How much influence should a curator really have

How much influence should a curator really have

A reader asks:

How much should an artist be creatively influenced by a curator? Do suggested directions become creatively rewarding for an artist, as well as (hopefully) financially so?

As with so many things, the answer here is ‘it depends’. It depends on what stage of your career you are in, your relationship with the curator, the type of gallery (is it public, artist run, commercial?), what you’re trying to achieve and so on.

If you are an emerging artist it makes sense to take more direction from a curator than if you are an established artist. As an emerging artist, you should be looking for guidance, mentoring or advice from multiple sources, while you are still figuring out how things work and establishing your creative practice.

I would also look at what kind of direction is being suggested. As an artist, no-one will understand your work better than you, just as no-one understands their gallery space and market better than the curator. It makes sense to consider curatorial advice about what will and won’t work for a particular space; and, if sales are a consideration for you, what types of works tend to sell well in that gallery.

However, you don’t want to fall into the trap of creating work just for the market. There needs to be a balance between your ideas and style, and what sort of work sells, otherwise your work will be bland, overly commercial, and likely unfulfilling to produce (unless of course commercial work is your goal – some artists do well and are happy producing this type of work).  

I had an artist pitch a concept to me recently, which I loved on a personal level, but which I also knew wouldn’t work for my gallery. The theme, while important, was too dark, and I knew it wouldn’t sell in my commercial gallery. I suggested she take the proposal to a public gallery, where they can afford to take more thematic risks because they are not dependant on sales for survival; and where the audience would be more receptive. I hope it gets up, because I really do want to see that exhibition, and I didn’t want to dilute its potential power by suggesting tweaks that would make it work for my space.  

Artists and curators should view the work they do together as a partnership, where both parties are bringing their unique skill set for the benefit of everyone, enhancing each other’s work to make the exhibition the best it can be. The partnership should be creatively rewarding for all involved, and if it’s not you might want to examine why that is.

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