Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley, two artists, curators, and educators based in Britain recently published “What They Didn’t Teach You in Art School”, sharing their experience and wisdom in a timely and essential guide to knowing the “business of your business” as an artist – to help others use this knowledge to building a successful arts career.

Finally, a practical how-to guide for artists by artists

What They Didn’t Teach You in Art School” [WTDTYIAS] (published 2016 by Octopus Books and Ilex Press) is a little orange book that contains “what you need to know to survive as an artist”. The authors, Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley, have compiled 224 pages, available in print or e-book formats, aimed primarily at new arts graduates – and as a not-so-new artist myself, I too found WTDTYIAS highlighted some possible growth areas in my own art practice.

I’m still figuring this out, how to be the artist that I would like to be.

— Artist Jordan Baseman interviewed by David Barrett in Art Monthly, March 2016 (WTDTYIAS, p. 43)

Some notes about the format: first, I purchased WTDTYIAS in e-book format for my Kindle Paperwhite, which I soon downloaded on my tablet e-reader in full colour. I’ve also thumbed through the book in Tate Britain’s bookshop, where the catchy black and orange cover leaps out at you from the shelf. After reading the book in all three formats, I have to say the print or full-colour e-reader versions worked best, as I had some difficulty reading some pages on the black-and-white e-ink reader, when they come out as black text on a medium grey background (these in the book or colour tablet are black text on orange background). Thankfully, there aren’t too many pages like that, and it is possible to read the black-on-grey, so even if Kindle’s your only option, I can still recommend the purchase.

Being an artist is a job; dedicate yourself to it like any other.

— Artist Graham Crowley in his studio (WTDTYIAS, p. 12)

Now about the content: WTDTYIAS is organised into various topics including text, images, illustrations/graphs, real-life case studies, and quotes from current and well-known British artists or practitioners. Delivered in direct and clear language, topic areas include: knowing your art practice, promoting yourself and your art practice; writing about yourself/art practice; exhibiting; making proposals and applications (e.g., for grants, commissions, prizes, etc.); “business stuff” such as a few bits on self-employment, copyright, and other legal aspects of an art practice; and there’s a whole section on expanding one’s art practice, for instance, through collaboration, teaching, commissions, or other opportunities.

Being present is an essential part of exhibiting work…remember, you are the best ambassador for your work, represent yourself!

— Rosalind Davis, on exhibiting and promoting yourself as an artist (WTDTYIAS, p. 73)

Throughout, the focus is on practical professional development for artists, makers, and creatives of all kinds, with advice, guidance, or real-life examples for doing everything an artist needs to do at some point in his or her career. Inside WTDTYIAS, you can see an example artist statement, advice on press releases, some tips about online presence, and much more, with steps or exercises you can immediately try out for yourself.  I found the case-studies particularly useful, as the authors first talked through a topic area, such as making proposals for grant funding, after which they walk through the experience via Q&A with other artists/practitioners or through in-depth analysis of their own personal experience.

At the heart of my philosophy for surviving as an artist is the idea that as artists we learn from other artists…[they] are a measure of our own progress and development. They tell us how we are doing.

— Annabel Tilly, on Philosophies for Surviving and Thriving as an artist (WTDTYIAS, pp. 176-181)

In summary, “What they didn’t teach you in art school” is recommended for its succinct, clear delivery of practical ideas and solutions. Also, speaking as an arts graduate, it wouldn’t hurt to add this book to every art school’s curriculum as required reading. There’s a lot of really helpful stuff in there, and new artists especially can always use a little extra hand up.

About Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley

(Paraphrased from their full bios on pp. 37-39 of WTDTYIAS)

Rosalind Davis is the Curator at Collyer Bristow Gallery in London, cultivating a yearly programme of three group exhibitions. A graduate of The Royal College of Art (2005) and Chelsea College of Art (2003), her artwork crosses multiple disciplines, “…connecting and disconnecting physical and psychological boundaries, constructing multiple thresholds, spaces, and dimensions in both two and three dimensions”. Davis has exhibited nationally and internationally in both solo shows and group exhibitions and her work has been selected for the ING Discerning Eye and the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize. In addition to her work as a maker, Davis has managed two London-based artist-led organisations, Core Gallery (2009-2011) and Zeitgeist Art Projects [ZAP] (2012-2016). As co-director of both, she “delivered an innovative and dynamic artists’ educational, membership, and exhibition program.” As both an artist and curator, Davis has delivered a number of exhibitions in London, and regularly gives talks and lectures at London’s premiere universities, galleries, and arts organisations, including Royal College of Art, University of the Arts, the ICA, Camden Arts Centre, Artquest and more.

Annabel Tilley sums up her art practice in that she “makes drawings inspired by the history of English painting and museum collections.” A graduate of the University of Brighton (2003), Tilley has exhibited in the UK and abroad. Her work has been shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize and her drawings also have been selected for numerous publications. Tilley co-founded an artists’ support program in Hastings called “Talk about the Work”, and regularly lectures on professional practices for artists at universities and arts organisations across the UK. An accomplished writer, her work appears in a-n Magazine, Garageland, and Arty.

And of course, Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley are co-authors of “What they didn’t teach you in art school” commissioned by Octopus Books.

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