This week is largely about getting to know the digital spaces where this course will be taking place and setting up your accounts. You’ll notice that you only have access to this week’s lesson…I will open up each module as I get a better handle on where you’re all at as a cohort. The stuff you need to learn is on this site, but you’ll turn in all of your homework via Google Classroom (link is above).
A Note about Technology in my Course
This semester, I’ll be asking you to learn to use technologies that may be new to you. There is a specific reason for that: I believe in helping my students build “interface literacy” which is a skill that you will need in the professional world, regardless of your major. The better you can navigate the online world, the less likely you are to have to depend on galleries and outsourcing things like web design. You may find that once the course is over, you only use 5% of the tools I ask you to use here. That’s ok. I’m giving you experience with far more than you’ll ever use so that you have options and so you have a chance to find what works for you.
- Familiarize yourself with the syllabus and my philosophical position on being a professional artist.
- Set up your Instagram account and familiarize yourself with that space.
- Access your copy of the Portfolio Checklist and learn to turn the checklist in to Google Classroom.
- Get used to Google Classroom as a space to ask questions, turn in work, and get feedback from me.
Advice from Previous Students
- “The habit of posting [on Instagram] is very important. It means you’re doing the work’
- “Make a separate Instagram just for your art.’
- “Think: this is the start of a piece… it doesn’t have to be finished’
- “Use #wip as a hashtag on Instagram”
- “Make sure you’re following the other students in this class.”
- “Looking at the list of things you have to do this semester is epicly overwhelming. But eventually it all gets done.”
A photo of me at a solo exhibit at Well Street Art Co. in Fairbanks, AK. August, 2017.
Understanding the beliefs that underpin this course.
Yes, You're an Artist. Own it.
You don’t need my permission or approval to call yourself an artist. No gallery owner or museum curator is ever going to give you an ID card that makes you an official artist. You don’t have to be famous, talented, or prolific to call yourself an artist. Anyone who makes art is an artist. End of story.
Professional artists are on the grid.
You can still be an artist if you’re not on the internet, but you can’t have a Professional Practice these days without having an online presence, especially a portfolio. I prefer to throw people into the deep end with technology (I assume you can Google or YouTube instructions) but I’m ALWAYS standing here with floaties if you start to drown. Just tell me you’re having trouble and I will always help.
If you’re hoping to get by as an artist and stay off the grid, you a different kind of mentor and a different kind of course!
You can still have a day job.
Just because you have a day job doesn’t mean you’re not a “real” artist. The VAST majority of artists have day jobs, but they often go through great pains to hide it since there’s a persistent myth in the art world that you haven’t made it as an artist unless you can quit your day job. You can have a job and still be an artist. That said: you can make money as an artist, no matter what your mother says.
The work comes first. Always.
Inspiration makes you curious; sweat makes you an artist. It’s great to be inspired, but being a professional means showing up even when you don’t feel like it. If you can only set aside 10 minutes a day to make art, then set aside 10 minutes and protect that 10 minutes like it’s a newborn baby. If you only have 1 square foot of dining room table for your art, then guard that one square foot with your life. You don’t have to sacrifice everything for your art (I still have a family and a job) but you DO have to sacrifice something. Making art and having a life are not mutually exclusive propositions.
I kicked my car out of my 1-car garage, and no one, not my husband, not my kids, not the condo association can take it from me. It’s mine. It’s a mess. It smells weird and there are no windows. But it’s mine, and it’s a sacred space.
It's never going to be good enough.
Art is like having a baby: you’re never ready. If you wait until it’s all perfect and in place and polished and shiny, you’ll never get it done. You’ll become one of the hordes of artists who abandon making art because you think it isn’t good enough. You’ll never be completely happy with your artist statement, your website, or the rest of it, and you’re not supposed to…you’re a living, breathing, artist and your portfolio is a reflection of where you are as an artist, therefore it is both imperfect and always evolving.
I’m going to ask you to share things that aren’t done and things that you might not think are very good. I’m not asking you to be good. I’m asking you to make stuff and share it. Let me repeat that: I don’t care if the art is good. For every masterpiece, there were a thousand lousy sketches, failures, and drafts before it.
Art is a practice, not an object.
Objectifying your art will get you into trouble. Objects can be judged, mocked, sold, and destroyed. However, if you think of art as a practice, it becomes a habit that makes you better each time you do it. You can have a lousy day or week of practice, but it’s no big deal because you’re just practicing. Sure, I have to pull off a performance (solo exhibit) every so often, but the real joy is found in my practice. If I focus too much on the object, all the fun disappears.
Galleries aren't the only solution.
Galleries take 50% of whatever you sell. Most of the time, all they’re doing is giving you wall space and maybe a blurb on their website. They do very little to tell your story, promote your brand, or convince buyers that you are a worthwhile investment. If they are awesome enough to do those things, most likely they won’t do it enough. If you’ve bought into the myth that “great artists are discovered by big galleries and then they make it” … sell it back to whomever sold it to you.
Galleries have bills to pay and you make the products they sell. They’re still important to artists and you should create and maintain a relationship with them, but most likely on-the-ground galleries will be a very small part of your life as an artist. They’re great for exhibits. They’re great for meeting other artists. They’re great for establishing local notoriety. Some gallery owners may end up being great advisers and may even sell some of your work, but in the end, “making it” will be up to you.
Community before Critique
I ask my students to abide by Community before Critique. As university students, you’re likely being indoctrinated into what I call the “cult of critique” and as part of this cult, artists can often find themselves in a place where everyone is competition, and it’s hard to remember why you wanted to make art in the first place. Feedback is different than criticism. Don’t offer feedback in community spaces like Instagram unless someone directly asks for it. When in doubt, let your fellow artists know what you like about their work or where you see growth.
Life sometimes gets in the way.
Even though the work should always come first, once you’ve built a solid studio practice, you’ll find that there are times when you have to deprioritize your work. If you have a strong foundation, then you can walk away from your work to care for family, mind a day job, or even take vacations. Don’t think you’re suddenly not a serious artist anymore just because you need to put other things first for a time. The whole point of establishing your daily art practice is so that your life as an artist can withstand the interruptions that will inevitably occur.
Your Personal Workflow
This is MY workflow. Yours is bound to look different. By the end of the semester, you’ll have yours all mapped out, with areas for improvement and spaces where you’ve decided to take a completely different path. However, most of this course is modeled after my workflow and I may ask you to experiment with processes and habits that you don’t like. If you find that something really doesn’t work for you, let me know. We can always work out a modified assignment, but you must work with me prior to the deadline for the assignment and not the day it’s due.
Next week you’ll turn in a workflow like this. Get started thinking about what yours looks like right now and how you might want to change it for the future.
An introduction to the accounts we’ll be using this semester
The following sections explain the rationale for using these specific accounts. You should set up your own personal accounts for Instagram, Airtable, and Cafe. For the sales venue and portfolio platform, you should explore options for now and consider which might be most appropriate for you.
Please take a look at the Master Portfolio Checklist. A copy just for you should have been created by Google Classroom. We’ll be returning to this list all semester.
Required this week!
Instagram is an industry-standard, image-driven social network for artists. Be sure to follow artists you like and don’t be afraid to interact with them. If you’ve never used Instagram, here are some great tips for using it as an artist. Set up your account, start following other artists and be sure to use the #artisapractice hashtag. You can have your posts pushed out to Facebook and/or Twitter if that’s your thing.
Remember that my real goal in having you on Instagram is to instill good (frequent) work habits. Art. Every. Day. My handle is @madaramasonart. I’m looking forward to following all of you.
This may be one of the more challenging things we do this semester as far as technology goes. However, in terms of tracking your art and making your life easier once it comes time to post, describe, tag, and add detail to your portfolio and applications for grants and residencies it doesn’t get any better than Airtable. Do yourself a favor and watch some of their videos once you’re ready.
Of all the things I wish I could do for my twenty-something self, I wish I could tell her to start tracking and cataloging things sooner rather than later. Next week I’ll share a template with you that will make setting up your catalog super easy. For now, however, all you need to do is set up your account.
If you’ve ever applied for a Rasmuson grant, you’ve used Cafe to submit your images and application. Some of this semester will be spent searching for opportunities and applying for ones that suit you and your art. Cafe is the primary place to do that. Set up a profile this week. If you’re feeling ambitious, find something to apply for.
One student from last semester used Cafe to apply for a number of shows. Her work was accepted into a local Fairbanks venue as well as an Anchorage gallery.
You may not be the kind of artist who wants to sell your work, but it will benefit you to understand how online sales work. Of all the things that made students nervous last semester, this particular issue caused a bit of indigestion. I’m starting you a little early this semester in the hopes that you won’t see selling your work online as unapproachable. For now, just look at the venues you can select from and see what they’re about.
Venues for selling originals:
- Etsy (has a large, built-in consumer base)
- Saatchi (40% commission on sales, “fine” art)
- Shopify (works well with personal websites)
Venues for reproducing 2D art on a variety of objects:
You’ll need to choose one of the following platforms for hosting your portfolio:
- Google Sites
- Adobe Portfolio (I’m fairly certain you need an Adobe CC subscription to use this one)
If you’re interested in using something other than one of the above, please talk to me. These platforms have been vetted by me and previous students and each of them offers a free version. WordPress is the most challenging to use, and Google Sites is not as image-friendly as the others. You may want to try out more than one to see what works for you.