by Ariston Anderson
Few arts institutions teach the fundamentals of business and law for visual arts majors. Enter Art/Work, a new book by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber. Bhandari is the director at NYC's Mixed Greens Gallery while Melberâs background includes practicing art law at a major New York firm and representing artists at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Together they make for a powerful combo, offering both extensive knowledge of the gallery system and the ins and outs of art law, for some well-founded tips on how to succeed in the art world.
Of the many topics covered, the book includes the proper way to submit to a gallery, how to attract a curator, the importance of having a website, how to host a successful studio visit, how to edit work and install shows, how to apply for grants and much more. They give real examples of consignment agreements and even include an art fair survival guide. Packed with hundreds of quotes from artists and curators, vital advice on how to make the most of your career fills each page.
Presented in a simple, comprehensive language, it's the perfect gift for anyone working in a creative field. We caught up with Bhandari and Melber to learn more about what makes Art/Work an essential in every artist's toolbox.
Why is your book Art/Work timely now, when the art market is increasingly down?
JM: We wrote it to help artists in good economic times and bad. With a shrinking art market, there are fewer commercial options, making it more important than ever to know how to approach gallerists—and how not to—as well as apply for grants and residencies and find alternatives for showing your work when you do not have a gallery.
Whatâs the best advice for an artist to organize their time into productive work?
HB: No matter what kind of artist you are or what kind of personality you have, studio time should be prioritized above all else. We recommend that artists figure out when they are most productive in the studio and try to fit a day job around that time. Administrative tasks like inventory and applications shouldnât be neglected, and some amount of time should be spent supporting the local artist community and receiving feedback. The amount of time spent on each component is up to each artist, but all three should be considered studio time. We know some artists who are very regimented and treat studio time like a job, with certain hours set aside to create, others earmarked for paperwork and time set aside to visit with other artists and attend exhibitions. For many other artists, scheduling is more fluid.
What is the number one thing artists should know when it comes to copyright?
JM: Given how much borrowing, appropriating and re-mixing goes on in the art world, artists should know what "fair use" means—and what it doesn't mean. Despite what a lot of artists are told, for example, it is not true that you're automatically allowed to use someone else's image as long as you "change it by 30%." The rules are more complicated than that and you shouldn't wait until the AP threatens to sue you for copyright infringement before you read up on them—we have good resource links on our website.
What advice do you have for artists who are constantly being rejected by galleries?
HB: Do a little self-reflection and think about your goals, your work and your ideal audience. Check to see if the galleries who are rejecting you have those same goals and interests. If they donât, youâre submitting work to the wrong places. If you really want that commercial gallery, put in the time to get to know them and their artists. The number-one way that galleries find new artists is through the artists they already have.
How has the web changed the role of the gallery? Has it become a valid space to showcase work?
HB: Iâm a little biased in my answer to this question because Iâve worked at Mixed Greens for the last nine years. Weâve always thought the web was a valid space to showcase artists and expose their work to a larger audience. While that was considered a wild and somewhat tacky idea in 1999, itâs widely accepted now.
Why should every artist buy this book?
We wrote Art/Work to be practical, user-friendly and relevant to every stage of one's art career. Art/Work helps new artists develop good habits from the beginning and keeps them from accidentally shooting themselves in the foot. For more experienced artists, Art/Work is a guide to advancing their practice and getting their work shown. Even successful artists with multiple representation will find in Art/Work a sophisticated resource for drafting consignment forms, negotiating commission agreements and understanding how their gallery relationships compare to other artists.