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Lee Tracy: What are effective business strategies for an artist?

It is important for artists to take things seriously; so seriously that we must enact a thoughtful plan to set ourselves up in a sustainable environment. Every artist needs a space, time and materials in order to be productive.

There are thousands of ways to accomplish this.

The priority is that a studio be established with the purpose of creating your art. If you are a student, my advice is to designate a space while you are still in school. Work in that studio, get used to it and integrate it into your life. Too often, students leave school and find themselves longing for weeks, months, and unfortunately years for their studio to appear. Too often, the studio never comes about. So, act now and make your transition from student to professional easy and regret free. Make your studio now, call it that and call yourself an artist immediately.

Next, take a look at how you are going to spend your time creating your art and making your livelihood. I recommend getting business counseling. Once, I was asked to make a list of my assets. Not a list of cars, boats or jewels, but a list of my abilities; creative assets that could be utilized as resources. Examples from an artist list could be teaching, life drawing, comics, design, filming, research, sound, and so forth. It is from this list of things that you enjoy that you can support yourself. Now add to each creative asset a list of related jobs that exist in the world or ones that can be invented. Once finished, you will find that there are a multitude of directions or unique combinations to pursue. If you desire a position where you lack credentials, go out and volunteer or find a mentor to build your resume.

Also, I found that taking a direct and natural route, as opposed to something forced, is more fruitful in the end. Meaning, do what you LOVE without getting caught in markets, trends or popular opinion. Protect your integrity. In the long run sincerity is felt and recognized and becomes a greatly valued asset.

Most of all, I recommend that every artist go to the business section in the bookstore. Select a book that speaks to you on how to write a business plan. This method will help you chart a course and learn the steps to get there. Use the format but change the name to Creative Plan, Project Plan, Studio Plan, Art Goals. The format is universal and communicates to a wider audience, if needed. You may want to take your Creative Plan to your local bank and establish a relationship. After a visit to my bank, I incorporated my studio and used a business loan to begin working in my studio and maintaining it.

If for some reason you find that you are stuck, take the time to make a list of why you are an artist, where you think your work belongs and why. Get to know yourself. There are many reasons to exhibit art: money, ego, professional validation, and sharing the message are perhaps top motivators. It is good to form your own opinions on each issue so you can determine how to move forward in a way that is exclusively yours.

Income from art sales is an issue for many artists. I view money as one of the biggest conceptual works on earth. I so rarely see it. We live in a world of paper checks, plastic cards and computer transfers riddled with declared value. I take it all lightly, preferring to imagine commerce as the swapping of shells, buttons or little mounds of salt. For centuries humanity has existed on the exchange of goods and services, a world where things flow through. Artists can participate fully so art can be made.

A healthy ego enables the artist to make personal art. It is wise that artists make themselves present in their art, while staying aware of how intense external focus can overpower and weaken the art. Confidence should come from within, rather then requiring an adoring public. Each artist should take a good look inward to uncover personal intentions. Engage in dialogue with others, surrounding yourself with a group of friends that will tell you the truth and enhance the process.

Always present is the topic of professional validation, an element needed to move forward in some established areas. It must be acknowledged that for many artists public validation comes later in life, purely through the existence of decades of art, and the discussion of it. Though this path lacks swiftness and immediate gratification, it does, however, reveal the depth of a rich internal experience, a profound grasp of reality and a life that embraces the quiet devotion needed to make the art. Remember, an artist's prime occurs when the tools used to create art, the mind, eyes, and hands, are honed over years and convictions are solid.

Not everyone will agree with the statement "make art and they will come", but, you must define who "they" are and "when" they are coming. I am not referring to wide public recognition, rather the 5, 10, or 20 people meeting you today. What about the 15 supporters that grow to know you and support your art as it is being made? I have discovered that in this smaller world the pie is big. It is an intimate world where you can get art made, have work to sell, and a process to share. A natural cycle emerges where the inner circle expands and contracts, meeting the sustainable needs of the artist.

Sharing the message held in art is probably the best reason to seek exhibitions. This is the very thing that gives me the energy to get up every morning and go into the studio. Not all my art goes out into the world. A good portion of it goes neatly into storage, carefully catalogued, uniquely packed and accompanied by writing in various forms. If the message is important, I have taken it upon myself to make sure that it is preserved and documented.

Lastly, I like to dream. It is essential and I encourage it. The process of igniting an idea and pushing it into the material world originates from tossing about and voicing thoughts in their purist form; ideas that are easily considered impossible, out of touch or absurd. As the process continues the artist learns what is possible and carefully nurtures an art work into existence that has as much to do with the individual as it does the world we live in. Very important worthwhile art works come from the devotion of seeing an idea through.

Lee Tracy was born in Maine and raised outside of Boston in "Waldon Pond" territory. Early visits to her grandmother's home in the middle of Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) made a big impression on her as a girl. After graduating from high school in the downeast coast of Maine, Tracy experienced different schools of thought. Concentrating on fine arts, drawing from observation and illustration, she attended The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and The Art Institute of Boston before receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989. Ms. Tracy now lives in Chicago working closely with her woodworker husband, Joel. Tracy exhibits publicly and is in numerous collections.

This story appears on the Studio Chicago site courtesy of Chicago Artists Resource. See more Artists Stories on CAR