Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg? (episode 2)

Night Time - Hot Springs Historic District

This is part two in a series about how I went went from emerging artist and residency director, to bringing countless of artists to Art Basel Miami and other big art fairs around the world, while giving them the best professional practices to show up confident. It may sound like a quick success story, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

My disheartened state at Art Basel Miami actually led to an epiphany.

Have you ever heard of the “chicken or the egg” problem? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The gallery model at art fairs is sort of like that problem for emerging artists. It goes like this:

In order for emerging artists to show their work at big art fairs like Art Basel Miami, they must be picked up by a gallery. And in order to get picked up by a gallery, artists must have lots of experience behind them. But to get that experience, they have to…

Hmmm, you see the quandary? How do you achieve that first big step?

I quickly realized that waiting for a gallery to pick you up before you can show your work at a big art fair was, well, waiting for someone to grant you the keys to the castle, so to speak. To make matters worse, I didn’t even know who to kiss up to to be granted such access. Besides, what happens when you finally do get a gallery contract and they don’t want to (or can’t) take your work to a big fair like Art Basel Miami?

My thoughts about the gallery system in the art world really started to change. My rebellious nature began to show itself.

Galleries present themselves like they are loaded; it’s in their fancy display rooms, their fancy websites, and the fact that they can afford $30,000 booths at Art Basel Miami tells you everything. Plus, they take their money directly from artists by taking at least 50% of the final sale price of every piece they sell. I have to admit, as I looked closer, galleries started looking like used car salesmen.

Beyond that, galleries don’t help you write a good artist statement – and if you walked into a meeting without one, they wouldn’t see past a typo or give you the time of day. As much promotion as I saw galleries giving their artists, I didn’t see them sharing their secrets with the artists they claimed to be supporting. They seemed just as invested in keeping their whole system a secret, just as the art fair world did.

I knew one thing at this point- I did NOT want to suck up to a gallery, or to become one.

So, I continued my search for emerging artists at every art fair I could find, and looked deeper into the context to see what resources there were for artists to present themselves like professionals in such a professional world.

But apparently I had just scratched the surface, because I found even MORE barriers that seem to prevent emerging, independent artists from stepping into the deep end of the pool, so to speak. Chicken or the egg problem? Completely. But it doesn’t stop there.

There are built-in reasons why emerging artists are not being seen in such “big deal” places.

Curious to find out why? Stay tuned for episode three.

And until then, here is our free guide on how write a compelling artist statement.

Join the ongoing conversation in our Starry Night Artists group.

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Dedicated to nurturing the careers of emerging artists, Starry Night’s programs are designed to lower the traditional barriers that artists face when trying to establish themselves, and help them to start making a living doing what they love.  To learn more about our comprehensive online training program, Artist Resources & Tools, click here.

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Episode 1: It Started With My Curiosity- And Maybe a Little Jealousy



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