Being an artist is a full-time job and then some; creativity doesn’t just come on its own and setting up a routine for us to be able to create day in and day out takes a lot of effort. And so does marketing and taking pictures and writing applications for open calls and all the other stuff we do.
But there may be an aspect of our job that a lot of us never think about, because it’s more boring than a weekend of watching paint dry, but alas, it is incredibly important in the long run.
Today I want to talk about archival work and cataloging.
While seemingly unimportant, it becomes more and more so over time. We may be documenting our work now — meaning we take a lot of process photos, videos and maybe a Tweet here and there — and can easily think that our archiving is under control, but the problem is, a lot of the time the images we take might have been beautiful shots for our social media, but just aren’t cut-out to be used in a catalogue or other representational medium.
If I think about all the work I made in the past (some of it I am still extremely proud of), but have absolutely no usable image of, I really do wish I took one day a month or even a year and just took pictures of all the works I liked, documented their measurements and kept track.
Now, a lot of them are either lost or sold. I probably unintentionally trashed a lot of my work when I decided to live a minimalist life — not a great option if you depend on hundreds of tools to make a living and absolutely not suitable for the majority of artists I think.
And the sold work is mostly abroad; I know my collectors aren’t as skilled or lack the equipment to take the kind of image I would need for a catalogue and I just don’t have money laying around to throw at a bad decision made years ago and just start buying plane tickets and bus rides.
The truth is: I could’ve had a nice, big portfolio of all my works in chronological order and thus a better overview of the evolution of my style as a kind of personal diary to look back on and reminisce — even my OCD would’ve cherished the meticulously categorised works by colour, size and smell. But alas!
As for the actual utilitarian usage of a good archive:
If we are working with any collector or gallerist, guided by any non-aesthetic buying decisions (usually as an investment of some sort), they tend to really enjoy a big portfolio of all of our works, because it shows them 1) we keep track of our inventory and thus the risk of new work suddenly appearing is minimised, and 2) they can see our evolution — and you can tell a lot about the artist when looking at their whole body of work.
There may also come a time when retrospectives start to happen and we get more and more solo exhibitions as we progress in our artistic career. For such exhibitions to be successful, obviously a nice archive of all the works we have done helps immensely (the good ones of course — the bad ones we burn and act like it was a performance piece).
Keeping track of our work — where it is located, who owns it, when was it sold and for how much — is a good practice to have from the early beginning. Even the smaller pieces, that we sold for 50€ should be categorised, because if anything really good happens along the way, they might become 5k or 10k artworks and nobody that invested in our work wants a sudden appearance of hundreds of our pieces on the market, because it can completely devalue a series of work and cost us a good chunk of our careers.
And for anyone like me — with a manageable amount of OCD and proud of it — it is yet another opportunity to count, arrange, rearrange and immerse oneself into the beauty of putting things into place.