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Forget New York City -- Think About Your Own Art Community: Regional art, regional success. Part 1 - Changing Attitudes

by Brian Sherwin on 9/21/2011 12:46:45 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

A recent FineArtViews article by FASO founder Clint Watson spurred some comment debate about the importance of exhibiting locally. The idea of garnering regional success is a subject that I've tackled in the past on FAV. I firmly believe that artists should place focus on regional art success -- I have this opinion due to economic reasons and because, in my humble opinion, artists have a cultural responsibility to improve and preserve the arts in their region. Artists need to put their conditioned 'big city' dreams of international art stardom aside. Point blank -- artists need to dump the New York City dreams they have been conditioned to have... and instead, focus on their own surroundings -- their own community.


I'm certain that most of us have heard/read some variant of, "If you want to 'make it' in art you have to 'make it' in New York", at one point or the other. The idea that national and international success in art can only be found within NYC has been hard-lined conditioned within the US art community for decades. It is a suggestion that has been fueled by art school gurus, major media and Hollywood. Due to this, many artists have found themselves in NYC only to discover that obscurity knows every corner of the city. True, 'they' didn't say it would be easy to 'make it' within the NYC art community -- but 'they' also forget to mention that success can be found elsewhere.


One of the strongest steps toward success that an artist can take is to redefine what success means to himself or herself. Merriam-Webster defines success as 1.) "The accomplishment of an aim or purpose." 2.) "The attainment of popularity or profit." 3.) "A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity." 4.) "The outcome of an undertaking, specified as achieving or failing to achieve its aims." Did you notice that none of these definitions mentioned "in New York City" -- or any other specific location for that matter? In the end... success is what you make of it -- how you define it for yourself. Success in your own state can be just as meaningful and prosperous as anything you might find in the state of New York.


Having known thousands of artists over the years, I know that an artist can accomplish great things without venturing to New York. I know that an artist can gain a high level of popularity and profit without exhibiting in Chelsea, Manhattan. I know that an artist can attain prosperity without having any New York connections. I know that artists can make a mark on the international stage without New York City. I know that all of this infuriates some haughty NYC gallerists and art critics who think that they are the end all, be all of art in the United States. Point blank -- I know that an artist can 'make it' without New York City -- and dare I say, without the help of NYC art professionals. With all of this in mind, I also know that many artists still cling to the idea that NYC is the end all, be all in regard to success in art.


I know that some of my opinions have gained me the reputation of being a 'dream crusher'. Don’t get me wrong... I love dreamers -- I enjoy observing people seek out what they desire even though the odds are stacked against them. However, at some point, reality knocks on the door. In that sense, I want to see more doers than dreamers. Point blank -- I think most artists could accomplish more for themselves and for the arts within the United States by helping to strengthen their surrounding art community statewide instead of allowing themselves to be enthralled by conditioned 'big city' dreams.


A change in attitude is needed -- and it starts at 'home'.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin

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Backstory: About Clint. Email EditorTwitter. Republish. ]

Related Posts:

Big City Success for the Small Town Artist: Part 2 - The Rationality of Regional Success

Clintavo's Position on Marketing Art via Facebook and Twitter

Art in Your Community: Be a doer not a waiter -- support your local art community

Who Educates the Public about Art -- Art Critics or Artists?

Cats Walk Alone

How to be Truly Successful as an Artist

Painting Titles: Name That Painting

Topics: art marketing | Brian Sherwin | exposure tips | FineArtViews | inspiration | support local art | Think Tank 

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Far from being a dream-crusher, this was great to hear! I am an artist who never had NYC in her plans (just can't handle big cities besides being a representational painter), so it's wonderful to hear that the so-called only route to success can have many side branches not necessarily through NY.

Brian Sherwin
There has been a trend of artists leaving NYC for a few years now -- partly due to the state of the economy. From what I've gathered they are moving on because they have a better chance elsewhere. I don't blame them -- rent there can be staggering.

JT Harding
Thanks Brian,
I've always believed in building your success from your home base outwards. That means achieving some recognition locally, then regionally, then nationally. If New York City is your own backyard, why not start there?

Donald Fox
A friend of mine was offered a NY gallery show right out of graduate school (the offering came just before she graduated). Her professors, several of whom showed regularly in NYC, counseled her to be cautious. The market is fickle, they said. Her show did okay, but did not lead to anything lasting. Her small scale works were out of place at a time when most everything that made a splash and sold was large scale. She continued to paint and sell regionally and has built a very good career for herself in the Southeast. For her the NY show was just another line on her show resume.

Bettye Rivers
Brian, I truly love you. You are so wise. Thanks for all the great advice you spoon feed us...

Brian Sherwin
JT Harding -- if NYC is your backyard than by all means pursue it. That said, there has been a trend of artists moving away from the city to better waters -- at least better waters for their needs.

It can be done -- but the NYC art community, specifically the mainstream aspect of it, is so locked down that it hard for anyone to get anywhere in it. Trust me on this -- I know artists who have tried for decades... who would have probably received far more recognition had they went somewhere less cramped.

Brian Sherwin
Donald -- Thanks for sharing that story. A former professor of mine had over 40 exhibits in NYC spanning from the late 60s into the 70s. He always chuckled when students thought that one show in NYC would launch their career. It can happen -- but is very, very, very, very, very rare... did I say it is very rare?

As he mentioned... the money he spent living in NYC could have came in more handy in other areas of the US. I don't think he regretted his choice to exhibit there -- but he made it very clear that the financial burden of living in NYC is not exactly worth it no matter how many exhibits you have. I suppose the financial aspect of this is something to consider as well.

Brian Sherwin
Betty -- Thank you for reading. :)

Brian Sherwin,I think you make a fabulous point. Regional success makes sense and gives locals pride of ownership in local artist success. Home makes sense. It also gives an artist something more tangible to reach for. And who knows, maybe 'home' will feel like a New York success! Anyway, I like your style!

Sharon Weaver
Picking and choosing your markets is very important. Though I live in LA, another big city, there are a number of art communities nearby that are still open to new artists. Laguna, Pasadena and Carmel are all wonderful art centers that love the kind of Impressionistic landscapes that I create. Lived in NYC for ten years and would never even think of showing my things there. It just isn't a good fit.

Brian Sherwin
Sharon -- The problem is that we are told that what is there is the only thing that fits. Art in the US is larger than what is going on in NYC. It defines a chunk... sure... -- they have the press -- but it is not the end all, be all.

With that in mind -- I also have a real concern that US museums are failing to grasp art in the US overall. Specifically in regard to living artists and the many directions that art takes today within the context of our society.

Kimberly -- Thank you.

Brian Sherwin
I think we need an art awakening across the US... especially when it comes to education.

Jo Allebach
I could not agree more. Even gaining a good following of collectors in your local area takes lots of work. I live in Phoenix but that is not exactly a little community to break into. I have no desire for New York I like our sunshine out here.

Barb Stachow
Oh yeah, and not just in your major city, seek out those museums, cafes, etc in the surrounding areas, you may be surprised what you will find! I did!

Brian Sherwin
Barb -- I strongly agree. When artists think about museum exhibits they often think of the BIG, BIG museums... don't forget the smaller ones. I don't care where the museum is located -- as long as it is legit it looks good on paper... and opens you up to people in those circles. That goal is far more realistic than sitting around waiting for MoMA to call.

jack white

I was working on my third historical novel yesterday and just got around to reading emails.
You have a wise topic.

I received an invitation from a New York, Chelsea gallery wanting to represent Jack White. They said they were in need of a strong western painter. I answered that at this time I was not accepting new galleries. I find the moral compass in NYC is not the same as middle America.I'm too green behind the ears to be dealing with those sharks.

My marketing theory is use the radio signal approach. Start with art markets close to you and then spread in a circular direction. This is what a radio signal does. I feel it's important for artist be able to "drop in" on their galleries unannounced. Galleries do take art and never hang the pieces. It's difficult to sell out of the storage closet.

You need to be close enough to your gallery to visit them a couple of times a year. There is no substitute to walking in the door or a gallery selling your work. You may discover some interesting things. Don't announce you are coming.

Keeping on top of your galleries is one of the keys to success. When we were in three CA galleries we either lived in Carmel or Carefree AZ. Carefree allowed us to keep on top of our CA and NM galleries. We were also in Scottsdale.

When we moved from Longboat Key we pulled out of our Naples and Boca Raton galleries. They were too far from AZ for us to keep an eye on them.


Being regional is something I've always done, in my fine art biz as well as my graphic design biz. However, there is nothing wrong with thinking then acting large, if you are absolutely certain your work fits into that larger picture.

I think when we focus our aspirations on the wrong things, like becoming an art star, instead of the work, there's already mediocrity in the making.

It's also important to note that nothing happens, even on a regional level without a plan and/or strategy. After all, art is a business, and dreaming large isn't about making wishes. It's about taking action, consistently.

Virginia Giordano
New York City is an international, cosmopolitan city. Unique in this country, with no comparison to the other cities here, New York City is often more reviled than those beloved cities. New York City is in the league with the great cities of Europe and other parts of the world. Cultural innovation loves to be born in places like this and mediocrity finds a swift death.

Brian Sherwin
Virginia -- I like New York City. That said, I do not think it is the end all, be all of art in the United States. As for your view -- I have to disagree to a point. I've seen mediocrity dominate at some art galleries.

I assume from your position that you would suggest that only great art 'makes it' in NYC -- that is simply not the case. I also assume that you would suggest that if an artist does not 'make it' in NYC he or she must not be creating art worthy of NYC exposure -- I have to disagree with that as well.

I realize that we are all conditioned to have this glorified, and dare I say -- romantic, image of New York City and what it means to our culture. However, that is just an image -- and what one observes from experience is often nowhere near the 'view' that has been cultivated in the United States for decades as to how NYC 'should' be seen.

I'm saying that great art can happen anywhere in the US -- and that artists can find success anywhere in the US. Artists can be successful -- make an impact -- without having ever stepped foot in New York.

Perhaps you can better clarify your position?

Casey Craig
Good points Brian. I enjoyed my visit to NY, but I wouldn't want to live there and my work is not a good fit.

I agree with Jack about being able to drop in on your galleries, but think there is a great opportunity for artists to network here. I just signed on with a gallery in Atlanta and I live in Texas. However, my next door neighbor's son lives in Atlanta and I can have him "drop" in. Granted it's not quite the same as me being able to drop in, but it is eyes in the gallery. I'd love to see artists working together in this way. I'll check on your gallery if you check on mine kind of thing.

Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors
huh? did someone really say the moral compass of NYC is not the same as "middle" America?

I'm sorry but I have found in every community that I have been all over the USA (and the world for that matter) that there can be found good and evil. As a teenager, lower Manhattan was my playground and I felt just as safe there as I did home in middle America (not counting crossing the street).

I really thought we were beyond insulting entire portions of the population here. Read the newspapers. You'll find murder, rape, incest, larceny, racism in every corner of our country, but those things are overshadowed with the kindness of strangers and the good communities which can be found everywhere. EVEN in New York. SHEESH.

"...I firmly believe that artists should place focus on regional art success -- I have this opinion due to economic reasons and because, in my humble opinion, artists have a cultural responsibility to improve and preserve the arts in their region..."

I couldn't agree more, especially that last line. That's one of the things I decided when I started living and working here in my particular neck of the southwest, and why I choose many of the subjects I choose. I can't help but think of the Regionalists of the early 20th century in this country, as well as the sentiments of the original New Mexico art colony artists specifically of this area.
Mimi, you are right. For a couple years my husband and I lived in a rural, very socially and politically conservative part of the country and the crimes that occurred there were often beyond the pale, to gruesome to even describe here.

Brian Sherwin
Mimi -- I don't really look at it with a moral scope. I just feel that the NYC art community -- as great as it may be -- is packed... few can break down those doors... so why not try breaking doors down in an area that is not as cramped?

Casey -- even if your art does 'fit' NYC it can be difficult to find success there. I just think it is time for artists to consider that perhaps there are better waters elsewhere as far as recognition is concerned.

In time New York will noticed anyway -- and if they don't, they don't. Keep in mind that not every art collector lives in NY. Keep in mind that there are other larger cities that have had a boom in art in recent years -- St. Louis for example. Keep in mind that you can make an impact in the region of the state you live in. That is my charge...

Jim bilgere
Good Advice, especially if you arent really all that good or are afraid of being around the center of the art world in America.great art is made everywhere, but the best is always seen in New York!


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