Name: Kelly Allen
Field of Study: MFA Drawing
Year of Graduation: 2008
Current Position: Fine artist, San Francisco, Calif.
What was the most important thing you learned about your field while at Kendall?
I learned that a lot of people become professors right out of college. It makes sense because that's how a lot of artists make a living. But I think students would benefit more from having some faculty who spent a number of years focusing on being an exhibiting artist, so they can share the details of that career path. While most professors still exhibit their work, it's a very different world being a part of the academic branch of the fine art field as opposed to the full-time exhibition/commercial branch. Students interested in the latter path can sometimes feel pretty lost after they graduate, realizing that skills such as treating your art-making like a business are not taught very thoroughly in fine art classes. This goes for all art schools.
What was your most shocking realization about your field after graduation?
About halfway through the MFA program, it became clear to me that I did not want to become a professor right away, like I initially thought. I wanted to experience being a full-time, exhibiting fine artist. In order to do this while making the kind of work that I make, I had to relocate to a bigger city. Not everyone will have to do this, but it was really important for me. It's important to help grow the Grand Rapids art community (and it is making leaps and bounds every year), but each artist needs to make an individual choice and do what's best for his/her own career. It's crucial to realize your target market, and then do what you can to make them know who you are.
Give us your best interview tip.
Look and act professional when you have a meeting with a gallery owner. This may seem obvious, but while working as assistant director at Byrneboehm Gallery, I experienced a handful of artists coming in looking like they just woke up, with their work clumsily displayed or still needing to be cleaned up before it's sellable. In reality, you are making a product, a special, precious product, and you need to present it as such. Be a minute or two early, and be yourself, but be a professional version of yourself.
List three ways you network in your field.
- Go to gallery openings and visit galleries on a regular basis during regular hours.
- Participate in nonprofit art functions–donate work and the like.
- Stay in touch with as many people as possible across the country and go to galleries in their city.
What was the worst interview moment you've experienced?
I was in L.A. for an art show, and because of limited time I cold-called a gallery that I really wanted to show my work. After looking around at the show, the owner sensed what I was up to. She was in no mood to talk to me about my work, and even went to the extent of sitting on the floor in the corner and closing her eyes! But I only had one chance to get her attention while I was in the area, and had one of my drawings (the only one that would fit in my carry-on suitcase, not my best work at all). I quietly crept over to her and asked her if she could take a quick look at my work. With an overdramatic sigh, she popped her eyes open and glanced at my lovingly crafted piece. She then immediately started verbally tearing it apart. She hated the piece without even really taking it in, and she let me have it for about 10 minutes straight. I had to just sit there and take it. I thanked her, gave her a postcard of my work anyway, and left. Ouch.
List three résumé "don'ts."
- Don't lie.
- No typos.
- Don't get stains on it or wrinkles in it.
List three résumé "do's."
- Only give it to a gallery you have researched and [where you] feel like your work would really fit with their stable of artists.
- Tailor it for the purpose for which it is needed. It will need to be formatted differently depending on whether you're submitting it to a gallery, applying for a teaching position, or doing a freelance design job. Have several versions ready for different needs.
- Remember to update your CV regularly with every show you've been in. It's easy to lose track if you don't do it right away.
Name the most essential skill, tool or software program relative to your field.
Good social skills, and Photoshop.
How did you make the first connection that led to a job in your field?
Some of the best connections are also the most random. I was talking to a previous boss who I had become friends with. He introduced me to his friend who was an exhibiting artist at one of the galleries where I wanted to show my work. He saw my work and liked it, and told me to mention him when I went to the gallery. (He may have talked to the gallery owner before I went in. I can't remember.) The owner liked my work and started putting me in shows.