The Art of Mentorship

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

If someone was to ask me to pinpoint the pivotal moment in the early days of my career, I would absolutely say it was the moment I found a mentor. She nurtured me, inspired me, pushed me and showed me doors and options I had no idea existed. A mentor is one of the most important people any young person can befriend. And it’s this pivotal moment that I recalled after receiving an email from Rebecca.

From time to time I get inquiries from young and/or new aspiring artists about whether they can apply for a booth space at Art Toronto, but because ours is a show for galleries, it’s an inappropriate venue for individual artists. Often my response to inquiries like these is to apply instead to The Artist Project. The Artist Project is another MMPI-produced show in Toronto, and it’s a great opportunity for artists to gain access to more than 10,000 visitors including buyers, gallerists and art enthusiasts (and is only 95% sold out so you still have time to apply for their March show!)

Last week I got an email from Rebecca. She is a very young artist (just 17 years old) who wanted to know about art fairs. Not knowing anything at all about this young woman except her age, I felt that I should give her more than just a link to another show.

I talked to André Laroche, director of Projex-Mtl to tap into his expertise and asked what advice he could offer a budding artist. “Take your time,” he says. “Show the best of what you’ve created.” As a warning to showing too much too soon, Laroche recommends caution: “it’s hard to get back people [who] have seen your work and have categorized it as uninteresting.”

It’s a great idea for aspiring artists to visit the galleries and the websites for galleries who they would like to join. Most galleries will have a selection of images from current and past exhibitions  available online so you can see how in tune your work is with their style. Also, visiting a gallery in person lets you experience their environment and meet their staff first-hand. You may even want to approach gallery staff to discuss your status, though some will be leery about engaging in overly formal discussions so approach casually. Very rarely will a gallery ask to look at your work straight away, but they will likely be able to provide some essential guidance and mentorship.

Getting to brass-tacks, I asked Andre what factors other than art he looks for in gallery artists. His answer? It’s a lot like courtship! He says “if you [are] building something more substantial together,  you want the foundations to be good and strong, there’s got to be a good synergy between the artist(s) and the gallerist(s).  It’s really a tight knit collaboration that involves a few people in order to work.”

“A gallery is an amazing place to experience all the basic human realities, we deal with people’s dreams so it is a very passionate and essential reality. It is as mysterious as human beings are, but you get to experience people’s desire to do something they themselves can barely understand, (the reality of creating art). The cement is the mutual passion for this experience we all share, and often that’s what bring us together.  In this desire to find our place in this world, art is an option to realize that innately.” – André Laroche, director, Projex-Mtl

While The Artist Project is a great example of a show in Toronto for individual artists, it’s a better idea to first get involved in smaller, more local fairs in your community first. It’s important to understand that the atmosphere of a fair is very different from the atmosphere of a gallery, and buyers attitudes are often different. Additionally, the work you would bring to a fair is oftentimes different from work you would show in a gallery. “It often takes time for people to assimilate and appreciate new work that often can be a challenge to the expectations of the spectators.” Laroche tells me. Translation: before applying to an art fair, go visit it. Ultimately, it may take several showings at fairs before you can anticipate what kind of work that particular audience is interested in.

Get your work out there! Whether or not you’ve been added to a gallery’s roster or are in an art show don’t be afraid to mix your media, so to speak. Create a website or start a blog, interact with members of the art community outside the traditional gallery environment. Even seek out alternate venues to show your work if you’re not comfortable going full-throttle yet — cafés, bars, lounges, bookstores and other boutiques often show (and sometimes sell) the work of independent artists. So keep your eyes open to find and take advantage of all the very best alternatives for showing your art.  “They all are opportunities to break our isolation and to ‘connect’, discover and appreciate a little more of each other,” says Laroche.



Projex-Mtl Galerie is located at 372 Ste-Catherine O. #212 in Montréal

Phone: (514) 570 9130

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