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It's What You Know, Not Whom

by Lori Woodward on 5/26/2010 1:40:31 PM

Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is also a contributing editor for American Artist's Watercolor and Workshop magazines and she writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  Find out how you can be a guest author. 

Networking is an important element for success, but if your work doesn't exude excellence, all the networking in the world will do nothing for you. Age has nothing to do with success either. I can think of examples (close friends of mine) - one who is in his 20's who had the cover of American Artist and Art of the West before he got his work noticed by any of his mentors. Another woman, close to my age, who's career is growing by leaps and bounds - several major galleries have recently contacted her about representation. These artists' work is getting noticed because it stands out in the crowd. 

Hanging out with well known artists hasn't made me famous or gotten my work into major galleries. I hang out with: Richard Schmid, Nancy Guzik, and the Putney Painters, and yet, I am not being sought out by galleries. My friends and acquaintances include: Jeremy Lipking, Tony Pro, Daniel Keys, Eric Rhoads, Kathy Anderson, and gallery owners across the nation. I've learned from the best, and have all the connections in the world. So why am I not where they are? The answer is simple: Because I don't have an awesome body of work, I've never won or placed in a major art competition, and I simply don't put in enough hours at the easel. My career has migrated to writing and teaching, which leaves little time for the studio.

It's Not Whom You Know, It's What You Know and How You Put It To Use

Could I make it in the art world if I painted every day? Absolutely! But I would need to raise my work to a much higher level if I expect to reside in the same boat as my more famous friends. Does that mean I can't make a living with my art? Not at all, but my collectors are not the same group of people who collect their work. There are plenty of artists out there who are making fabulous livings who have no connection to the famous artists I do. Whom you know doesn't really matter in the long run - well, not as much as what you know and how you use that knowledge while creating your artwork.

Unfortunately, many artists contact me asking to get connected to Richard and Nancy or American Artist Magazine. This is like shooting a bear with a 22; you'll only irritate the bear. The better way to get their attention is to pursue excellence in your work. Enter and win national competitions, and above all, be a pleasant, honest and giving person - in other words, easy to work with, and then you might get a chance to work along side of master artists.

The truth of the matter is that artists like Richard Schmid will and can only let a few people into his close friendship circle - I am not one of them. In fact, years ago, he and I had disagreements; I was being rebellious and it didn't go over very well. I know better now - keeping my mouth shut most of the time. I listen more and don't brag or try to impress him with my knowledge or accomplishments. I understand that the only way to get his attention is to knock his socks off with my painting skills - and that needs no words. I knew Richard for 2 years before he invited me to join the Putney Painters. For many, it has taken much longer than that. The fact of the matter is - the group is unlikely to grow beyond it's current members. I have always maintained that we Putney Painters need to stand on our own - because Richard could decide at any minute that he no longer wants to paint along side of us. When he leaves, hopefully we will be established well enough as artists in our own right to continue our careers without our mentor presiding.

Today, Richard and I have worked out the kinks. He seems to accept that my calling is as a writer and teacher, and not a full time painter. He likes that and because he knows me well, opportunities to work with him on future books may crop up... but then again, they may not. The last thing I need to do is bug him about it (irritate the bear). It's his choice, and if he deems my writing, editing and teaching talents as an asset to his work, he might invite me to participate. I'm not going to worry about it much - he'll most likely forget he even said anything about it to me. The important fact of the matter is that I'm the only person responsible for my success. I can't sit around waiting for someone to promote me, I must get busy and make my own success - never depending on someone else to do so for me.

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Helen Horn Musser
Lori, you give us some very valuable advice about not "bothering the bear". as you said our job is to create very fine paintings. Thank you again for a great post

Michael Cardosa

Again, a very interesting and helpful post.

I think you're absolutely right. It doesn't matter who you know until you can deliver the goods.

I would also like to say that I do think that painting alongside famous or accomplished artists is an incredible way to raise your our level of painting just by observing what they do. I'll even go on to say that I think that it would make most of us want to strive to do better to get noticed by them as growing in our abilities.

I can at least say for myself that if a Richard Schmid or Nancy Guzik or any of the other painters I know (of) looked at a painting of mine and found something in it they liked it would make me feel very good ( OK, great, actually!) and push me to want to get even better!


Tuva Stephens
I totally agree with Lori. For years I have studied in workshops with some of the best watercolor artists. Recently one of well-known artists submitted my name to "Ones to Watch" in a watercolor magazine because she said my work was "tip-top". Although I do no consider myself "edgy", I am authentic with my portraits. It is an honor to be a part of 30-40 artists in the running for the top 6. I just submitted my images and descriptions of my work to the editor. The same week a PBS station in Nashville, Tennessee Crossroads, will be doing a feature about my work. I have been focusing on producing a fine body of portraits, and I feel so blessed.

Gina Buzby
I agree. Yet it sounds like we all have examples of being in the "right place at the right time next to the right person" but if your work isn't up to speed it doesn't do you any good. Excellence comes first, granted. But, it doesn't hurt to surround yourself with accomplished and "networked" people.

Jill Banks
I think it's a combination of who you know and producing top quality work. You're right that the top quality work needs to come first to do you much good. I'm grabbing my paintbrush...

Judy Mudd
I love this. It could not have been said better. Concentrate on your own work, develop it and that will get you success, not the contacts you're working to get. Hey, if your work is strong enough, people will be contacting you. Don't try to get into someone's "in" crowd, make your own!

max hulse
Lori An excellent column indeed!

And I really appreciated your candor
as well as the humor you included.

Max Hulse

Marian Fortunati
Very true.. The best we can do is the best we can do...
If writing is the art you love best... then do all you can to excel at it.
I think, however, that having friends who are wonderful artists and people can only inspire and nudge you on in your work... It's not that you want to ride on their coattails, but sometimes it's nice to see the view that they see.

(and Sharon,... your landscape work is outstanding as well!!) ;o)

Carol Schmauder
This is a very good post, Lori. Often in other areas of life it is whom you know and not so much what you know. Your words bring encouragement to continue to study and grow.

Esther J. Williams
Lori, wise words about excelling in your artistic abilities firsthand, but the celebrity company cushions and evolves you at least to want to reach a higher level. Mankind evolves up that pyramid by reaching higher and artists tend to be attracted to other artists of the level they want to or have achieved. It's like standing outside a candy store or bakery looking inside the window at all the goodies. We want to go inside and take a closer look and fulfill our senses. I seem to be lifted up in the air of excellence when I am surrounded by a group of very talented artists. It makes me strive harder and surrounds my spirit with great artistic soul energy.
You are a great writer by the way, you do have a way with words. I think you can do both art and art writing. :)

Helen Horn Musser
Michael, Just got an email from Fredericksburg Artists School (in Texas)saying Matt Smith will do an indoor landscape workshop the week of Tuesday june 15th and runing through Friday, June 18. It's for 15 students intermediate to Don't know where you are from but, thought you might be interested. Matt is one of the greats

Donna Robillard
Thank you for the post. It is encouraging to read and challenges me to keep painting what I feel drawn to paint and to keep developing my skills. Of course, it is a learning process to learn from good artists, but it is even more rewarding to successfully incorporate some of the techniques in my own work.

Stede Barber
Hi Lori,
Thanks as always for your writing. I've been thinking a lot lately about that "make 'em look" quality...yet am known more for the subtlety of my work. The word I hear most from people is "peaceful." So I will keep focusing on doing the best I can to capture the amazing beauty I see in the natural world, with so much to continue learning about color, brushwork...etc. Here's to the perfect audience and support for every one of us.

Lori Woodward
Stede, if your work exudes peace, continue with that. We each have our own story/message to say with our art, and if we all painted the same way - how boring the art world would be!

People say the same things about my landscapes. I don't paint like Richard does - I would love to emulate the softness in Nancy's paintings.

I'm attracted to the luminists of the 19th century. I'm not especially fond of thick paint. I am attracted to detail, but am learning to say what I want with fewer brushstrokes and in less time.

What I have learned from Richard and use often is the principles of light, shadow, color and edges. These principles can be used with any style of painting because they take into account what happens in nature. These things are scientific fact.

Hope that helps and makes sense.

Diane Tasselmyer
Shame on those people who try to use you, or others. I was always wondered if people would do that, when you mentioned your connections.

This excellent post deals with something that is often difficult for people, that is, to take clear stock of your current strengths and weaknesses without blowing either way out of proportion, and to then evaluate your goals and plans against that objective evaluation. Yes, the bottom line is that the artwork has to be where it should be in terms of quality. Networking is extremely important in some contexts, and less so in others. The hard thing is not knowing when a network is functioning as a glass ceiling because these things are not always blatantly obvious. I have a friend who worked on Santa Fe's Canyon Road for many years who tells me stories all the time about the inside art game.

Sheryl Knight
Lori, Thank you for another great post. You are one of my favorite are so real! I can always so relate to what you are saying. This was full of great reminders of what is really important, my work itself, not the contacts (though at times they help!). I also like the reminder to listen more. Thanks.

Kate Dardine
Lori - wonderful post - very thoughtful and thought-provoking. We do have to understand and accept where we are in our artistic journey. Not to say we don't strive to move forward, but not stressing about it and really believing that we are each exactly where we need to be. Easier said than done :-)!

Lori Twiggs
I've learned quite a bit from your articles. Your last comment about making your own success hit home. I recently took the plunge and started a mailing list and hired a contractor to build a small studio out back. But more importantly I'm focused on developing better habits of regular, daily painting! Because, if I keep doing what I've always done, I'll keep getting what I've always got!

Carol Schmauder
Lori Twiggs: Your statement of "if I keep doing what I've always done, I'll keep getting what I've always got!" really hit me. I am trying new things this year, as well, and hoping the end result will eventually be success.

Carol Schmauder
I don't know where the quote marks inside your quote on the I'll etc.came from....that was a copy and paste. Hmmm...mysteries.

Sharon Weaver
Excellence is in the eye of the beholder. For galleries sales are the first priority. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a few galleries and was startled by the work that was selling. The owners and I agreed that the work that was selling was not necessarily the best work in the gallery but they carried it because it accounted for 40 percent of their sales. Collectors are not always the most sophisticated consumers but other artists have a critical eye which I value the most.

Sharon, what you write is so true, as I've gradually come to understand from my friend who worked in a high end gallery for several years. In fact, it can be very brutal. She told me of one gallery where the owner gives the artists being represented a fairly short window of time for the work to sell or it's "So long!", regardless of the actual merit of the work. When the overhead is so exorbitant in some of these high profile locations, I guess that's the only way for the galleries to survive. I did pose the question that wasn't it an essential part of the job of a dealer to aggressively promote the work of artists who are doing great work, and whom the dealer really believes in, rather than letting truly good work founder? To lead the collectors to the great work? I guess such committed 'gallerists' are few and far between, more of an historical anomaly than a present day reality.

Kathy Chin
Thanks for the "deep" article Lori, always appreciate your insights and writing skill.
Your article comes just a few days after I learned about a photographer who's been mentioned in the same breath by "they" and "experts" as "the second coming of Ansel Adams." (you know who "they" are,they're the faceless wonders who're always quoted because of their superb expertise you know, "they" say...)
This photographer is wonderful, and many of his pictures gorgeous, but I can think of a number of lesser known artists whose work is just as good, and in some cases much better. (but who am I to make that determination,it's all subjective as we know!) These other photogs do a lot of marketing, but through judicious and undoubtedly relentless marketing, "he" probably commands a few more zeros in the prices of his huge prints. He doesn't have to worry about getting into a gallery...he's parlayed his success into owning a number of them.
You've touched on the marketing aspect a lot Lori, and in this case it probably isn't who he knows, or even how stellar his work is or isn't, but his thoroughness and intelligence in marketing (he's appears to have an outgoing personality and, if you believe his marketing, he has to go through hell and highwater to get many of his shots, and that in itself is a big hook for some collectors.)
I say to him, go ahead on! Although I don't know him and haven't met him, as an artist I'm very very glad he's defying the odds and appealing to a waiting and receptive world!

Lori Woodward
I like what you have to say Kathy.

You're comment got me thinking, and there's something I'd like everyone to know...

Richard Schmid has never promoted any of his Putney Painters to galleries. Whatever success we've had has come through out own efforts. When it comes to marketing, even for Richard's painting group, it hasn't been easy. Just painting along with Richard doesn't get us into top galleries or even competitions.

A lot of artists seem to think that if they can get to know Richard, their career dreams will come true, but that is not the case. For the most part, he doesn't even know what galleries we work with or when we get articles in magazines. We tell him and sometimes he forgets. The only career he really needs to keep track of is his own.

Yes, Richard will give us advice about marketing from time to time, but mostly he just teaches us artistic principles... which are all mentioned in this book, Alla Prima. The real advantage of knowing him and learning from him first hand is that I now have the opportunity to pass on those principles to others.
Just had to get that of my chest ;-)

Teri Starkweather
Lori, I agree with you that it is your artwork that matters the most and knowing a famous artist will not make you successful. That being said, knowing and painting alongside of a living master could improve one's work if you are paying attention to how they work and what their painting procedure is. Why do people pay big bucks to go to a painting workshop with a famous artist or watch a painting demo? There are a lot of famous artists out there making a living off of selling their expertise and sharing their working methods. This would not happen unless the experience of being with that famous artist or watching them paint was not considered valuable. Also, becoming friends with and hanging out with someone who is further along in the art game than you can be informative as well as a fun way to learn about how the art world works. Being alone in a studio all the time can be limiting. Having artist friends, whether they are your equals or more famous, is fulfilling a human need to share information and the experience of the art which you all love.

Lori Woodward
Teri, It's true what you say about gaining valuable information from watching a master paint. Many of my friends are masterful painters, and I have gained a lot of experience from "hanging out" with them.

I also agree that we need to spend time with others. Being in the studio all day alone is tough for most people. Some of us substitute our alone time by being on the Internet more often than we should (I'm one of them).

I do enjoy painting with others, and meeting with friends who enjoy art. We always have so much to share. thanks for your comment!

Sharon Weaver
Just FYI the galleries I talked to all represent artists who they believe in but who may not be the top sellers. The owner knew I was an artist right away because the work I was drawn to was by the artists they liked too.

max hulse
Very good points. I too know a lot of
fine artists, very successful financially
and artistically, but it hasn't helped me.
What does help is to hear their stories of
how they struggled to "make it", and that
gives me hope and inspiration.

max hulse

max hulse
I too have asked dealers why they did
not more aggressively market some
artists whose work is obviously quality.
The answer I received is they don't care
which work is good or bad, they mainly
want something to sell, and is not their
job to build the career of any one artist.

max hulse

Sharon, that was one instance of an extreme example I was told about, no doubt there are many galleries that do occupy the middle ground, as your experience bears out.
Max, as an artist I naturally but mistakenly assume that anyone who'd be involved in selling art would have a great passion for it, but I suppose some gallery owners view it far less emotionally. I have a difficult time, however, visualizing myself successfully selling something that I didn't feel very strongly about, so I don't know how they do it-?
My brother is an artist in a very distinctive part of the country and he has been successfully managing his own career from his home studio for decades. He is incredibly disciplined and focused, driven, and a dang good shmoozer and opportunity maker/grasper, all qualities that add up to success, and after more than 30 years is now selling his work in the 5 figure range. He started out by hanging his work on the fence outside of a large city zoo and selling it to tourists on the weekends. Some people like my brother seem to be able to sustain that kind of drive for the long haul, but I don't find it comes naturally.

Tom Weinkle

I appreciate your introspection, and honesty. I couldn't agree more about the importance of creating great art.

Friendships and connections bring other things that can help and artist, in terms of collecting, it's the art that is sought after, not the artist.


Carol McIntyre
Lori; Thank you for your insights and candor. I needed to read what you wrote, becasue admittedly there are times when I have thought that a "famous" artist is what I need. These thoughts tend to rise up when I am feeling on the negative side of my career. Obviously you are enjoying the opportunity you have to connect with these well known artists.

On the flip side, have you ever tried to imagine what your art career might have been if you had not been exposed to Richard, Nancy, etc? I mean this question is a kind way as I think it could be mis-interpreted as a sour grapes question. I ask it as a puzzler or what-if question.

Again, thank you for being a writer, teacher and painter!

Lori Woodward

Never thought about what my career would be like without Richard and Nancy, but for my artwork - things wouldn't be much different since I don't really paint like either of them.

I have enjoyed their friendship, and have learned a ton of concepts from them that have made my work better. Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal - and several others have helped me learn the important art concepts as well.

Since I adore being able to pass on what I've learned to others when I get the chance, knowing them has made me a better teacher. I've been able to help young artists like Kyle Stuckey by passing on what I've learned. BTW: Kyle just had a feature article in SW Art Magazine (out today), and it spoke highly of me as a teacher.

Being an excellent teacher is directly because of my mentors. They've never gotten me into galleries or promoted my work though. They're usually busy enough doing their own marketing.

Carol McIntyre
And we all benefit from your teaching and writing, therefore from what you are saying, we are indirectly receiving those gems that your colleagues pass onto you. Isn't it a wonderful circle of exchange!?! :)

I envy the mentoring you are receiving, as that is not something I have been able to integrate into my career (though others ask me to mentor!)

Keep up the lovely work and generosity, Lori. I feel fortunate that the FASO newsletter came across my computer screen and has given me access to inspiring and thoughtful words.
PS I will look at the upcoming SW Art mag.

Stephanie Hartshorn
Your post couldn't have come at a better time.

Just yesterday I went to a show with a dear friend and fellow artist. In the past year she has focused on and grown an impressive network within the art community here which has paid off in many wonderful ways...while I have pulled back to "grind things out" in my studio (and I mean that in a good way). As much as I believe, deep down inside, what I'm doing is the right move for me, I find being out with a "natural" marketer most awkward. The conversation always drifts to shows, galleries, press, and events that each other is in...followed by the dreaded, “how about you?”. Oy!

I leave questioning my efforts--certain that I”m missing opportunities by not building that network, yet, the bottom line is I”ve got to trust my decision. My shift to art is recent and although I have received some wonderful local recognition, I have pulled back to develop and strengthen my work. I am thankful to have two well known artists as my mentors and treat my relationship with them as just that--mentors. I know the rest is on me.

Thank you for your candor and reminder to keep it all in perspective.

Mark Haglund
Great post. It all boils down to desire and focus. Nobody can help with that.


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