So, You Want to Work in the Arts: The Internship Do’s and Don’ts

DOSDONTSART

We are about a third of the way through our summer interns, and it’s already been a wild ride this year. Interning can be an exhilarating, boring, confusing, fun, motivating, and discouraging experience. Your experience as an intern is reliant on about 50% your environment and 50% your attitude. However, you need to make the most of that last 50%. So, here are the do’s and don’ts of interning in the Arts (probably a partial list).

But first: the art world has come under fire because of how loosely it uses the term “internship” (see that whole debacle over multi-million-dollar Marina Abramovic Institute looking for extremely qualified “volunteers”… and every episode of Gallery Girls). Some galleries take advantage, some stick to the boring basics (get me coffee, file this for the next 5 hours), and others give you an opportunity to grow. We’re in the latter category. So, like all things, understand that my tips below have a bit of a bias based on the idea that our interns are here to learn, to gain valuable skills, and to contribute to a project in some way.

Do: Ask questions (about the art, about how the gallery works, about upcoming projects).

Don’t: Ask a group of questions without first saying, “Hey, Becca. I’d love to ask you a few questions about *insert topic here*. Please let me know when you have a few minutes to go over them, or I can email them if you prefer.” If you have a question about the project you’re working on or need clarity about something I’m telling you, fine, absolutely ask right away. However, if you find yourself curious just to learn more about something regarding the business, and you know it’s going to be a bit of a conversation, have the courtesy to realize that while I love talking about our business, I have a million things to get done on any given day, and a 30-minute conversation on why we do what we do needs to be scheduled, not just launched. If I have the time right then, I’ll say I do.

Do: Take the first few weeks to really learn.

Don’t: Assume you know already the business, how it operates, and what we need to do. We had this great intern. Motivated, a real thinker, very sweet. But he/she thought he/she knew it all because of what his/her college classes taught him/her (okay, this is getting too much, let’s just go with “her”). College isn’t the real world, baby. She would present ideas on a regular basis totally unannounced and usually when I really needed to concentrate (see Don’t #1). When I or my partner would tell her, “interesting idea, but it’s really not going to work because of this and this and this,” or “we actually already tried that and it wasn’t a good fit for our business,” she would argue with us. That inability to accept criticism and/or learn was a total put-off. Needless to say, we didn’t keep her on. With that in mind…

Do: Express your ideas (about potential projects, new ways of running day-to-day operations, a better way to organize contacts).

Don’t: Express ideas without taking the time to first learn how we operate or having the ability to execute. Ideas are what fuel a business, we love it when even our interns come up with something new for us. However, in order for your ideas to have any weight or staying power, you really need to learn how our gallery works, what we’d like to accomplish in the next year, and what our main focus is. On the flip side of that, if you suggest something like “why don’t you arrange your artist image folder alphabetically?” and we say, “great! why don’t you work on that!” and you don’t have the time or know-how to execute, then basically you’re leaving us with another thing on our to-do list that we’re going to have to get done. And no one likes that. So, be prepared to execute on what you’re suggesting (don’t worry, we won’t have you do something you’re not prepared to do).

Do: Take “no” for an answer. I know, that goes against every self-help/business-of-life book, but as an intern, if I say “no” or “that won’t work for us,” this is not your opportunity to convince me otherwise. I know my business, I’ve been living and breathing and eating and sleeping it every day for five years. You just got here.

Don’t: Leave the “no” lying there or feel demoralized by it. Feel free to say, “ok. Do you think you can explain to me why it won’t work so that I can better understand how you operate?” That let’s me know you’re looking to learn and improve. Also, you need to be able to accept rejection. If it truly is an amazing idea, and your employer is just been stubborn, wait for an opportunity where you idea would be the solution to a problem he is having and mention it again then. If it’s still “no,” then make like Elsa and let it go.

Do: Occasionally stay late. The interns that impressed us the most (and that we hired/gave opportunities to/recommended for jobs) were the ones that, when we had a really big project or exhibition, stayed with us to see it through. I actually like having to tell someone, “please go home now, it’s past 5!”

Don’t: Be taken advantage of. The above said, if it’s your employer that is demanding you stay late on the regular, then speak up. As an intern, you’re presumably unpaid (especially in the Arts), and there are rules and regulations to how employers use their interns. Staying late on the night of an exhibition is one thing (and should be done – if you want to be a part of this business, you have to learn how it runs its events), but being asked on a daily basis to stay extra hours, or anything that just feels slimey, is a no-go.

Do: Get to know the artists. Ask them questions about their work, their story. Engage them in conversation at openings, ask what inspires them.

Don’t: Get to know the artists. *Ahem* It’s happened… and it’s gotten a bit gross and really awkward for everyone involved (or not involved). While I know the allure of the bohemian-artist-type, restrain yourself. Having your boss watch you stick your tongue down an artist’s throat in the corner at one of our openings does not instill the utmost confidence in your ability as a future professional. Just, let’s all keep it in our pants, shall we?

I’m sure there will be a Part 2 to this – so be sure to ask any questions in the comments!

Here’s To The Weekend.

My 3 highlights of the week:

1.

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Chubby baby fingers + homemade finger paint = gloriousness

2.

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I’ve been wanting to go to the Strand since I can remember. That day finally came. And I made a monumentally restrained purchase of one book.

3.

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Today, a local arts writer came in to take a peek at tomorrow’s exhibition opening. Very excited to unveil the new show!

 

What a week! Sunday in the city, beautiful (spring-like) days, homemade goodies, and a girl date with one of my best friends. PLUS, I’m leaving for Florida on Monday for two weeks! I can’t wait to get out in the SUN. And, really, to just relax for a bit. Gosh, this has truly been a week to smile about. Hope yours is super sunny!

Link Love:

  • Want: Sunshine! (a candle via we are ONYX)
  • Need: Sunshine! (the importance of getting your Vitamin D in the winter)
  • Drink: Sunshine In A Glass! (actually, that looks disgusting. So how about a Sunshine Margarita? In fact, I’m definitely making that this week.)
  • Read: The Sun Also Rises! (okay, that was a stretch)

Design ♥: Kate Bingaman Burt

Kate Bingaman Burt is, in my opinion, all parts genius. I love her illustrations and design, and would gladly snatch up any and all of the notebooks she illustrated  for KnockKnock. Her daily drawings and textiles are full of humor and cheek.

1. Label Design for Municipal Wine  |  2. Makeup bag design for Poketo for Target Stores  |  3 & 4. Illustrated notebooks for KnockKnock  |  5. Video of Daily Drawings

Inspired

The snow is falling so heavily outside.  Each flake that comes down is like a pillow of ice, landing with perfect care on the sidewalk, blanketing old snow with a youthful coat.

I had the most fascinating talk with one of our artists this morning.  I was interviewing Robert Wilson for his upcoming, one-man show, as part of my job involves preparing all the text for the exhibit (from bios to books to releases and visual “enhancements”).  So, I sat him down, asked him a bit about his life, how he got into art, and what he believes to be his artistic vision.  From the moment he began speaking, I cursed myself for not being able to write fast enough.  The wisdom he has, and his views on art, are so intrinsically inspiring that I can still *feel* his words hours after he spoke them.

Robert led the “typical” bohemian artistic life in the 60’s, living on a houseboat in Seattle and going to the parties of big-name creatives like Miles Davis.  When he was 21, he joined the Baha’i Faith.  “It’s a social religion,” he explained, “One that believes in the country of ‘Earth’ and its population is the entire human race.”  In Baha’i work is worship; to go out into the world and execute your passion is part of how you celebrate Life.  It’s easy to see how closely Robert takes this to heart– when he talks about his art, his entire body moves in a way that almost looks like prayer.  His eyes squint up and he moves his hands up to his temples as if the words in his mind were coming faster than he could speak them.

This artist has the sort of intelligence that I admire.  It’s quiet and careful, but magnanimous and powerful at the same time.  There is something behind his eyes that just… speaks.  As we were sifting through the details of his life, we began talking about artistic inspiration.  “In both art and music,” he explained, “one needs to be open to wanting to learn.  It is a constantly changing process, one where you grow more and more each day.”  He sits back and pauses, “And there are tools, but they are insight, imagination, intuition, instinct, and a kind of innocence.  You need these when you paint, so that the painting becomes a day-to-day diary of your life, your thoughts, and your emotions.  It lets the work come alive.”  You see that in his work– there is an energy and movement that fills you.  And there is an unexpected beauty in each work– one that you’re not entirely sure where it comes from.  I am more excited than ever for his show– and absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on these notes and filter through them to unearth his incredible story.

 

Lit Links!

It’s been a rough end to the weekend/beginning to the week (more on that later), so I’m putting up some fluff to hopefully bring a smile to your face and mine!

1. The Shaker Project. A random collection of over 100 salt and pepper shakers. No joke. I kinda love salt and pepper shakers because I love to cook and these are one of the only things that allow a certain degree of kitsch and whimsy in an otherwise serious kitchen. In fact, I just bought a set of silver-plated peacock/pheasant shakers at a barn sale. They’re the most unnecessarily ornate shakers I’ve seen, and you have to hold them by the tips of their tales to use them. I’m such a sucker for useless crap.

2. Yes.

3.  Yum.  I can’t wait to begin using my new kitchen!

4.  Shadow Street Art.

5.  Lincoln Mitchel of The Rumpus provides an extensive guide to literary magazines at The Faster Times.  There are plenty on there that I’ve heard of, and many that I haven’t.

6.  Hah!: Is your book publishable?

7.  I wish all my necklaces were shaped like my favorite snacks.

8.  Anti-Zombie Night Table.

9.  The plays of Shakespeare, rewritten entirely in an artist’s Moleskine notebook.

10.  This is by far my favorite show, at the moment.  I think I love physics and science so much because it by no means comes easily to me.  My mind is better attuned to words and books.  However, I am known to use mathematics to de-stress from time to time

Newest Obsession: Chris Piascik

I only very recently “discovered” this illustrator/graphic designer, yesterday actually, but am officially obsessed with his work.  Chris Piascik is a Boston/CT-based artist (just like me!  Well, except for the artist part) whose bike prints and awesome text-style have me totally swooning (his “I Like To Ride Bikes” print even features red bicycles, which I collect!).  I’m such a sucker for typography; for years I’ve written and rewritten the alphabet in various styles and forms, it’s my way of doodling.  I have absolutely no talent at it, however, and it always boggles my mind when I see such beautifully illustrated text.  Check out Chris’s daily drawings to get a sense of his style.

I would love to see this guy illustrating some book covers– I think he would do a superb job re-designing covers for books such as On the Road, The Sun Also Rises, The Fuck-Up, Survivor, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  You know, books that have a slight masculine-appeal, are classics but still considered a bit “rogue,” and are usually found tucked into the back pocket of a guy wearing Wayfarers and riding a fixed gear.  I know that’s a bit stereotypical, but I kinda love the look, so I’m over it.

I keep waiting for Chris to update his Etsy page, because I would totally love a giant print of his “R” drawing to hang in my room.

EDIT Two new sites to buy Chris’s work: Print Brigade and Society6.

I have a back-log of book reviews to post, but keep seeming to run out of time.  I’ve actually finished my very last “pleasure” reading book and have instead turned to personal finance and career books.  Talking with my friends, we discovered how some of us know so little about managing our finances.  I don’t know the first thing about investing and sure as heck can’t tell you what an IRA is.  I’m beginning to realize that if I don’t get on saving for my retirement, now, I’m going to end up a little old lady selling clothes-pin dolls on the side of the road to make ends meet.  Yes, that is the exact image I have in my head.  It’s not a pretty picture.  So, I’ve invested in the following three books, which I recommend to anyone and everyone trying to get a handle on his/her life:

My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire, by Michelle Goodman.

The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube, by Michelle Goodman.

The Wealthy Barber: Everyone’s Common Sense Guide to Becoming Financially Independent, by David Chilton.