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Art/Work by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber

Post #1310 • March 9, 2009, 8:23 AM • 48 Comments

I have in my hands an advance copy of Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber. I have been thinking about these career issues quite a bit lately, so this book by a director of Mixed Greens and an arts lawyer comes at an opportune time.

The gold standard for this genre remains How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist by Caroll Michels. But the fifth and most recent edition of Survive came out in 2001 and it's already showing its age eight years later. 2001 was two years before the first Art Basel/Miami Beach and the explosion in number and importance of the art fairs. It was before the proliferation of blogging and the decimation of the landscape of print criticism. An update seems in order.

First and most importantly, a book on this topic must do no harm. Nutty and useless assertions have appeared in advice books for artists, and Art/Work has admirably few of them. (My one moment of bewilderment came from the section on artist blogs. "Not all art 'needs' a blog, obviously, so you shouldn't feel compelled to start one, especially if you work in a more traditional medium." On the contrary, many people like to see traditional processes described in stages. One of the first financially successful artist blogs, until recently called A Painting A Day, features the traditional still lifes of Duane Keiser.) It provides a lot of practical and informative advice. The section on transfer of title edified me utterly on the subject, as did the clarification that one refers even to male persons tending the front desk of a gallery as "gallerinas." (Not long ago I mistakenly called one a "gallerino." Luckily I didn't do it in front of him.) Art/Work has helpful diagrams for crate design, well-conceived examples of a wide variety of paperwork (although printing some of them in triplicate serves no purpose), samples of budgeting forms, and several other details not well covered by Michels. On the other hand, it seems to have lifted some of the topics point by point from Michels: the problem of day jobs, the countdown checklist before an exhibition, dealing with rejection, and a few others. Obviously, it's a finite problem set. No one does a better job on the paperwork than Tad Crawford; both Survive and Art/Work cite him repeatedly.

Survive has one somewhat weak aspect: its discussion of dealers, for whom Michels has little regard. She entitled the germane chapter "Dealing with Dealers and Psyching Them Out." It reads like a pathology manual of duplicity, knavery, and contempt in the primary art market and how to avoid contagion. By all means, approach your dealer with prudence, but not body armor. The authors of Art/Work use a somewhat more humanizing but still problematic metaphor for the artist-dealer relationship: courtship and marriage. They apologize for it early on in a sidebar entitled "It's Just An Analogy, People!"

Every gallerist we interviewed made some kind of analogy to courtship and marriage when describing what it's like to bring a new artist into their program. We think the comparison goes a long way to [sic] explaining how gallery relationships feel, but in the end it doesn't explain everything.

Indeed, and it gets creepy after a while.

Oh - and don't forget that if representation is like marriage, you're getting hitched to a polygamist. No matter how much your gallery loves you, you'll never be the only one.

Perhaps I have had unusually good luck with galleries, but I find that if I act like I'm running a business (as opposed to indulging a hobby), and I treat them like they're running a business (as opposed to doing an elaborate favor for my artistic temperament), everything goes just fine. It seems like it would be enough to say so. But Art/Work does provide rich descriptions of what gallerists want from their artists and vice versa, and explains how to work out written agreements so that both are most likely to come to pass. It also features short quotes from conversations with Andrea Rosen, Ed Winkleman, Mary Leigh Cherry, and other critically regarded gallerists, so the advice seems commensurately up-to-date.

That said, I hope an editor has the opportunity to take an axe to the manuscript before it goes to production. First of all, I find the book overdesigned. Sidebar quotes, which fill the thing from cover to cover, are preceded by an odd, 8-em long middle-height horizontal bar. The designer has given whole pages to individual quotes twelve to twenty words in length. Sidebars switch between body copy and margin copy. Some of the effort to make the book look slick and contemporary is instead making it awkward and harder to absorb.

The book features charmingly drawn but inadequately droll cartoons by Kammy Roulner throughout, peopled with a stereotypical cast of art world characters: poseurs, scoundrels, megalomaniacs, perpetrators of nonsense, and airheads. The editor should cut them. A few of them are downright sad-making (in one, a little boy says to a little girl, "When I grow up I wanna become a performance artist and put everyday objects into my anus"), and they play to a conception of the art world as a romper room for self-important fools that doesn't need any more reinforcement than it already gets. Roulner belongs to the Mixed Greens stable, so I understand how her drawings got in the book, but aside from providing negative example after negative example of how to act like a nimrod, their presence subtly undercuts the presupposition of the book that the art world rewards professionalism. Frankly, for this kind of thing it's hard to beat our own Thomas Marquet here in Boston.

Probably nothing will date Art/Work faster than the repeated quotation of Shamim Momin, a Whitney Museum curator whose biennial last year singlehandedly reanimated the Why Is Art Writing So Bad meme, and who, even with the benefit of an editor, says things like, "How do you marry a more ideal scenario with the budgetary, physical, locational, and contextual constraints which are frankly the major players in what produces a show or produces work?" The selection of interviewees, references, and asides leans noticiably towards the Cool Kids set. The authors offer this caveat: "We're also not telling you that if you do everything we say, you will be the next Damien Hirst." You mean, even if I follow this advice, I may not find myself buying back my colossally overhyped work in a covert maneuver to save face? Pity, that. A discussion of the book's features, in the introduction, lists "a slash in the title, so it will look cool on your shelf." I appreciate the aspirations to insidery currency - the passage of years has made Survive look like it's erring in the other direction - but these fashionable details may doom the book to the remainder bin before its time. Too, while the authors make a point, to their eminent credit, of saying that the kind of art career they advise on may not be the kind that you want or the kind that suits your work, they provide almost no examples of what the alternatives look like. Survive does a much better job in this respect, with more discussion of exhibition possibilities and more advocacy for artists selling their own work. If only Survive was current enough to cover the new social media and the possibilities of the Internet, as well as the fairs.

This book makes a decent, substantial addition to the library on the topic, its publisher has priced it affordably, and despite the attitude of the authors that they're telling you things that you won't learn in art school, it would make an apt textbook selection for the increasingly common college-level art business practices class. Nevertheless, it only further whets my anticipation of the forthcoming book by Jackie Battenfield, due out sometime this Spring. Battenfield gave up her New York City gallery to devote herself to her painting and her art career. This subject really ought to be addressed by an artist with a healthy professional practice, whatever helpful thoughts a gallerist or a lawyer might contribute to a discussion thereof.




March 9, 2009, 9:09 AM

Well, I think "gallerina" is, you know, sexist. Plus it sounds stupid. I propose flunky, minion, or receptionist.



March 9, 2009, 9:15 AM

Oh, and Heather Darcy Bandari should drop the Heather. As for Shamim Momin, the entire name should be replaced. It sounds like Sham at MOMA, which is way too close to reality for comfort.



March 9, 2009, 9:24 AM

You're kidding, I know, but on behalf of all of us with funny names, let's just not bring it up.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 9:35 AM

Shamim Momin is a perfect name for the perfect person at the perfect time. She's multicultural, young, very attractive, likes crap, and is brilliant at producing quotes like the one above. And you can tell all of that from her name! Her middle name might as well be Whitney Biennial.

Thanks for the pointer to Thomas Marquet, Franklin. My favorite quote so far: "In my official capacity as a lackey, I'm extremely unpersuasive."



March 9, 2009, 9:57 AM

How about Whitby Momin? Or just Whitby? That's much better. It's time for art world types to go the one-word name route. If it's good enough for Cher, it's definitely good enough for them.



March 9, 2009, 10:00 AM

Please stop. We've already been through this with Micol Hebron.



March 9, 2009, 10:01 AM

And if it's good enough for Jack... Personally, I think a simple, understated pair of initials is much more chic.



March 9, 2009, 10:03 AM

By the way, Franklin, my guide for artists is in preparation. It will be short and sweet. The central message is very simple:

Just make Jack happy. The rest is details.



March 9, 2009, 10:10 AM

Yes, MC. I can see it now:

"I'm SM. That's Mistress SM to you, you lowly worm."


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 10:24 AM

I'm not really making fun of Momin's name so much as her taste and position in the art world. How, you might wonder, could she possibly get where she is today? But then you see her name in print and then maybe you find this photo, and then, aha, it all becomes clear.

No, I'm being unfair. I'm sure both the 2004 and 2008 Whitney Biennials were coincidental and not emblematic of her complete and utter inability to discern real art from piles of horseshit. I'm sure she's talented and thoughtful and quite capable.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 10:26 AM

And Franklin, you do not have a funny name. Or not very funny. It's a good German name. Got that big ole CCCHHHH at the end, which makes the four years of Deutsch I took in high school worth every minute.

I don't have a funny name, either. I have a weird name few people seem able to get right, but it's not funny.



March 9, 2009, 10:30 AM

Uh, Chris, going by that photo, your definition of "very attractive" must be different from mine (unless you meant "very unlike Florence Henderson, aka Mrs. Brady"). Of course, the tattoo could explain everything. It's certainly a better explanation than what she dragged into the last Whitney Biennial.



March 9, 2009, 10:32 AM

Yeah, Franklin. It's Einspruch, not Einprick.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 10:40 AM

Well, she's more attractive than I am, that's for sure.

People are getting angry at us for this part of the thread, I can tell. Making fun of names, discussing physical attributes of a woman, hoo boy, we're making enemies by the minute.



March 9, 2009, 10:40 AM

Even I don't appreciate it.



March 9, 2009, 10:44 AM

It's very simple, Chris. Everybody just needs to be more open-minded, that's all.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 11:29 AM

I can't tell if you're as big a jerk as I am, Jack, or if you just like winding me up to watch me go.

Personally I take all of this as good-natured goofing. Franklin may not appreciate it but he's too stiff anyhow. I'm a-joshin'.

Also, I think there's a certain level of competence one should evince, and should one fall below that level, then one is beneath contempt, and I can make fun of anything about one. One is now, as they say, fair game.

That's probably one of the many things that makes me a bad person.



March 9, 2009, 11:41 AM

Well, Chris, if we can't make fun of somebody, anybody, like SM, whose real name is regrettably Legion, we might as well take up day trading. Or amputee porn.



March 9, 2009, 11:59 AM

Too stiff? Let me reiterate something I said at J.T.'s - there are many ways to use up your credibility as a writer, and few ways to build it. I put considerable time into the above post, and the regulars are now goofing on somebody's name, again, and talking about someone's looks like that relates to anything. I'm asking for a little help here. Address the writing, not the writer.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 12:04 PM

We do sort of hijack your blog, don't we? I like to think of it as a conversation space, which may be unfair.

I think your piece is very well written and doesn't leave much room for commenting, unless I'd read the books, which I haven't. Any time I'm silent on the actual post, that usually means "Good job!"

P.S. I blame Jack.



March 9, 2009, 12:16 PM

Well, I blame global warming. So there.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 12:38 PM

You know, Franklin, most established online forums -- I'm thinking of the Straight Dope in particular -- have an area or areas where regulars can hang out and talk about stupid things having nothing to do with the real topics. Maybe you should code something like that up for Art Blog, so when we get dopey you can just say, "I'm moving this part of the thread to the Idiot Pit" or whatever. You don't have to feel like you're shutting us down and we won't have to clutter up your good stuff.


Bunny Smedley

March 9, 2009, 1:22 PM

Chris has a point when he writes 'Any time I'm silent on the actual post, that usually means "Good job!"'

I've read your post twice now, with considerable interest. Not least, as a consumer of art rather than a producer (if you don't count stuff that's so lame even I can barely put up with it) you've told me a lot, by implication, about the issues facing working artists at the moment. Packing crates? Forms in triplicate? It's easy even for someone who knows a few artists to forget how much tedious practical stuff stands behind the work one sees on the gallery walls. All of which means, really, that I'm here to learn, as well as to laugh at your line about Hirst. But in terms of positive contributions, there's little enough I can add.

The real answer may be that, maddening though it is to work hard at writing something just to have your post apparently ignored, it's hard to measure the impact your post has made on the basis of comments alone.

(Just as well that 'Bunny Smedley' isn't the sort of name that could possibly give rise to any humour whatsoever ...)


Bunny Smedley

March 9, 2009, 1:25 PM

Quick clarification for people who know how English is supposed to work - what I meant in that second paragraph is that I'm a consumer rather than a producer of art, which is why it's so valuable to have you, as a producer as well as a consumer of art, enlighten me with your post. Which of course isn't what I wrote first time round, but it's been a long day.



March 9, 2009, 1:31 PM

Bunny, some targets are more deserving than others. I mean, some of us might be abusive, but not indiscriminately so. There are certain criteria involved.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 2:21 PM

True. I won't make fun of your name unless I really like you or really dislike you.

As far as comments go, my experience is that the more tightly written and clearly constructed a post is, the fewer the pertinent comments are. A well-written piece doesn't leave a lot of room for argumentative conversation. Give me a stray thread, however, and I'll unravel the whole thing in a couple of days. Cf. our vast undertaking at J.T.'s.



March 9, 2009, 3:02 PM

Speaking of which, have you been by that thread lately?

It's not even so important to me that people address the original post. I just think that everyone, no matter how much or how little I agree with them, deserves to be evaluated based on what they say and do, not on what they look like or what name they got from their parents. Protracted discussions of the latter only threaten to make me look like an idiot for countenancing them, they're certainly not adding to the value of the original post, and they're the kind of boorishness that I would prefer not to be subjected to if my thoughts were being discussed somewhere else. Not everything that appears in the comments has to be a work of genius, but enough already.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 3:09 PM

I was there earlier, before the "group home" metaphor. It makes me tired and sad, yet I keep going back. I wrote about why at my blog, where no one showed up to make fun of anyone's name.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 3:10 PM

As far as what they say and do: Doesn't allowing oneself to be photographed in a belly shirt showing off the tattoo on one's hip qualify as something one's done?



March 9, 2009, 3:12 PM

Not really.



March 9, 2009, 3:23 PM

As I said to Bunny, Franklin, there are criteria. Some people, based precisely on what they say and do, and on their standing in the art world (especially if it is undeserved, as is so frequently the case) deserve all sorts of abuse, barring something illegal. That you may not want that on your blog anyway is another matter.



March 9, 2009, 3:25 PM

That's putting it well, Jack. I would prefer not to have that here anyway.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 4:52 PM

You're not going to unfriend me over it, are you, Franklin?



March 9, 2009, 4:58 PM

That would certainly put me in illustrious company.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 5:09 PM

At this point I feel as if half the free world's unfriended me.



March 9, 2009, 6:58 PM

Chris, if it's any comfort to you, half the world isn't worth having as a friend.

So Franklin, are you aiming to turn this place into a proper, more correct art blog, like all too many such outfits cluttering up the blogosphere? It's not as if there's any shortage, you know. The market seems pretty saturated with them.

Not that I should talk, I suppose. I'd never darken the doorstep of such bastions of propriety and burden them with my, uh, boorishness. Among other things, they bore me to tears, and if I wanted that, I could always read the art mags.



March 9, 2009, 7:28 PM

Give me a break, Jack. All things being equal, it might be interesting to get comments from Bhandari or Melber on this post. So let's say Bhandari comes here to comment and before much else she's getting told to drop her first name. What good does that do her, me, or the intellectual quality of this thread? I have no interest in making proper, but I have a lot of interest in making it a good read.



March 9, 2009, 8:25 PM


I must say I like
the title...



March 9, 2009, 8:27 PM

I see, Franklin. That clarifies things significantly. Still, though I don't know anything about her, you're probably selling HDB short. I doubt she'd be so thin-skinned that she couldn't blow off a rather innocuous throwaway comment from a stranger who can mean nothing to her, and which was obviously not personal, since there's absolutely nothing personal between us. However, I understand where you're coming from; your point has been taken.



March 9, 2009, 8:29 PM

Thank you, Jack. I appreciate that.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 9:51 PM

If she's the gallery director and not the lawyer, she's probably thin-skinned enough to make a voodoo doll of Franklin just for the negativity in his comments section.


Barbara J Carter

March 9, 2009, 11:50 PM

I'm de-lurking to thank you for this review. I'm not sure my sagging art business bookshelf requires the addition of yet another tome, but I very much appreciate hearing about it.

And may I just say that it's a real pleasure to read such a well-written blog post. Thank you for using the English language to such good effect.



March 10, 2009, 6:59 AM

Good post Franklin, as always. Advice to "act like you're running a business" is the bottom line. As for the name game, you knew that Shamim Monin would push their buttons. And maybe one of these books has a chapter on how to psych out Shamim Monin.



March 10, 2009, 8:05 AM

It's not a question of psyching out Shamim Momin and similar types, but rather tuning them out. It's hard to believe BS has such a long shelf life, but I suppose it always has had, among the sufficiently clueless (or sufficiently vested in profiting from it).



March 10, 2009, 11:10 AM

Thanks all, most recently to Barbara and David.



March 11, 2009, 10:07 AM

Here's a link to an NPR bit on "teaching artists to act like business people"...


Milé Murtanovski

March 11, 2009, 3:12 PM

Thanks for another great post, Franklin.

I picked up the Caroll Michels book back in the fall, have read most of it, and only now have the time to actually act on much of what she's written about.

Do you think Art/Work would complement the Michels book? It sounds like it has some interesting practical notes and suggestions.

Also, I recently showed your wonderful comic art to a friend and he really enjoyed the simplicity of your paintings. He's an artist as well and has a gift of simplification that, after years of working out realism, I'd have to practice like hell to match.

Also-also, I enormously enjoyed the "Unsolicited Advice" post as well as the "Starups in 13 Sentences" posts. I looked around at Graham's site and found another positive and helpful essay:

Thanks, Franklin!


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2009, 8:34 AM

I have a funny thing to note after reading that essay, Milé. Thanks for that, by the way.

Graham writes: "You've probably noticed that having dinners every Tuesday with us and the other founders causes you to get more done than you would otherwise, because every dinner is a mini Demo Day. Every dinner is a kind of a deadline. So the mere constraint of staying in regular contact with us will push you to make things happen, because otherwise you'll be embarrassed to tell us that you haven't done anything new since the last time we talked."

I've found that this is exactly how my studio works. Because I share a studio with other people (not fine artists -- a couple of comic book pencillers and some writers) I feel I have to show up there and do stuff every so often or they'll wonder where I've been. I actually have done more art in a studio costing around $400 per month (rent and commuting costs) and an hour and a half away from my house than I ever did in my own bedroom.

Graham adds, "If this works, it would be an amazing hack." I have to agree: It's not just amazing, it's really amazingly surprising, too.



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