Portrait of Nadja Sayej by Emiline Hamon
Arts journalist Nadja Sayej is here to give artists what they didn’t learn in art school.
The reality is that in four years it’s hard for artists to become proficient at their chosen medium and in business. Without having to go back for your MBA, how can artists learn to price their work, build a profitable business and work with the press?
Having interviewed thousands of artists over the last 15 years including Marina Abramovic, Olafur Eliasson, James Franco and Yoko Ono, Sayej compiled their advice into a half mini-workbook and half hands on the ground inspirational tell all.
We recently had the chance to talk with her over the phone from Paris as she told us what you can expect from the book.
What was the reason behind writing Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together?
Often, in the art world, everything is behind this smoke and mirrors, it’s mystified. It’s kinda like magic how to set up your studio and get a gallery. I felt like I needed to take the knowledge I had and share it with people.
It’s so hard to find resources that answer the questions of artists and those who need help.
The book came out of my own frustrations of seeing so many others make the same mistakes and how to avoid those mistakes. It’s like fashion—there is no clear criteria on how to be an artist, writer or critic.
Who should read this book?
It’s for visual artists and designers and could be used for everyone. It covers everyone from art exhibitions to launches. How do you get the word out there yourself if you don’t want to pay a publicist 4k a month? The essence of the book is built around that idea.
There is also time management and building your career, and social media, all the things that surround making art and career if you are a sole proprietor.
This career is not like being a lawyer where you have to pass a certain bar to be an artist or writer or critic or art director, it’s trying to navigate that with a little bit of structure.
Portrait of Nadja Sayej interviewing Marina Abramovic by Emiline Hamon
So, what are some common mistakes you see from aspiring artists approaching journalists looking for press?
A very common mistake is timeliness. As a writer, I need a week or two before an opening so that I can send to my editor and get it live before the event. It also helps to have a dropbox link to your photos.
Another thing is to make it politically relevant to the political landscape. Unless you are the son of Alexander Calder (and most of us aren't) and you are making abstract paintings, you need to make it relevant or resistance art. That’s what the art media is responding to at this point.
What artwork is getting attention in the press today?
Because we live in a time that the Museum of Ice Cream is getting so many more visitors than other city or art museums and it’s essentially a selfie museum, it’s a sense of where publicity comes in.
Does it really have meaning and is it really art? Well, no. But, people are going to go see it.
It’s so insane that people like Yayoi Kusama didn’t have the widespread success since the 60s, but not at the level that people are lining up outside of David Zwirner to see her Infinity Room piece just because it’s a very photographable artwork. She was ahead of her time as these were made in the 60s.
It’s just kinda the times that we live in.
Is it that you just want more and more people to see your artwork and hashtag it on Instagram or do you want the respect of the art critic or curators? If you can figure out the way to appeal to both, that’s super.
What are some of your tips for artists that we can expect to find in the book?
I think that people should always be pushing themselves beyond what you think you are capable of doing. I’m not saying to kill yourself physically and get something done before 2 am, but think bigger.
Some tips for thinking bigger:
Think about what your goals are and break them down.
Keep short, long-term, weekly, hourly, daily goals.
Know where you are going.
Remember that only you can drive the car to where you want to go.
In terms of the pillars of success are also the intangible things. There is also the magic of opportunity. Sometimes you just have to show up somewhere and there is an opportunity. But, you need to be open to that opportunity and to meeting new people.
Thinking big could also mean asking double the price, knowing that you could live in New York despite the price, etc. Being open to possibility is also super important to business thinking and success. All the details also matter.
Nadja Sayej with artist Ai Wei Wei
When it comes down to business, all the details matter.
Don’t burn bridges.
Get back to people in a timely manner.
Go back and patch things up when you can.
Don’t let your ego get in the way.
Work with people who are easy to work with but also be someone who is easy to work with as well.
Make sure you are working toward something (book, better gallery, going back for an MFA, teaching etc)
It depends on what your goals are but, usually, I find once you get the organization down and the financial things, that helps creativity flows better.
If you are always focusing on the stress, the productivity is not going to be as good.
You have to have an astounding amount of confidence in yourself. You have to remember that people have done this before and people will continue to do this after me. The onl person that can hold you back is you.
Some last takeaways
I wrote this book because I saw a lot of people who weren’t as talented, getting more success and recognition than people who were really talented— all because they had a few specific skills.
It was frustrating.
Hopefully, my book will help those who have real talent.
Work your butt off and follow your intuition. Your feelings don’t ever lie. Focus and find some solitude to tap into your intuition.
If you want to get things done, that's what this book is about.