Episode 153 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Curator Writes Back

The Curator Writes Back

After I sent in that email, I got an email back that said the curator wanted to meet me and my wife and talk about what we had planned. We were extremely excited about this meeting. We knew there would be several people there, the original person we met as well as the main curator we wanted to meet and prob- ably a few assistants. To prepare for the meeting, my wife and I talked about what we wanted to do. However, we were not exactly sure what we wanted to do yet. We knew it would take much more time than we had until the meeting to plan the show. What we did do was to make one image that we would bring to the meeting. It was a very simple image of the doors that led into the space we might use, and it had the name of the museum above those doors. Then, in a very simplistic way, we printed out an image from a movie, I think it was an old classic with Cary Grant, and I physically cut that image to a size that could be pasted over the picture of the door. The effect was that it looked a bit like the image was projected on the doors. This was not done with Photoshop; it was a real cut-and-paste. The image itself didn’t say a lot, but it was the one piece of paper that we brought with us.

The Second Meeting

At the meeting in the museum, we were at a round table with two curators and three assistants. The top curator asked us what it was we were thinking about. We began saying that we wanted to create a space where people walked in and were able to step through the sculptures and the effect would be dreamy. We used a lot of adjectives and talked more about the experience of the viewer and less about what we were doing precisely. We showed our eight-by-ten piece of paper with the picture of the museum doors and the image pasted on top of it. We explained it would feel like walking through an image, or at least through doors with an image on them. The image was passed around, and everyone commented on it, saying that it looked very interesting. Of course the whole idea was still just being formed, so they were reacting to an idea of what it might be, not any images of the art itself. They didn’t see the sculptures we were going to make, and we couldn’t provide many more details.

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 152 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Last Question

The Last Question

Then came the very last proposal and question. I told the curator that we wanted to do a large-scale exhibition with sculptures as well as sets that enable the viewer to enter into the space and have a new experience. While I was saying all this, I was enthusiastic and excited about what I was saying, and I also kept my thoughts and ideas brief, under three minutes each, usually less. After describing the last idea, which I was most excited about because of the scale and size of it, she knew what I would ask next and said, “Oh, Shamim might like that project and the museum has a large, six-thousand-square-foot space that could accommodate that.” Of course I was thrilled at this suggestion, and I said, “Yes, that sounds perfect,” to which she replied, “I could just tell her [Shamim, the curator], or do you want to send me something?” This was an interesting point in the conversation and very telling about how I presented all this. She was saying she had enough information to pass on this idea to another curator without having any more information from me. That meant that my pitch to her was succinct enough that she could remember it. That is one of the keys to getting quick results. Be clear, be compelling, and also make it short enough to remember. My answer to her was that I would send her an email when I got home about the show that she could pass on to the curator.

Following Up

Before I explain what I sent to her when I got home, let’s look at the big picture. If I had started right off with something direct, like, “I want to meet X, can you help me to meet her?” or if I had started right off with the big project, I may not have gotten the results I was after. But by starting small and being brief, I not only worked my way up, but the situation also became more relaxed as we became more comfortable with each other. When I got home, I wanted to send her something that she would then pass on to the curator I was interested in. Rather than send her links to images or a website or anything else, I sent her a simple text. I made two separate texts. The first I called “Brief Summary of the Praxis Project,” and in one paragraph, I described what it was. I wrote that paragraph as if it were a listing in the newspaper. By that, I mean I wrote it in third person and I described it in a way that made it sound like something interesting to go see.

That is the challenge that journalists have when summing up shows for the listing section. How do you make a listing seem compelling enough to make someone want to go there? In this case, I was fairly straightforward and just described it as though it were already happening. I titled this short text “Brief Summary of Exhibition.”

It read like this: “The artistic collaborative of Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo creates a sculptural installation so large you can walk into what feels like a Felliniesque set, complete with sculptural elements and a movie. The result is like a surrealistic amusement park for adults.” That was the brief description. Then below that I added another description that I titled “Extended Summary of Exhibition.” In that summary, I added more details to make it exciting, but never got too specific, partially because it hadn’t been done yet, and I wasn’t sure what we would do exactly.

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 151 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Prepare for the Meeting

Prepare for the Meeting

When we had our meeting with the curator, my wife and I prepared ourselves by coming up with three exhibits we would like to have—that is, three different ideas, on different scales. One was small, one was a bit bigger, and the third idea was huge, and that is the one we wanted to do most with one of the top curators there at the time. This is a strategy you could adopt no matter what your medium is. If you are a painter, and you want to have an exhibit, think of three different ways to exhibit your work. For example, you could hang one painting only that is large and stands on its own. Your second idea could be to hang three to five paintings that are based on a theme, perhaps a theme of color or other elements. Your third idea might be to have a show of twelve paintings that need a room of their own, because they tell a story or are a meditative series or have an idea behind all of them. That is what my wife and I did when we met the curator. The first thing she asked was, “So what are you working on?” We had our answers to that question prepared. We began by saying that there was a small project involving a few new works that we needed a space for.

Asking the Question

And when I finished talking about it, I ended by saying, “Do you know of a venue where a show like that would be appropriate?” She paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, you should try X, they are wonderful people there, and this might fit.” You see what happened? I did not ask her for a show, I paused, and I asked her if she knew of a venue to show this work. If you do not ask a question, you won’t get an answer. Also, by asking her if she knows of a place outside of the museum we are in, I do not back her into a corner, and she can tell me what she knows. This is a very important point because if I had just asked her if I can I have the show here at the Whitney Museum, that would create an awkward situation, because for one, she might not be in a position to give me a show, and two, even if she were, that is a bit too direct in my book and runs the risk of making her feel pressured. On the other hand, to ask her advice opens the door to any connections she might have in a comfortable way.

After she told my wife and me of a few places, we told her about another idea. Now remember, we had thought about all this in advance, and we are not showing her images, just telling her about three ideas for exhibits. Then we move on to tell her about another idea, and ask her the same question after we finish: “Do you know what might be a good venue for that?” She tells us of another place, and I take notes by hand at the table where we are sitting.

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 126 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Fact-Finding


However, parts of this story were probably made up. Apparently, research shows there were no tartars in that area at that time. And furthermore, eyewitnesses say the pilot died shortly afterward, and Beuys was conscious and was taken to a hospital to recover for three weeks. Beuys was making his own myth about himself, and you can just as easily adopt this strategy even if you do not want to be a major figure in the art world as he was. Does that mean that you should make up a story about yourself? Possibly, but embellishment isn’t out of the question, and this is straightforward myth-making and self-aggrandizement at  that.

The point I am making with this example is that your statement can also begin to create a myth about yourself—that is, a fictional story that is mixed with the truth. If this appeals to you, then use it and experiment, and if it doesn’t, use one of the other methods. The point of an artist’s statement is simply to get the attention of the person you are showing work to or the institution that you are applying to for a grant, or for your average juried show. No matter which it is, it is important to make your- self stand out and look different from others who are competing with you.

More on the Critic

As I said earlier, the New York art critic Jerry Saltz has a Facebook page, and at one point, he offered to edit people’s writing if they posted their artist’s statements. On his page, he said an artist’s statement should be

[written] in plain language. Keep it short, simple, to the point. Use your own syntax; write the way you speak. No platitudes! With giant abstractions (“nature,” “beauty,” “ambiguity”) say what you’re doing with these big things. Or AVOID . . . them. Don’t be afraid to be funny/weird, your stupid self! A glimpse of real self is powerful.

He is affirming much of what we are saying here, that you need to be straightforward to a large extent, and that you need to be clear. But what he is not saying is that you can also break the rules, as Beuys did, and make a story up that is compelling, edgy, and effective.

Editorial Help

I am not saying you should not seek the help of an editor. All writers use editors, and even a friend who is a good writer can be of assistance.

After you finish your statement, show it to someone who will give you their honest opinion. Show it to someone who knows nothing about the arts; show it to a child, and examine the responses you get. The statement should be understood easily by almost everyone. If it is difficult to understand, then something is wrong and should be adjusted. Ideally, it should also be very exciting or engaging so that it is memorable and makes one want to see the 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.


Episode 123 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Title of an Artwork

The Title of an Artwork

Words are amazing and powerful, and they can change the meaning of what we are seeing. Consider the now-infamous photograph by Andres Serrano titled Piss Christ, in which a crucifix is floating in the artist’s urine. When you look at the image itself, it is beautiful, a rosy color pervades, and we see a crucifix slightly out of focus looking romantic and, quite honestly, like a very Christian picture, a believer’s picture. It could hang on an altar and would seem appropriate. The only thing that made it controversial was what the artist said about it. The artist stated in the title card on the wall that the image was taken of the crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine. Can you imagine looking at the image and thinking or feeling that it is beautiful and then hearing that it is actually in urine? The artist’s statement has not only changed the way you see the picture, it also caused a huge controversy that made him world-famous! What I find even more amusing is that we do not actually know if it was in fact in urine. It doesn’t look like urine, and there is no proof that it is urine; it is simply what the artist said in his statement. That statement changed the entire meaning of the work.

Episode 123

A One-Line Statement

Marlene Dumas said, “I paint because I am a dirty woman.” As the artist’s statement of an extremely well-known painter, hers is one you should pay attention to. It is brief, perhaps too brief, but it is also extremely successful because probably after reading this once, you will remember it and maybe even tell someone else. She is a painter who could have easily talked about how she uses the figure as a means to critique contemporary ideas of racial, sexual, and social identity, but she doesn’t, and it is to her credit. What she has written is also engaging, humorous, and sexy. We smile or laugh when we hear this, and it feels bold and aggressive as well. Of course she could write more about her work, but for the purposes of most artists’ statements in applications, websites, and even exhibits, this works. Of course if she wants to explain more, or if she has a catalog coming out, more could be written about her work from different perspectives,  like a historical, political, or philosophical context, but that is not necessary, initially.

Most artists struggle so much with their statement, and here is a way to be brief, not prosaic and dense, but simple, accessible, and engaging. The most important thing as with any text is to be engaging. When you begin an article in the newspaper, the first line has to grab you and make you want to read the rest. The same rules follow with an artist’s statement. Some people advise that you hire a professional writer, but I think it isn’t necessary in most cases. Just write. Write something that someone without an art background might understand.

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 122 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Owning a Gallery

Owning a Gallery

I owned a gallery for nine years, and in that time, I received hundreds of artist’s statements. What I noticed were two things. Sometimes, many times in fact, if I liked the artist’s work and then read the statement, I often changed my mind and didn’t like what the artist was saying and, in turn, didn’t like the work even though I had liked it initially. That is how powerful a good or bad artist’s statement can be. Think again about the dating comparison. Let’s say someone is interested in you and wants to date you, and he sends his picture. At first you think he is handsome and has a kind face. He describes himself as playful and intelligent, so you decide to write back. Then he sends you another letter with his personal statement or a little more about himself.

Now he tells you more about how wonderful he is and all the sports he is involved in, how many awards he has won, where he has lived, why his marriage didn’t work out, and his two kids, etc. Perhaps you will change your mind now, thinking this guy seems full of himself, and what do you care what awards he has won or about his ex-wife and his kids? Or perhaps you will feel differently, but the point is that when we present ourselves or our artwork, what we say about it carries incredible importance, because no matter what people think initially, they will reevaluate what they feel after you have explained or talked about your intentions.

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 118 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Hero Arrives

The Hero Arrives

This story continues with the actual studio visit. When Andres Serrano came to his studio and looked around, he said, “These are some of the best works I have seen in a while,” or something very similar to that! He also gave the artist the name of a dealer (Stefan Stux) and said, “You should go see him and tell him that I love your work and recommended he see it!” That is a pretty good recommendation, isn’t it? Now you might think there are extenuating circumstances here. After all, the artist lived in NYC, and so did the person he invited, and also, the timing was right. You might think this wouldn’t work for you. However, this is not the only way to reach people and ask for something, to ask for help or advice. You can write to people as well with regular mail or email.

My First Mentor

The reason I gave that advice to a friend was because of an experience I had in my first year of undergraduate art school. I had met a friend there named Mark. He was an art student, and I hadn’t chosen my major yet. He told me that he liked my drawings and that I should try to get a show in New York, and I should show the work to other well-known artists. At the time, I was not only very young, but I also didn’t even have much work. I continued to listen to my new friend and watched the way he worked. After college, he was already working with some of the most popular painters of the time, like Ross Bleckner and other painters from the ’80s and early ’90s. I asked him how he met all these artists who were famous, and he told me they are all in the phone book! He simply began calling them all up and asking them a question. The question he would ask depended on his situation. One question was if they would consider selling him a small drawing or something that he could pay for in installments, since he was a student.

Think about that for a minute. A well-known artist gets a call from a very young artist, asking if he can buy something on a payment plan because he doesn’t have much money. That is an unusual call that is quite flattering to the artist. Because even if that artist does not really need the sale, he or she also realizes that the person wanting to buy their art is more sincere than the average collector who is making an investment. Do you see the attraction? Even though the caller, my friend Mark, does not know the famous artist, the artist is impressed that someone without much money wants to buy his or her work. What would typically happen next is that he would get invited to the artist’s studio. That was nearly enough reward for him, because while he was there, Mark could talk to the artist, see the studio, and maybe even ask for a job. Did they need studio assistants?

The result of his efforts was to get a job as a studio assistant in New York City and an incredible collection of art by major artists! That’s right, Mark built an amazing collection this 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 117 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Calling Your Hero on the Phone

Calling Your Hero on the Phone

There are countless stories of well-written letters to celebrities that get a response. Instead of telling you about clients that I work with and coach to reach the contacts they are after, I will tell you a casual story that happened among friends. In one story, I was at a friend’s studio, just looking at his work. We were both fathers of infants and had met in the park pushing strollers. As he was talking to me about his photographs, which were altered in different ways, he kept saying he wants to show them to more people. I asked him who he wanted to show it to. He said people that he respects, other artists that are well known. I asked which ones, and he said someone like Andres Serrano would be amazing. Andres Serrano was one of the top art photographers in New York at that time. My suggestion was simple: “Why don’t you call him and invite him over?”

He balked at the suggestion and said he didn’t have his number, anyway. I said that I thought his number was probably in the phone book since he wasn’t a celebrity. I encouraged a bit more, but to cut to the chase, he called up Andres Serrano and asked if he would come to his studio, and he did just that, the next day! I will tell you what Andres said when he came to his studio in a minute, but first, what did my friend say to him on the phone? It was human, simple, and quite direct. He called up someone he didn’t know, had to ask for them because someone else picked up the phone, and then awkwardly introduced himself and invited the listener to come by for a studio visit. It is that simple, and that crazy, and sometimes awkward, but that is all that is expected. It is not easy for anyone to just reach out and ask, but it is a very human gesture, and when it is sincere, we all respond to it, if we can.

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 107 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / What to Discuss

What to Discuss

Will you discuss your project? Now that we have some sense of what a project is, you can decide if you are the kind of artist that wants to talk about that. If you do, then of course decide first what your project is. Let’s say it is the project where you want to exhibit your paintings and also have some type of entertainment with the opening or even part of the exhibit. The entertainment, jugglers, let’s say, help reflect what is happening in the artwork as well, or have some connection to it. It could also be people meditating in the room. If this is the project, then the reason you would like to meet Ms. X or Mr. X from the museum party is to discuss a project, an event that you could use advice on. One of the key words there is “advice.” Keep in mind when you are sending emails and asking people for a meeting, what you want is their advice. Be clear about this in your email to them asking for a meeting in a café or their office. If you have to elaborate with them on the phone, just say it is an art event  that you are planning and looking at different options to produce it, and you would like to share the idea with them and ask their advice. Then you actually have your meeting, and you discuss your project.

To present your project at a meeting, do the following: Bring a sheet of paper that has the project described on it in brief terms. The kind of text you might see on the wall of a museum, explaining what you are about to see, written for the general public. With that sheet of paper, bring no more than six printed images that represent your project. I strongly suggest you bring even less, like three images, and your page of text, in total. What you will do is talk and show only a little bit. That is why it is very important not to show images on a computer unless really necessary. This meeting is about building a relationship, not a lecture on your work. So bring something to the table in a manila envelope with your sheets of paper. Bring an extra copy of the text. After sitting down, first talk a bit about what the project is. You are a painter and you want to have an event and bring in different elements to build excitement and to have a memorable time. When you are ready, you can show your friend a few of the eight- by-ten images you have printed out. Do not give them the text yet, just talk about the show and how you see the whole project coming together. After answering any questions, it is time for you to ask a question.

In this instance, your question might be, “Do you know of any venues where I might create this event?” Then wait for an answer. This is the kind of question that can get you a lot of help because the person you are talking to can evade his or her direct help by offering you names or resources to go to. You could also ask, “Do you know who might be interested in getting involved with a project like this?” Again, the idea here is to get pointed in different directions, to other people or institutions. Because after you are done with this meeting, you will ideally have a few references and leads in your hand to make other relationships. And now it is getting personal, because so-and-so just referred you to someone and you can use their name. That is one example of how to present a project to a new acquaintance that might be able to help you either through their primary network or business or by referring you to a friend or resource. This tactic will work for curators as well as collectors or those just interested in the arts. Let’s move on to other things you might ask them.

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 106 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Meeting to Talk about a Project

Meeting to Talk about a Project

If you are meeting with someone to talk about a project of yours, then say in your letter to them that you would like to ask their advice about your project. The idea of a project, so to speak, is really very new. What is a “project” in terms of art and the art world? Though the definition will change with time, I am sure, at the moment, a “project” is a fairly vague term that describes an idea an artist has, which either incorporates the artist’s art into an event of her making, or is an idea that is purely creative and has very few, if any, boundaries. An example of the former would be, “My project is to exhibit my paintings in a room meant for relaxation and meditation.” An example of no boundaries: “My project is to wish for one hour a day in silence for a year, trying to get the moon to change its axis.”

Those two examples are very different. The first we can understand very easily. If you are having a show of your paintings and you want to incorporate dancers, music, entertainers, or anything else into it, you are creating a project. It is simple really, just a restatement of explaining your artistic intentions in an exhibit beyond the artwork itself. An idea, in essence, that is about how your work is presented to the public with an aware- ness that the idea itself can be part of the art.

In the second example, about wishing for an hour a day, for a year, to change the moon’s axis, there is more flexibility because anything is possible. It is, of course, also very abstract. But a project in this realm means it could be entirely a thought about something. Because of the times we are living in, art has come to the point where collectors and the rest of the art world are open to hearing something new. They are open to hearing any idea from any artist because anyone can have a new idea or project or way of seeing the world that is of interest.

And that is what we are talking about here. We are discussing what you will say to the person you have met at the museum. What is it that you will talk about over tea with them in a café?

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.