Immersion into the Art World
It’s not easy to land your dream job straight out of school. Overqualified candidates with graduate degrees fill intern positions. This means recent graduates are often forced to find something, anything, that can pay the bills while they figure things out. If you can’t get a job doing what you love full-time, do the next best thing — find a job that surrounds you with loads of other people that are doing what you love.
In regards to a hierarchical structure, the art world isn’t much different than any other industry. We start at the bottom and work our way up. My goal in life is to sustain an art practice through public projects and by selling my work. The appeal will not be because I’m catering to a specific crowd, but because I’ve reached a point where the language I’m using is accessible to people from all walks of life. Because I know that a long road that awaits me, I’ve been spending a lot of time in New York City surrounding myself with companions for the journey. Many of my coworkers and peers maintain studio practices even if they are working full-time jobs doing something else. As a result, I spend most of each day talking about the things I am passionate about with others that feel the same way. I also get to talk to folks in the art world that have become jaded or disillusioned after losing a sense of what’s keeping them around. This sheds an honest light on the scope of where I may end up.
I began working at the Wellin immediately upon the museum’s opening in October, 2012. I found working as a docent incredibly fruitful, as I was often alone with the artwork for long stretches of time. I stayed on campus the summer after my graduation to continue working at the museum, this time with a more forward-looking approach. I knew that I wanted to move to New York City and I had a hunch I wanted to break into the gallery world through art handling. As an artist, I had a strong understanding of the typical materials used in painting and sculpture as well as how to avoid damaging them. The issue was, as is generally the case for art handlers (and I imagine with most professions), that I had very little experience working in a museum / gallery setting, packing and installing artwork. To create a foundation for this knowledge, I hung around for the summer deinstallation and quickly forced myself to get over my fear of asking questions at the risk of sounding amateur.
When I’m not in my own studio space I am working as a preparator. I work part-time at PPOW Gallery, which coincidentally represents Katharine Kuharic, and hang paintings in residential and commercial buildings on a very erratic schedule . My client base is generated mostly by word of mouth, which is a slow but worthwhile method. At galleries, my day includes menial tasks like patching holes and walls, changing out artworks for meetings with collectors, driving trucks to pick up work from the greater New York area, and packing art for shipments. Once a month I install the main show for the gallery which allows me to spend a great deal of time with inspiring artists that have made some headway in being “successful”. I am always treated as a fellow human and artist which provides room for stimulating conversations usually containing lots of helpful advice. It’s also always fun to pick artwork up from their studios / homes to see how a creative builds their own space.
For anyone interested in the arts, I highly recommend looking at NYFA.org. The New York Foundation for the Arts is basically a craigslist for creatives. I scoured their website daily for weeks upon moving to the city picking out jobs I was qualified for, not qualified for, interested in, and maybe-but-probably-not-so interested in. This site gave me a great sense of what types of art-related positions are available in New York City which can be helpful even if you plan on moving elsewhere.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
Here are a few questions to keep in mind while looking for art-related jobs:
- What role do you want to play in the arts?
- Do you want to be the curator that assembles a group of artists or artworks to convey some overarching connection that they have to the greater world?
- Are you interested in the art market?
- Do you want to support young artists? Convince collectors to consider older, overlooked artists?
- Are you interested in educating the public about a particular niche that has always fascinated you?*
- What type of art do you like? Experimental? Contemporary? Modernist paintings?
- Do you want to work for a primary dealer (galleries that represent living artists) or a secondary dealer (mostly the estates of dead artists and artwork that’s already been bought and resold)?
*Education programs are typically linked to museums, in which case I would suggest starting your search there instead of galleries.
Studio art major Sam Finkelstein '14 maintains a studio practice in New York City supplemented by a career handling / installing art for galleries, museums and businesses.