My advice to artists trying to make it

 17 November 2015

I recently received a personal ‘Ask an Expert’ question from a mature Art graduate who is desperately struggling to see his career take off. I wanted to share the main pieces of advice I gave him with others who are finding it hard to make their way in this industry.

Nobody understands you and your situation better than the artists with whom you studied. (Image: © Bryony Stokes)
Nobody understands you and your situation better than the artists with whom you studied. (Image: © Bryony Stokes)

As national coordinator for the Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN), I work with a supportive network of organisations and individuals nationwide to strengthen and develop the contemporary visual arts sector in England. In an increasingly difficult economic climate, more than ever this role is focused around working collectively to safeguard the future of artists and our sector as a whole.

In this capacity I of course recognise that it is undeniably tough for recent graduates, and finding opportunities to support your practice and make a living from your work are increasingly scarce.  When offered, they are very competitive.

You need a good online profile

If I were to do a cursory Google search to find some representation of your work, what would I see?

You need to have some online presence for you and your work. Whenever I have been involved in selection panels, even though material may have been requested and supplied in support of a submission, one never fails to further explore the artist’s broader profile online.

Having some visibility online might be that small thing that gives you a margin over someone else. 

Having some visibility online with a broader representation of your practice might just be that small thing that gives you a margin over and above someone else. You also never know who is looking online and what may come of it.

I would most strongly suggest you set up a website as a matter of course. Although setting a basic website isn’t expensive, it is still a cost, so if you need help see if the job centre and associated bodies can assist.

There are often cases where there is support available to enable you develop your business through such means of business support. I realise this doesn’t make you any better off financially, but such opportunities may offer tangible benefits in terms of helping you become better or look more professional in terms of selling yourself and your unique selling points.

In terms of other options for websites, AxisWeb offers a free hosting service for artists – although the scheme is curated and therefore you are invited to apply. A basic profile here is free of charge, and if selected carries come degree of kudos.

Artist networks are crucial

In my capacity with CVAN I can’t fail to recognise the importance of peer-to-peer networks.

Artist-run spaces are as much about sustaining a network and supporting the ecology of artists. 

Nobody understands you and your situation better than the artists with whom you studied at university. How are they doing? Do you keep in touch?  Are they still continuing to practice? Are they facing the same frustrations that you are and do they have real experiences and relevant advice which they can pass on or that you can collectively share?

Artist-run spaces, studio groups, etc. are often as much about sustaining a network and supporting the ecology of artists. Doors often open in the most unlikely of places, but like having a website, visibility can often be the deciding factor that opens up doors.

May I also point you toward Space Studios London which also run a fantastic programme for artist development including New Creative Markets. They also commission such features as Stuck in a Rut – things you can do to kickstart your creativity and stay motivated – and Where to Find Funding, which are great resources.

Look out for artists' resources

In terms of employment in the arts there are some great resources out there which you may or may not be aware of. Again the aforementioned Axisweb has a mailing list which helps promote and advertise opportunities for artists more linked to your practice. This is free to register, as is Artquest.

A-n has some excellent opportunities, but accessing these is contingent on paid membership. It comes with benefits, but at a cost of £36 at the time of writing.

Finally, I would also encourage you to visit CVAN website and sign up for the newsletter to receive a regular bulletin including opportunities across the network.

In terms of jobs in the wider arts, Arts Jobs is an essential platform through which jobs across the UK, big and small, paid and voluntary, are listed and sent out through a daily newsletter.

My advice here is quite general and may cover things you have tried or are already engaging with directly. However I would encourage you that there are always new doors and new avenues opening up. You have to be persistent and put yourself in the best possible position for when a suitable opportunity does appear. I wish you the very best of luck.