Professional Practices

Finding Your Audience: The MVS Master Class in Tucson

I attended the Mary Virginia Swanson Master Class in Marketing in Tucson, AZ, last month. It was amazing- jam-packed with more information than I could begin to describe here. It covered the role of the photobook in an artist's career, how to work with galleries, the role of portfolio reviews, the importance of editing one's work, how curators and gallerists find artists, correct archiving of photographic prints, and far more. We were honored to have people like photographer and editor Joan Liftin, photobook artist Philip Zimmermann, gallery owner Terry Etherton, independent curator Trudy Wilner Stack, and photographer Susan Burnstine contribute to the experience, along with many others. In addition, the class was able to take early-morning hikes into the mountains surrounding Tucson to contemplate the sunrise before the day's work began. Most of all, it was wonderful to share work and thoughts with the other participants and get to know each other.

What were my biggest takeaways?

• The success of your portfolio is dependent primarily on your clarity of vision as expressed in the work, and the quality of its technical execution.
• The many options for keeping your work in the public eye.
• The importance of consistency in how you market your work.

The following images provide a small glimpse into the experience. Besides the sunrise shot, the center image shows Janet Huston discussing her work with Mary Virginia Swanson, Tillman Crane, and Lee Welke Bass. The image on the right shows Lisa Nebenzahl, Anna LaBenz, Sonja Rieger, Sirous Partovi.

The Challenge of Titling Artwork

Giving titles to artwork is a challenging but rewarding part of the creative process. Although I am sure that there are many artists out there who have no problem coming up with titles, there are many others for whom it is a difficult or thankless task. I've talked with artists who hate assigning titles, and often default to "Untitled No. XXX" for their work. This is, of course, an option, but one that can work against an artist in certain respects. First, it can make it challenging to figure out which piece a potential buyer or curator is talking about unless you are an artist who has a great inventory system that allows for quickly finding your artwork in your archives. The longer you make art, the harder it may be to identify and find an untitled piece without a detailed and up-to-date inventory database. (I'm speaking from personal experience here.) Second, it can turn off certain viewers and buyers who welcome titles, as they can add meaning or provide insight into the work.

It is this value-added aspect of titling artwork that makes me work hard at coming up with an effective title. Titling forces me to engage with my art in a different way than when I am making technical or aesthetic decisions about it. I title all the artwork that I exhibit, making sure to title each body of work, as well as each piece within a series.

Sometimes titling is really hard. This was the case for the overall title of the body of work that became "Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered". I agonized over what the title should be, making long lists of potential titles, all of which were lame or awful. It wasn't until I was passing by one of my bookcases and my eye fell on a Chieftains CD titled "Tears of Stone" that I had a eureka moment. Conversely, sometimes titling is drop-dead easy. This was the case with each image in the "Tears of Stone" series.  Rather than give the pictures metaphorical titles, I knew that many viewers would be very interested in the type of place and the location at which each shot was taken. The location would further indicate the scope of the war's impact the nations that fought in it. Here's an example:


On the other hand, sometimes metaphorical titles can be very effective. Here's an example from "The Primitive Streak" series that functions both literally and metaphorically, and which depicts my nieces as they neared the end of their childhood:


How do you come up with a great title for a piece of art? For me, it varies. Sometimes it comes from an external source like a discussion I have with a friend, a line in a book, newspaper, poem or song, or from listening to a podcast, as happened with the two series "The Wind Telephone" (This American Life) and "The Primitive Streak" (Radiolab). Sometimes a title is suggested by the artwork itself as I work on it. Using a thesaurus can be enormously helpful. I now keep an ongoing list of potential titles, knowing that I may never create a piece that matches up to one of those titles.

The main criteria I use for judging whether a title is effective or notis, "Does it add something to the experience of looking at the art without explaining too much?"

There really isn't one defining formula for creating successful titles for your artwork. Here are three different blogs that make excellent suggestions:

How to Find the Perfect Title for Art

Work-Life Balance for Artists

Work-life-art balance - Is there such a thing?! My answer to that is: There can be, but it is a constant struggle to maintain it, and there are plenty of times when it is impossible. At least, that is my experience.

There are so many factors that one has to deal with in life: Work demands, personal relationships with partners/kids/family/friends, physical and mental health issues, financial pressures... I could go on and on. These factors will vary for everyone and change over time. For example, for the first 14 years of my career as an artist-educator, children were not part of my life. I found the work-life-art balance challenging enough, but then I had twins and everything changed.

Back in 2004, an interviewer asked me to describe a typical day in my life and this is what I said:

5:30am- Wake up, answer e-mails for 30 minutes, exercise briefly, eat breakfast, shower, start a load of laundry.

7am- While my hands are engaged in making lunch for my kids, my mind is scanning the entire day to come so that I don't forget anything. Good luck with that! It's also my turn to take the kids to school.

8:30am-12:30pm- In my studio wrapping up the pre-production activities for a book of my photographs that is being published in a few months. I’m on the phone with the designer, the copy editor, and the translators setting up the final round of proofreading. I’m also getting together a copyright application and an exhibition application. This means preparing digital files of the photos, filling out paperwork, labeling, addressing….

12:30pm- Work-related meetings.

2-4:20pm- Teach a class of graduate and advanced photography students.

5:30pm- Family time with spouse and kids. Includes making, eating, and cleaning up after dinner, and getting the kids to bed.

8:20pm- Grade student projects, prepare for upcoming classes, answer e-mails, and do some committee work.

10:30pm- The siren song of sleep is calling my name.

As you can see, my days were jam-packed full, with hardly any down time. But the above example also illustrates my first piece of advice for artists who are struggling to find time to make art amid the chaos of life and the demands of your job: Schedule regular time for art-related activities and make that time inviolate. Whether you spend that time on making art or preparing grant applications, etc., doesn't matter. What does matter is that the only way that you will find time to have art in your life is to make it a priority.

For me, that meant scheduling it- just like a doctor's appointment. If I scheduled time for my creative life and treated it like I did an important doctor's appointment, then I wasn't going to end up giving that time away. I ended up carving out a grand total of 8 hours per week for my art. Twice a week, 4 hours each time. Which, as any artist knows, is grossly inadequate. But it was enough to keep me going, to keep my hand in it. And because my time dedicated to art was so limited, I rarely wasted it.

Clara Lieu, an art professor and artist, wrote a terrific blog post on this subject titled:


In it, she states: "Successfully balancing a full-time job, kids and your art is all about various forms of sacrifice." Whether you have kids or not, that is totally true. And there are times when one or the other thing will have to be sacrificed. For example, for the first three years after my kids were born, I did nothing art-related at all. Nothing. Because I literally couldn't. I was so exhausted from raising the kids and trying to do my job that I couldn't even think about art. As obsessed as I am about art-making, I just realized that I couldn't make it a priority at that time. But the funny thing was, I didn't care. I knew that that state wouldn't last forever, and it didn't. Once the kids were older and less labor-intensive, I started scheduling time for creative work once again.

And that brings me to my second piece of advice, which is that learning to say "no" is an important part of making the sacrifices necessary for work-life-art balance, and the sooner you practice doing that, the better off you will be. As described above, sometimes I had to say "no" to my art. Sometimes I had to say "no" to how much time and energy I spent on my job. Sometimes I had to say "no" to a social or sports or family event. What you say "no" to will vary, according to what life throws at you at any given time.

No one can do it all or have it all, all the time. Saying "no" becomes an important coping mechanism for keeping your energy and time focused on what your priorities are/need to be. I know that that's easier said than done, but it really does help.

Everyone has to figure out their own answer to how to create work-life-art balance for themselves. Keep trying out different approaches until you find something that fits your own life and then keep at it, until you need to make a change again in order to regain your balance.


My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 4)

Because I've recently been thinking and writing a lot about what happens to artwork when an artist dies (don't worry, I'm perfectly healthy), I've been researching why artwork gets archived, how it gets organized, recorded and stored, and things to think about when creating a plan for one's archives. Finding solid helpful information was challenging at first. It wasn't until I started using search terms like "estate planning for visual artists" that I began finding items that I felt could usefully guide me towards finding answers to my questions.

What follows are a few of the best sources I could find:

Etched in Memory: Legacy Planning for Artists (An online resource that has a ton of resources listed on this topic.)

A Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning

Artists' Studio Archives website (This has a great page of handouts from "how to" workshops that they have offered.)

Artist's Estates: Reputations in Trust (This is a book that outlines what happened to a number of 20th C. artists' works after they died.)

Estate Planning Guide and Career Documentation Workbook (from the Joan Mitchell Foundation- both were updated in Feb. 2015)

After reading a number of the above items, I'll be honest- it's enough to make your head explode, even for someone like me who is crazily detail-oriented. I now realize that, for artists, there are two major things to think about when it comes to estate planning: 1. your artwork, and 2. everything else. Holy crap! At least I've got a fairly up-to-date inventory of my artwork, so that's a start.

Be that as it may, I'm very clear that I do NOT want to burden my family with having to figure out what to do with my artwork once I am gone. Given that, I have to get my act together in order to create a plan that relieves them of that task. I'm glad to now have some guidance for doing that.

The Artist vs. The Creative Entrepreneur

I read a great article in this month's edition of The Atlantic magazine titled "The Death of The Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur", by William Deresiewicz. In it, he states that "the image of the artist has changed radically over the centuries. What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it?" He starts his discussion by pointing out that artists were initially seen as artisans. That evolved into the artist as genius, then later the artist as professional. The model that is currently emerging in the early 21st century, according to Deresiewicz, is that of the "creative entrepreneur", someone who acts not only as the creator, but who also markets, bills, advertises, etc., instead of having someone else (ex. an employer) do it for her/him.

Deresiewicsz goes on to suggest how the artwork itself might change as a result of this shift. Having taught a class in fine arts professional practices for many years, and having experienced this shift first hand as an artist, I have to say that I agree with the author's perceptions about the change that is going on for artists today. It is like being on shifting sands all the time, as the way the game is played seems to change constantly, albeit in sometimes subtle ways that are not immediately comprehended.

Planting Seeds....

In the mid-1990's, I was invited to exhibit images from the Stargazing project in Sao Paolo, Brazil. A catalog was published that included an image from that work. Fast forward to two days ago, when I received the following message from someone in Brazil through my Facebook page, which I have edited somewhat:

"A few weeks ago, while looking for references material to start drawing the graphic design of my first EP (CD) - I'm an actor, singer, producer (former MTV latin america) and performer, born in Sao Paulo - came to my hands,  the book "Fotografia Pensante" (edited by) the valuable and genius Luiz Guimaraes Monforte!"

He goes on to say that he found my photograph in the book as he leafed through it. Then he wrote:

"The impact that this image generated in my heart was so intense, that there is more than one week can not sleep! Seriosly!"

The idea that someone couldn't sleep for a week because of an image I made was.... well, way cool!!! But what struck me most about this is that once you put your work out into the world, you never know who will see it, when they will see it, or if it will resonate in any way with those who do see it.

It reminds me of the seeds of desert wildflowers that lie dormant for decades until just the right conditions occur that cause them to finally germinate and bloom. So plant the seeds, just get your work out there, and see what happens.

Inventory Database for Artists

I've been a pretty organized person over the years when it comes to my art career. But when it comes to keeping track of everything, I finally realized how great it would be if I could keep most records in one place. I've got folders on my computer that contain Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, FileMaker databases, etc., and I'm constantly having to dig through those files in order to cross reference the information in them. In addition, I've been using Excel for my inventory database, but have been frustrated by its limitations. The following images give a visual of what I'm talking about: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.52.51 AM Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.54.41 AM Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.55.50 AM

You can imagine how many files are contained within these folders. Kind of crazy.

I was aware of inventory software for artists such as Flick! and eArtist, but after looking into them further, decided that they weren't for me.

Then I discovered GYST software. GYST stands for "Get Your Sh*t Together".

Created by artist and educator Karen Atkinson, GYST does far more than even the most fanatically organized person could ever need, which is one reason why I love it. Here's a screenshot of an individual artwork record in GYST. Note that you can add detailed information into any of the blue tabs found in the middle of the window: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 7.40.47 PMAnd if you want to look at your entire database of artwork, it will show up as a list like this: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 7.33.35 PMYou can pick and choose which features you want to use in GYST. Not only will it allow you to keep your inventory up to date, it will also help you keep track of any proposals you may have out, artist's statements, your resume, contacts, research notes, billing, etc., and it's all found in one place on your computer. Heaven!

Check out the GYST blog, as it's a great resource for professional practices information.

I should add that my only beef with any of the above-named inventory databases is that they are not particularly intuitive or user-friendly, so there is a definite learning curve involved at first. If someone could come up with one that is relatively easy to use from the get-go, I would not hesitate to use it.

Artist's Statements- Do's and Don'ts

Over the course of time, I've developed a set of "do's" and "don'ts" regarding artist's statements. I'm sure that everyone reading this post  will have their own opinions on the subject. Let me hear from you if you have a particular issue I haven't touched upon and I will add them in another post! "Do's"

  1. Make it only as long as it needs to be to say what you want to say. No longer.
  2. Write something that adds to the reader’s understanding of your work that can’t necessarily be learned from looking at the work itself.
  3. If you tell a story, make clear how it relates to the work, or to your philosophy as an artist.
  4. Make a point. Let there be a clear reason why you wrote this.
  5. Make the first sentence or two so interesting that I want to read the rest.
  6. Sound like you know what you are talking about. Use words that convey confidence.
  7. Use language that clarifies rather than obscures what you are talking about.
  8. Make sure the writing is free of technical errors (grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, etc.)


  1. Don’t make it unnecessarily long. Why go on and on if what you want to say can be said in one or two paragraphs?
  2. Don’t sound like everyone else out there. You are a unique individual with unique experiences and insights. Share them with your audience.
  3. Don’t just write about how much you have loved art since you were a kid.
  4. Don’t use language that is so opaque and convoluted and jargon-filled that only 1% of your audience can understand it.
  5. Don’t use words or phrases that weaken your reader’s confidence in you. Avoid phrases like “I hope….”, “I try to….”,  “I intended to ….”, etc.
  6. Don’t allow technical errors! Bad grammar, spelling or sentence structure can kill your credibility.


Artist's Statements- What Makes a Good One?

Having covered the reasons for why artists write artist's statements in the "Artist's Statements- Why Write One?" post, here are the three primary factors that I think makes for an effective one. (Please note that I don't think that there is a particular formula you can follow for this, as part of what makes for an interesting artist's statement is the personal writing style of it's author.) 1. Write a piece that complements the work, rather than explains it. This approach provides additional information to the reader that cannot be found in the work itself. The writing therefore can give your audience a greater understanding of your goals and motivations for creating the work, and help them gain further insight into it.

2. Use appropriate, direct language that clarifies rather than obscures what you are saying. In other words, don't use "artspeak" jargon!!! Here is an article that beautifully explains how annoying and pretentious you can sound if you do. Although the article cites galleries as the offenders, they are often use the text that artists provide to them.

3. Write in your own voice. Don't try to sound like someone else. If you love to write creatively, then use that skill. If you are more of a keep-it-simple-and-direct kind of writer, then write that way. Being yourself in your writing will ring true for the reader.

I honestly feel that if you use those three points to guide you, your chances of writing a statement that can serve the purposes outlined in my "Artist's Statements- Why Write One?" post are going to be greatly increased.

There is way more information to be found on what makes for an effective artist's statement. I particularly like the advice found in this article by Joanne Hurley and Kate Ware.

More on artist's statements in a later post.

Artist's Statements - Why Write Them?

I don't know many artists who actually like writing artist's statements. But artists end up  reading a lot of them in the course of looking at websites, going to shows, etc. And most artists have to write one at one point or another, like it or not. But why do we need to write one? There are three clear benefits that I can identify. First, I've come to realize over time that an artist's statement is as much for my own benefit as it is for my audience's. Writing a statement often clarifies my thinking about my work in a way that creating the artwork itself does not, so I now see it as part of my creative process.

I have also experienced that an effective statement helps gallerists and dealers choose and sell my work. If they have a written document that supplements both what they see in my photographs and have learned from me in conversation and stimulates their interest, then it gives them more reason to choose my work and try to generate sales or buzz for it.

Finally, a statement can also help critics to write knowledgeably and thoughtfully about my work, and is a necessity when it comes to getting publicity for a show.

The result of these insights is that, while writing a statement is still like pulling teeth for me, I now embrace the exercise as an opportunity rather than as a burden.

Byron Wolfe has two statements on the Bio/CV/Statement page of his website. that speak to the above issues. The first statement addresses his general interests and shows the reader the foundations upon which all his work is grounded.

ByronsMissionStatementSmallThe second he calls a "Mission Statement", which is a visual rendering of "the territory (he finds) most satisfying." For him, it functions as "part manifesto, part guide".

What a great way to discover that which is already inside you, but might have been hidden!


In addition, Joanna Hurley and Kate Ware have written a very comprehensive article on the ins and outs of artist's statements that really digs into the topic and is, in my opinion, spot on.

I'll write more about artist's statements in future posts.

"Daylight" Books & Magazine

Anyone interested in photography that explores the elusive boundaries between conceptual fine art work and documentary should check out Daylight, which is a "non-profit organization dedicated to publishing art and photography books." Daylight's writers include Kirsten Rian, whose ongoing "Alphabet of Light" articles count among the most eloquent, thoughtful writing on photography that is being done today.

A talented writer/painter/musician/photographer, Rian makes connection between the

Kirsten Rian

photographer, the photograph and our internal and external world in ways that are extraordinary. I always end up feeling like I have learned something new after reading one of her pieces. A gift to the world....

Photography Database- Luminous Lint

One of my favorite databases on photography is Luminous Lint. It is unlike so many other databases, in that it is searchable in so many different ways- by photographer, technique, theme, date, geography... it's just amazing. It contains not only images, but short bios of photographers, and has lots of galleries that allow you to view these photographs in different contexts. It also contains images that you would rarely see in galleries or museums, plus articles on unusual topics such as non-canonical photography, sequences and series, and fabricated realities.

The site's creator, Alan Griffiths, is completely enamored with photography, and it shows! It is a fantastic research tool.