Author: Daniel Grant
Publisher: Allworth Press
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
There are many markets that vocational photographers serve from assignment photography to wedding photography, but I would guess that in pursuing a career in photography a substantial number of photographers envision their images hanging on the walls of galleries. There are plenty of books that tell how to carry on photography businesses from assignment to product photography and many books explain the techniques for creating artful photographs, but few volumes are aimed at the business side of fine arts photography. Photographers interested in learning more about this form of enterprise are probably best served by learning about the business of art.
The Business of Being an Artist deals with all of the visual arts, not just photography, and explains the kinds of problems that the artist will encounter that are beyond just the terms of an agreement with a gallery owner. For example, in the chapter on exhibiting and selling art the author suggests that the artist would do well to find out if the kind of work he or she is producing is the kind of work for which the buying public is willing to lay out money and he recommends methods of getting honest appraisals. The author also discusses such practical ideas as pricing ones work and offers suggestions that are not strictly in keeping with a business model that looks at prices that are dependent on cost recovery and profit margins. Although many artists, including photographers, have advised me that a gallery owner with whom one has a long-standing relationship will often discourage one from working in different styles, or changing the direction of ones work, this is the first time Ive seen this phenomena described in writing.
The book covers a variety of subjects, including licensing ones images, using the internet to market, hiring managers and representatives, transitioning from school to the working world and searching for grants and gifts. The author describes the extensive interviews that he has conducted with practicing artists and other participants in the fine arts business. He often examines different aspects of problems that are encountered and solutions without suggesting a best course of action. As a result one is aware of what lies ahead, without actually having a recommendation for dealing with the problems. In many cases the author does not give specific advice for some of the activities he describes. For example, although he talks about relations with gallery owners, he doesn’t talk about the process for actually getting a gallery owner to agree to carry your work, or what terms to put into an agreement with a gallery owner. Fine artists, photographers or otherwise, will have to look elsewhere for this information.
Much of the material will not be applicable to every vocational artist who reads the book, like the description of the dangers of the contents of certain paints, or the problems created when one artist marries another. Moreover, many of the points are covered by lengthy recitations of the results of interviews that can be quite boring and long-winded, tempting the reader to skip over a section, even though there are often useful nuggets buried in these same sections. However, even though the book is not an easy read, the lessons probably will prove useful.
Even in the long run, an artist, including a fine arts photographer, probably will never encounter all of the problems discussed. On the other hand, reading this book should prevent one from being blindsided by the business side of ones art. One final note: practicing the fine arts, photography or otherwise, is not very likely to be financially rewarding, so don’t be quick to quit your day job.