Today on Artist Strong we welcome Creative Spirit Crista Cloutier. Crista draws upon her extensive experience in the art business to teach artists and how to create successful careers as working artists.
Crista understands the art world inside and out. She has sold artwork to galleries, museums, and collectors throughout the world. She has worked with artists whose careers range from blue-chip to just beginning.
Crista now lives in London where she works internationally as a writer, photographer, curator, and educator. She recently curated the international exhibition “Streaming Spirits: New Work by Kiki Smith and Valerie Hammond” and a book of her work in response to that exhibition is forthcoming. Crista’s work has been published by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, La Maison Européneen de la Photographie in Paris, and Yale Press. She has contributed publications such as The Guardian, Huffington Post and The Daily Mail.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Crista! How did you discover your interest in the arts?
I come from a left-brained people, interested in things like medicine and mathematics. My family was not familiar with the word “creative,” instead they used words like “strange” or “weird” to describe my obsessive need to write poetry or listen to opera or shoot all the family pictures in black and white. I grew up feeling wrong.
The first time I ever encountered art was when I was 14 years old. I had ridden my bike to the library and walked through an adjacent arts center. There, on the wall, were five huge pieces by a local artist that joyfully celebrated spirituality with color and exuberance and my knees buckled when I saw it. Those images never left me.
Many years later, I had the privilege of befriending that artist and telling her how her work had influenced that lonely little girl who was afraid that she’d always be an outsider. That was extremely gratifying – and she was one of the very first people to buy The Working Artist!
Carrie: What inspired your decision to create The Working Artist?
I had spent my whole career in and around the business of art, I had worked in nearly every aspect of it. Over the course of my career, I’ve sold over $10 million in art. In short, I know the art biz inside and out and I really know how to sell art.
A few years ago, I realized that I had always thought of my career as an apprenticeship to being an artist, and that it was time to step into that role. It was time for me to reclaim my own creativity and to see where that would take me. I quit my job, sold all of my worldly possessions, and moved to Europe to re-invent myself where no one would know me and I could have the space to see where my creativity wanted to go.
I already understood that it’s important for an artist to build an audience for their work; and that the best way to do that is to share what you know. As it happens, I know how to sell art. So I started offering workshops to other artists and teaching them everything I knew about the art business.
During the workshop, I would use my photographs to highlight certain points and to illustrate the workbooks. On my Facebook page and blog, I post my images with short stories about what it is to live the life of an artist. I brought eyes to my work while sharing what I know. The fact that my audience is primarily composed of artists is a wonderful bonus for me, these are my people!
But it was really the success of my students that inspired me to continue to develop this program and bring it to a wider audience. There was a woman who sat in my very first class and she sold 52 paintings in the next six months. With my artists achieving those kinds of results, how could I not continue to share this knowledge?
Carrie: What IS The Working Artist?
The Working Artist has developed into an online educational program for visual artists of all mediums. It is a professional-practices workshop, taking artists on a journey of discovery toward their goals, while giving them the tools and information to get their work in front of an audience and sold.
I say that “It’s everything they never taught you in art school.”
Carrie: What has been something that has surprised you about this project?
How much it teaches me. As an artist myself, I constantly come back to the lessons that I teach others. I am learning from my own lessons! But I think that most teachers do.
Carrie: How has setting up and preparing the online course been the same/different as preparing for your live workshops?
Apples and oranges. And I think that surprised me at first.
The live workshops are something I’ve been doing for awhile now. I have the materials and it’s just a matter of marketing.
The online program cost a fortune to produce and an incredible amount of work to plan. And it took my marketing skills to a whole new level! It’s been a tremendous learning curve, but I’m excited about the work because everything I am learning is something that I can then share with other artists so they can apply it to their own marketing.
Carrie: What is one piece of advice you offer in your courses that you wish more artists would hear?
It’s all about the work. That’s why I call it The WORKING Artist.
I’ve worked with many artists who are at the very top of the art market, and the one thing that sets them apart is how hard – and smart – they work. It’s not enough to just make the work, this is a business and to be successful, you have to treat it as such. There’s no Gallery-Mama out there waiting to take care of you. Your success or failure lies in your own hands. This is difficult for a lot of artists to hear.
Carrie: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I created The Working Artist and it was in beta mode for several months while we made sure everything was working exactly as we wanted it. Now I am getting ready to launch. Yay!
After that, I am going to start on a new project for artists – creating an online program for those who want to crowd-fund. I raised the money for The Working Artist through an online crowd-funding campaign and I truly believe this can be a real game changer for creative entrepreneurs. Now, we can take control of our careers and empower ourselves.
I’ll be crowd-funding this project too!
Carrie: How would you describe your art to Artist Strong readers?
I use images that tell a story and tell stories that paint a picture. All of my work is a whimsical look at what it is to live the life of an artist.
Carrie: How do you balance time for your own art with this project?
Because my projects have really spun off in so many different directions, I have become a master at compartmentalizing my time. For example, I had a big writing project a few months ago, and I found a place in my schedule where I could go away for a week and just focus on that one thing.
Then I came back and went right back into the crazy of my day to day, and that means taking lots of baby steps. I do lot of little bits every day, including all the admin, the business, and the teaching with my own creative stuff.
It’s all about scheduling and my worship of the to-do list. But even more than that, I work with the calendar to make sure that I am not doing too much at once and that everything has its time.
Carrie: Where do you seek inspiration when you feel stuck?
I make time for a two hour walk almost every day. I bring my notebook, I know what issues, projects, problems I have to think through. And then I walk. This gives me some real space to think and work through the traffic jams in my brain that sometimes cause the flow to stop.
The poets were right, all the answers to your questions can be found in Nature. If I get really stuck, I ask a tree.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
My work ethic. Jack London said, “You can’t wait for creative inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”
I just keep showing up to work and if I’m not feeling it, I do the work anyway.
Carrie: How do you define success?
Learning how to sing your song, and then singing it loud and true until people start to dance along.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
I think that anyone can have a good idea, but real creativity is putting those ideas to work.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: It’s time for some individual reflection. Do you “keep showing up” to your creative projects even when you are “not feeling it?” Tell us how you keep at your creative dreams in the comments below.
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*Please Note: Featured Image Credit: Rich Ward*