Today we build on a conversation begun in previous posts about the importance of community, networking, and how to achieve both. While it is true that we live in a highly digital age, there is a great deal of importance in stepping beyond these boundaries and physically setting foot in the arts community surrounding you. It is all well and good to follow and friend gallery owners and curators across various forms of social media, as well as fellow artists, but you will only ever truly build relationships with the people you stand face to face with.
Networking is a part of every single career today. There is simply no alternative to the human connection when it comes to finding your way in any field. A recent study, reported by LinkedIn, revealed that across the board as much as 85% of work was found through networking. You may be thinking, that’s all well and good if I happen to be in finance or marketing, but consider for a moment that in fact in a way you are in both. As a working artist, you are responsible for every aspect of your career from the artwork itself to the marketing and financing thereof, even if you have one or more galleries. Additionally, there is no difference when it comes to the basic principles of networking whether you’re a dentist or a sculptor. Person to person interaction wins the day every time.
There are some things to consider when networking that can mean the difference between making a good impression and coming off like someone seeking only to benefit and not give back. Networking is very much a two way street. While you may be on the lookout for opportunities, the people on the other side of the conversation are as well, and you may end up being the person to provide them with the break they are looking for! Remain open to all possibilities and do not ever approach with a closed mind and a single goal in mind.
Use your genuine curiosity. Engage others in conversations about their work and learn from what you are told. This goes for anyone from an emerging artist whose work you find interesting to a seasoned curator. We tend to only walk in our own shoes so it is critical that we ask to hear what it’s like to stand in others’ as often as possible.
While it may be tempting to guide the conversation in the direction of your career every time, particularly with those who you feel can provide some advancement and positive influence within the community, refraining from doing this and instead cultivating a genuine curiosity about others is a far better practice both personally and professionally. This is not to say you should adopt an air of hollow curiosity, feigning interest while biding your time for the right moment to bring up your own work. Far from it. Rather this is a reminder and a gentle nudge that this is not only your area of expertise but, if you are someone committed to making a career from you art, clearly your passion. Approach with genuine interest and treat every interaction as though it could be a learning experience.
Operating in this way not only provides you with the opportunity for every new interaction to be a chance for knowledge, it also makes an impression that lasts.
It is an absolute truth that showing curiosity about others is a great way to make them remember you. We all love to feedback about our work (after all, the overarching theme of this post is how to refrain from doing just that all the time!) and nothing flatters like genuine curiosity. When you are at openings or other events, engage those around you in conversation about the work they are doing now. Ask thoughtful, genuine questions and really listen to the answers.
Ultimately the most important—and fortunately the most basic—move you can make to launch your networking is to simply show up. Seek out events in your community. Attend openings, lectures, take classes, join groups. Don’t hesitate to get involved, you have as much right as anybody to be present within the arts community where you live and work. If you’re unsure how to present yourself or just plain shy, we’ve got you covered there, too. This post discusses how to gently and tactfully fake it till you make it. After all, everyone has a persona they cultivate whether they realize it or not. You can remain very true to who you are while making some subtle tweaks in order to feel more at ease as you move through the world of artists, curators, and gallery owners.
Do not allow yourself to fall prey to the myth that the art world is closed door community where newcomers are absolutely unwelcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. Get out there, network, be your own best advocate and remember to be interested in what those around you are doing. Before you know it, you’ll find you have begun to develop a strong community where you can rely on a web of contacts to help you as you navigate the journey of a working artist.