by guest blogger Caroly Van Duyn
Making art has always been a way of life for me. In fourth grade I announced to fellow classmates, “I am going to be an artist when I grow up!” I stuck to that heartfelt yearning because nothing seemed to fulfill me with the same amount of happiness.Today I am a full-time artist with my own sculpture art business, Artistrystone.
After high school I went to Art College and devoted myself to studio classes. Perfecting my skills gave expression to my ideas and led to good art. Numerous art exhibitions, a strong portfolio, constant effort and money allowed me to finish and successfully graduate. My post college plans included finding a job to pay off college loans while making and exhibiting my art. Hopefully I would land a “good” gallery, build a recognizable name in the art world, and eventually make art my full time livelihood… someday… in the future.
As struggling art graduates, our common belief was that at a certain point we would be “good enough” to rise above “mediocre” artists as we competed for the few slots that dealers selected their “stable of artists” from. Good luck and timely politics aided in this quest. I found notable galleries interested in my work, but still my fate was uncertain. Gallery pricing for my artwork meant either steep pricing with no sales, or undercutting the value of my work to meet gallery commissions. I was an “unknown” artist which also influenced dubious placement of my artwork in the gallery, if and when the gallery exhibition had enough space for it.
I began to make my own sales to buyers who liked my work and followed my career. These sales endangered my gallery associations, by threatening to undercut their profits if they represented me. Promoting myself provided cash and afforded me periods of time that I could work in my studio, but did not advance my career. The original financial plan I had made in school helped me to survive, but not to prosper.
Many fellow artists became discouraged about pursuing their lives as professional artists. Some questioned whether they possessed enough “talent”, or assumed that they were never in the “right place at the right time”. Many made transitions into financially viable careers having little to do with their art educations. Despite years of hard work, our goals seemed out of reach.
I took on numerous jobs to make ends meet, including gardening, carpentry, art assistant, studio monitor, graphic designer and eventually art teacher. I was optimistic that my various work experiences could embellish my skills as a sculptor as I tenaciously followed my dreams to be a full-time artist. I learned that the absence of a solid business foundation, so critical to be a successful artist, was keeping me from taking command of my art career.
What I had been attempting to do as an artist was to set up my own “cottage industry”. Cottage industries historically offered vitally important products in colonial America. Quality local goods were produced by individuals and families at home, providing a valuable component to local trade. Our heritage as “makers” inspired my decision and commitment to start my own business.
Artistrystone was launched in 2006, featuring my original sculptures that were hand-cast and finished at affordable prices to the public. I chose a target market of art collectors, interior and exterior designers, and gift givers, in both the retail and wholesale market. I now needed to find out how to get my art to that market. Through trials and tribulations, research and the miracle of the Internet, I gradually began to accumulate various chunks of business knowledge, like pieces in a large confusing puzzle. What I was looking for was a business education designed for artists like me.
Surfing on the Internet one morning, I discovered the Arts Business Institute website. I proceeded to sign up for their comprehensive weekend business workshop. Already familiar with key concepts, my goal was to develop a sales strategy. I selected a few topics that would justify my participation in this workshop. Artistrystone’s path forward would become more dynamic as the scope of my learning and understanding increased. I put together a product display, packed my suitcase and headed for Washington, DC.
A diverse group of attendees checked in on Saturday morning, coffee cups in one hand, briefcases and computers in the other. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds took their seats. Anticipation and eagerness created an atmosphere that led to spontaneous conversations. This focused group was here to learn about the serious business of making livelihoods from art creations. No distinction was made between craftspeople or fine artists; we were artisans sharing a universal goal.
Some of the attendees had not made their mark in the professional art world yet, but attended with the commitment to taking charge of their talent, time and destiny through honing their business skills with a set of tangible tools. Workshop speakers, also professional artisans who excelled in their own art-related businesses, showed genuine interest and involvement with participants, fueling the intensity of each presentation as it was delivered. Specific questions gave voice to the struggles most of us had experienced.
Emphasis was made on networking and forging beneficial associations, challenging the traditional competitive model of struggling artists trying to capture the few opportunities that were offered to them. Rising to the top tier of the art world together now seemed logical and real.
I am passionate as I continue to create new art and as I further develop my company, Artistrystone. My personal script outlines a strategy to continue to grow in my chosen profession. Fascinating crossroads have transformed my world with an influx of empowering choices so that my original dreams can flourish.
Joining with many artisans who each contribute a unique voice, our skills and handmade artworks are offered to a public that is eager to find us, purchase handmade artworks and goods and get to know our stories. A new tradition in the contemporary art scene is forming as more artists embrace their opportunities and determine their future.
If you happen to interview any fourth graders about their aspirations for their future careers, you may hear one of them say they want to be an artist when they grow up. It can happen, really.