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.


Episode 81 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / How It Was Done, DIY Style

How It Was Done, DIY Style

His story begins with him putting up posters of his artwork, in a graffiti style, all over Los Angeles in 2007. That was the beginning of his marketing, you could say, for his exhibit. In 2008, he rented an abandoned building, the former CBS Studios in Los Angeles, California, and decided to stage his own show there. He worked tirelessly to fill the space, hiring other artists to do much of the work for him. Like Andy Warhol, he made prints as well as paintings and created portraits of numerous famous pop figures. He also created sculptures and installations. He hired other artists to make most of it for him.

He oversaw the entire process, but to make enough work to fill the gigantic building he was in, he needed people to manufacture and create new designs for paintings. He did this entire production by himself; that is, he had no gallery dealer or representative, just employees. It was, as the press called it, a DIY show, a do-it-yourself exhibit. He must have spent a great sum making all this happen, and has said that he asked people to purchase works in advance to finance much of it. He did hire a curator to help him, the same one that produced the Banksy show a few years earlier.

As a promotion, he said he was going to give away two hundred prints to the first two hundred people that came to the opening. That night, an estimated seven thousand people came to his opening. He sold almost a million dollars’ worth of art! And in one bold stroke, the art world knew his name. To this day, the art world continues to dislike him because he did not travel through the usual channels of the art world; he did it in his own way, on his own terms. And in my book, that is just fine because he is prospering off his work, doing what he wants, and like Damien Hirst, he is challenging the so-called rules of the art world.

When I want a show, I ask for it. When I want money, I ask for it.

Since that show, he opened a similar one in New York in an abandoned warehouse. In New York, the show was also mobbed, and he gave away hundreds of posters and sold work as well. This is a wonderful example of how an artist can not only work outside of the gallery system, but can create their own mystique, marketing, and sales on their own. Is his art good, and is he talented? In this case, as with the others, that is not the issue for me to decide. Because if he is talented or not, he is making it in the art world in a big way. Selling work at major auctions is the ultimate goal of being recognized in the art market. When we examine an artist like this, for the purposes of this book, we are not determining if this is good or bad art; we are looking at his techniques for earning a living and becoming well-known in the world of art.

Part of his initial success was due to his having mounted a show that was so large (over 125,000 square feet) and also to his status as an unknown artist. When you do something on a scale that is record-breaking, the press pays attention. It is a technique used by many promoters and was one of the elements brought into play for this show. He also asked for the help of other people who had organized events in the past. Besides being a driven, obsessive artist, he was also getting all the help he needed. The movie that I previously mentioned, Exit Through the Gift Shop, is a must-see for readers of this book. You will see more details of his story and will probably find it quite inspiring. As with Banksy and Damien Hirst, Mr. Brainwash took the idea of an independent warehouse show to a new level. He was bold and brave enough to believe in what he was doing, and took it one step further than most by making it on a scale that most never imagine doing.

There are many lessons to take from this artist, but I think the most important is that this is a way of working, a way of making it, that is new to the art world. No one had ever seen an artist rise this high and this fast, especially in this manner, separated from the art institutions that are normally the stepping-stones to success.

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 80 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Mr. Brainwash, Born Thierry Guetta in France

Mr. Brainwash, Born Thierry Guetta in France

This is the story of an artist who has done something extraordinary in the past four years. He began making art in 2008 as a total unknown, and was not represented by a gallery. Two years later, in May 2010, his work had already been sold at auction for over $100,000. The art world loves to hate him, and he gets tossed aside by bloggers and the press on a regular basis. He began his career as a filmmaker, but that is a stretch because he was using a video camera and never actually made a finished film. However, he was making a documentary movie on artists who work in the streets, using stencils, spray paint, and sometimes sculptural elements to place their art illegally all over cities. They were graffiti artists in essence, but he ended up profiling some very important figures in that scene, such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy.

On artnet, a website that tracks auction results, this is the information they have on Mr. Brainwash for a biography and career history:

Mr Brainwash
2000—Started his career as a French documentary filmmaker Born
Thierry Guetta in France
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA Selected Exhibitions
2010—ICONS: Part One, Meat Packing District, New York, NY (solo) 
2009—Worlds on Fire, Pacific Electric Lofts’ Building, Los Angeles, CA
2008—Life is Beautiful, former CBS Studios, Los Angeles, CA (solo)

That is all they have for him. And in December 2010, he was in Miami for the prestigious Art Basel Fair and rented a large warehouse space to have another huge self-created solo show in an abandoned warehouse.

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 79 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling What You Can’t Document

Selling What You Can’t Document

His work could be called performance art. It looks and feels like performance art when you see it, and it certainly isn’t a painting or sculpture. It is necessary to have live performers whenever his work is shown. He is the first artist in the performance art world to make significant sums of money from his work; in fact, he is the only one of the performance artists to make money from his work. There were many other quite famous performance artists who were jealous of his success and frustrated by it, because they never found a way to market their own work.

The key to what Tino Sehgal did was to address the issue of collecting his art directly, because your art cannot be in the marketplace if it is not collected. Let’s take this situation apart for a moment, because as poetic as some of Sehgal’s work is, how the system of the art world consumes it is very important.

The people who buy art for personal collections and for investment are not only wealthy, but they speak the language of business all the time. Since they probably accumulated their wealth through hedge funds, private banking, stocks, etc., they are very familiar with the language of money, and in fact, it is their passion. So when a dealer and an artist explain to a potential wealthy collector that upon buying the work, there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue, and no pictures, it begs the very interesting question of “Then how do I buy it and show it in my home?” At that point, they are already engaged. Brilliant! They have never heard of a sale like this before, and they want to know more. What they end up finding out is that the artist tells them verbally what to do, and they have to stage the performance themselves with actors in their home. Because this is such an unusual way to buy work, it generates interest in people who collect and are fascinated by the language of money themselves. Museums can buy and loan the work; it can also be resold, and that is what makes it part of the market. It is also what makes it unlike anything a collector has heard about before.

Sol LeWitt also had a process similar to this. He would sell instructions to make a drawing or mural on a wall. The collector bought the instructions and could have Sol LeWitt’s team of painters execute the drawing on the wall of their choice. The artwork could also be moved by erasing or destroying the wall mural and making it again in another place. Furthermore, LeWitt’s work could be loaned to museums in the same manner. Tino Sehgal is taking a page from LeWitt’s book here by making a sale in a manner that is itself not only creative but very savvy, because the collector is engaged largely in a conversation about how the work itself is purchased, and that is an interesting conversation for collectors. Also, the public and the art world became amazed that he rose so quickly to such heights but also that he was selling his work, which to most people seemed like performance art, and previously no one had sold work in that genre for so much or in such a fashion. As of the writing of this book, in January 2011, Tino Sehgal has not sold any of his art at auctions, but he has sold work to museums and collectors.

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 78 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Tino Sehgal

Tino Sehgal

Tino Sehgal is a high-profile artist who recently had a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum. I want to talk about him because he has approached the sale of works in a way that in itself is quite new to the art world and, I believe, is one of the reasons for his success. It is also something you can adopt or use to stoke your own creative approach no matter what level you are currently at in your career.

Tino Sehgal creates what he calls “constructed situations” in which one or more people are performing instructions created by the artist. That means, much like a theatre director, he tells a group of people that he hires to have conversations based on a theme of some kind. In the show at the Guggenheim, you never see the artist, there is no art on the walls, and when you walk in, a small child asks you what you think the word “progress” means. You begin to have a conversation with that person and then you are led to another person who continues the conversation until you reach the end of the ramp at the museum. What the artist has done is train all the actors, so to speak, to ask certain questions to the audience members.

The reason I am using this artist as an example of a new method for selling your work is this: on the sale of his work, he stipulates that there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue, and no pictures. That’s right, he sells his work so that you could, in fact, buy one of these pieces, but there is nothing physical to own, not even a receipt. During the show, there was another piece of his, which was a couple kissing endlessly on the floor of the museum. The two people kissing would do so for two hours at a time, and then the actors were changed. The remarkable thing to me is that the kissing couple piece was owned by MoMA and lent to the Guggenheim for this show! So what I want to examine here is how he sold the work and why it is significant and also important to your process.

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 77 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Banksy Lesson

The Banksy Lesson

The lesson and perhaps inspiration to take from Banksy is that he is playing by his own rules. Like other graffiti artists, he paints on the street, but unlike other artists, he has consciously created his own mystique. By remaining anonymous, he continues to engage the public in a guessing game. Also, his content is often touching on issues of social and political injustice, and this is something that many people can respond to. Rather than have images that are decorative, his work is engaging the viewer and asking them to use their minds and agree with him or not. That is a provocative idea that brings the viewer into his fold.

The latest effort in marketing himself was quite brilliant. In his 2010 film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I strongly recommend seeing, he cleverly uses another filmmaker’s footage of him and other street artists to document the whole genre of street-art painting. But he also skewers the art world by presenting an artist that had never had a show before, who calls himself Mr. Brainwash, and is a total unknown. Like Banksy and Hirst, he had a warehouse-type opening that was a success. He is profiled later in this chapter.

The method of Banksy and other artists who mount their own shows in abandoned warehouses is becoming more popular, and it is one of the new methods that you should consider. You can remake the idea in any way you wish, but in this economy, there are more empty spaces than ever, and it is worth considering. You don’t have to mount a giant solo show; a group show in an empty commercial space can work even better because all the artists will have their own mailing list, and it can generate even more traffic that way.

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 76 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Banksy


Banksy is also an artist from England who began as a graffiti artist. Because he decided to remain anonymous as the artist, it was a move that got him more and more press because everyone was so curious. He would make his own framed paintings and walk into museums and hang them on the wall with double-stick tape and leave. As an artist who wants to exhibit and show the world his work, he found a way. But he kept pushing the boundaries of what and how he could do it. Like graffiti artists before him, he plastered his images all over cities, and all illegally, of course.

The content of his work was often political, and that also got people’s attention. The press loves new photos, and he gave them plenty of photo opportunities by placing his images everywhere for them to see. He used stencils and spray paint so that he could make images quickly and move on.

His great achievement was to protect his anonymity fiercely. In a terrific marketing ploy, he remained anonymous and created a mystique about himself that way. Everyone saw his images around the city and wondered who he was. The more people asked, the less they found, and this only added to his notoriety. Then in 2005, Banksy had a show in an abandoned warehouse in Los Angeles, which he elaborately staged with the help of a curator he hired. He put a real elephant in the room that he hand-painted with nontoxic paint. This was the show that not only brought in a huge amount of people, but also press as well. Celebrities came to the show, bought work, and that was his big start. Not long after, his work was being sold at auction houses. Does this story sound familiar? In the tradition of Damien Hirst and others, he started by creating a show outside of a gallery, in a warehouse. The content was very different though; his work is antiestablishment, antigovernment, and anticapitalist. However, his ability to market himself to the capitalist system is very effective.

By painting his artwork all over city walls and streets, he is getting tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising—for free! There are lots of books on how to market your work and use social networking platforms, but Banksy is getting tremendous visibility with a very different method. This is not unlike what Keith Haring, another graffiti artist, did in the 1980s, before the Internet boom. He put his work on walls all over the city, gave out buttons and stickers, and relentlessly promoted himself.

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 75 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Damien Hirst / Style Marketing

Damien Hirst–Style Marketing

Damien Hirst is another example of high-end marketing, and at the moment, he is one of Britain’s wealthiest artists. He began right out of college to stage shows of his own. Curating ware- house shows in available buildings with his own work, as well as the work of many friends, he began getting collectors to follow and buy his work.

His earliest collector was Charles Saatchi, who helped to propel many careers by buying artwork and getting his collection exhibited.

Hirst is one of the savviest artists in terms of business deals. In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s auction house and bypassing his long- standing gallerist. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising almost $200 million, breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with $18 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with eighteen-carat gold horns and hooves preserved in formaldehyde. The idea of an artist bypassing his dealer and going straight to auction was unheard of, and totally new. He cut his dealer out of almost $100 million! Everyone doesn’t need or want to be Damien Hirst, but it is important to understand what he has done. Like other artists I will discuss, he is able to change the rules of the game a little bit, and that is something artists can do no matter where they are in their careers.

How do I get my big break


For the Love of God

Damien Hirst also created a now-famous work of a skull covered with diamonds called For the Love of God. He said it would be the most expensive artwork ever sold. He thought it would sell for about $100 million. In fact, it never did sell for $100 million, but he received tremendous worldwide press for saying he would try to sell it for that much. It is an age-old technique of announcing you are going to break a record of some kind. Donald Trump, the developer, has used a similar technique, saying he is about to build the tallest building in the world, and even if he doesn’t build it, he will get press attention for that claim.

Damien Hirst was using the same public relations model by claiming he would sell his diamond-encrusted skull for $100 million. In fact, he didn’t sell the skull for $100 million, but he had a very savvy backup plan. He put together a group of investors, of which he was one, and sold the work for $76 million dollars to the group. Does that give you any idea? He is often criticized as a model of excess, and he may deserve that, but he is also offering new ways for living artists to make much more money off their work than anyone previously thought possible.

He has ushered in a new era where the marketing of the art is part of the art itself. When the diamond-encrusted skull was exhibited in London, the setup for viewing it was an artwork in itself. It was exhibited in a small gallery that had several security guards looking very ominous. The room of the skull was in was almost completely dark, and there was a long line waiting to get in. Once you were in the gallery, you had a very short time to see the skull because you were moved through rather quickly.

The problem was that your eyes didn’t have enough time to adjust to the darkness in the room, so just as you were starting to see the skull on the way out, the angle of the light caused a spectrum of colors to come out of it, and then you were outside. It was an incredible scene. You could barely see it, and once you did, it was all colors and reflection, and you couldn’t make out too much. The end result was like a vision or a dream of some kind. The press loved this and so did the people lining the block to see it. If nothing else, Hirst is an example of how far you can go in being creative and caring for every aspect of your work, including his exhibition and how it is seen and perceived. He has opened the door for artists to be creative in similar ways. It is notable that his work is fetching such high prices that most museums cannot afford it. However, his ideas of being creative in your approach can apply to any artist.

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 74 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Out a High-Profile Gallery Show

Selling Out a High-Profile Gallery Show

One traditional model is a gallery show that sells out. A friend, Ellen Gallagher, is an example of this tactic. After being in the Whitney Biennial, Mary Boone asked her to have an exhibit. At that exhibit, huge paintings that were often eight by ten feet in size were all sold for about $10,000 each. That began her career and created value. But there were other factors. Ellen Gallagher had a story and a way of describing her work that appealed to art buyers and gallerists. Ellen Gallagher is biracial and has very dark skin. Her work looks minimal, and in the beginning, it looked a bit like Agnes Martin’s work from a distance, with fine lines often making a delicate grid that looked like lined paper.

How did she talk about her work, and how was it sold? In her work, there is a language of her own that she has embedded into the lines. If you look closely, you see eyes, lips, and other forms that look like doodles, and together, they make up the lines in her work. All those tiny images have meaning that is social and political in content. They are about the history of the African American experience, from minstrels to riffing on the clichés that are often derogatory. Her work has a wonderful aesthetic to it because from a distance you see this beautiful canvas of lines, and up close, you see a personal history about the black struggle in America. As an artist and human being, Ellen is very easy to talk to and is approachable. She speaks well, refers to historical examples easily and, as a black woman, is a representative of the achievements that African Americans have made in the United States in the visual arts.

In summary, what gave her work real value was a show with Mary Boone with low-priced paintings that sold and, more importantly, a way to discuss her work that revealed its inner workings. She was able to tell an engaging story with her work that taught all the viewers something about her experience as a biracial woman in America. That was a story that writers could easily write about and that gallerists could use to sell her work. While this is all marketing techniques, it should be mentioned that, at a distance, her work was very minimal and often calming in contrast to its close-up content. Her work is and was beautiful and delicate and yet had a more intellectually confronting aspect upon closer inspection. To many, this story may seem like winning the lottery, and it is true that luck played a role here, but also her story and images worked very well together, so that the system could easily consume and digest her work.

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.