The Business of Art – Open Studios Edition

(The studio of Helena Hsieh, photo courtesy of Samara Pearlstein)

By now you have hopefully had a chance to sift through the 100+ photos I posted from last weekend’s SMFA Graduate Open Studios. Such an impressive event. It wasn’t difficult to find interesting and exciting things to snap a picture of.

And what was equally exciting, was learning that every year new work will be exhibited as older artists graduate, and younger artists commence their studies. I was only familiar with one or two exhibitors in the graduate school program which provided a new dynamic and enriched my regular (bi)annual Open Studios circuit.

Uncharted territory.

I brought my beau, and my brother, a RISD alum, along for the ride as we took our time walking through each of the studios. In addition to viewing all the amazing initiatives, an informal education was thrust upon me as I observed these artists in their unnatural habitat.

Even in such a potentially unnerving setting, it was great to see the majority of students really taking advantage of the Open Studios. Greeting visitors(which I know can be a drag after 3 hours), visibly posting their names and contact information, and fanning out business cards. But while I’m here, I just wanted to take the time to make a few additional fly-on-the-wall observations.

Open Studios can truly be an opportunity for artists to launch their careers. In the past, some creatives have expressed to me that the Open Studios events are for “Sunday Drivers”. Essentially where people just go to drink wine/eat things, without the intention of buying or enjoying the work. I don’t agree with that statement and I especially don’t think the same can be said for this particular SMFA event.

Why? Practical matters. The Graduate Open Studios were held out at the SMFA’s Mission Hill building a few blocks from the T..on a Friday and Saturday the winter..with nothing but juice boxes(no alcohol allowed) and Girl Scout Cookies-esque treats for visitors. SO I imagine the the majority of people attending this sort of event are either extremely interested in the Arts, family members, or are possibly there with a purpose.  Maybe there were art consultants roaming the halls, or members of the press, or gallery curators, or any number of people who have the capacity to write large checks or connect artists with individuals they need to know.  Open Studios are one of the few times outsiders get a chance to see an artist’s work, where they work, and you never know who might be walking around.

My personal experience at the event and interactions were extremely positive, but I watched from the shadows(like a creep) as some artists struggled with the business side of things, leading to a loss of interested buyers. Granted, it’s not all about the money, but it is crucial to be prepared for the Open Studios because you are essentially selling yourself. Along with your work. First impressions and all that good stuff.


(Call of the Wild, Robert Deyber)


  • Catch up with your friends later. Man your studio now.
  • Throw up a website, even a flickr or tumblr, so attendees can view and share your work afterwards.  You can find quick tips for displaying web content from a prior FLUX. post here.
  • Shovel a path through your space so I can see what you do.
  • Art can never be a hard sell. Be present, but not overbearing.
  • If someone hands you a business card, a quick follow-up the next day saying “thanks, nice to meet you, here’s my website, die in a fire, keep in touch,” is just another opportunity to get yourself in front of people.

And I know money matter$ are awkward but..

  • Know your prices and be able to state them confidently to interested buyers to avoid lowballing/not being taken seriously.
  • Take the time to research, phone a friend, poll the audience, and ensure your prices are appropriate. Goldilocks style. Any sales now act as a starting/talking point for future sales.
  • Don’t price things at the live event higher than the price listed in your online shop. If anything your work should be lower than the online price. (unless you had to pay for stall space/registration fees/etc)
  • It’s amazing what a friendly disposition/good story/attentiveness can do to turn a casual passerby into a buyer.   I have seen it happen many times.


I’d like to point out one particular artist, Eunice Choi, who clearly brought her A game.

(Eunice Choi’s studio space, photo courtesy of Samara Pearlstein)

I watched as the soft-spoken student greeted every single person who walked into her studio. Eunice handed them a palmcard with an image of her work on the front, information on her future exhibition on the back, and took the time to elaborate on her creative process. And while it was a bit strange to be present for several rounds of her spiel as people filtered in and out, I thought to myself, “this girl has got the right idea”. She had her elevator pitch down. She meant business and put herself in a position where people now have a connection to her work, the artist, and left me with an actionable item..

Her Thesis Exhibition is on my FLUX. calendar and will be included in the April 6th wrap-up.

That being said, hindsight is so 20/20. I can’t even imagine being in one of the newer artist’s shoes and tackling an event like this without first understanding the lay of the land. I assume these lessons are generally trial by fire, unless you happen to learn through osmosis or have a helpful mentor. In fact, I think fictitious art student Liz would have been a mess. Hovering down the hall from her studio with friends(I’d like to think I’m in a side scrunchie), nervously glancing over, and then saying something like “Have you guys seen anyone in my studio? Why isn’t anyone going in my studio?! DO THEY HATE MY WORK?! I BET THEY LIKE KAREN’S BETTER.” Punching a hole through a canvas and then frantically chucking dixie cups full of apple juice and boxes of GirlScout cookies at passerbys. “COME IN!!”

So I get it.

(Beyond the Sea, Paul X Johnson)

Bottom line: It’s not easy to make it as an artist. Open Studios are key opportunities for people to see your work. So rest up, be present, know your shit, and buy me a cup of coffee when you make your first million. ♥

This entry was posted in Around Town, Art Education, From the Desk of FLUX. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *