So, You Want to Work in the Arts?: Assuming an Identity


Who are you?

I get it, you’re a multi-faceted person with a wide range of interests who just can’t be “typed.” You’re a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. You’ve read Barthes. Really, I get it.

However, when working in the art world (especially in the art market) it’s important to be someone. And I don’t mean that in the name-dropping sense. Rather, I mean it’s good to have a “personality” or you’re going to fall flat.

You need to develop a public self.

Now, before anyone bashes me for not championing “authenticity,” that’s not the goal here. I absolutely believe there should be authenticity in your persona. However, in just five years, I’ve realized that there is an incredible distinction between one’s private and public self, and it’s important for you, not others, to draw that line.

As a new member of this art world, to protect myself and our gallery brand, I needed to assume an identity. This identity is an extension of who I already am, but is used to both preserve my true self and promote my branded self. That’s a lot of selves to deal with. As a child of new technology, I see this as particularly important. One would assume that due to the prevalence of blogs/social media, the technological landscape of our present allows our public self and private self to converge. But that is so not the case. Hence the proliferation of articles on developing your “personal brand.” Though I initially rolled my eyes at these, I realize how important they are. Here’s a few goods ones to read: from Life After College and Camille Styles.

I came in to this business as an inexperienced 25 year-old. Kind and accommodating, I was a bit of a pushover. I didn’t have a true vision of who – or what – I wanted to be. And this made me feel a bit lost. I was easily passed over at openings and parties, no one was really interested in what I had to say. My partner, on the other hand, is a dynamic and engaging personality. Also, he’s a bit of an @$$hole (earmuffs!). He doesn’t let people dick him over, and he won’t stand for any sort of dismissal and attack on his brand. He wants to – and has – become an important person in this world. And to do so, he has to protect the side of himself that is sensitive and silly and kind. The side that I get to see every day. Because, in this high-energy industry, the “nice guys” do tend to finish last.

So, if you want to work in the Arts, I suggest taking a self-prescribed personality test. Look at yourself and the attributes that make you an asset. Your creativity, your confidence, your curatorial eye, your way with words. Eek out those things that make you feel the most you, and amplify them. I started as an introverted writer who just wants to make everyone happy. What I’ve tried to transition this into, professionally, is a listener who can take an artist’s story and transform it into something great and engaging. I’ve retained my kindness, but with an edge. I balance out my partner who is all about the bottom line. You can confide in me, but you also understand that I work in the best interest of our gallery and that I’m loyal to his decisions.

It’s a persona I cloak over myself at the gallery, at events, at dinners, and can quickly loosen as soon as I’m home around my loves and my cat videos. So, I’ll ask again, who are you?

Disclaimer: I write the “So, You Want to Work in the Arts?” series based on my own personal experiences. Which may or may not be your experience. And that’s just as wonderful as a unicorn lollipop. You can agree or disagree with me, but I think we can all agree to disagree. Agree?