Episode 168 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / How the Living Organize Their Estates

Chapter 11

How the Living Organize Their Estates

While this may sound like a morbid topic, which I suppose it is in some ways, it is also a topic that is not just about what happens to all of your work after you die, but is also about how you manage your work while you are living. How you organize your work and prepare, not for an eventual death, but for every day. Some Buddhist monks go to bed saying a prayer that they are thankful for the day, and if this is their last day, they are prepared to die in their sleep. The idea of this is interesting. They are preparing for death each day by having their things in order. Can you imagine that? Having everything in order so that if you died the next day, all your belongings and work will have its proper place! When I first heard of that, I thought it sounded terribly death-centered on a daily basis! However, it has another aspect to it, which is that you must be very organized to do this and very aware of what happens to your affairs after you die. I am writing this chapter not only to help you get organized, but also to do the responsible thing for those left behind. We may think of death as something far off, but we also know it could happen tomorrow, so it is not just for your legacy, it is also for those you care about so they will have an easy time dealing with your art the way you intended.

Vivien Maier’s story

Even if you don’t want to work too much on this, at the very least your work should be organized and properly labeled. Let’s look at the unusual example of Vivian Maier, the photographer I mentioned in the introduction. The story is that a young real estate agent bought a box of negatives from an unknown photographer at an auction for $400. There were thirty thousand negatives in the boxes he bought. He eventually bought all the work he could, about one hundred thousand negatives in all. But there was more! Her cameras, small Super 8 films, and audio cassettes, as well as some clothing. These were all the things in her room, as well as some in storage. Almost everything was labeled with the date and where it was photographed. There were boxes and boxes of her images and related letters. She was putting them all in storage. She never showed these images to anyone as far as the owner of the negatives knows. The story of what he did next is fascinating. He posted some of the images online and got publishing offers as well as a movie offer. He created a project on Kickstarter and raised over $20,000 in less than two months to make a film about her life. I mention all of this because if her work was not in some kind of order and organized, it would not be possible for him to make the film and book he is making. Vivian Maier also was homeless for a time, and because all of this was in storage, her work survived. In many ways, her story is very sad because she never got to exhibit her work or know that a book and film were being made. However, they are being made now, after her death, and besides it being a case of good luck, that is, being found by the right person, it is also a case of an artist taking care of 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.