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THE BUSINESS OF ARTby Erin Riley-Lopez, Curator of the Freedman Gallery
The famous and oft-quoted phrase "Good business is the best art" still holds value in the art world and perhaps even more so now than when Andy Warhol said it some 40 years ago.
In addition to making artwork, artists must also be business-minded in today's increasingly complex and global art market. Being an artist today means being a marketer, a PR agent and a writer, not to mention someone who knows how to do her taxes.
How do artists maintain a studio practice and still pay the bills? For many artists, the answer is a day job. The Freedman Gallery at Albright College hosted the exhibition Day Job in the spring of 2012. The exhibition, originating from the Drawing Center in New York City, showcased a selection of artists from the Center's Viewing Program. While the focus of the exhibition was the artwork, wall labels and a catalogue also provided information about the jobs artists do during the day to earn a living—everything from being a stay-at-home mother of twin boys to a museum guard to teaching at the college level. In some cases, the artist's day job even informs the art they make in the studio.
In addition to having a day job, artists must also have some knowledge of how to run their art practice as a business itself. Having overseen the Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts for several years, I worked with many artists, not just as a curator of the annual exhibition but also as facilitator of a seminar for emerging artists. The seminar introducedartists to topics such as time management and how to pitch their artwork. Artists were exposed to critics, curators and dealers who gave them useful information about the different aspects of the art world. Armed with this knowledge, artists are better able to maintain a studio practice.
Prior to the start of the AIM program in 1980, colleges and universities paid relatively little attention to teaching art majors what happens once they leave school. Artists found themselves wondering how to maintain their studio practice, get their work seen and shown and how to earn a living if they couldn't do so from their artwork. During the last 30 years, more professional practices courses have been, and continue to be, offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The necessity for this information is crucial, and Albright is right onboard.
Today an artist must wear many hats and have well-rounded knowledge of the world. A liberal arts education, particularly one with an interdisciplinary approach such as Albright's, aides all students, not only those in arts programs. The recent introduction of the Arts Administration program and combined major is one way for visual and performing art students to learn about the business side of the arts. The program offers an introductory course as well as a senior seminar in arts administration, courses in project management, exhibition development/gallery management, business, production/practice, history/theory and internships in the arts.
In the art department's "Studio Topics" course, students create their own body of work in addition to researching professional practices. A semester-long project called "After Albright" has students write cover letters, artist statements, resumes and press releases, and research Material Safety Data Sheet/Safety equipment, health insurance, grants and arts councils. I, too, am a graduate of a liberal arts college, for both undergraduate and graduate work, and it's why I love working and teaching at Albright. By learning skills useful for a wide range of jobs, including marketing, business, art history and communications, students in the visual arts and other majors are more aptly prepared to apply that knowledge post-graduation.
Good business truly IS the best art—and so is a liberal arts education.
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