Q&A: Professional Tips for Artists

Beaux Arts

In the last few years, I have had several artists ask me for tips on applying to grad school, applying for grants, and submitting work to galleries, among other topics. So I have come up with a few answers I would like to share with all of you.

Q: How can I stand out when applying for grad school, a grant, or a gallery?

The best advice I can give you is to have an excellent set of slides and digital images; many places accept digital now but some still accept only slides.

    Never have a bad image — no yellow or blue slides or hard-to-see images.
    Have well-lit shots of installations.
    Have perfect replications — crisp, close, and clear — of individual works such as paintings.
    If you can’t photograph the work yourself, hire a professional photographer, even if it costs you hundreds of dollars.

After having slides made, you can have copies made. You can even have digital images made into copies; one place that has been good for me is iPrintfromHome.com.

You should have a well-written artist’s statement as part of your portfolio. It should be no more than one page. Be very precise with your wording and do not use a lot of jargon the general public would not understand.

You are only going to have a few seconds for someone to look over your work. Remember, hundreds — no, thousands of people — are submitting for the same applications as you are and less than a single-digit percentage will get an offer.

Q: What do I do if I get rejection letters?

You will receive hundreds of them in your lifetime. Apply again next time with a better package and portfolio. Some people apply for 3 or 4 years before receiving a specific grant, residency, or even getting into grad school. Remember only a small percentage is chosen.

Q: How do I find out about grants?

CAR (Chicago Artists Resources) is an excellent Chicago website with many artist opportunities, such as grants, housing/studio space information, and many more listings.

Ana Fernandez has some good advice for applying to grad school on the CAR site.

A second professional site to subscribe to is Art Deadlines List for announcements, competitions, jobs, fellowships and more.


Q: What is involved in applying for a grant or artist residency?

If you are applying for a grant/project, remember to be able to tell the committee what you are going to do, and when, how, and where you are going to do it. If you are requesting money, you will need to submit a budget with expenses, cost of supplies, and what the supplies are: canvas, paint, 2’x 4′ boards, digital equipment, or whatever types of material you need for your work and travel (air, car rental, shipping of materials).

There are many artist foundations out there; some accept applications while others are by nomination only. Some foundations that accept applications include:

Artist residencies also help your professional development. Make sure you sign up for email alerts for upcoming applications at res artis, a site for worldwide artist residencies.

If you are going to be applying for college teaching, you may want to become a member of the College Art Association, which holds a yearly conference in a major U.S. city, where hundreds of colleges interview applicants. Also, check out The Chronicle of Higher Education for job postings.

Art Institute 1900

Q: How do I start showing my work professionally?

Many artists want to show their work professionally, and it is very competitive. When approaching a gallery, you should visit it first and go to some openings throughout a year to see if the work they show would be a good fit for your work. Remember galleries often represent about 15 artists so one of the gallery artists will only be able to show with the gallery every two years. I have been told that many galleries get 20 or more applications a week. Also, sometimes galleries see your work in other group shows and then invite you to show with them.

Some other ways to get exposure is to show your work in coffee shops and bars in trendy neighborhoods; this can get you a lot of exposure. Also, show at alternative spaces, such as in someone’s home or a storefront. Many art centers and culture centers accept proposals for exhibiting artists. The Hyde Park Art Center has an excellent guideline for submissions on its online exhibitions page.

Child Painting

Q: How do I afford to pay for art school?

The average cost of an education for undergraduate and graduate degrees can easily be a hundred thousand dollars or more. Apply early in the year for financial aid and government assistance. Make sure you fill out a FAFSA (Student Financial Aid) application each year, many months before your classes begin. Many students acquire a debt along with their education. Always keep up with your paper work. If you are in debt, I recommend consolidating your loans and locking them into a fixed low-interest payment with William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. If you can’t afford to pay, you can file for a forbearance or deferment, and if you are just entering the job market, you may want to file for income contingency so that your payments are based on what you make and is affordable for you.

These are all tips school advisers won’t tell you, and many of you will find out through the school of life. Best of success to all of you.

If you have questions you would like answered about the art profession, please comment, and I will answer them in comments or in future posts.

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