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Rat race ready?

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

What is it like for artists entering the art market? In a recent lecture I was asked this very question. Art school grads face endless questions and there are so many decisions to make. They need to find a studio, become a marketeer, build a network and grow a collector base from scratch. It’s a-lot. They need to figure out their pricing, make decisions on representation and shout from the sky-scrapers for attention. There are no shortcuts to success. It’s all about the hustle.

The reality for artists starting out in their career, and for some throughout their career, is they face spiralling costs and heightened competition for discovery by dealers, galleries, agencies, collectors and patrons. 82% of UK artists take home less than £10,000 a year from their practice yet the market remains saturated with new entrants year-on-year. With increasing closures of small to mid-size galleries and the market as a whole slowing down, dealers are looking to reduce overheads to improve their bottom line as a means of self-preservation. The costs of heightened rent and storage have driven dealers to give up premises, pushing the responsibility of storage back onto their artists. Not only will artists come up against a shortage of artist studios in the UK but they need to consider how best to accommodate for production and storage within their studio space. We need a Murphy studio solution and fast. The landscape over the last decade has changed dramatically for artists in terms of representation. Dealers can be seen to be moving away from cyclical artist shows to focus on art fairs and in some cases to move away from representing living artists altogether. As the market narrows for artists in search of dealers to represent them, artists need to consider how to attract a dealer or agent if they wish to be represented. Talent agencies for visual artists have sprung up over night, they offer artists alternative ways to grow their collector base through commercial partnerships like public advertising collaborations and commissions – a successful innovative model! Some agencies even offer art leasing to their clientele, a try before you buy offering, which usually ends in a sale. In terms of online sale platforms the market is innovating which is only a good thing for artists.

Do I see the traditional path of discovery at graduate shows fading out? No, this is the vein of the art market and for many this will be their story. Interestingly like dealers and agencies, now patrons are seeking artists at a much earlier stage and scouring the grad shows too. Arguably though art prizes and awards have never been more essential for helping artists break into the emerging market, gain recognition, and potentially pick-up a representative – dealer or agent, and collector base. Artists need to be applying for ‘young’ and ‘emerging’ artist prizes and grants, public exhibitions and residencies to build their audiences.

“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse


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