Flexibility, resilience, adaptability are critical for the working artist, along with the ability to craft a press package, résumé and website.

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Techniques are important in the creative artist’s toolbox, but so are business skills. Flexibility, resilience and adaptability are all critical for the working artist, along with the ability to craft a press package, résumé and a website, says Bonnie Biggs, art department chair at Seattle’s Cornish  College of the Arts. To make a living at creating, here are five skills artists need to master.

Writing skills. A press package, résumé, website and online presence are all necessary for the modern artist, along with the ability to document artwork.

Emmeri Bock is a filmmaker who graduated from Cornish in 2017. “Someone who works in video like I do is going to need to know how to write about and propose their work in a different way than a print artist, performance artist, or writer,” Bock says. “Working one on one with a professor who has shown work in the medium you are drawn to is the best way to learn those things.”

Cornish’s project-based curriculum is set up to encourage writing, with requirements similar to grant applications, Bock says.

Adaptability. Many contemporary artists successfully juggle multiple income streams. For example, Cornish grad and artist Lauren Iida guides contemporary art tours in Cambodia, teaches classes and accepts public and private commissions, while also exhibiting her cut-paper artwork regularly.

Knowing where and how to look for such options is a necessary skillset. “I frequent artisttrust.org to find opportunities,” Bock says; she was recently awarded money to show with 4Culture’s Storefront Media Gallery. After graduation, artists work in a variety of careers, including running pop-up art shops, owning galleries in Los Angeles, making music videos or teaching at the New York Academy of Art.

Networking know-how. “Many wonderful teachers at Cornish introduced me to crucial people and institutions that helped me propel my art career forward, such as Artxchange Gallery, my representative in Washington state,” Iida says.

Today, Iida continues to look to her network for support and resources, and even hires fellow artists for collaborations or jobs – such as a collaborative jewelry project with Aimee Oberstein, of Leiabeila.

Detail from painting by Anthony White exhibited at the Cornish College of the Arts’ BFA 2018.  (W. Westergard photo)
Detail from painting by Anthony White exhibited at the Cornish College of the Arts’ BFA 2018. (W. Westergard photo)

Business savvy. In school, professors taught Iida how to price work, set an hourly rate, along with professional practices for keeping records of sales, framing artwork and using archival materials, she says.

Anthony White, a 2018 Cornish graduate, points to a rule of thumb from a famous art critic: “Find those 14 people that Jerry Saltz believes artists need to have a credible career,” he says, of building a professional network. “One dealer, six committed collectors, three critics and four curators.” White is represented by the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, which will be doing an exhibition of his paintings in January of 2019. His work was seen at the Seattle Art Fair this summer and was in “Bellwether” at the Bellevue Arts Museum in September, displayed alongside pieces by many other Cornish alumni and faculty.

Flexibility. “Stay flexible and work hard. Making a living from fine art is a huge challenge and doesn’t happen overnight,” Iida advises. “Have patience, be professional, and stay positive. Make work from your heart, not what others say you should make, or what you think others want you to make.”

Learn more at Cornish.edu