How to get a job in the art world

Dec 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Journal

The press that the art world attracts is way out of proportion to the real size of the market.  Journalists are fascinated by the enormous prices that art can achieve and regular folk puzzle over how others can afford to pay such huge prices for art when they are struggling to pay their bills.   Headlines regularly lead the piece with how much an art work went for as if that is the most important thing about the piece.  There is also a belief that there is a lot of easy money swilling around in the art market.  This is allied to the perception that the art world is a rather fun place to work in with trendy parties in Hoxton hanging out with Kate Moss and ‘Damien.’ The upshot is that anyone involved in the art market constantly gets asked for advice on how to get a job in it.  Its no good explaining that the art market is actually a ruthless cut-throat place full of sharks because young hopefuls don’t want to hear it…..they just want in.  So for those looking for advice the london based headhunter/recruiter who specialises in the art world, Sophie Macpherson has helpfully distilled her own advice on the subject into 10 bullet points.

It all began a decade ago when Macpherson, languishing in a gallery assistant job in Mayfair, was searching for a new job. Recruiters had no understanding of the kind of career move she was after. They told her she had “no future in the art world” and advised her to “go be a secretary.” Realizing that there was a gaping hole in the recruitment industry, she sent 100 self-addressed envelopes asking museums and galleries if they would welcome a service helping them finding staff.

“The response was incredible,” she said. “Practically all of them got back saying that they were struggling to find good people. Many were just hiring relatives and friends of friends and would always find it very awkward when things didn’t work out.”

Macpherson’s clients have included Christie’s, Frieze, Gagosian Gallery, White Cube, Lisson Gallery, Alison Jacques, and ArtReview, to name but a few. She regularly lectures in institutions such as the Courtauld Institute, Oxford University, and the Royal College of Art, and in 2008 launched her own Art Market Academy.

Recently, she shared 10 no-nonsense tips for art job hunters in an interview.

1. Research. Any job, whether in contemporary art or working with Old Master paintings, requires a great deal of research. To be able to show you can research works of art or the market itself is very useful and will make you a more desirable candidate. We recommend keeping a portfolio of work you have done, reporting on exhibitions you visit and conducting small market research projects in your own time. Taking this with you to interview will impress any employer, showing you work hard in your spare time and have a keen interest in your chosen field.

2. Social Media. Being able to navigate social media platforms is an increasingly desired skill. Create a blog where you can publish your own research projects, talk about trips to galleries with photographs of your favorite pieces, post links to other sites of interest and your Twitter account. Showing you can be creative online will really help you move ahead.

3. Internships. It is almost expected that you will take a few internships before being offered a full-time job. The experience can be essential to understanding the mechanisms of the industry whilst building up your CV. It will also help you learn which areas you enjoy and which you don’t, and therefore be able to run a more targeted search when applying for permanent roles.

4. Art Calendar. Know the seasonal art world inside out. Make sure you are aware of all the important monthly auctions, fairs, and exhibitions and try and get to a many of them as you can. Asian Art Week in London in November, Old Master’s Week in London in June, auctions of Impressionist art in New York in May, and the contemporary auctions and Frieze Art Fair in London in October are must-sees and should be followed from afar even if you cannot attend them.

5. CV. Keep it to two pages if you can! Employers don’t have time to read through lengthy CVs and will therefore only skim read. Make sure you put only relevant working experience on there and have the most recent at the top.

6. Cover Letter. Make sure you take the time to find the correct person to address it to, and that you fully understand the role and what the employer is looking for. Bring to their attention any language skills, any work experience that you feel is particularly relevant to the role, and even your availability for interview.

7. Languages. This is increasingly important as the art market grows and diversifies. If you have the option of taking extra courses to perfect any basic languages you have, then do. We are often asked to send only candidates with at least one foreign language, so any work you do to brush up your skills would be an asset.

8. Reading. This sounds obvious but there is so much that you are not taught at university about the art market and it is important that you educate yourself. Reading arts newspapers, publications, magazines, blogs, forums, and market reports is highly recommended so you understand all about every aspect of the industry. Gaining an insight into what is showing where, what is being sold to whom, and which shows are doing well will prove very beneficial at interview.

9. Networking. It is an old adage that who you know in the art world really matters, and whilst it is not the only way to get ahead it certainly does help. Attending private views, fairs, talks, and events, and meeting as many people as you can will help you gain further reach when looking for a job. The more people know you are looking, the better.

10. Interviews. There are simple rules to interviewing but it’s amazing how many people get it wrong. The obvious first point is Be On Time. Be sure to really research the person who is be carrying out the interview, as well as the company. Have good questions to ask — an interview should be a two-way dialogue not just a quick-fire question-and-answer session. If you have got to interview stage you have already got far, so keep calm and be yourself.

Tags: Advice on the art market, How to get into the art market, Sophie Macphersen.

One Comment to “How to get a job in the art world”

  1. Thank You so much, i will hang on to this information and also, have a very Merry Christmas and happy new Years to come.

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