Why Networking is a Crucial Skill for Artists

During my first semester in college as a STEM major, one of my advisors noted that getting a job after graduation depended on networking. As an introvert, the thought of rubbing elbows to get a job I wasn’t sure I even wanted sounded so unpleasant to me that I’ve held onto that interaction for over 15 years. I think it also added to my list of reasons why I changed my career path. But now, deep into my career as an artist, I regret to inform you and my past self that networking is indeed a crucial skill to have in your career. 

Over the years, I have worked on my introversion and social shyness to the point where people don’t believe I prefer alone time over social events. Through practice and determination to speak to people easily and not turn beet-red when the spotlight is on me (still working on that one), “people-ing” has, like any other skill, gotten easier over time. As a result, I have witnessed the full power of networking, and here are a few great reasons for you to try it too:

Why networking as an artist is crucial: 

1. It can help you find a sense of community.

We need community and social relationships to thrive. Finding community was my intro to networking and the most authentic way for me to have conversations with people. Part of what turned me away from networking during my freshman year was the intimation that social relationships are transactions that are supposed to benefit me. I should mingle with people with more power than me just to get ahead. This primary drive has always and will always feel icky to me. 

But, when I entered social interactions with the sole purpose of getting to know the people before me, especially other artists, I found immediate fulfillment. Artists are often solitary by nature because the work we do demands dedicated focus, but everybody benefits from having meaningful relationships with our contemporaries. Being able to talk to other artists about daily struggles, goals, techniques, or inspiration can give us a general sense of increased wellbeing. In this setting, the give and take between participants is equal.

2. Networking can move you forward artistically and creatively.

When we bounce ideas off one another we can grow as creators. If you’ve ever turned to a message board in search of an answer to a very niche problem you’re having or turned to an artist friend to ask what they do when working with ‘x’, then you understand what I’m talking about. Artists sharing knowledge within a community or social network can help us all move forward.

Also, artists working in collaboration can create new and surprising bodies of work that wouldn’t have been possible while working alone. Creativity can flourish when it is formed between artists.

3. Networking can create new opportunities.

Through networking, I have landed on quite a few opportunities. These were not opportunities that would be listed on a job site. Some were opportunities created on the spot. For example, talking to someone at an art fair resulted in being offered a display opportunity at a local business. Interacting with an art curator while setting up for a show brought about a teaching opportunity. Going to an art class and talking to a fellow art student led to portrait modeling. Interacting with an art studio building owner led to a social media management gig. 

None of these opportunities would have happened had I not had pleasant and casual conversations with the people around me. You never know what job may fall in your lap just by conversing about the things you care about.

4. Networking can help you sell more art.

People are more willing to buy from people they like. When your friends buy your work, that’s not a pity buy. When other artists buy your work, that’s not a favor to you. Making sales is often about forming relationships. The more people know and like you, the more potential customers you may have.

5. Networking can put you first in line for jobs.

This was ultimately what my college advisor was talking about in the science field. Knowing people with power and forming a positive social relationship can get you on the short list for jobs as they become available. It’s as simple as putting a face to a name and having that association conjure pleasant feelings in the decision maker. “Oh, her? I know her. Yeah, let’s get her in here for an interview.”

I have complaints about this as a practice in many ways as it can cause a lot of gatekeeping and in-group exclusivity, but it’s a benefit of networking that has to be acknowledged.

How can you begin your artistic networking journey?

As I noted before, it feels icky to me to seek relationships just for my own gain, thus, I like to focus on genuine and wholesome forms of networking. I have a habit of recalling all the ways I may have potentially embarrassed myself in social situations when I’m falling asleep so I try to stick to some general networking guidelines:

  • In some situations, I show up as a ‘student’. I focus on how I can learn from the people around me and spend a lot of time observing.
  • In other situations, I show up as a cheerleader. How can I support the artist(s) around me?
  • I focus on being kind and complimentary.
  • I try not to be a sh*t-talker (the art world is small).
  • I try to focus on meaningful conversations that both parties care about.
  • I try not to focus entirely on myself or the other party. Keep exchanges equal.
  • I try not to be too self-deprecating (my default) or too egotistical. Both are a turn off.
  • Some situations warrant a sales pitch (ex. Walking into a business that displays artists and asking immediately if they are seeking new artists and if I can apply), but I try not to be too pushy.
  • If I’m not vibing with someone, I don’t force it. I don’t care how much power someone has, if they are unpleasant to be around, I disengage.

Keep in mind that this is my personal way of operating, so take it with a grain of salt. Now, where can you use these guidelines?

Networking spaces in real life:

  • Join a local arts association
  • Attend community sketch events
  • Attend local gallery openings
  • Mingle with artists at fairs
  • Sell your work at local events
  • Frequent local art related businesses and get to know the staff

Networking spaces online:

  • Follow artists you admire on social media (don’t expect a follow back!) and engage meaningfully with their work.
  • Contribute to related message boards (ex. Reddit)
  • Offer your knowledge to other creators (ex. blog posts, answering questions on social posts)

Obviously, there are more options than the ones I listed above, but this is a good start. Muster the courage to put yourself out there. Show up and fake confidence if you need to. This is coming from someone who, historically, does NOT want to show up at all, but the benefits of doing so have far outweighed my discomfort.

Alright, now get out there and do some networking!


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