Compatible dual careers
Chapter 2, “Launching or Relaunching Your Career: Overcoming Career Blocks,” discusses the challenges and pitfalls when artists have dual careers. But there are exceptions when dual careers are very compatible.
For example, Maurice Stern is known as an opera singer and for his portrait sculptures. He performed at the New York City Opera in American and world premieres—before becoming a leading dramatic tenor across four continents. Exhibitions of his artwork were sometimes held simultaneously in American and European cities in which his performances took place. In describing his sculptures, he emphasized that he captured the character of his subjects in the same way he molded the characters he played on the operatic stage.
Some of my clients have expressed the benefits of having a dual career. A fine art photographer who is also a psychiatrist described how an understanding of the human mind has helped him select and capture his subjects. An abstract sculptor who is also a surgeon credits his studies in anatomy and continuing work with the body as being instrumental in giving him the confidence to personally express the human form. Another sculptor and installation artist told me that her work as a psychotherapist, involving many “talk sessions,” has greatly improved her ability to articulate her own feelings about the purpose and meaning of her artwork.
Wearing two hats can also be used to an artist’s advantage if one utilizes and transfers the resources and contacts of a second career into fine art. Such was the opportunity created by artist Molly Heron, who parlayed a series of timely events and a freelance position into a solo exhibition in a prime location on the ground floor of a midtown Manhattan office building.
Heron was hired as a freelance book designer at HarperCollins, which, coincidentally, was the publisher of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, a book that she had read, savored, and reread.
Six months after she obtained the freelance position, Heron attended an exhibition at the HarperCollins Gallery, located in an open and attractive bi-level space. Impressed with the physical attributes of the gallery and its location, she made inquiries regarding how the space could be acquired for an exhibition. She learned through the gallery curator that all exhibitions in the space had to be related to a HarperCollins book.
Eureka! Before the lightbulb in Heron’s head had a chance to dim, she developed an exhibition proposal. Within four weeks she submitted the proposal and visual support material to the HarperCollins curator, and soon afterward she received an invitation to install a solo exhibition in the gallery later in the year.
Heron’s proposal was based on the inspiration she had received from Annie Dillard’s book. It had infused her with a new energy force, and she felt compelled to visually interpret the author’s metaphors and observations.
Heron sold five pieces of work while the exhibition was installed. And as soon as the show closed, she handled the ending as a new beginning and wasted no time in taking the next step. With a revised proposal, cover letter, and support material, she began making new contacts.
Her initiatives resulted in exhibition invitations from a university museum, a nonprofit gallery, and a commercial gallery. She also received requests to present lectures and workshops.
In addition, a curator of a branch of the Whitney Museum of American Art
informed Heron that, due to the branch museum’s policy of only sponsoring group shows, she was unable to offer her a solo exhibition, but that she was so impressed with Heron’s work, she had contacted another cultural institution on the artist’s behalf.
In part, Molly Heron’s adventures and her success can be attributed to the cosmic phenomenon of being at the right place at the right time. But most of the credit belongs to the artist, who through very earthly pursuits took the initiative to utilize in her fine arts career the resources and contacts of the publishing world.