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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sylvia White and The Art of Being an Artist

The ICA is the the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. I went there the past two Sundays in a row. Why? Because I was doing something completely out of my ordinary: Learning how to become a professional artist from Sylvia White, Founder and Director of Contemporary Artists' Services.

From 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM 40+ local artists took part in this two-part workshop taught by renowned gallery owner and art advisor for visual artists Sylvia White and hosted by The City of San Jose's Office of Cultural Affairs and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. It was titled "The Art of Being an Artist, career management skills for visual artists."

Sylvia has been advising artists on all matters related to the business of being an artist, marketing and exhibitions since 1979. Learning from her was both entertaining and educational. She was engaging, funny and brutally honest. Topics ranged from what name to use, pricing, who and how to approach people in the art industry, how to handle rejection, websites, resumes, artist's statements, and what "being" an artist means. She is a veritable fountain of information. 

Photo by: Chuck Kirman

If you're an artist who is ready to launch yourself and your work into the world but you have no clue how to do it, view Sylvia's services on her website. They range from private consultations to long term career planning. Working with her would be a solid fist step to start you off on the right track.

When I received an email invitation from the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs to attend the complimentary workshop I responded immediately because I really want to take my series of 1000 miniature origami cranes public this year after I've finished hanging my "winter" set.

"The Four Seasons"

Sylvia asked us some tough questions beginning with the most basic: What kind of artist do we want to be? Do we want the prestige of having our work hung in major galleries and museums or do we want to be a commercial success?

For an artist this can be a difficult distinction to make. A lot of us were thinking and asking "Can't we want both?" to which Sylvia replied, "No." She said even if you're 49% one and 51% other you should make a decision about which you want more before you reach out to the art world. You will be ineffective trying to do both at the same time. There are many possibilities when it comes to building your reputation and career path ranging from juried art shows, galleries, museums, private art consultants and interior decorators and until you know your goal, you won't know who to approach.

Sylvia explained that if you achieve one (prestige or commercial success), you'll probably achieve both because they tend to go hand in hand.

She also gave us lots of hands-on advice about how to improve our websites. Or to back up, she stressed the necessity of needing a website at all. Because it's such a specialized field there are specific parameters she believes are best practices when it comes to web design for artists.

This is my improved website home page after attending Sylvia's seminar. Note how my name is not only present, it's prominent. I also made my menu more concise. Below is the before. . .

What a difference! I hadn't ever included my name at the top of the page because I've always felt my art is about my work, not me. Sylvia helped me to realize that my work is a part of me and that being an artist is not a choice. Put that way I felt more comfortable adding my name to the top of the website. My art is an expression of me so why shouldn't my name be on it?

She also made a point that people who are artists must create. The way we create our best, most authentic, work is when we're pleasing no one but ourselves. To allow the direction of your artistic expression to be swayed by a judge in a competition or the approval of any random person means that you are allowing others to alter your expression. I learned early on that in order to nurture my creativity I can't allow others to dictate how I express it. That's why I dropped out of college 3 months before graduating. The environment was so creatively stifling I just couldn't see myself pursuing Advertising Art as a career. So I reasoned, why bother getting my degree at all? It's a decision I've never regretted.

At the end of the second day Sylvia asked us to write a list of three things:
  1. Our 6-12 month goals
  2. Our 5 year plan
  3. One over-the-top thing we want to have happen with our art
We wrote them down, sealed them into envelopes, addressed them and exactly one year from two days ago she is going to mail them to us so we can see if we were able to achieve our goals for 2012.

One of my 12 month goals I'd like to share with you is to find somewhere in the Bay Area to exhibit "The Four Seasons" during the month of August. Specifically I want the exhibit to coincide with the Peace Festival held in Hiroshima each summer on August 6th.

I also met a lot of local artists which was really fun. At times we paired off, broke into groups or chatted during lunch so I wanted to share the websites of some of the people I got to know during the workshop:

Photographer: SusanCarnahan.com

Pet Portraits: MarvinPlummer.com

Oil Painter: NancyWaltersArt.com

Photographer: SusanHillyard.com

Bronze Sculpturist: MariaKoretzSculpture.com

And I still have a lot of questions to figure out. For instance I don't even know how to classify my work. What kind of art is my origami? Is it sculptural? Could it be considered fine art or is it arts and crafts? Would I call it mixed media or something else? And am I a contemporary artist? If people like my work I'm not even sure that any of these questions matter. I haven't found anyone to ask because there are precious few miniature origami crane artists in the Bay Area, or, well, anywhere for that matter. At least that I'm aware of. At the moment I'm a bit in the dark about all of this but I'm sure I'll figure some of it out by the end of the year.

I found you this highlights video of Sylvia presenting The Art of Being an Artist

If you would like to learn from Sylvia White you can find her at ArtAdvice.com. Her site is a wealth of information so take some time and read through it if you're an artist who feels it's time to emerge and let the world know you are an artist.

Contemporary Artists’ Services
1783 E Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001
Office Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 11am-5pm
 ArtAdvice.com - Consulting

Sylvia White Gallery
1783 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001
Gallery hours: Wed-Sat 11am-5pm
SylviaWhite.com - Gallery

If you'd like to learn more about different art programs in the South Bay visit:

City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

The Center for Cultural Innovation

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