School of Art professors speak on helping students find audience for artwork

Peter Johnson headshot

Alexandra Sobczak

Professors in the School of Art are encouraging students to get their artwork out into the world with the hope of helping them grow into professional artists.

“We show (art) to have a platform,” said Peter Johnson, an assistant professor of ceramics in the School of Art. “It doesn’t work if it’s in a closet. It’s just diary writing if no one sees it. So it only really becomes art, I would argue, when it enters into public discourse, when it’s shared.”

Faculty often get a “call for entries,” or a notice that artwork is needed for an exhibit, which they then pass on to students, Johnson said. Students can participate in the School of Art’s galleries or outside galleries.

“One of the ways I really encourage people to get their work out there and also start becoming a little more professional is to enter as many exhibitions and publications as they can,” said Andrew Kuebeck, an assistant professor of jewelry, metals and enameling. “I really subscribe to the law of large numbers, where if you just enter five shows or five books you might get into one. … But if you enter 12, you might get three or four.”

When there isn’t a call for entries, professors stress the way to get into galleries is by being a member of the art community.

“I remind (students) that being a professional artist is being a part of the community,” said Janice Lessman-Moss, a professor of textile arts. “You need to be out there and seeing other people’s shows. You need to go to all the receptions.”

Being apart of the community provides an opportunity not only to start understanding what gallery curators are looking for, but also to network, Lessman-Moss said.

“You make all kinds of casual acquaintances that can actually help you down the road to get opportunities,” she said. “You don’t go there with the intention of saying ‘Hey, look at me,’ but rather it comes through those connections more naturally.”

Although most faculty members agreed these are popular methods for getting students’ work into the public eye, they have differing thoughts on when students should start this process. Some believe if students start too soon, they may not have a developed their own voice as an artist yet.

“At the early stage of their education, I don’t always think it’s that smart to get your work out there because you’re still figuring out what your work is,” Johnson said. “So if you put it out in public too early, when it’s not really yours yet or you haven’t figured out your own identity as an artist, I think you run the risk of not necessarily helping your career.”

Others believe there’s no such thing as too soon.

Anderson Turner, the director of the School of Art Collection and Galleries, said students should start putting their work out there “now.” He has been showing his work in galleries since high school, and he said freshman year of college is a good time for students to start.

In addition to professors’ individual efforts, the School of Art also has programs to help students’ artwork gain exposure.

Students of any level can participate in the School of Art’s ARTshop and artwork sales by department.

TheARTshop is a student-run, student-manned shop in the Center for the Visual Arts, where student work is sold to the general public at little to no commission. Kuebeck, the shop’s faculty adviser, said galleries usually take 50 percent of the sale price of a piece of work.

However, the ARTshop charges a 25 percent commission rate on a piece of work if the student doesn’t work in the shop. If a student works at least one hour per week in the shop, he can sell his work at a 0 percent commission rate.

The ARTshop accepts work from any of the studio concentrations, and Kuebeck said he is working to allow art history majors to participate by selling research-based material they produce.

Another way students can sell their work on campus is through sales held by student organizations. Each studio art department has its own student organization that sells students’ work either on or off campus at specialized events.

An opportunity for upperclassmen, the senior-level course “Professional Practices in Visual Arts” teaches students the skills they may need in their future careers. It focuses not only on the business aspects of being an artist, but also on how to write résumés, apply for grants and complete residencies, where artists study and work, focusing only on their art.

“(The class) is more about taking writing skills and taking visual art skills that you’ve learned and trying to launch yourself in a direction that’s more about what this means for the rest of your life,” said Anderson, one of the professors who teaches the course.

Students also have the opportunity of participating in the BFA Thesis Show, where students graduating with a bachelor’s degree have a solo exhibit in the School of Art. About 600 people attend this show each year, including curators from museums, collectors, parents and students.

“That’s probably the most significant platform we provide that gives (students) visibility of their work,” Johnson said. “From that, they generate a portfolio of images that they can hopefully use afterward to apply to shows, to apply to graduate school and those sort of things.”

Alexandra Sobczak is the arts and architecture reporter. Contact her at [email protected].