So artists write in and ask an artist career question. I might write back. But then where does that time go? It’s gone. So I’m going to start keeping my answers here. This may be of absolutely no use to you. That’s ok. It makes me feel better about it when I do write back, so it’s a real cosmic benefit…
Q. Agapeh: “I am a lighting designer who is trying to make her way into light art. I am trying to pave my own path since I have not attended art school. ”
I don’t know where you are in your career, and I can’t summarize this whole path, but luckily Jerry Saltz already did. So for sure read this and take it seriously, it is about 90% accurate to my experience.
‘Jerry Saltz How To Be an Artist’. If you want a book, get this one, the only one you’ll ever need. It’s written more for gallery artists than festival light artists, but ignore that, it’s super valuable. Jackie Battenfield’s “The Artist’s Guide”
No art school is not really an issue as presumably you already have technical skill in lighting, it’s only an issue as to a tribe, (see above article item #24). But you can go build that without school and eventually having not gone to art school will be a good thing, because everyone around you did go.
You can build a tribe most easily in the way he describes and also art residencies. Though you’ll need some work first to get into them.
Ok one other thing, you mention my story is interesting because “you do projects globally”. You need to be really clear on your motivations. If it’s to travel, then make a living some other way and then travel. This is not a shortcut to that. If you want to make a living as an artist, then global travel is also not something you get right away.
Guess how you get to travel for your first art festival gigs if you get them? You pay. My first city I did illegally and paid my own way, I wrote an article about that somewhere. I also teach an occasional course on how to do this and get paid, but it’s harder to do both.
The key here is to prioritize what it is you are really after. Make a list of the top 5 things in order of importance top down. Then cross out the bottom 4, and just work on the top one until you have it, then get to #2.
Yes I have traveled the world because of my art, but in the beginning, I didn’t travel AND make money. Now I try to travel less because my list changed, I have a family and getting on a plane is time away. Goals change, so just work on what’s important to you now don’t try to predict the future.
On submitting to artist residencies.
Yes rather than submitting ‘day job design work’, you’re better off doing something rough and seemingly ‘unprofessional’ like buying 100 lights at Home Depot, documenting ideas with them over a weekend, and returning them all on Monday.
Whatever your version of that would be, while this kind of thing seems a crazy way to start, it is more important to see your ideas and the way you think materialized and documented, then unrelated finished products. BTW, I have a friend who has a well known international gallery career- and he once returned an entire installation to Home Depot, $5,000 worth of stuff!
On PR for art projects.
Well, this might sound dated but I think it applies, Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest are not enough (but you still have to do them). It’s the difference between finding fans for your work, and finding presenters for your work. Your goal is an opportunity to make your work.
I got launched by doing illegal installs in Barcelona. So your Lisbon plans sound good!
I begged a favor from a curator writer I knew to write a fantastic press release (post-event) and packaged that with best images. You have to do this. I then took that release and sent it to some magazines I thought might be interested, and one took it and basically reprinted the release with the photos from Barcelona; it was Sculpture Magazine.
This got me my first paid gig in Australia. Turns out the curator had wanted to book me, but I wasn’t ‘in print’ so her boss said no, then the magazine article (that my friend wrote as a favor) came out, and I got booked. Don’t underestimate how much presenters need to see you written about and thus validated in their eyes.
You can use an online PR wire service (like prnewswire) to help distribute, but you still need it to be really well written and basically ready to use with eye-catching images, and you do need send that personally to your targets like blogs and magazines. For lighting work the photos are often sexy and you’ll have tons of possibilities, but you are looking for two kinds of places 1. Big online audience like designbloom that crave new images constantly and all the others like them 2. The target audience of more curatorial focus.
PR is a tough thing for a lot of artists, but the artwork is not enough, you have to be the one to get it in front of people who can help you. Have a good plan before you go to Lisbon, PR is best done via relationships so start that part early. If you have a friend in PR who knows how to do this, it’s the most valuable favor you can get.