When Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber first published their book Art/Work—a guide on how to make it as an artist in the United States, drawn from interviews with dozens of established artists and arts professionals—neither was sure how big their audience would be. “I didn’t know who would read it,” Bhandari admits. “I didn’t even think my mom would read it.”
It was 2009, and practical resources for artists were few and far between. There wasn’t much of a precedent for the kind of book the pair had written, which covered professional practices for artists rather than the actual creative process. Bhandari describes the book as a “passion project,” born out of years working as a director at New York’s now-defunct Mixed Greens gallery. “A lot of the questions I was getting from artists were about gallery relationships: ‘How do I get a gallery? How do I enter the art market? What is the art market?’” she recalls. Melber, Bhandari’s former classmate and an art lawyer, offered further expertise.
As it turned out, people did read it. Art/Work appeared on syllabi from L.A. to D.C., guiding aspiring artists through subjects like consignments, loans, and even business cards. Bhandari taught a course based on the book at her alma mater, Brown University. Roughly a decade after research for the book began, the authors suggested a second edition to match the current state of the art world; Simon & Schuster readily agreed.
Over the past year, Bhandari and Melber revisited the initial 100 art-world players who had contributed to the first edition (from dealer Andrea Rosen to artist
) and consulted 40 additional experts. The updated text is slated to publish this summer. Together, the research underpinning the first and second edition of Art/Work
offers a fascinating look at the recent evolution of one of today’s riskiest and least understood career paths. Ahead of the new edition’s release, Bhandari shared insights on how working as a professional artist in the U.S. has changed over the past decade—and, in some ways, stayed the same.
Art-world traditions have been slow to shift.
It turns out that most of the existing chapters of the original Art/Work are still relevant. “Shockingly, it’s held up for most topics,” Bhandari explains. “The art world changes so slowly when it comes to the way people interact, the traditions a lot of galleries have, things like that.” The caveat, of course, is technology: “Any area where we discussed image size or how you sent things to press or how you approached a gallery—it just sounded so old,” she adds. “In 2009, we were still talking about packets and how to print your images.”
The art world’s resistance to change may be due, in part, to a reluctance of powerful art professionals to divulge their insights. While working on the original version of Art/Work, Bhandari was surprised to find that some people turned down interviews because “they didn’t want to demystify the art world. They liked the power dynamic the way it was,” she recalls. “They said, ‘I don’t want artists to have that information that changes my relationship with them. I like it the way it is.’”