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Once, a question like “How do I become an artist?” was simple to answer: You didn’t “become” an artist; either you were one or you weren’t. Either you were someone who’d starve for your art because you couldn’t help yourself or you were, well, normal. Things are different now. Art is a multi-billion-dollar industry spanning the globe, and most everyone working in it is credentialed in one way or another. Art schools disgorge wave after wave of MFA grads, all of whom need to make a living. While their odds of finding success are long, a lot of them have student loans to service so the pressure of achieving recognition can be intense. That’s where a how-to book about succeeding as an artist can actually be of use. With advice on everything from setting up a studio to dealing with a gallery, these books offer tips on being professional in an increasingly professionalized art world. (Prices and availability current at time of publication.)
1. Jerry Saltz, How to Be an Artist
Jerry Saltz, New York magazine’s art critic, began an article for the April 18, 2017, issue with a confession: “It pains me to say it, but I am a failed artist.” That’s a hard truth for anyone with creative ambitions to swallow. Saltz has the consolation of winning a Pulitzer Prize for the essay; still, his wish to spare starry-eyed aspirants to artistic greatness from his own ignoble fate pretty much led this book. Saltz, a self-proclaimed populist whose work is performance art as much as it is writing, exhorts readers to “take that leap of faith” against “external messages and internal fears.” He extols the rapturous experience of looking at art and, more practically, encourages artists to work “within the first two hours of the day” before “the pesky demons of daily life” start clamoring for their attention. Filled with pithy advice, Saltz’s book is a cri de coeur for self-actualization.
Purchase: How to Be an Artist $19.49 (new) on Amazon
2. Magnus Resch, How to Become a Successful Artist
Skipping over issues like artistic inspiration or struggling with doubts, Magnus Resch’s book goes straight to the business of being an artist. An expert in art management and marketing, Resch teaches art economics at Yale and has also taught at Columbia and the Sotheby’s Institute, a privately owned affiliate of the auction house offering courses in art history and career development. He’s also an entrepreneur who’s developed various art market apps and databases for collectors and curators. How to Become a Successful Artist is an outgrowth of his online master class of the same title. It deals with such topics as How do I find gallery representation? How do I write an artist statement? How should I price my artworks? What’s the best Instagram strategy? Bolstered by interviews with art-world luminaries, Resch’s book offers practical advice to remind readers that there’s a lot more to being an artist than just making art.
Purchase: How to Become a Successful Artist $33.99 (new) on Amazon
3. Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) as You Pursue Your Art Career
Originally published in 2009 and cowritten by a former gallerist (Heather Darcy Bhandari) and a former arts lawyer (Jonathan Melber), Art/Work has been recently updated to reflect the impact of social media on the art world. The book explores business and legal issues related to the industry, and while it’s aimed primarily at artists of all levels, it’s also useful for gallerists, arts groups, and art consultants. Finding a dealer is one major concern that the book covers, but it also notes that artists basically remain their own agent, manager, and promoter, even with gallery representation. Without it, they’re totally on their own. Accordingly, Bhandari and Melber go into granular detail with tips for filing taxes and claiming deductions, controlling inventory and issuing invoices, as well as the particulars of what artists need to know about signing consignment forms or applying for copyright protection. Anecdotes by artists and art-world professionals flesh out this comprehensive how-to bible.
Purchase: Art/Work $16.59 (new) on Amazon
4. Lisa Congdon, Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist
Author Lisa Congdon (an artist and illustrator) starts off Art, Inc. with a basic premise: To be a successful artist today you must first proclaim “I am artist”—to other people, sure, but more important, to yourself. In other words, you have to remove the obstacles to creativity in your own thinking before you tackle the larger roadblocks to a creative career. The main method for doing so involves changing your mind-set from that of a starving artist (“Suffering for my art makes it better”; “Good art sells itself”) to that of a thriving one (“Living off my art means doing something I love”). The rest of the book offers practical advice on how to build a supportive environment for your work, how to market and promote it yourself, and how to find alternative avenues to making money as an artist through social media and other means.
Purchase: Art Inc. $12.16 (new) on Amazon
5. Gilda Williams, How to Write About Contemporary Art
What’s a how-to book on art writing doing on this list? Well, writing cogently about art is a useful skill for any artist. For instance, there isn’t always going to be a curator around to explain your work; sometimes you’ll have to do that yourself, whether that means penning a press release for your show or formulating an artist statement. (The book covers both in detail.) Using source texts from 64 authors, Williams takes you, step by step, through the particulars of art writing, offering advice on how to organize your thoughts on the page, what tone to use, and how both vary from one category (academic papers, say) to the next (blogging). Taken together, Williams’s tips help you become a better writer and avoid embarrassing no-nos such as jargon and sloppy structure.
Purchase: How to Write About Contemporary Art $21.57 (new) on Amazon
6. Ian Lynam, The Impossibility of Silence: Writing for Designers, Artists, & Photographers
Artists are artists precisely because they express themselves visually. And since art objects are expected to embody not only that expression but also the artist’s essence (think of how people refer to a Picasso or a Cézanne), artworks are supposed to speak for themselves. It’s somewhat ironic (if not counterintuitive), then, that today’s artists are increasingly obliged to rely on writing, from formal thesis papers needed to earn MFAs to gallery statements for exhibitions. It takes a certain skill to get it right, but art schools don’t usually offer writing workshops. That’s where Ian Lynam’s book comes in. Unlike the book above, it eschews the how-to approach, instead examining the difficulties that visual artists encounter when trying to explain themselves in words. Lynam describes how these limitations can be surmounted while arguing that writing is a necessary skill, not only practical but also intrinsic to the creative process.
Purchase: The Impossibility of Silence $19.29 (new) on Amazon