I recently read a great article, written by artist Andrew Lampert and curator Howie Chen, in the Art in America magazine that really resonated with me. In the article Lampert mused about what it meant to be considered an emerging artist. He noted that it is not unusual for one to think of a young artist, fresh out of art school, ready to take on the art world when the term "emerging artist" pops up. And for a long time I confess that's exactly what I thought of when I heard the expression. However that's not all that the term "emerging artist" can encompass.
During the COVID lockdowns I signed up for an artist mentoring group. Shortly thereafter someone in the group asked me which category I fell into: hobbyist, emerging artist or professional? I wasn't really sure what to say. I knew I didn't really fit into hobbyist category because, despite only spending limited time on my art outside of my 9-5 job, I was really interested in branching out and pushing myself to start seriously selling my work. Within the last year I had already done a few commissions and felt elated that I had some extra income coming in. However, I also knew I didn't fit into the professional category because I wasn't working full-time as an artist, doing solo shows and selling my work regularly. So that only left one category left: emerging artist. At the time I was coming up on my fifteenth year out of college so I joked, "I don't know - is there a statute of limitations on how long one can take to emerge into the art world?"
If you fall into the category of artists who have been working for years but have yet to make their "big break" onto the art scene then you can still consider yourself an emerging artist. This is a revelation Lampert came to in his article as did I the more I learned from my mentoring group. In this sense emerging simply means someone who is still flying "under the radar," as Lampert puts it, and not recognizable to major jurists and galleries. This is where making connections really matters if you want to seriously break through and switch over to the professional category. Networking can sometimes be considered a dirty word as it sometimes implies that you need to be pushy, annoying and in your face in order to get people to notice and remember you. In reality it can just mean that once you start getting accepted into shows it's important to maintain those contacts with jurors, gallery owners, and other artists so that you can start to build on those relationships. It might take a while but eventually you can start to get noticed and then potentially gain gallery representation and a steady following of buyers and curators that want to both purchase and promote your work.
Now if you are an introverted person like myself this can seem a little daunting, but there still is a fairly easy way to start building relationships with galleries online without forcing yourself to completely abandon your whole personality in order to act more like an extrovert. Find galleries' social media pages and follow them. Comment on posts and be sure to tag them when you attend or participate in their shows. This can allow you to start building up some recognition with said galleries and can eventually open the door to inquiring into gallery representation or setting up your own shows. And from there, who knows who you might meet and who might take interest in promoting and pushing your work into the forefront. Either way, don't shy away from calling yourself an emerging artist in the interim, no matter how long you've been creating, and take advantage of opportunities open to that particular group when they present themselves. You never know how they may lead to the next step in your career!