The stereotype of the Artist is difficult to shake off – it is mostly negative anyway. The poor struggling artist. The one who finds it difficult to pay bills. One who paints the day away. Always furiously mixing colours and pigments, immersing himself in Art. Selling one or two pieces if he is able to. Finding no understanding or solace in others as the Public remains skeptical that Art can sustain a Living. Or in many cases, the Artist is likely to be eccentric, sometimes overly dramatic, possibly an eremite, often eschewing crowds.
Which was why I found myself in the USM Museum and Gallery yesterday afternoon, after gulping down a late lunch of fried rice. Nic and I had heard it was hosting a three-speaker forum/talk on “Art Makes Business Makes Art”.
Not many know this but Nic paints. He has stopped for a while because he is often kept busy by our web design and consultancy business. But we’re both interested in art – I like Mondrian for his simple, clean lines while he finds affinity in Dali – that truly eccentric artist who is remembered for his rich and disturbing imagination and who once said, “I cannot understand why man should be capable of so little fantasy”.
The three speakers at the forum/talk were Lee Khai of Alpha Utara Art Gallery (Penang), Rachel Ng of Valentine Willie Art Gallery (Bangsar) and Rafizah Abdul Rahman of Galeri Seni Maya (Bangsar). Lee Khai who called himself an accidental curator as he is a lawyer by profession spoke on the increasingly viable art market which is somewhere along five trillion US dollars worldwide and growing at an amazing rate of 14%. Rachel spoke on the importance of negotiation, contracts and networking for the artist.
However, it wasn’t until the last speaker that I truly learnt something concrete about the business of selling art (as you can see, I am still very much a business person at heart). Rafizah explained what the business of art was and inserted honest advice and tips for the benefit of the USM Fine Art undergraduates who made up the bulk of the audience. Even though I am not an artist, I enjoyed Rafizah telling it like it is, with specifics and examples.
Here’s what I gleaned from Rafizah, who is the gallery director of Galeri Seni Maya.
1. Tell people you are an artist. She says that most young artists are shy and have problems telling people what they do. “Segan will never get you anywhere,” she admonishes.
2. Build a portfolio. This is crucial as artists need to show curators their actual work before art galleries can decide whether to take them on. Also, showcase your best work – not work you did in varsity – but real work. If a regular portfolio isn’t what you like, put the works into a CD, or create an album, or bring some selections to the gallery (after you make an appointment of course). When you create a photo album of your work, don’t put in blur photos! Blurred photos expose the fact that you’re an amateur, not a true professional. It shows you are not interested to be an artist.
3. Communicate, articulate, learn how to talk about your art work. You must be able to tell the curator, the buyers, the media what your art is about. If you cannot communicate your ideas, the battle is half lost already. As the art scene is helped by highlights and profiles by the English media in this country, brush up your English language ability as you will be interviewed by these media. The ability to communicate will help greatly when you are applying for grants and residencies abroad. When you use English words and phrases in your art, ensure they are grammatical. Bad grammar reflects badly on your buyers.
4. Price your work according to your experience. Her main grouse was that young artists price their work too high. If you are 24 now and you price your art piece at RM10K, what happens when you are 44? How much will you price your art piece then?
5. Be in the loop. Visit art galleries, talk to curators. Take part in art competitions and exhibitions. Be visible. If you cannot produce a solo exhibition (one needs at least 15 – 25 pieces of art), team up with artist friends and make it a group exhibition. This will also look good on your resume when you decide to apply for art grants or residencies.
6. Discover yourself. Spend time exploring and discovering your inner self. Do not rush into solo exhibitions right after graduation. Art takes time and you can always do one later.
7. Be reliable, be nice and don’t act like you’re an Artist. Curators are people too. They want to work with artists who are hardworking and reliable. Not prima donnas. So show up when you’re supposed to. Do things that you promise. Meet deadlines. Above all, let the art community and curators know that you are a good artist to work with and that you do have a good reputation.
And finally, Galeri Seni Maya is always on the look out for new talent. Contact Rafizah if you’re keen on exhibiting at her gallery.