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Erin Coleman-Cruz, Graphic Design Program Chair at BEAU, Artist, Organizer of the highly successful “On the Map” Art Show, offers these thoughts on how to break into career in the art world:
Along my way in my personal journey I have adopted the motto, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” (I had been using this quote for a few years before I realized that it is attributed to John F. Kennedy in reference to the economy. For me, “economy” can refer to the wealth of our strengths and skills.)
I wish someone had told me early on that after art school I would be on my own. I mean, really, on my own. It is lonely out there and although I always had been a loner and thought that this was normal, I now know that it was something more like purgatory–I wasn’t really moving forward, but I wasn’t really going backwards either. I was just alone and unconnected with the broader art community. And because the art world is a competitive sink-or-swim environment, especially for a soft-spoken woman, I thought it was just part of being an artist to suffer through it alone.
It is common to hear people say, “it is all about networking,” and that point is undeniably true. However, the thing that I wish I had known is that it is not just about networks and schmoozing at public events. It is very much about building relationships–getting to know others and letting people get to know me (or you). At the time, I was making some unique stuff in my studio and I thought I had a strong vision for myself, but what I wasn’t doing was going out and actually getting to know other artists and letting them get to know me. I was too shy to join in the conversation, too shy to volunteer to work side-by-side with someone to get to know them, and too shy to follow up with other professionals when I did get some recognition.
So what changed?
Luckily, grad school for me was different than undergrad. It was a breeding ground for camaraderie where I soon learned that I couldn’t be a recluse. Sure, I could still be weird and awkward (aren’t most artists?), but I had to start participating.
I remember volunteering to help with an exhibition where soon I was elected to curate the exhibition, and being somewhat timid to run a whole show, I invited someone else to co-curate with me. Our shared vision grew much stronger than my own vision and pretty soon we had put together a large and award-winning exhibition. Because of this, the two of us were seen at our school as leaders and we later curated an even larger exhibition–again with the benefit of a combined vision.
I later went on to work with three other collaborators on various projects with the idea that, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I realized that we can all “rise” together if we are willing to work together. It doesn’t have to be sink-or-swim, and not everyone else has to be your competitor. The collaborative projects that I have done have allowed me to try new things and work on a scale that one person cannot do easily on their own. Meanwhile, I have not had to compromise my own vision as I have continued to pursue my own artwork and projects having been made a stronger artist for building relationships with others.
Rando Schmook, Hollywood alum, Executive Program Chair for Creative programs at BEAU, and overall wise person, has five tips for working in the industry:
Veronica Harper, Creative Director at EA (Electronic Arts), leader of the Pixel Suspension Lounge and creator of Sketch Cabaret adds:
“So in conclusion,” Coleman-Cruz says, “you do not have to do it all alone–and you shouldn’t have to. Help form a group of individuals who give each other constructive feedback and who challenge you to expand yourself and your craft–because if the greater art world does not recognize you yet, then your peers may very well become the young professionals that will truly appreciate you and your artwork.”