I can still feel my confusion when we crossed the great Missouri River as planned and found that Iowa was not at all what I expected. On our map, the guide my family used to plot our trip and keep us from getting lost in the jungle or falling off the edge of the world, the map that was printed by a respectable publishing company and was, by all accounts, the best representation of our country’s roads that could be found, Iowa was pink. Nebraska was green, of course. South Dakota was yellow. Iowa was pink.
Only when we got there, it wasn't. I’m still living that one down.
Regardless of their flaws, I still love maps. I love the idea of starting out at Point A, and through a series of decisions that have been thoughtfully considered, the relative assurance of landing at Point B. I’m no stranger to detours and side roads. Highways in Nebraska are under construction all the time. Even so, there is still a general understanding that if I am lost, all I have to do is drive south on a paved road. Eventually I’ll end up in Kansas. And from there I’ll know, sort of, where I am in the world.
I love moving through my day that way too. In general, I know what the plan is.
The art world could use a map maker, even it they get some of the wrong color.
Like my family’s vacation map, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It would be nice to know in general terms where you might end up if you don’t know where you’re going exactly. Iowa can still be pink.
Finding a consistent route to success in this art business on your own is next to impossible. I’ve interviewed gallery owners, successful artists in all media, patrons and museum curators in an effort to find, not necessarily the indisputable only way but simply a way. Or even a few possible ways (excluding of course those routes which most certainly will take you into No Man's Land). It would be helpful to know of a route that is at least within a hundred mile radius of your destination, and will be the same tomorrow as it was today.
Want guidelines for finding a gallery? A way to make a sell reproductions of your work? A surefire road to success? For every website, artist, how-to book and monthly newsletter there are a ridiculously wide variety of side-roads, subways and super highways to take with no assurance they're going to the same place you are.
In other words, there is no certain map for you to use.
Maybe it’s not uncharted territory, but your path is your own. You’ve got to be Sir Stanley to your own Dr. Livingstone, I presume.
My advice, dear reader. Grab a paper map. Put your finger down on a spot. This is you, right now, in this place. Notice all the various routes spider-webbing out from this spot? These are visual representations of possibility.
Some of them will be interesting.
Some will not.
A few will take a little longer than others. You may find out that your destination, like Iowa, is not what you expected. At any time you can turn off the route you’ve chosen and try another squiggly line.
That, my friends, is your road map to success in this business.
And don’t forget to enjoy the ride.