Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving. Help Desk is cosponsored by KQED.org.
Dear Help Desk,
I have a nagging suspicion a prominent curator in my town feels slighted by my inaction to follow up on a studio visit he solicited. I know opportunities like this don’t happen often, and I deeply regret not following up, but I was in my thesis year of graduate school and could do little more than eat, sleep and work in the studio. We’ve bumped into each other at art openings and other events and he does his best to overlook me but greets my husband. Building an art career is difficult enough, I worry that his feelings toward me might make it even harder. I’m so embarrassed by the situation I don’t know how to proceed.
So you missed an opportunity to present your work, and now you believe that the curator is taking it personally and showing you his feelings by snubbing you at openings. There’s really only one way to find out if that’s true: by writing to him and asking for a studio visit.
You could play this a few different ways. You could, in the email, apologize for not following up, explain how overwhelmed you felt during school, and ask if the opportunity is still open; or you could just send a very short note requesting a time for a visit (with no mention of your prior interactions); or you could try for the middle ground, requesting an appointment “now that I’m out of school and not swamped by coursework.” Personally, I’d choose the last option, acknowledging your former position but without making it into a big deal. You owe it to yourself to investigate this situation and see if it’s possible find out what’s really going on—otherwise, you’ll just torture yourself every time you run into him. By getting in touch, it’s likely that you’ll be able to determine (either by the curator’s response, or by his non-response) how he feels about your interactions; and whether it’s good news or bad news, it will allow you to discern his estimation of your (albeit limited) interactions. Additionally, if this curator’s feelings were indeed hurt, your continued interest in a studio visit might mend the rift. Communicating your previous situation will let him know that it was nothing personal and that you take the opportunity seriously. Don’t put this off any longer, just write a nice email and send it off today.
Now, aside from the issue of if/when/what you hear back from this person, you’ll want to think about your broader goals. This person is important in your community, but make sure you’re not putting put all your eggs in his basket. Building an art career is laborious, and you can’t control what other people do; but you can take steps to carve out your own future regardless of how things end up with Mr. Prominent Curator. While he may be a big deal in your town, he can’t be the only one, so sit down and make a list of all the other people that you’d like to ask for a studio visit. Start the list with curators and gallerists in your town, then make another list of people you’d like to work with in the closest big city (this process may require research, which you can read about here). When selecting the people you’d like to contact, try to strike a balance between the VIPs and the relatively obscure. On the one hand, I encourage you to shoot high. Even if the blue-chippers aren’t scurrying over to your studio in droves, you’ll get your work in front of them, which is never a bad thing. On the other hand, be sure to include curators, writers, and other artists who share your ambition but are also still on their way. By creating a balanced list, you’re more likely to actually make some appointments, and you never know who will be enthusiastic and give you some useful feedback. Low-pressure studio visits are great practice for when the heavy hitters do start sniffing around, and today’s upstart arts blogger might be tomorrow’s Artforum staff writer. Of course, just like grant applications and project proposals, studio visits are a great tool to help you see your work through another person’s eyes, to analyze your studio practice in novel ways, and clarify your thinking about your artistic motives and strategies.
When your list is ready, start reaching out via email and asking all of these individuals for studio visits. If a curator lives in another city, ask if they plan to visit your town in the future and request that he/she gets in touch. Include a link to your website and links to any online press. If your work looks good on a computer screen and you’re able to travel, you might propose to meet them in their city for an impromptu “studio on a laptop” visit. Or, even better, if you have an exhibition in another city you can contact curators and writers in the area and propose to meet them one-on-one in the exhibition space, using that as an ersatz studio while you’re in town. No matter where you’re meeting, try to group studio visits closely on the calendar. This will keep you fresh and in the proper headspace to talk about your work, and will save you having to repeatedly clean up your studio in preparation for the next guest (more on studio visits here).
The best studio visits are valuable and enjoyable for both parties. If you work to make the experience a positive one, you’re likely to be able to foster a lot of interest in your work among the arts community in your area, including Mr. Prominent Curator himself.
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