My friend Joshua Spodek was kind enough to write about his experiences building out public art exhibitions. One of the lessons he has is counterintuitive - that it can be a faster path to success to get large art projects off the ground than it is to work your way slowly through the art world. Here's Josh -
Art can be an insular field and breaking in is a common challenge, so I'd like to share it with a community that values success and victory. I hope there are insights others can use and share too.
My background is in science and entrepreneurship, but I've developed a passion for making art. I'm not content with just creating it -- like any artist I want exposure and recognition (sales aren't bad either).
The challenge is that New York's art world is notoriously xenophobic and tends to promote from within. My credentials -- a PhD in astrophysics and a company running for over a decade -- mean little to them. Even making great art only gives a foot in the door.
I have a huge challenge that my work doesn't photograph at all and video doesn't capture it that well. When galleries take an interest in my work, a version this conversation happens:
Gallery: We like your work. Send us your portfolio.
Josh: I'd love to. It doesn't photograph.
Gallery: No problem, send us some videos.
Josh: Videos don't work either.
Gallery: Oh well, it was nice talking with you. Good luck.
Building a long relationship by collaborating with a few individuals is totally different... and ironically, I realized a strategy of going big was one of the best ways to get going -- a big public piece in Manhattan's Bryant Park. Here's a video of it:
I'm proud of it. It got me great exposure and connections. One of the major keys to making it happen was to design it to benefit others and to share the credit (the opposite of most artists' strategies).
Making an art piece big and public means that New Yorkers in general benefit. The next thing I did was to offer my services to teach students at New York University's art school, Tisch. I didn't know anyone there, so to make it happen, I visited the school, and described my vision and how it would benefit the school and its students to an administrator (the only person I could find). She introduced me to a professor who could help.
To determine student interest, he had me present my art and the project to the department. Presenting at NYU's art school itself is a nice credential and a side benefit I enjoyed spending my time on. And I learned the students valued the entrepreneurial side of things more than I expected.
Several students joined the project. They would get experience, school credit, and their names on a big public piece, a great resume credit.
At this point the project had support from a major cultural institution. Everybody was winning: the school, the students, the art world, New York City...
It took over a year of planning, plus the semester for the course. It went up last March and has been up since. Another side benefit I didn't know to expect: each student solved at least one challenge. I don't see how I could have completed the project without them. Sharing the credit with the students and school were no problem -- they were awesome to work with. I gained from the experience.
So the project took time, but I was doing something I enjoyed. In the process I made connections at and contributed to one of New York's great cultural institutions. And the cash cost was zero.
As you know, success breeds success. The piece was so successful, I've been given the opportunity to put up a larger piece in a more trafficked location in Union Square with a larger group of students at Parsons School of Design.
In summary, the keys were
- Go big
- Benefit others
- Be patient
- Share credit
Sebastian's take: Brilliant stuff, huh? Josh was getting the run-around at galleries, and paradoxically found it easier to get a large public art installation built. From there, he looked to connect with some specific people, teach, work with students, and now he's doing more.
Josh currently has a Kickstarter up for his next piece:
I'm in for $101. If you like supporting art, check it out. If you don't like supporting art, but you live in New York - still check it out. There's some amazing events that donors at invited to - wine and cheese, etc - and Josh is one of the most fantastic and good people you'll ever meet.
Also, if you contribute, then shoot me an email to let me know, because I'd love to lend a hand to the people doing good things. I'm happy to make some time to lend a hand via email or Skype with whatever you're working on right now for goals, projects, career, business, etc.
Thanks for sharing your experience Josh - it's counterintuitive that doing something bigger and involving a lot of people can actually be a faster and easier way into an insular world. Great stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing the video from this installation :)
Today, we bring you a veteran creative producer -- learning from his father who was a television executive back when the few networks reigned supreme, Lee Schneider has intense insights from his career in journalism, writing, documentary production, and entrepreneurship. You can find him at his Digital Fundraising School, and he's doing a GiveGetWin deal focused on key insights for creative producers on making high-quality content, building an audience, and earning a living from your art and passion.
How To Build An Audience, insights from Lee Schneider as told to Sebastian Marshall
I started in words even though I was writing for picture. I was a newspaper reporter and writer for TV shows… on TV, I wrote the introductions, intros, and outros.
I wrote for a newspaper in Texas and for A&E. This started teaching me the relationship between words and pictures. I went to writing for local television and Good Morning America. I learned how to write fast and how to write in a big noisy room, and how to write for picture. This is a key thing, the relationship between pictures and words. They get stronger as they relate, words and pictures, and sounds.
That led me to working for news magazines like Dateline NBC and a magazine for Fox, Frontpage. I was producing stories in the 8-10 minute range, and telling a story in that range of time is a very different animal than telling a story in 20 seconds like you would for a news broadcast. That led to longer form stuff; after Dateline NBC, I did Biography for A&E and started my own company doing hour-long documentaries for the Learning Channel, History Channel, and others.
I have been into self-improvement for a long time now. For almost five years now I have religiously followed a number of authors who speak to becoming a bigger, badder you.
However, the pursuit has always felt a little hollow to me. Becoming a better you has always felt to me to necessitate an overly inward eye. Many years ago I took a pledge around a campfire to live my life for others. While I was just a kid at the time, the pledge is still something that I take seriously, something that has been fed by my activities since.
This campfire experience is one that came back to me several years later when I sought to learn more about Buddhism. My interest was academic rather than spiritual, but I was struck by something on a deeper level nonetheless. I was watching a video series with basic information about what it was to be a Buddhist, and I was struck by a statement the monks said ad the beginning of each installment. "... to achieve enlightenment for the betterment of all beings..."
That is how self improvement reconciles with altruistic, charitable living.
That is how I want to live my life.