One of the most important things any business owner can do for the growth of their business is keeping comprehensive records of absolutely everything. Not only does staying organized save you time in the long run but how else do you expect to measure the growth, successes and areas for improvement of your small business?
Artists and other creatives are no different. The most important things to record as an artist? Obviously, the work itself. Whether it is an art catalog meant for marketing and distribution or an internal archive meant for your eyes only, a comprehensive catalog of work will be immensely helpful. Rather than having to scour through old emails, bank statements and notebooks or, worse, make things up as you go along, archiving your process will make it simple to answer pricing inquiries from potential buyers, provide a chronological visual guide of your work to curators and gallerists, and give backstory to art critics and writers on a deadline.
Creating an Art Archive
In its simplest form, an art archive is a comprehensive set of records of each individual artwork that includes all of the relevant information about each work. The name, date, origin, dimensions, materials used and its current location accompanied by a high-resolution photograph are the most basic pieces of information necessary. Collectors, curators, and art enthusiasts will additionally want to understand the significance of the work itself. Writing down a few lines that explain the meaning behind each piece will make it a simple copy and paste response when asked.
Having an art archive on-hand will prove useful in a number of ways. For artists selling original works or prints, all of the above will be required pieces of information when providing buyers with a Certificate of Authenticity or receipt of purchase. For artists and other creatives like graphic designers, you will likewise need to provide as many details as possible to prove authenticity when applying for a copyright of your work to protect yourself in the unfortunate event of a legal dispute. When putting together a show with a new gallery or curator, they too will want to have detailed information about all of the pieces on display. For commercial artists, having a clear record of work in an art archive will be helpful to measure the growth of your business or enter new contracts or negotiations with potential clients.
Creating an internal archiving system is simple and doesn’t require any special software. An easily accessible excel or google spreadsheet organized into clear categories, linked to high res photos and available on all your mobile devices will do the trick. An additional art archive in booklet form, either digital, organized in a clean folder or in glossy print, can also be a great way to show collectors, curators and studio visitors your entire body of work in an easily digestible format.
The Benefits of an Art Catalog
While an internal archive is the best way to keep track of your body of work, you may also want to consider creating an art catalog. A catalog is a visual archive of works used to highlight a particular series or subset of artworks and can be used as part of your marketing strategy to send out to art critics, curators, gallerists, and collectors or to support an upcoming show, sale or studio visits. Graphic designers, photographers, set designers and art directors, likewise, should always have an updated art catalog or portfolio of work on hand to show to potential employers.
A self-published catalog can bring various benefits to an artist. It can help grow your audience, increase your chances of exhibiting and generate new sales by increasing your visibility amongst curators, collectors, and other art industry professionals. Having a well-produced catalog also demonstrates the professionalism and seriousness of an artist.
Artists will first need to decide whether the art catalog will be housed digitally via their personal website, be available and distributed in physical print or a combination of both. If you choose to create a print catalog, understand that it comes with significant costs that artists, especially young emerging artists, should weigh out very seriously from the beginning.
To start, collect a handful of art catalogs and analyze their production and content. You can either purchase catalog, rent them out at a library or pop into museums and galleries and ask for a catalog. The latter will allow you to ask curators and gallerist questions about what went into creating that art catalog.
Rather than making decisions that will affect the cost of production as you go along, carefully consider the following: Will anyone else be involved in the production of the catalog, including a graphic designer, photographer, editor, writing contributors or assistant? Will you commission an art critic to write a forward? If so, what are everyone’s fees? How many pages and what size will the catalog be? Will it be a hardcover or softcover? Will you use matte or glossy paper? Does your printer have a minimum? How many people will you mail it to and how much will postage and packaging cost?
It is also important to consider how you will recoup your investment. Will a portion of the printed art catalogs be put on sale? How many will need to be sold to break even on your investment? If not, consider the average price of your works and budget accordingly. If your works sell for $500, it doesn’t make sense to budget out $15,000 for an art catalog project. Instead, budget out the project and plan to recoup the investment with just a handful of new sales.
Designing Your Art Catalog
Your art archive is akin to bookkeeping. It’s an organized record that allows you to easily access information about all of your work. A catalog, however, is a tailor-made presentation of your work and should be curated and organized in a way that is both coherent and engaging. Your catalog is a piece of art all its own. Every single design choice will work to create your first impression as an artist and determine how your audience interacts with your art. Like all of your branding materials, your art catalog should provide an experience that seamlessly interacts with established visual and language cues on your website, portfolio and social media.
A catalog should not solely have photos and information about individual pieces. An artist statement or foreword from an art critic or colleague should be considered as an introduction to the catalog. Additionally, information about shows, fairs, gallery representation and residency programs should be provided. Including up-to-date pricing is helpful for gallerist and individual collectors alike–consider organizing them into a clear table of contents in the back of the book rather than alongside each individual piece.
Once the art catalog has been designed, lay out all the pages and proofread. Budgeting a proofreader or editor could turn out to be a solid investment–there is nothing worse than a catalog with spelling and grammar mistakes.
Once you have your printed catalog in hand, send out copies to galleries and institutes you would like to work with, previous clients and keep a handful set aside for anyone that comes in for a studio visit. Send copies with a personalized message and follow-up with an email.
The fruits of your labor may not be immediately evident. It could take months before your art catalog results in a sale or gallery exhibit. But by creating an archive or catalog of your work, you are strengthening your business and amplifying your audience.