The Clothesline Arts Festival in Rochester is nearly sixty years old and had 400 artists participating this year. I did it for many years, and my heart always goes out to my artist pals who are still doing the slog—setting up, charming customers, and then tearing down.
The first one, in 1957, was held in the middle of a hurricane. These are very rare in Rochester. The organizers should have paid attention, because it’s always on the same weekend and the weather is often terrible. It seemed like more years than not I set up and tore down in filthy rain. In fact, it was rain that finally convinced me to give it up.
So it was unsurprising to hear that, once again, the show was swamped and bone-chillingly cold. What I didn’t expect to hear were stories about publicity bias. “Oh, well,” I sighed. “Networking is a fact of life in the art business. That artist must have friends in high places.”
Then I came across this fine post, which I recommend to every aspiring artist. Jeff Goins draws from his own experience and that of Ernest Hemingway to give clear, concise instructions on how to succeed by networking. He pretty much sums up my experience in the art world.
Find a gatekeeper. To me this is a given: if you want to break into any new group, it helps to know someone whose approval will get you in the door. That is true for church and school as much as it is for the art world. But that person can’t carry you if you’re not a person of integrity or doing work of integrity.
An example of a great gatekeeper is Jamie Williams Grossman, chair of Lower Hudson Valley Plein Air Painters. She has a unique talent at welcoming and integrating people into her large painting group.
Connect with other people in the network. A lot of artists I know are introverts, and the idea of entering new social networks scares them. However, we all have the capability to reach out to others. As I constantly told my kids during their tweens, “to make friends, you have to be a friend.”
Help as many people as possible. Making a habit of being kind and helpful to others can only bless you down the road. For some of us, paradoxically, it’s easier to help the person lower on the totem pole than worry that we are “toadying up to our betters.” Learn to be blind to status and do good indiscriminately. Regardless of its effect on your career, it will do your soul good.
Goins also stressed the importance of an artistic community that reinforces your creativity (although he warns not to make geography an excuse for failure). In a nutshell, this is why I moved to Maine. I have two painting communities—one in New York, and one in Maine—and they are both filled with fine people and fine painters. However, the Maine painters share the same aesthetic and artistic goals as I do, which makes working with them that much more energizing.