I hummed and hawed for a while before buying this book, but let me cut to the chase and deliver the punch right now: it is a great little book. Some of its hard facts are useful, but the book’s true value, for me, lies in its thought-provoking passages. I will come back to this shortly.
Firstly, the format is clear and digestible. Navigating the Art World contains several essays by contributors with valid and relatable experiences, as well as short quotes, tips and ideas. This balanced structure varies the pace of the book which kept me engaged.
I read the book as someone who has a decent knowledge of the art world ecosystem, having worked in it for the last 20-odd years and having spent last year in an intense research phase as I undertook the R&D that led to ArtULTRA. I think it is very pertinent. It gives good advice about how to use social media platforms, what to use them for and how to use them for best effect. It gives good, simple snapshots of key facets of the art world: how collectors work, how to think about selling your work, how to exhibit purposefully, and it’s delivered in a straightforward style using accessible language.
One element that jumped out (as it corroborated my own research) was that artists need to have more knowledge and overt conversations about ‘how to manage yourself as a business’. In the words of artist Jordy Kerwick: "you need to know how to manage a brand (the brand being you)". Equally, I found that there was a real issue of business literacy for artists. Although some universities do offer business modules within their art school curriculum, this kind of teaching can be patchy. It is also not what students are interested in during their time studying art. A few years later down the line, however, when early career artists realise that there is real value in acquiring solid business skills it’s extremely difficult to come by the business training they desperately need. There is definitely a misalignment in timing there, which is something that ArtULTRA aims to tackle.
To return to the book, the authors place the pursuit of art at the centre of everything for artists, and I find it a useful reminder. It’s perhaps not ground-breaking, but offers reassurance. As an early career artist, there is so much to worry about and to master, that it’s easy to lose that simple element of perspective. The authors acknowledge that being an artist is hard and everyone struggles at times. As with any type of creative undertaking, if there were a known formula for creating a successful artwork, film, exhibition, etc., everyone would use it and life would be simple. But being an artist is an individual, personal undertaking; for the most part, it’s a struggle. The fact that artistic development is a non-linear process can be demoralising at times, but hugely rewarding too.
To quote Hedley Robert’s essay, my favourite contributor in Navigating the Art World: ‘(…) if you want to be an artist, make art. Then make more art. When you’ve made that art, make another kind of art. When you’re not making art, talk about art. (…) write about art, read about art. There’s no other route to developing good art than making and learning about as much of it as you can.’
Overall, this book is well worth £12. I’ve taken plenty notes, and it has made me think about how the art world's ecosystem might evolve. In particular, it made me consider the value of a peer-to-peer network for artists, which today can go across borders, and has the potential to provide exponential powers of connection and support between artists. There is clearly something to harness there.
You can buy the book here.