Making a Living Making Art
Late last summer Tomas Hernando Kofman 16 PT climbed a ladder and wriggled his way into a tiny white-walled room in the center of a Brooklyn art studio. He needed to put the finishing touches on Five Dogs on Mountain, a thought-provoking installation that changes with each showing. Like most of the junior’s work, the project was labor-intensive – meant to question the meaning of visual language along with our understanding of reality.
“Some said the piece was ‘pure’ and ‘intimately beautiful,’” Kofman says in a warm, caramelly voice. “That’s the biggest compliment anyone could ever pay me as an artist. The authenticity of my work is what’s most important to me.”
Despite feeling good about his work, once Kofman returned to RISD in the fall he began struggling with nagging worries about life after graduation. Though he still has another year and a half in the Painting department, he continues to fret about how to pay rent and buy groceries while pursuing a spiritually and emotionally rewarding creative practice.
“People claim the art world is a corrupt, evil whirlpool that sucks you in to steal your soul,” Kofman confides. “No one wants to end up as the allegorical fine artist who spends his whole life making meaningful work only to be mistreated by curators and gallerists and living out his last days broke and embittered. For students this is a real fear.”
So one flurry-filled morning, the junior jumped at an invitation sent by RISD’s Career Center. It was to attend The Rules: How to play the art game without sacrificing artistic integrity, a January event that focused on professional practices for fine artists. There, Kofman and other interested students met with Larry Ossei-Mensah and Amani Olu, cofounders of The MEDIUM Group, a New York-based consulting firm that helps creative individuals and companies navigate the art world. Joseph Campbell, gallery owner and director of Carroll and Sons, also offered insider tips and advice.
“The insights these speakers shared are invaluable to students and recent graduates attempting to break into the fine art market,” explains Susan Andersen, associate director of the Career Center. “It can be an intimidating venture – but RISD students are extremely savvy in making inroads with established artists, curators and gallery owners. They are uniquely positioned to find success on their own terms.”
In addressing how to make it without selling out, the visiting entrepreneurs offered encouraging words of wisdom, emphasizing the importance of knowing oneself as an artist – and maintaining genuine connections that will help new graduates achieve long-term goals. “Besides the act of making good work, I didn't know of any social strategies that could help me cultivate a successful art career,” notes Kofman. “So it was reassuring to talk to people who have an intimate understanding of this highly competitive business.”
Although she’s still a sophomore, Ariana Martinez 17 SC also attended the workshop to try to start thinking about a professional plan post-graduation. Listening to the presenters she felt elated to hear that artists don’t have to choose between passion and a paycheck. “In the future, I’d like to open my own practice centered on building communities,” explains the Brown-RISD Dual Degree Student who’s majoring in Sculpture at RISD and Urban Studies at Brown. “After attending this workshop, I’m completely unafraid to follow my intuition wherever it may guide me. And that’s an amazing feeling.”
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