Application Sunday, Part XVI: The one artist opportunity you can determine the outcome of


What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XVI: The one artist opportunity you can determine the outcome of

As I have tried to demonstrate in this series of articles, not all artist opportunities are created equal. There are the opportunities that one should be pursuing, those that aim in providing value to both the organizer and the artist, and there are also the “wrong” kind, one would be better off avoiding: These are the ones designed to accommodate the organizer’s short sighted objectives, with no particular consideration to the artist’s specific needs or to the conditions required by the artwork itself in order for it to be presented correctly. In The good, the bad and the ugly of a London show, using the example of a personal experience, I make the distinction between these two kinds of opportunities and point out the things one should be looking out for when evaluating whether an opportunity is worth the trouble. 

The question when we realize that we have swallowed the bait of the wrong kind of opportunity is this: Is there something that can be gained regardless? Something that can be pursued every single time by the artist and that its outcome depends almost entirely on him/her?

This is what I will devote today’s article to.

The one thing that can always be gained from any kind of opportunity

In the article mentioned above I talk about what was gained from that opportunity regardless: How my work evolved by trying to overcome the difficulties of transporting it to another country, how this whole thing was ultimately a precious experience for me that provided me with valuable lessons, and most importantly how through this “low value” opportunity I met a couple of artists with whom I have a valuable exchange to this day.

Any kind of opportunity can open the door for another, one that is often not valued enough by most artists: Crossing one’s path with that of other artists.

“International” artist opportunities in particular that involve multiple artists, such as the London show mentioned in the aforementioned article, or one I experienced some months earlier than that, that involved a group show of six artists of different nationalities in Berlin, are particularly interesting in this respect: In cases like these, one crosses paths with artists that often have very different backgrounds and experiences than his/her own and view things from a different perspective. They live and work in an environment different than the one we have experience of, they are faced by challenges that in many ways are radically different than what we are facing and at the same time there is one major thing in common: We are artists of the same generation, facing the same problems and presented with the same opportunities on a global scale. At that moment in time our paths cross and for one reason or another we end up participating in the same exhibition or collaborating in the same project. After this is over we will most likely withdraw to the solitary existence of our workshop.

Don’t you think that we owe it to ourselves to try and see these individuals, to try to actually meet them, or at least establish some kind of connection, before our paths take their own course again?

One would think that this understanding should be there, especially in the case of emerging artists, whose limited experience should propel them almost as a form of survival instinct to reach to other artists, share experiences and support each other any way they can. Anyone with common sense can make out that artists have everything to gain from such a culture of sharing. Nevertheless, anyone with minor observational skills can equally make out that among most artists presides a culture of alienation, following a notion of scarcity, rather than one of sharing, based on a notion of abundance.

The effects of this scarcity mentality over the artists’ lives and chances of survival, both physical and creative, as well as the reasons for it, is a big chapter that deserves an article all on its own. What interests us here is that this feeling that “there is not enough for all of us” coupled with the alienation present in all human activities in contemporary society (yes, artists suffer from that too) contribute to us artists often missing the greatest opportunity of them all, one that is present in each and every case of a so called “artist opportunity”:  Connecting with other artists.

If our paths cross

Maybe the next opportunity we both succeed in brings us together. Here are some ways in which you can make connection:

  • We are at the end of a long day, just having concluded setting up our works, that – what are the odds? – will be exhibited almost side by side. You could ask whether I would be interested in winding down while hanging out over a glass of beer. Or just be open to my suggestion if it comes up (I won’t steal any big career secrets from you, I promise!)

  • We are both setting up our works in the gallery or art space. I am having trouble with a tough piece of concrete that won’t back down to my hammer & nail attacks. You could offer to give me a hand. If you happen to be a man, I myself, as well as most women, will not prove to be such a radical feminist that this offer would make me feel degraded or insult me in any way. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

  • We are (again, since this is a standard occasion) setting up our works together and you happen to have your birthday. You could show up in the gallery with a box of treats for everyone to share and celebrate the occasion. This I have actually impulsively done myself with a box of delicious Berlin cinnamon buns last year. It is a Greek custom to bring sweets to friends or colleagues (or classmates) on one’s birthday or name day. That morning in the gallery when encountering the other artists for the first time, this gesture and the cinnamon bun sweetness proved to be an instant ice breaker.

  • We are both there at the opening of the show. Of our show! You could express an interest in learning more about my work, or ask me whether I would be interested to tour the gallery and view the result of our collective effort together.

  • The show, or project, is over. There are things that you are unsure of, whether they went well or bad, or could use some help in evaluating the experience. Reach out. Ask me how I found it all and share your own impressions. We will both come out of the exchange enriched and with a valuable different perspective added to our own.

  • Again, the show or project we both participated in is over and done with. You have some very clear views on it. Maybe you were disappointed in some aspects, or you drew some valuable lessons from the whole experience. Again, reach out and share these insights somehow. They could be valuable to me as well. If you happen to have written an article on your blog or elsewhere describing your experience from the opportunity we both participated in, please go ahead and send me a link, even if we didn’t have the chance to meet during the show. This also happens to be something that I actually did, after the London group show. The participants of the show were no fewer than sixty, a number that was at the expense of the show’s quality, but that when I decided to reach out to the other artists, share my experience through the article and ask for their feedback, turned out as something good. This large number of artists competing for a favorable spot in the limited gallery space was also a large potential number of fellow artists I could connect with.

A question to think about

Of course there are these cases where, due to objective difficulties, we are not be able to meet the other artists that participate in a group show or a project. Maybe we cannot afford the airfare and the surplus living expenses at that point or cannot leave home due to other engagements. Having to send the artwork at a show unaccompanied is something an artist often has to do. But when we are able to travel, or, even better, when the event takes place at home, how do we manage to make the best of it?

What is there to gain goes far beyond the standard benefits one can expect from what is commonly regarded as “the good kind” of artist opportunity, a successful show or project. The question is: Are we ready and willing to make the best of the single kind of artist opportunity we ourselves can determine the outcome of?

How do you view this crucial part of artist opportunities? Do you try to make the best of crossing paths with other artists? Have you come across individuals that were particularly charismatic in connecting with other artists? What did you learn from them? Has your outlook about the matter changed over time? To what direction?

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Sequence ITypographic ink on paper, 100 x 100 cm, 2005

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