WORKING WITH ARTISTS PART 1: WITHIN THE STUDIO

For many in the art world, a key attraction is the possibility of working closely alongside artists and within touching distance of new artworks as they take form. Yet this proximity – and indeed any chance of using one’s own artistic creativity – is something that is not always offered by a career in the commercial art world. Indeed, the nature of artistic production – mysterious, unpredictable and usually messy – stands in stark contrast with the watertight systems and operations required to maintain the slick façade of a gallery. It’s the joint responsibility of both studio and gallery staff to bridge this gap, and they often act as a much-needed buffer between the worlds of creation and commerce. In this first look at working with artists, we will consider studio careers as one key area of overlap.

 

The first thing to note is that artists’ studios exist on a spectrum in terms of size, staff and activity – all of which are dependent on the artists themselves and their particular mode of production. Whilst modern media and means of fabrication have in some cases reduced the role of the artists’ own hand in making artworks, some of the best-known and most commercially-successful artists have adhered to a more traditional model and work alone or with minimal assistance. For these artists, a shifting in-house workforce can be the most effective means of staffing – bringing in media-specific technical help as required for big deadlines, exhibitions and commissions – whilst all commercial activity is left to the galleries that represent them. This is the historic, romantic studio model we associate with artists such as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Jackson Pollock. Generally, as an artist’s profile grows, so does the need for in-house administrative and operational support.

 

At the other end of the spectrum are artists who oversee large production and technical teams as well as dedicated marketing and even sales staff – an approach that attempts to reconcile production with retail and that affords artists a greater level of commercial independence. In recent years, some big names have expanded their studio businesses to incorporate commercial platforms both digital and bricks-and-mortar, replete with marketing departments and sales teams, echoing the structure of a gallery. Such development allows successful, high-profile artists to dedicate their own time to larger-scale projects for institutions, fairs and collections, whilst smaller-fry production and sales can be delegated to studio staff.

The studios of most established mid-career artists lie somewhere between these two extremes, consisting often of a few technical assistants – who will stretch canvases, prepare materials, assist with finishing, and oversee the packing, transportation and installation of artworks – and a small operations team headed up by a Studio Manager. Due to the nature of compact teams, Studio Manager positions often cover a broad range of responsibilities – from overseeing production, scheduling and finances to liaising with galleries, institutions and private clients, as well as managing studio administration and staff, and providing secretarial support to the artist themselves.

The essence of a studio-based role is enabling an artist to devote more time to conceiving, planning and making artworks. The other side of the coin, however, is the potentially fraught experience of working long, and erratic hours, for a boss who may have little experience as an employer and might well be eccentric! A thick skin can be helpful, and a talent for problem-solving essential. But in the end, success in the role is often dependent on the strength of the personal relationship with the artist – something that cannot be taught or even prepared for.

Image credits: Khara Woods via Unsplash.com, Joseph Morris via Unsplash.com.