From the outside the artworld might look like a hermetically sealed jar of Sea-Monkeys. But there’s more than one way to play with a monkey.
Here’s all you need to join that exotic species of the art-powerful.
Go to a fancy bookshop in a fashionable area. This is where art magazines are stocked. Buy one with a list such as the ArtReview Power 100. Memorise it: names, faces and – most importantly – income and job titles. These are the people you must socialise with. Learn how to distinguish the power players from the neophytes (and the nutters, who are legion). Always make a beeline for
the former, unless one of the latter can get you introduced to someone important.
Get yourself on the mailing list of every gallery in town. You’ll find their addresses in local listings magazines like Time Out. Contact them all; galleries will always put you on their lists because that gives their interns something to do. Remember, an empty mailbox is an empty life. At the same time also acquire a recycling bin. You will need this now like never before, and dropping your green credentials into arty conversations will further enhance your social standing, even if you’ve just jetted halfway round the world to get to wherever it is that your conversations are taking place.
Art. Learn about it. Most publishers offer a convenient tombstone that covers everything. Be able to check Warhol and Beuys at every event, but with a vague and offhand tone that suggests you know a great deal about their work, and for much longer than you care to mention. Almost any contemporary artist can be related to one of them. Don’t try and add your own opinions at this stage: you will only confuse things. Until you really know what you are talking about, vague and offhand is fine. The important thing to remember for now is that you are trying to win friends, not influence people. The answer in the artworld is always yes, never no.
At some point you’ll need to decide what kind of artworld player you want to be. If it’s a collector, simply go out and buy stuff. Don’t worry if some of it is rubbish at the beginning. Just throw it away. The more you buy, the better the things that will be offered to you. Remember, 99 percent of artists will be entirely forgotten within five years. And any leftover bits of junk you’ve still got in 20 years time can of course be ‘rediscovered’.
Develop your public image. It’s what you will live off from now on, and is the single most important tool in the art game. So, who are you? You could emphasise an exoticism: people in the artworld love things they don’t understand, and we’re not just talking the latest book by Alain Badiou. If you’re working class, black, female or gay, you will stand out. Use this to your advantage. Death metal, butt plugs, amyl nitrate and dead-end seaside towns have all had a moment in the limelight. On the other hand it’s not about race, class or gender – it’s about art. So if you are female, working class, black or gay, make a point of saying that you think art can transcend differences while grinding home the fact that you are female, working class, etc.
If you decide to be an artist, strive to get into as many group shows as you can. Don’t waste too much time making work, but make sure you get your name on as many invite cards as possible. There are artists who have built their whole careers on how many shows they appear to have been in. This used to be called ‘conceptualism’. Now it’s called ‘post-studio’.
Cultivate an extensive rumour mill. It’s impossible for everyone to be everywhere at once, even though most people have heard about most other people. Drop hints about your connections, but make sure that these can only be checked with difficulty. By the next time you meet the person, everyone else will have forgotten the details, but you will retain an inexplicable aura of connectedness.
When you’re with wealthy collectors, try to act slightly eccentric; when you’re with curators, try to act slightly eccentric; when you’re with artists, try to act slightly eccentric; in fact, try to act slightly eccentric all the time. After a while you’ll be so eccentric that you won’t even know you’re acting.
Be in the right place at the right time. If this doesn’t happen, create it. There’s always an angle to be worked, a school to be ‘discovered’ or a pocket of the planet that can be hijacked in the name of art. Moving to Estonia, Shanghai or New Delhi are still good options. Better yet, go somewhere no one has ever considered going, and make a name for yourself. War zones are a possibility. As much as arty types are in thrall to art history, a cult of invention flourishes among them, and novelty counts (though it’s not to be confused with Fashion, which can only be mentioned with one eyebrow raised).
Stake out your territory. Now is the time to take things a step further by having an impact on the cultural moment. An ad hoc show of young Inuit artists or former terrorists can easily be turned into something definitive, with the right PR machine.
Use newfound fame strategically. If it brings you riches, with, say, a rise in market value for those previously unknown artists you bought, sell them immediately and buy into one of the big names. People treat someone more seriously if they own a Damien Hirst. But it doesn’t stop there. To beat down all the other climbers, create a swanky art foundation with an edgy name – something that sounds like a chemical formula is perfect.
Congratulations. You’ve made it. You no longer have any need for art magazines, dinners, introductions or gallery mailing lists. You’re free.