Most readers probably know I have been teaching a course in Professionalism for Visual Artists at MICA for a few years now. I love teaching this class and I see it as an opportunity to share information with students that would have saved me countless hours of trial and error. The class is very people-focused, as I think most careers are – we conduct individual research and connect with professionals ‘out there in the field’ and listen to their stories.

For this reason, I have resisted using a specific text with the class, and favored a more hands-on, individual approach to research. However, there are LOTS of books on the subject of the visual artist’s career, so this summer I ordered several and am in the process of reading them and also evaluating their potential for my classes.

The first book I have read is ‘I’d Rather Be in the Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion’ by Alyson B. Stansfield. This book is structured like a twelve-step program, organized around eight typical excuses that artists use to avoid self promotion or taking a professional risk. Some examples of excuses are “My art speaks for itself” and “I’m not rich”- Stansfield uses each excuse as the topic for a chapter and debunks each myth and gives specific advice to focus on each excuse. Like a caring therapist, Stansfield builds up the reader’s confidence, chapter by chapter, and mixes emotional exercises with factual information, like how to write an artist statement and resume.

While well-intended, I personally had a hard time getting through this particular text. There was an overall emphasis on self-promotion, instead of a holistic approach to one’s career, and I found this a bit one-dimensional. Alyson Stansfield has made an impressive career out of coaching artists and definitely should be congratulated for assisting in their success. If you go on her website (link below) you will sense her energetic, cheerleader persona and will notice that she travels the country, visiting artist’s studios and doing motivational sessions with small groups. Here is a sample of her writing:

Artists: Are your excuses holding you back from a thriving art career? Are you ready to get out of your studio and take charge?

I’d Rather Be in the Studio! offers practical advice to help you sell more art and build an art career that lasts.

The studio is a place where magic happens—but not enough magic that you can afford to stay there all of the time. In I’d Rather Be in the Studio! Alyson B. Stanfield, the art-marketing guru behind, shares self-promotion tools that have enhanced the careers of thousands of artists.

I can acknowledge that maybe this book just wasn’t a good fit for me, personally, and that it seems to be working well for others. To me, the author takes a narrow approach to success – sales! promotion! – and many of the artists I know and work with have other interests – teaching, writing, grants, residencies, and exhibiting – and I think that all of these topics will generate success. Let’s face it, some sales are better than others, and some promotions are as well. I am not personally interested in having the ‘sweater party’ equivalent of an art show because I don’t believe it will lead to where I want to go, but this is fine advice for someone else.

Overall, I would say that this book is moderately helpful, but is not ambitious enough for many artists, especially those with a BFA or MFA, specifically, my students. I have three more to read, though, so there are more book reports to come.

To find out more about the book, click here.

– Cara Ober