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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hoy, artista: Thoughts on Starting Your Career as an Artist

Camille Rivera, Melodie Roldán and Antonia L. Martínez Gavarrete, a group of talented art students at Universidad Interamericana of San Germán. Next to them, a young helper and Waldemar Mercado Ferreira, my "bff" since we were 8 years old, painting the mural in February 2016.

There are very few things that I enjoy more than helping other people realize their dreams...


I have not written about this aspect of my life here until now because I used to write about these topics in my other blog Hoy, artista, which I retired a while ago. The person who began writing it was a different, younger person, and there came a time when I found that my voice was no longer the voice, or the mind, that began the narrative of the blog.

But I often want to write the things that will help even in some small way the people of all ages with whom I often sit to talk about their work and their dreams, and about how they might go about realizing them.

Some have taken off and created amazing art and international projects. Others have gotten distracted and forgotten their dreams. It is always a little sad to see, but it also reminds me that not everyone is made for this path.

Because it is a path, and one that requires commitment, discipline, and sacrifice.

When I went to Puerto Rico in February to create a mural in my hometown, I met a group of art students who helped paint the mural. They were very talented and did a great job, and I was extremely grateful because I had just a few days to finish and their work was immensely valuable to me. I said, "If you ever want to come to N.Y.C., let me know." And they smiled, and their eyes grew wider. What young artist doesn't want to come to New York?

One of them recently contacted me about helping them exhibit in N.Y.C. I said I would help and began thinking about the possibilities. My contacts are mostly within my own community, but within this community there are some great spaces and organizations that provide starting points for artists to begin exhibiting their work. And considering they are coming from Puerto Rico at a time when the economic and political situation in the island is going through a great crisis, their work is even more relevant and welcome. I felt confident I could help.

But in order to bring the idea into reality, there are some things the young artists (any young artist wanting to start) need to do. Even if you are not exhibiting at the MOMA or a fancy gallery, there is a certain amount of work that needs to be done before doing an art show.

The first thing an artist needs to understand is that, unless you have a mom or a wife willing to do everything that you don't want to do, you are going to have to be your own secretary. (I once interviewed a young artist —from the same university— whose mom returned my calls and acted as a liaison. It felt really weird, but ever since then I have wanted a mom like that!)

There is a lot of writing to be done before presenting an art exhibition.

In the case of the young artists from San Germán, they had one urgency: their university was offering to pay their expenses for travel and lodging, but they needed dates ASAP. They told me that, but they were not clear on what they would exhibit. As much desire as I have to help them them exhibit in N.Y.C., if I don't have a proposal to present to an organization, I can't move the project forward.

So the first lesson that an artist needs to learn when approaching someone for help is to have a proposal ready.

A proposal sounds big and fancy, but, at least in this case, it means 1) a title, 2) a concept explained in at least one paragraph, 3) names and bios of the participating artists and photos of the artwork to be presented, with 4) the information about each work (Artist, title, medium, dimensions, year,) and, of course 5) a proposed date. If the group of artists sends me that information, I can immediately reach out to my contacts and try to secure the dates so that they can get their grant from their university.

The problem is that a lot of artists do not feel comfortable writing and explaining their thoughts. The brain plays tricks on us. When I write, I can't do art for a minimum of 1 day or sometimes more. There is a shift that needs to happen and once you stay in one side of your brain, the side that is most pleasurable, it is hard to move to another side where ideas flow differently.

One way I deal with this problem is by challenging myself to write about most pieces I create at the time when I have just finished them and need a rest. I post the image and the writing in this blog, and often use that writing for other purposes.

When I wrote about my Mary Magdalene pieces a few years ago, I used the writing during many presentations I gave. Later, this year, I used the writing again to create my book, Painting Mary Magdalene. I used it also for my greeting cards and for exhibition labels. And for Facebook posts.

This blog is for me a sort of bank of ideas were I come to when I need a starting point or information for a project. Part of my work is done at the time I finish a piece. At that moment, I still feel completely immersed in the specific work and the writing flows much easier. If I have to create a web page, exhibition or presentation, I have the ideas in writing and just have to edit or polish the writing.

So if you are a young artist who wants to bring your art into the larger world, do ask for help, and help yourself.

Do your homework, be prepared, so that the opportunities that are waiting for you will not pass you by.

If you are still in school, learn writing, and learn business, and learn all you can about art, history, science, literature, math, philosophy and everything else you can catch.

An artist needs to be highly educated, needs to be able to express into words what the public needs in order to approach their encounter with the art you create. We don't want it to be that way, but it is.

I hope the young artists won't let this opportunity pass, because I want to keep my promise to help and because I want to show them the MET and the MOMA and the Whitney and the Guggenheim, the murals in my neighborhood... We will walk and take the bus and the subway and we will see much more of this immense city.

Yes, sometimes opportunity will literally knock on your window (and that has happened to me many times, literally,) but you need to show the Universe that you really want that opportunity and that your are willing to work for it.



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