and makes his art in relative obscurity. Of course, he has become just the opposite, but by building that mystique—of a nobody—he is able to play the card of the artist cliché and lead others to believe that he labors in obscurity, which helps to sell his work to the public.

Another example is Abbey Ryan, an artist who sells a painting a day on eBay and earns almost $100,000 a year from it. She has a blog, a website, and has created a way to remain in the studio all day and make a living at it. She was written about in business blogger Seth Godin’s book Linchpin as an example of a businesswoman cutting out the middleman and bringing her work straight to market.

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 83 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Work on the Streets

Selling Work on the Streets

We could begin with artists who sell work on the street. This may not be for you, but consider it for a moment. In New York City and many other cities and towns, artists set up small tables on the street and sell their work. The more savvy artists that have been there for a while are selling matted photographs or prints of some kind in the range of $15 or two for $25.

The artists who are selling on the street are able to get a license to do so fairly easily because they are selling their own art, which is allowed in New York and many other cities. Of course, many artists set up with no license at all.

Nevertheless, this is a valid system of making a real business outside the traditional art market. The artists that are doing very well on the street are selling inexpensive matted prints, but also they are usually hiring others to do it for them, thus increasing how much they earn. It is a fairly simple business plan. If matted prints of your work (which means common color copies or some- thing as inexpensive) cost you about $4 each to make, then you could give someone $2 for every print they sell. So if they are making $4 for selling two prints at $25, you are making $17 on each sale without being there. Not too bad, is it? You could also sell matted prints to boutiques or small stores at wholesale for $8 each. You make $4 with every sale. I am outlining this simple business model because to most readers, this may seem like the least attractive way to sell art, but it is also an easy way to see how sales and profits are made. I have seen artists do street sales on many levels, and it is helpful to discuss because it is such an entrepreneurial venture and the model can be adjusted in all types of ways.

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 82 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Outsider, or the Self-Taught, Folk Artist

The Outsider, or the Self-Taught, Folk Artist

The outsider artist has many definitions, but for the purpose of this chapter, I will consider an outsider someone who may or may not have gone to art school but, in general, an artist who feels they are not “inside” the system as in a traditional gallery. But I will also use it to mean any artist that feels “out of the loop” or somehow apart from what they believe most other artists are connected to. The artist I just wrote about, Mr. Brainwash, would be an outsider in these terms.

Outsider artists are usually considered to be folk artists, that is, artists with little information about the history of art and their place in it. So please understand that while there is overlap in these categories, I am referring to artists who feel like they are “outside” the system of the art market and exhibitions, and want a way in.

Most likely you fit into this category; I know I always have. I did go to art school, but from the start, I wanted to work outside the art world system, partially because I had no idea of how to get on the inside of the art world. When I would ask people how to become part of the club of artists working professionally, I got some odd answers. One of the most interesting was from a friend who said, “Brainard, in order to be on the inside, you have to be on the inside.” At first that was annoying to hear, but after a while, something sunk in. I saw myself as always outside of something, and in order to think the opposite, I would have to feel like I was already there, already on the inside. Ironically, one way to do that is to simply recognize that as an outsider artist or one that feels like it, you are exactly the kind of artist that people on the inside of the art world are looking for, something new, something fresh.

But let’s look more at this label with a specific definition, like selling work on the streets. To begin with, it means that you have fewer rules to think about. As an outsider or someone who just feels that way, you can argue to yourself that you are creating work independent of any trends, and because of that, you are not compared to others unless you choose to be. Yet there is even something more freeing about this idea, because as an outsider, you can also create any strategy you like, and since you have no set of rules, it is a wide-open arena.

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.