Smart artists know a successful artist studio visit is created well before the actual meeting. From ensuring a studio is well-organized before visitors arrive, to having a well-stocked pantry of tea and water, there are some basic tenets of creating a comfortable environment for studio visits to run smoothly. Aside from making sure a few talking points are prepared and some background info on a visitor has been collected, what else can artists do to ensure that they are ready to tour through their artwork with an informed guest? Here, we have accumulated a few pointers to make sure your next visit hosting someone in your artist studio all goes according to plan.
Artist Studios: Not All Visits Are Alike
“There are different reasons for studio visits and different types of studio visits,” says Sharon Butler, artist, writer, and founder of the Two Coats of Paint blog. Gallerists, curators, art consultants, and collectors can look at artwork online, but go to an artist studio to get to know an artist and their work better. Meetings with them are very different than a more casual visit with another artist.
What is the purpose of an artist studio visit? If you’ve invited a gallerist, curator, art consultant, or collector to your studio, have a clear intention about why you’ve asked that particular person and what you hope to get out of your time together. A studio visit should ultimately serve your work, so think more broadly than “I want a show,” or “I want to sell my work.” Butler also cautions, “A studio visit is not a critique unless you’ve made it clear before the visit that you want critical feedback.” Critiques are a specific kind of conversation, so don’t expect every visitor to be comfortable offering that kind of feedback, and only invite constructive feedback from someone who you trust will comment thoughtfully.
Know your audience. Before you invite someone to your artist studio, consider whether she has a point of view that might help your work develop. Is there something unique about the way that gallerist looks at art? Does the curator have knowledge in a particular area that may help you think differently about your work? A collector might help you see connections between your work and other work they collect.
As someone who rarely does cold studio visits, Stephanie Theodore, principal of Theodore Art in Brooklyn, New York, says she goes to an artist’s studio “…if we seem to have a rapport in person, and I like what I’ve seen of their work online or elsewhere. They’ve come to my gallery and seen what I show. We’ve talked in person and I’m curious about them and their work.”
Regardless of who initiated the visit, do your research. If it’s a gallerist, you should have visited the gallery. If it’s a curator then hopefully you’ve seen her exhibitions in person or at minimum familiarized yourself with her projects. If it’s a writer, immerse yourself her articles.
If an art consultant or collector is coming, do a Google search to see if there’s any information about the work she’s interested in. Is it a first-time collector? New collectors may be nervous and not know what to expect when they visit an artist studio, which means you’ll have to be especially conscious about making them feel welcomed.
Preparation: Setting Up for an Artist Studio Visit
If someone has reached out to visit your artist studio, ask if there’s a particular body of work she’s interested in seeing. Both Butler and Theodore emphasize the importance of choosing work that tells a strong story about your creative process. There are many ways to choose what work to show, but be selective and focus on finished pieces rather than works in progress. For example, if you choose to show pieces from a few different bodies of work, then choose pieces that present a strong story about your artistic evolution, when put together. “If there’s something special about your process— maybe it’s a technique or something that inspired the work— have a small area where you can show your visitor,” Butler adds.
It’s also important to set up the studio so that you can easily pull out other work in case the guest wants to see something that is not on view. If the piece is really too difficult to access, then you can show it on a computer; however, unless the work is digital, video, or other computer-based art, don’t spend too much time in front of the screen. If you don’t have a computer there, resist the temptation to try and show work on your phone. Instead, follow up afterward with images or videos.
The basics. Before guests arrive, make sure the studio (and the bathroom) are clean. Practice what you want to say about your work and know your prices in case the conversation goes in that direction. Theodore also adds, “Email and confirm the day before. Make sure there’s a way to get into the building and offer something to drink – water is fine – when they arrive.”
Talk about your work. A visit to an artist studio includes both showing and telling. Be prepared to talk about your process, inspiration, and the artists who influence your work. “It’s not good if an artist can’t talk about their work or worse, says ‘the work speaks for itself,’” Theodore says. “I want to know who they consider their contemporary influences — not just DeKooning or other art historical figures. It tells me whether they’re actively engaged in looking at work now and are part of that conversation, not just one from another era.” And don’t be overly self-deprecating. It’s better to postpone a visit rather than show art you aren’t confident about. “It’s awkward when I feel like the artist is expecting me to boost their ego,” Butler notes.
Listen. Give your guests time to look at the work without hovering over them. Listen to what they have to say. Give their comments and questions consideration and answer in a way that invites intellectual exchange. A seasoned arts professionals, like Theodore or Butler, want to have an honest conversation about the art, which means hearing about the artist’s thoughts while feeling invited to contribute new ideas about the work. By inviting someone into her studio, an artist should be willing to be engaged in the dialogue. “Use that person to get air into your work,” Theodore says. “You may not get a show but you can learn something about your work.”
Play the long game. Sometimes a gallerist or curator has a specific show she’s considering, but more often she will come to an artist studio visit because she’s curious to learn more about the work. A visit is just one step towards building a relationship and should never feel transactional. “I may not write about the artist immediately,” Butler says, “but I keep them in mind for future articles or might feature their next show [on the blogazine].”
Critics, gallerists, curators, and collectors want to see the work, but they are also curious to know if there’s a connection. Are you someone they will want to work with? Can you articulate why you’re making the work you make? Are you someone they want to continue to have a conversation within the upcoming months or years down the road? In large, art-saturated cities, the harsh reality is that there are plenty of other artists to choose from. If an artist is difficult to work with, unprofessional or isn’t articulate about her work, there is a line of other artists who are ready to step up.
What if things go awry? Despite careful preparation, sometimes a guest and artist just don’t “click.” Try to keep positive and avoid taking anything personally. “Cold studio visits are hard,” Theodore says. “If you’re not getting a good vibe, get through it professionally and move on.”
Have fun. Artists can sometimes let their expectations and anxiety overshadow the true intent of a studio visit: to share their work with — and also hopefully learn from — someone else who cares deeply about art, in the setting of your artist studio. Your guest is there because she is interested in you and your work, so relax and see where the conversation takes you both.
Want to share what has and hasn’t worked for your artist studio visits? Know any resources artists can glance at to prepare for their own studio visitors? Share these in the comments below!