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Luck vs. Opportunity.

Guest blogger Jenni Ward is an artist with a track record of museum exhibitions. She shares her thoughts on how artists can create "luck" for themselves.

Jenni Ward’s “Hive Series” installation at the Santa Cruz

Museum of Art & History. Photo credit: Paul Titangos

You know that moment when you have an amazing thing happen to you in your art career and you share it with friends, family or whatever stranger is standing next to you and the genuine kindhearted response is: “How lucky for you!” Does it make you cringe?

Yeah, me too. Because I don’t feel lucky. I feel like I put my time in and I earned a chance at that opportunity – it didn’t just magically happen. What I have learned is that you will not sell or exhibit your art, no matter how beautiful just by making it – it is simply not enough. But, I have also learned that by being dedicated enough for long enough, with deliberate and smart efforts, then sales and opportunities will fall into your lap “effortlessly”.

Over the past two years I have been honored to show my work in more than a few local museum exhibitions. This is a really big deal as an artist and I am so proud to show my work in these venues. Equally, I am proud to have put all of this time and energy into my career and to see it actually pay off with recognition. I can’t give you a how-to for getting your work exhibited with a museum (I’m still figuring that out for myself) but I can share what I have done to help create these opportunities.

I work really hard (kinda all the time) but this isn’t a bad thing, because I love what I do. Even on vacation I check out galleries, meet local artists and share my finds on social media. This is part of the job, but not all of it. Keeping a balance between time in the real world and time saturated in the studio is so essential; one can’t exist without the other if your goal is to show and sell your work. It is extremely important to me that my work is thoughtful, well crafted and matures over time. Being able to attain this is a commitment of hours upon hours focused only on making work.

Artist Jenni Ward in the studio.

Sharing what’s going on in the studio and in my head is another element. You need to be able to articulate your crazy creative thoughts to others so they can share your work on your behalf. Whether you are explaining your work on your website, writing a proposal for a project, or reaching out to someone who you think will be a great connection, if it’s not clear what you’re all about then your beautiful message will be lost.

I’ve found that when reaching out or creating a proposal, it’s equally important to research who you are connecting with. Don’t bother hounding the curator of a photography gallery when you’re making glass sculptures. Sure, there’s always a chance that the curator knows someone who knows someone, but most likely it’s a waste of time for both of you.

I have also realized over the years that the fans, family and the cheerleaders in your life want to talk about their artist friend (you’re way more intriguing than their average 9-5 friends) so keep them in the loop on what you’re doing and invite them to the studio to see works in progress, not just to the finished exhibits. They will be excited about whatever you are excited about. Use that to your advantage and be grateful when they share your work with their friends and colleagues.

For me, taking control, actively engaging, and committing to all of these elements rather than waiting for them to happen, has led from one opportunity to the next. It has taken time, but I have built relationships, gained experience and launched my art career in the process. I know I’ve got a million more things on my to-do list, but I also know that something is working here. I have not been given these exhibition opportunities randomly, so my advice is threefold…

One, make art – no matter what, be disciplined and just keep making art.

Two, be kind to those around you – other artists, collectors, fans and curators. Those who love working with you will promote you. Be sure to return the favor.

And three, go full force, head-on for your biggest, wildest art dreams – because nothing bad can come from that. I encourage you to create your own opportunities, share what works and what doesn’t and stop allowing “luck” to guide your art career.

This article is courtesy of Carolyn Edlund and Rosemary G. Conroy.

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