Ep 183: So Your Teen Wants to Be an Artist…

Episode Summary

Magnus Resch, author of How to Become a Successful Artist, reveals the key to succeeding in the art world, and explains how your teen can get a head start on making all the right connections.

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

There’s nothing we want more than to see our teens to grow up happy and successful….with stable careers! So when they mention they might want to pursue acting or painting or playing the trombone, we can start to get a little nervous. While we love that they have a creative side, we know that a life in the arts is anything but consistent. If they could only see the benefits of a degree in engineering or business, they’d understand that the artistic struggle might not be as fulfilling as they think.

But alas, they won’t listen! Teens are stubborn, and will likely maintain that they are destined for the artist lifestyle. So what can we do to help them find the success they’ll need to stay afloat? Is a fancy degree from a prestigious art program their ticket to the top? Or is there some kind of magic secret that all the iconic superstar artists are in on? 

This week, we’re tackling these questions and more with Magnus Resch, author of How to Become a Successful Artist. Magnus is an art market economist who studied at Harvard and the London School of Economics. He’s a successful entrepreneur, as well as the bestselling author of six books about the art market–plus, a professor of art management, teaching at Yale and Columbia! After conducting research on half a million contemporary working artists, Magnus has discovered the secret to a successful art career, and he’s here today to share it with us!

In our interview, we’re discussing just how essential the networking process is for young artists making a name for themselves. We’re also covering why teens need to create a strong artist’s statement, and what a career in the arts might realistically look like for teens dreaming of glory.

Why Networking is Absolutely Necessary

When Magnus was researching the key to artistic success, he paid particular attention to which galleries were associated with the most prestigious artists. He found that to garner acclaim in the art world, artists had to be able to get into a small, concentrated group of popular galleries. If not, they aren’t likely to reach the level of recognition it takes to have lasting financial and critical success–meaning they end up becoming art teachers or settle for doing art in their free time  while having a different full time job.

In order to gain entry to this exclusive world of popular galleries, Magnus emphasized the absolutely critical nature of networking. If teens can get to know people on the inside, they might just be able to break in and carve out a place for themselves amongst these thriving artists. Magus and I talk a lot in the episode about how teens can use tools like Instagram to reach out to gallery owners, curators, buyers and museum directors. Teens can create an impressive portfolio of their work on their social media accounts–that way, when they reach out to others, their artwork is readily available!

This networking is the difference between those who prosper in the art world, and those who falter. Once you can get into these galleries, you’ll be successful for life…but if you don’t find yourself exhibited at these places early in your career, you’re likely to flop. And although Magnus talks about physical art like painting or sculpting, the same principles can apply to music, filmmaking, or the literary world. Without the right connections and early success, it can be pretty difficult to curate a career in the arts!

In our interview, Magnus describes the career trajectory of multiple acclaimed young artists and how they used social media to propel themselves into a prosperous career. One thing that can help is having a succinct, powerful artist’s statement.

Creating a Strong Artist’s Statement

For teens networking online or creating social media portfolios, a lot can be gained by creating a mission statement. A detailed but easy-to-read description of their influences, inspirations, aesthetics and goals can be helpful for anyone scrolling through who wants to learn more about who the artist is! In our interview, Magnus shells out some helpful tips for crafting a statement that not only captures the artist’s essence, but hooks the reader’s interest.

Magnus explains that this statement is like a resume, but one or two descriptive paragraphs. It describes the artist’s passion, their experiences, and ambitions! It’s your teen’s chance to tell the world what drives them to take on the challenge of becoming a successful artist, says Magnus. He suggests that teens explain the emotional side of their work, and give it detailed context. That’s what buyers, curators and other arts professionals remember and what makes them excited to work with young artists!

Although it’s tempting to sound fancy in this statement, Magnus recommends straying away from words that are too complicated or confusing. Keeping things simple makes the mission statement accessible to anyone who might be reading. The mission statement serves as an elevator pitch–and the last thing teens want is to alienate people who could potentially put their career on track! In our interview, Magnus and I talk more about how these statements can work seamlessly with a well-curated social media profile.

Even when we’ve imprinted the value of networking and self-promotion into teens’ brains, it can still be nerve-wracking to watch them dive into a career in the arts with no safety net! To help us understand what their future might look like, Magnus is mapping out what kind of experiences teens can expect to have as they make their way in the art world.

A Timeline for Creative Teens

So your teen has decided to go to art school. They walk across the stage and get that diploma, with a portfolio of work now in their back pocket…but what next? Magnus outlines potential phases for budding artists. The first is the “shopping” phase. This is when teens are fresh out of school, talking to different galleries, figuring out their place in the professional world. Magnus explains that this is when that networking is going to be essential. In our interview, we discuss how many of the skills needed during this period aren’t actually taught in art school!

When young artists have been in the scene for five or ten years, Magnus explains that they reach a critical juncture that defines whether or not they’ll be able to find further success. If they’re being exhibited by the most prestigious galleries or performing at well-known venues, they’re likely to continue being successful and financially stable. If not, this is when artists begin phasing out of a professional art career, instead finding work teaching or bartending and doing their own artwork on the side.

Even if artists are exhibiting their work on a regular basis, it usually has to be within the most exclusive and pretentious places and communities–or it won’t really make a difference. Smaller, less acclaimed galleries or agents represent so many clients that young artists can rarely make their own footprint and gain financial stability. In our interview, Magnus and I discuss how this system is remarkably similar to the sports world in the sense that only the most successful and connected make all the money, while tons of talented people fall by the wayside.

In the Episode…

Although it’s incredibly tough, there are ways we can help teens find a future in the arts. Magnus’s research illuminates the secrets to carving out success as an artist! On top of the topics above, we also talk about:

  • How the resale market makes artists more successful
  • How confidence is critical to a career in the arts
  • Why the most acclaimed artists live in New York City
  • Why traditional media isn’t as powerful in the art world

If you enjoyed listening, check out more of Magnus’s work at Magnusresch.com or on his Instagram @magnusresch. Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week!


Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Welcome. How’s it going? Thanks for coming on the show today.

Magnus: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Andy: Tell me a little bit about what has inspired this book, How to Become a Successful Artist.

Magnus: I’ve been in the art world now for almost 20 years. I started off when I was younger, around 20 years old, selling art of friends of mine, artists, and throughout this time in the art world, artists always approached me and asked, “Hey, Magnus, I need to sell more works. Can you help me?” So at some point, I wrote my PhD thesis about data in the art world. I focused on what makes galleries successful, and then five years ago, I focused on the next logical step, which is what makes an artist successful. And the outcome of that data research, which was published in Science Magazine, is this book, where I translated our academic finding into simple terms and made it accessible for artists around the world.

Andy: You collected a ton of data on half a million people, or something like that, and analyzed all sorts of factors about what leads to successful artists. What was interesting about your results?

Magnus: What we did is we looked at half a million artists and their corresponding price points in order to find out why do some artists sell for a lot of money and others don’t sell at all, even though they create almost identical work?

Andy: Same basic stuff, yeah.

Magnus: Yeah. It’s one of these questions that, when you go to a museum with your children and they ask you, “Hey mom, I could do that. Why is that in the museum and not my work?” Why is that? That’s one of the core questions, right? Every time we stand in the museum, every time we hear of a record price, every time we stand in front of a canvas that is white and just has a black line on it and costs a million dollars.

Magnus: And that was really the research question that triggered this research that we did and this book. The simple answer is, those artists that sell for a lot of money, that made it into the MoMA and so on, they are in the right network. It’s not that they’re doing something unique, they’re super gifted with some godly talent that allows them to create revolutionary artworks. No, it’s none of that. It’s only because they’re in the right network, and their network consists of gallerists, buyers, and museum directors/curators.

Andy: I see, and you mapped out all these different sort of pockets of networks in different parts of the world, and found that most of them are not that helpful in progressing your career as an artist?

Magnus: Correct. What we did is, when we looked at all these half a million artists, we created a map that showed all the institutions that artists exhibit in and the size. We represented them by dots, and the size of the dots showed how significant, how impactful is an exhibition in this particular institution for my price points? And what we saw on this map is that there were a lot of small dots, but there were a few big dots, and those few big dots were all right next to each other.

Andy: Interesting.

Magnus: And that is what I call The Holy Land. That means there is a small network where all the powerful players are combined and they feed each other, they stay amongst each other. Think of it as on the playground of your high school. There was always one corner where the young cool kids were, and everyone else. The cool kids, they only stayed amongst each other, right? They didn’t let anyone else in from the outside. They traded baseball cards, but only amongst each other, and that’s similar to how the art world is structured. The cool kids are there. They are the powerful ones, they’re the ones that make an artist, and if you become part of this network, you made it. If not, you are out of it and you will never become successful.

Andy: You’ve found that really the first 10 shows that people have are super, super important and impactful, and if you haven’t had a really big show in your first 10 shows, then the chances that you’ll kind of break out get much, much smaller.

Magnus: Exactly. So what makes it even more severe is that the first five to 10 shows matter. If you make it into this network very early on in your career, you will always stay successful. However, if you haven’t made it into this small tight network, which I call The Holy Land, very early in your career, most likely you’ll never make it. There are some stories of artists that didn’t make it very early on in their career, and later in their career, maybe even after they died, they made it into the holy network. But these stories, we call them rags to riches stories, are in the vast, vast minority, 0.00 something percent. So if you, as an artist, wait to get discovered at some point in your career, unfortunately I have to tell you, based on the data research that we did, most likely it won’t happen.

Andy: So what I thought was interesting is you talk about artists sort of thinking about themselves like entrepreneurs almost. You even talk about having things like a mission statement and a vision statement. If you have a teenager who’s interested in art and becoming an artist, how would you help them start to think of themselves in that way and maybe crafting some of these statements?

Magnus: Well, what I just presented to you is very hard and very frustrating, I would call it, but it is the reality of how the art market works. It’s data that you don’t learn at art school. At art school, they teach you how to brush your stroke, they teach you it all, but what really pays your bills and gets you into the MoMA, is everything else. And that is what you don’t learn at art school. That was why I wrote this book, because so many of my artist friends are struggling, and so many friends, their children, they ask me for advice about their career path, “Should I enter the art world as a gallerist or as an artist?” And since nobody really tells them how hard it is, I wrote that book.

Magnus: On the one hand to put the data out there and explain it to everyone, “Hey, this is the industry you’re entering. Be aware of it. It is extremely hard. And secondly, if you really want to enter it, then here are the tools that successful artists apply it in order it to become successful.” Because how to get into that network is a key question, which I answer in that book. How to use Instagram, how to market myself, how to brand myself. Those are questions that artists are completely left alone with, and those I answer in my book. It’s a handbook for every artist around the world, in order to help them enter that network and become successful.

Magnus: And here’s one more note. You might be a mature artist and those five to 10 first exhibitions have already passed and you’ve exhibited for 20 years. A lot of these artists call me up and asked me, “Hey, Magnus, what do I do?” And I can tell you, first of all, there are these rag to riches stories. There are people who made it very late in their career, and I explain you how they did it, because I spoke to them. I did over 30 expert interviews with leading artists and gallerists and so on around the world. And I also tell them, “Hey, you can still make a living from being an artist.” You might not make it into The Holy Land, but there are chances that you can make a living from that by using Instagram, social media and getting into galleries that might not get you into the MoMA, but still score you a decent amount of money so you can create your art, because that’s really what it’s about. Empowering artists, explaining them how the reality is, but also guiding them through that difficult art market.

Andy: And when it comes to markets, something I found really interesting that you talk about in the book is the existence of a primary and a secondary market.

Magnus: Yes. So the art market is split up into two markets. The first market is the primary market. As the word already suggests, primary, first. So artworks offered for the first time. We could also call the primary market the gallery market. Galleries offer artworks that are offered for the first time. The secondary market, second means sold for the second time, that’s the auction market. That’s where Christie’s and Sotheby’s and all these auction houses get involved. Be aware, only a small fraction, a very, very small fraction of artists ever make it from the primary market into the secondary market. Why is that? Because the art market has a very low liquidity. That means once you buy an artwork from a gallery in the primary market, most likely you will not be able to sell it again. It’s worth nothing.

Andy: Yeah. Right.

Magnus: So only a few artists, there is only a secondary market around it, a resale market, if there is interest, if there is demand, and for most artists that you’ll see in galleries today, they will never make it into the secondary market.

Andy: And the key to getting into the secondary market is The Holy Land?

Magnus: Exactly. It’s The Holy Land. What we can see is that the secondary market is, 20 artists in the secondary market make up 40% of the annual auction revenue.

Andy: Wow.

Magnus: For contemporary art. Think about it, 20 artists. I always compare it to sports. So when you look at tennis, the first top 10 tennis players in the world, they make a lot of money.

Andy: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Magnus: Rafael Nadal, Federer and Alex Zverev and Djokovic, and so on. But when you look at number 30 in the world, or number 40 in the world, these guys are struggling. And think about it, they are the 30th, 40th best tennis player in the world. They have a unique skill. They’re so powerful, they’re so good. They will beat every one of us, but they don’t make a lot of money. And in the art world, it’s the same. A few players at the top, they get all the attention, they get all the money and everyone else does not.

Andy: But then, so the secondary market, as an artist, you don’t actually make money off of that, because that’s someone else. They’ve already bought it from you, and then now they’re reselling it to somebody else. So does that even actually help you, to be in the secondary market?

Magnus: That’s exactly right. You don’t make any money off the works that are sold, your works, that are sold in the secondary market. However, let’s say the primary market, your works sell for $50,000 and in the secondary market, in the auction market, suddenly your work gets sold for $100,000. Automatically, all your works in the primary market increase in value, because now people will always refer to the secondary market result and say, “Hey, look, this work is no longer 50,000. It has a resale value of a 100,000.” So automatically, your prices in the primary market will adapt and will increase.

Andy: And then it becomes like an investment.

Magnus: Exactly, and that’s why the secondary market, because it’s the only place where prices are transparent, has such a great signaling power and is used by galleries and collectors in order to increase the value of an artist. It’s that simple. If you want to push an artist, allow them to enter the secondary market and bid up the prices. When you bid up one work, the 10 others that you have in your inventory suddenly also increase in value. It’s that simple.

Andy: Once you can start pointing to just one work that sold at auction for a really high amount, then all of a sudden it’s like, “Wow, hey, this is a serious artist here.” Yeah.

Magnus: Exactly.

Andy: So what about, you have this whole concept of the phases, career phases that people go through as artists. What does that look like?

Magnus: Well, I separate the career of an artist into three phases. I call it, the first phase is very early on in your career, when you’re still at art school, or shortly after leaving art school. I call it the Shopping Phase, where you’re talking to a few galleries, you’re shopping around really. Where do I fit in? Galleries are also offering you group shows and so on. The next phase is the age of around 35. So you’ve been in the Shopping Phase for five to 10 years, and then the Decision Phase happens. This is where, so early in your career, you’re only 35, you’ve only exhibited for a few years and haven’t had many shows. Right?

Magnus: Decision Phase is find which gallery represents you. Will it be one of those in The Holy Land, or will it be another one? If you made it into The Holy Land, you’re done. Congratulations, for the rest of your life you don’t have to worry again, because people don’t drop once they’re made it to The Holy Land, because the key stakeholders in The Holy Land don’t have an interest in seeing your artworks decrease in value.

Andy: No. Right.

Magnus: Of course, every now and then there are some artists that drop, but they never really were in The Holy Land. If you make it to one of the top five galleries, you’re done. And then the third phase in your career is the final phase, where you either, if you’re a, I call them superstar artists, those are the ones that made it into The Holy Land, you’ll just surf on that wave, that never ending wave. You will get major exhibition shows, you get great book publications. You are throughout a superstar artist. For all the others, many end their career as a professional artist and they look for additional revenue streams. They become art teachers, they work in bars, or they do something completely different. And again, others continue to struggle, hoping that something might happen, but it won’t happen.

Andy: That is harsh.

Magnus: I know, and here’s the advice that I always share with kids of my friends or young students who are entering this world, they want to work for Sotheby’s and they want to work in galleries, or artists who are thinking about, hey, should I study medicine or should go to art school? Well, looking at the data I presented to you, you know that it’s very hard. It’s harder than any other industry. And I’ll give you another data point. There is no other degree that leads to a higher unemployment rate than an MFA. So when you do an MFA, you can be more certain that you will be unemployed. Now, creativity and expressing your emotions, which essentially art is, and representing culture and also for society being so relevant by picking up on certain elements and then digesting them and representing them in art, is so important for every society that we are in.

Magnus: What I just said might lead critics then to say, “Hey, Magnus, then nobody is doing art, and then we lose as a society.” I say, no, people should not stop doing art, but people should stop doing art as their only income stream, as their full-time profession. Create art, rent studios, do this after your regular job, do it on the weekends, do exhibitions, but have a job that pays for your bills, that is independent from the art world. That allows you to fulfill what you desire, but without the stress of being fully dependent on that.


About Magnus Resch

Magnus Resch, Ph.D., is the author of How to Become a Successful Artist and Management of Art Galleries.

Magnus is an art market economist. He holds a Ph.D. in economics and studied at Harvard, the London School of Economics and the University of St. Gallen. He’s written six books on the art market, including Management of Art Galleries. As an entrepreneur, he is founder of Magnusclass.com, Larryslist.com and Magnus.net, the Shazam for art.

Also a Professor for art economics, Magnus lectures currently at Yale University and previously at Columbia University. His 2018 paper about success in art was included in the world’s leading academic journal, Science. His work has also been featured in a Harvard Business School case study and in various articles, including the New York Times, WSJ, Vanity Fair and the Financial Times.

Magnus lives and works in New York City.

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