Showing posts with label Glen Kessler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Glen Kessler. Show all posts

29 November 2014

Glen Kessler: How to Market Yourself as an Artist

Photo Credit: Evan Goldman
The following interview about marketing your work as an artist is based on a lecture that Glen Kessler, founder of the Glen Kessler Atelier in the Academy Program in Rockville, Maryland, gave to the Gaithersburg Fine Arts Association on November 13, 2014.

1. Who should think about marketing his or her work as an artist?


In all seriousness, marketing is a skill - just like making art is. You don’t want to wait until you are producing masterpieces at the easel to begin learning how to apply to shows, develop a website, manage a social media presence, or talk to prospective galleries and buyers. You want to go through your "awkward- student phase" of marketing while you are still going through your student phase of making art.

Another way to think about marketing is to understand that cultivating a career in the arts is like owning a company. Like with any business, in order to be successful, you need a CEO to chart the course, CTO to work on the web and social media aspect, CFO to check on the financial viability of your operation and on taxes, legal department to handle contracts for commissions, PR department to advertise for you, and of course, a sales force. All of these people are you! Making the art itself represents just the "manufacturing plant" of this business. If you don’t advertise, learn how to sell and use technology, and network, then, you just might end up with a warehouse full of unsold merchandise.

2. To whom should artists be marketing?

When you start, start locally. It is cheaper, easier, and you are more likely to net results when targeting your local community. As your reputation builds, and you learn what works and what doesn’t, only then, you might want to expand your range, budget and ambition.

Many artists exhibit their work in juried group shows, many of which are listed on sites like or There are thousands of shows to apply to. One factor I encourage emerging artists to consider is geography: Determine a distance that you are willing to drive your artwork (30 minutes, 4 hours, whatever) and only apply shows within this distance. This is recommended in part because of the high cost of shipping. For modestly sized works (up to 18x24"), it can cost $30 to box up a painting, $30 to ship it, and don’t forget about the return shipping fee, which you must purchase in advance. So, you’re in for approximately $100 a piece, per show, in addition to the entry fee.

Delivering your own artwork to local exhibits also gives you an opportunity to talk with the organizers. They might be more inclined to advocate for you if they know who you are, have talked with you about your work, or even like you. I once got a solo show out of such a conversation. It’s good to be a person to them, and not just a piece of art.

Another important aspect of marketing is learning how to talk about your work. You want to project an air of professionalism at a show of your work, whether it is a group or solo show. You may still consider yourself a student, but that is not something to tout in a public forum, like in an exhibition, an application proposal, or to prospective patrons. Also, learn certain buzzwords or phrases that easily convey what your work is about. Try to boil it down to as few words as possible, practice those phrases, and begin to own them across all platforms of your public persona (website, promotional materials, and in conversation).

3. What are some basics Do's and Don'ts of marketing your work as an artist?

Do cast a wide net. Apply to group shows, join local arts organizations, go to art events in your area, apply for competitions, grants and residencies, talk to other artists, accept speaking, jurying or teaching opportunities. Build your brand through repetition.

Don’t get discouraged. I wear it with pride that still, after 20 years, I get rejected from half of the shows I submit my work to. If I’m not getting rejected, that means I’m not being aggressive enough.

Do study what others have done, and make it yours. Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” So, observe other artists’ websites and social media, exhibition records and talking points, and then own the best lessons you can draw from them.

Don’t only apply to things you think you will get. Apply to shows, competitions and residencies that you don't think you can win. You will be surprised just how many you might get.

4. Why is this an important topic to lecture on? How do you integrate marketing know-how into your curriculum at the Academy in Rockville, MD?

There is only one other topic that is more important to discuss in a program that claims to offer students the ability to become professionals in their field  - of course, that other thing is how to paint, which we do quite admirably in the atelier.

It has always astounded me that discussion of the business side of one’s art career is a taboo topic in so many art schools. It’s as if these institutions believe that upon graduation, their students will be magically endowed with a skill set that often contrasts the sensibilities that brought them to their chosen artistic field in the first place. It’s an absurd notion, of course, and one whose time has expired.

In the atelier, we devote a significant portion of the third, thesis year to learning about the business. We cover everything from how to enter shows, photograph artwork, frame and price art, write grant proposals, develop a website and social media presence, and we even discuss how to teach. I sincerely want every one of my students to be able to operate at a professional level of art making, and I believe that every one of them can in fact achieve that.

25 February 2014

The Academy Program: What if You Never Had to Take an Art Class Again?

The Academy Program (at Glen Kessler Studio) begins in April 2014, in Rockville, Maryland and is currently enrolling students. It offers a structured, comprehensive curriculum to fine artists who are looking to advance their skill from the fundamentals to mastery level over three years, with weekly meetings. The program aims to provide a guided and unified studio art experience, foundation in art history and theory, as well as professional experience for artists, who might otherwise be trying to attain these goals by taking classes at different institutions without an organized curriculum at hand.

"By its conclusion students will have a profound mastery of painting techniques, a knowledge of anatomy, perspective, art history and art theory, and have developed a thesis body of work that can catapult them to a professional career in the arts," says program founder Glen Kessler, a classically trained professional artist with teaching experience and an understanding of contemporary methods.

Classes will be held in Kessler's studio at Capitol Arts Network (12276 Wilkins Ave, Rockville, MD 20852), a nonprofit arts center offering artist residencies and art classes. 

1. How many students and instructors can participate?

Each section has between 4-6 students.  It's important that that number stay low, so each student can receive nearly individual attention throughout the course.

I will hire as many instructors as we need to satisfy demand for classes. The first round of instructors I am in the process of hiring are some of the finest painters and teachers in this area. Each possesses the unique combination of master-level technical skill and an appreciation of how to use that skill in the service of contemporarily relevant artwork.

In addition to myself, classically trained at the New York Academy of Art but passionately interested in modern art (see my work at, I can tell you about one other instructor who has been hired to start later this year, Marjorie Forgues. Marjorie has studied and worked alongside some of the greatest technical artists of our era: Robert Liberace, Nelson Shanks, Ray Kaskey. I am very pleased to have her on board (see her work at
2. Is it a fine arts program? Is there a specific style, in which the students will be taught?

It is primarily an oil painting program, and realism is our focus, at least at the beginning. The course builds from the basics of rendering, through historical painting methods, to anatomy and perspective, literal and metaphorical storytelling, and finally, to a thesis body of work. 

We cover art history and art theory as well, so that students will have a firm understanding of where they come from, and where they are now in the grand history of art-making.

In the end, students are free to paint however and whatever they like, but with the great resources of knowledge and confidence that this course endows them.

3. How does it compare with an accredited program?

This program does not purport to offer a degree or any sort of certification. It is about the accumulation of knowledge. The Academy Program is a natural evolution of my observations about teaching adults in this area.

This idea arose from the observation that most of the open-enrollment painting students I have seen cobble together lessons in a random, piecemeal fashion over years (and years) of study with a number of instructors, in a number of different classes, and with varying levels of satisfaction. Progress can be slow, since most simply repeat the same success and failures over and over again.

Wouldn't it be nice to have someone arrange all the necessary information into a single curriculum with no holes and no overlapping? Everything building from square one up to master level? 

Comprehensive and efficient. That's The Academy Program.

4. What is the scope of the connection with Capitol Arts Network?

The course will take place in a large studio I have rented at the Capitol Arts Network (CAN) building at 12276 Wilkins Avenue, in the Twinbrook area, in Rockville, MD. It is not a CAN-run event, but rather a product of the Glen Kessler Studio, whose operations run out of CAN. Enrollment is through Glen Kessler Studio, at and

5. According to you, what is the most important skill an artist needs to learn?

There is no single most important skill an artist must know. Artists must possess a mastery of craftsmanship (in whatever mode they work), deep concepts of relevance to the world, and a personal connection to their work and process, or else it will be unsustainable over a lifetime. 

In addition, artists must appreciate that they are not just the manufacturing arm of their operation, but also the CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, PR department, and sales force of their own personal company. An inability to learn how to handle the business side of being an artist can be just as challenging to an artist's success as having poor craft or weak concepts. 

In The Academy Program, students will be challenged to master ALL aspects of what it is to be an artist. We will visit galleries, they will be encouraged to apply for shows, learn how to develop a professional portfolio, and even how to organize the information they know into a teaching curriculum of their own. These are all things I have had to pick up in dribs and drabs over 20+ years as an artist. I aim to help my Academy students possess them in just three.

6. How is the curriculum organized? Is the history and theory component tied into the studio component? (Will the instructors in these fields be studio artists or primarily historians? Will they be lecturing or somehow incorporating an idea into a studio lesson? Is there homework? How many hours can students expect to devote to the program on a weekly basis, both in and out of class? Will they be exposed only to a western art tradition or also other traditions?)

The art history and theory elements are indeed woven into the the studio practice. The instructors are studio artists, although they understand art history well and will present it in usable terms for the students: from a perspective of how artistic movements are created and the elements that define those movements arise. This is not about memorizing dates or what museum holds what painting. Some art historical periods will be examined more closely through working in that period's method (Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classicism). 

Weekday, daytime classes may even get the privilege of painting inside the National Gallery of Art, copying a master work directly from the original (I was a copyist for years and consider this one of the best ways to truly understand an artist's methods and life). 

In addition to the 3-4 hours in class each week, students are expected to work an additional 6-10 hours per week practicing and embellishing the week's lesson (more time is not a bad thing either). 

16 March 2012

Glen Kessler

Glen Kessler's new series of paintings "Command-Shift-3," on view at the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery March 24-25, 2012, takes a close look at technology and how it shapes the way we see, look and feel.
(This interview has been edited from its original version.)

1. How would you characterize your work from 2005 - 2010?

I graduated with my MFA from The New York Academy of Art in 2005.  The curriculum at 'The Academy' was rigorous, both technically and conceptually.  For my thesis, I conceived of a painting that explored a surprising interaction I had with my wife (then girlfriend).  We were watching a news report on the Iraq War.  Later, we discussed it only to find that we had completely different takes on it.  I knew that it was our opposing political views that caused the schism and was intrigued by how much personal biases and preconceived expectations can shape our understanding of facts.  Being a painter, I found a visual equivalent of this distortion: 

Conceptually speaking, I took a topic like politics, beauty, oddity, combat and mined art history for an image that represented that topic.  I replaced the head of the lead figure in the found image with that of an analagous contemporary figure. I distorted the hybrid image through anamorphic distortion, which distorts an image from all possible perspectives other than one specific oblique angle.  Finally, I rendered the painting in a style that combined old world painting (glazing) and modern painting (thick impastos).  The resulting image was rife with dichotomies for the viewer to explore.  See the images here:

2. You are showing recent works (completed in the past year) on March 24-25 at the Yellow Barn Art Gallery in Glen Echo, MD. Does this work represent a shift from your previous paintings or is there also a continuity that it encapsulates?

My newest body of work, 'COMMAND-SHIFT-3,' completed from 2011-2012, represents a shift from the previous series because I am concerned with different issues today than I was from 2005-2010. 

These new paintings focus on the unflinching march of technology into our daily lives.  I marvel at how quickly things are changing, as the internet, GPS, and miniaturization allows computers to creep in.  I use a lot of technology in my personal life and career.  As a painter, I try to maximize the potential of technology to make my work more effective.

Also, as a teacher, I interact with hundreds of people each week. Today’s high school students do not know a world without e-mail, phones with cameras and the immediacy of social media and information at their fingertips. Their world is a one of answers, information, accessibility, ease. 

As a culture we can ask how we, our children, and our children's children will be hardwired as a result of this new way of interacting? Are we aware yet of how this new technology-driven paradigm will continue to shape our minds, our beliefs, our philosophies and psychologies?  This is what my recent work explores. 

Observing how different generations perceive technology, I feel a bit like a cultural anthropologist.  If I were a writer or a researcher, I might publish my findings in words, but as a painter I convey my observations through paint. 

I believe these new paintings have much to offer the patient viewer.  They are layered, offering a depth of meaning. 

I operate with intellectual certainty, but also with a healthy dose of instinct. Both are essential for art-making.  If the work becomes too cerebral, all the mystery and all the empathy is lost.  If it gets too instinctive, the artist loses his way.

Overall, my work remains very personal to me and focuses on my observations of the world around me.  When I began painting in the mid- 90's, I was trained as a perceptual painter.  Initially, that meant painting literally what I saw in front of me, but as time went on, I became bored with the lack of conceptual depth in that mode of working.  Philip Guston captures my thoughts when talking about his studio practice in the face of world events:

"What kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything - and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue." 

I sought to use my skills as a painter to convey a world beyond just the visual.  I wanted to give tangible form to my inner thoughts, with all the richness and depth of which painting is capable. 

I see my transition as a very logical progression. It would be odd to make the same work year after year as the world around me changes, and I change as a result. 

See my recent work here:

3. How does technology inform your paintings?

Technology is the backbone of the concepts in my paintings but also plays a major role in the making of the work.  A few years ago, I transitioned from printed photographs as my primary source to the computer screen.  I love the way the glowing pixels capture a luminosity closer to real life than the ink printed on paper.  I can also zoom in effortlessly and even use programs to tinker with the image in a seamless process of 'sketching.'  In my studio, I have a large monitor that I sync up to my smaller laptop screen.  This allows me to really observe details.  It is a great setup that I am sure more and more artists will employ.

Lately, I have been exploring how technology can improve my studio practice.  I 'sketch' and take notes on my laptop and iPhone.  I have not had a paper sketchbook in years. Utilizing all the tools at our disposal is where art is headed.

You might look at my work and say I am a traditional painter, but I love the way modern technology can assist in the artistic process. I am certain that if Velazquez or Picasso were alive today they would use the computer, smartphone and internet in their work.

4. What view of technology do your paintings express?

 When people hear about my work, they might assume I am cynical of the changes technology is ushering in. Not true.  However, I am also not simply advocating for those changes either. 

I have always thought of the artist as an eye - like Philip Guston's great cycloptic figure, a massive eye on an otherwise featureless head.

The eye's job is to observe the world around it and offer intelligent, well-crafted visual essays on what it finds.  I do not like art that hits you over the head with the artist's opinions.  It is small, and a waste of the great gifts of the history of painting. 

I am old enough to remember a time before cell phones, the Internet, VCRs, even remote controls.  I grew up as these technologies came into common use. I am also young enough to make use of them with facility and joy.  However, the incredible speed at which they make their way into every facet of our lives, makes me wonder how people adapt to think, act and believe in new ways. 

Today's high school students accept that information should be immediately accessible, that friends are always within reach, that one should never get lost and that every minute is an opportunity to accomplish some task.  I teach a lot of high school students at The Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery, and I can tell you that they have different expectations now than they did even just five years ago. 

An astonishing number show traits of ADHD. Is this biological, or are we hardwiring children to jump from task to task like apps on a phone?  Many students excel in technical exercises but have difficulty exploring concepts in greater depth.  Is this just youth, or are they being trained to expect answers quickly, without deeper investigation? These fascinating changes appear to be the initial indications of a societal shift.  The past generation tends to observe differences, even to label and treat those differences.  Ultimately, the next generation will shape our culture in its image. 

My work takes note of these seeds of change and communicates them through a beautiful and layered visual language.  I leave it to the viewer to evaluate the impact of these changes. 

My book, "COMMAND-SHIFT-3, New Paintings by Glen Kessler," which includes personal essays on art and technology, will be available for sale at my show on March 24-25.

For more information visit