Handsome Husband and I are taking the day to hang out with family and celebrate my Best of Show honor from the Norfolk Arts Center 4th Juried Exhibition. Why yes, thankyew, I am very honored.
The following is an interview with my dear friend, California artist Karine M Swenson. Karine is an experienced gallerist, artist and businesswoman whose talents and grace I admire a great deal.
©2009 Karine Swenson Once Over 10 x 8 inches monotype
Karine, you've both owned a gallery and been an artist represented by a gallery. What do you wish artists knew, and what do you wish galleries knew?
I wish artists would try to learn more about the gallery before they waltzed in, art under their arm, and asked for a show. Running a gallery is a lot of work, and most galleries have a specific vision in mind as to what kind of art/artists they show. Another no-no: going to an opening, when the gallery is having a show for someone ELSE, and start talking about getting your work shown and seen. This shows a total lack of respect for the time and money a gallery has put out to draw people in to see the art and make contacts and sales. Not to mention inconsiderate of the artist being shown. This is their show, not yours. Galleries have expenses, too. Working with a gallery requires mutual respect and appreciation. If you don't have that with a gallery, it's best not to show there.
I wish more galleries knew more about art, art history and selling art. I have encountered too many galleries with little or no experience in art, who expect to make lots of money. Is it too much to ask that a gallery owner does a little homework? I am sure there are many galleries out there who aren't like this. Unfortunately, I have run into a startlingly large number of galleries who are JUST like this. Selling art is about finding out what the customer is really drawn to, asking questions, and then showing art that might fit the bill. Buying almost anything is an emotional decision, and buying art is even more that way. A good gallery is willing to get to know their artists and their work so that they can talk intelligently about the art and the person who created it. This way, they will draw people into the experience of the art. They aren't just looking for the next superstar. They understand that the professional artist works on her craft and continues to get better and better, with the help and support of collectors.
How do you keep motivated?
I once read on a box of tea a quote about how creativity demands everything you have to give it; talent alone is not enough. I wish I could remember the exact quote. I think about that a lot when I feel down or frustrated. I also find it helpful to read about other artists, because you realize how hard they worked at their art. I look at my paintings and see what they have yet to become and think, "I just need to keep painting, and then these paintings will be everything I think they should be." I just want to become really good at painting. Of course, every now and then a painting will turn out better than I expected, and that always keeps me going. It is so exciting when that happens.
Many artists live in sparsely populated areas or don't have a commun ity of artists to rely on. Is there a book that you would recommend?
There are several that I like to read and re-read. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a favorite of mine. If I am having trouble getting into the studio, I can pick that book up, read one chapter or even two lines, and I am ready to go. I also love The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.
Is the art world different from state to state, east coast to west coast?
I have never lived back east, but the art world doesn't really vary that much from state to state that I have seen. When we lived on Maui, I found the art world there to be extremely difficult to crack into. The rents were so high, most galleries would only show internationally known artists. They wanted the artists who had a proven track record already. The galleries that did show local artists were packed full, and I had to be pretty aggressive to get them to show my work. I am not sure it is different anywhere else. An artist who is just beginning their career has to look for galleries that cater to local artists, or emerging artists. Be persistent! I went back to one gallery every month for about 6 months before the owner finally took some work. Every month when I visited her, I had photos of brand new work. It took me another 6 months before I had a piece of my art hanging on the wall.
How do you balance the need for solitude with the need for artistic companionship?
I have learned that studio time is something one must fight for. It is too easy to allow social commitments (or any other commitment, for that matter) to take away from that time in the studio. The studio comes first, and then when I have had good studio time, I reward myself with social visits. I am fortunate to have found friends who are also artists, so most of them understand the need for studio time. I am learning to be selective about who I spend time with. There are some people who do not respect my choice to be an artist and my commitment to my art. Those kind of people I keep at a distance. We are still friends, but not people I necessarily seek out when I want social time.
Has an artistic companionship changed the way you create?
I wouldn't necessarily say artistic companionship has changed the way I create, but I will say that having a close artist friend who I trust has been a huge benefit in my artistic journey. Sometimes, you get too close to your own work and can't see it clearly anymore. It is so helpful to have a fresh perspective. It is also helpful to know another artist who understands the joys, the triumphs, the frustrations and even the devastation of being an artist. Makes me feel a little less alone and nutty.
Any advice you'd give someone just starting out?
Decide what you really want art to be for you. Is it a hobby? Something you do for relaxation? Or is it more? I think everyone should have some kind of creativity in their life, but being a professional artist is not for everyone. Or maybe I should say, being a life-long artist. I am a life-long artist. If you know what you expect from your art, or what you think art is for you, you will be doing yourself a huge favor. I spent 10 years of my life trying to pretend I wasn't an artist. When I realized I had sabotaged my ability to have any kind of career so I could paint, it was a wake up call. It still took me about 5 more years to finally have the courage to do art full time. I may have to get another job, but at least now I know I am an artist, and always will be, no matter what.
Take a moment to visit her web site here: