There are tricks to the art trade. And West Los Angeles artist Sandra Sallin doesn’t mind sharing them.
“There are very, very few brilliant artists whose work alone carries them to success in the art world,” said Sallin, who teaches a UCLA Extension class called “The Professional Artist: Strategies for the ‘80s.”
But there’s hope for those with talent who don’t fit onto the pedestal with Picasso, Matisse or other masters. “Usually there’s a place for somebody if they’re intelligent enough to find their market,” she said.
Seventeen emerging artists, ranging in age from the mid-20s to the late 50s, attended Sallin’s one-day class Saturday at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. Some were mothers who had put their artistic talents away while they nurtured children. Others labored at their art in private, supporting themselves with workaday jobs. Still others had made tentative forays into the intimidating art world and thought that they needed help to improve their chances.
“You’ve got so much competition that if you don’t get it together, you’re in trouble,” said Sallin, who says she paints “contemporary interpretations of medieval illuminated manuscripts” using gold leaf and her “personal iconography.”
Even the description of her work is part of what she teaches. “You’ve got to learn how to talk about your work,” she said.
As with any free-lancer, the average artist must also spend time marketing the creation, finding a niche, keeping records, organizing and learning about tax laws.
She gives tips on everything from the proper presentation of one’s work to the importance of hanging out with the movers and shakers of the art world.
But because fine art is such a deeply personal expression and often so time-consuming, such mundane activities seem like an intrusion to some artists.
Nancy Johnsen, 42, an art teacher at Agoura High School and the mother of two children, 4 and 8, found Sallin’s advice positively daunting. “I don’t want to be a businesswoman,” she said. “The temperament of any artist is, ‘Lock me away in my studio and leave me alone.’ ”
Nevertheless, she said, “the problem is, that’s not reality. If we want to have time to do our art, we have to make money at it. You almost need a major in art and a major in business.”
Carol Slade, a Tarzana mother of three, said she was also overwhelmed by Sallin’s emphasis on professionalism, but admitted: “Getting your work out is the only way you can grow as an artist. You have to put yourself on the line a little bit.”
Slade exhibited her paintings 10 years ago, but gradually moved away from art while raising three children. Now, ready again to go public with her work, she observed: “A lot of artists . . . end up selling themselves out. I see a lot of mediocre work. Just because you are recognized doesn’t mean you are good.”
Sallin applauds such hardheadedness. Her own story is enough to turn off all but the most confident.
The first gallery owner who looked at her work, which at the time featured lavishly colored flowers against elaborately detailed backgrounds, said it lacked a sense of color and style. He then pulled out his own traditional seascapes to show her what was good, she said.
She was devastated. “I let this guy judge my work, and I thought I would never make it.”
The second gallery owner who saw her work called it academic. And a third questioned whether she was ready to exhibit at all.
Through it all, she continued to send slides and transparencies of her work--professionally prepared to present it in its most favorable light--to magazines, consultants, curators and competitions. One day, Fritz Frauchiger, curator of the now-defunct Arco Center for the Visual Arts, called and asked to visit her studio.
Sallin recalled that she was so nervous she could not tell him her address. He eventually got there, and her work was accepted for a show. Almost simultaneously, her work was chosen by editor Sandy Ballatore for the cover of the magazine Images and Issues. Now her work is shown and represented by the Koplin Gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.
“You have to have tremendous stamina, tenacity and staying power,” she said.
The artist also needs to know how to present himself or herself.
On the resume: Never admit you are a student. Double-space everything to make sparse experience fill up a page. Never abbreviate. (“You don’t get stature with L.A.; you get it with Los Angeles.”)
In the letter of introduction, “drop a name if you can. That should be the first thing on the first line.”
In the package of slides and information sent out to prospective buyers or exhibitors, “I only include my good reviews. Bad reviews are available upon request.”
At the gallery: Never go up to the gallery owner at openings to talk about your work. “They’re there to sell.” Also: “Don’t get drunk at openings. It’s no longer charming or cute.”
Where to start: Obscure juried shows, working your way up through research and networking. “You don’t start at the Whitney.”
Seeing the need for real-world guidance not taught in art schools, Sallin began teaching her class in 1982, drawing on her own experiences as well as the recommendations of consultants, buyers, gallery owners and other artists.
Although emphasizing that business savvy is important, she concedes: “A gallery owner isn’t going to buy or show your work because you’re well-organized. . . . The work still has to stand on its own.”
To Maria Wodin, a 42-year-old Woodland Hills interior designer, the class was a revelation.
“I was told by my teachers my work was good, but no one told me how to price it, how to market it, so mostly I just gave it away because people liked it and appreciated it,” Wodin said. “Now something’s revived in me. I feel like I should go back to my real love.”