Be Smart About Art

Network? "Ugh," you say. How about meeting people?

written by: Susan Mumford Jan. 19, 2014 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 6867 views

Network? "Ugh," you say. How about meeting people?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

“You’re a nice person and I like you. And I would like to help you with your business.”

These words were said to me by a fashion designer in 2005, at an art opening in east London. I was starting an art dealership and she thought that ‘business networking’ would serve my new enterprise well.  

A few days later, as per her invitation, I arrived at a restaurant in the City of London at the shocking hour of 7am… well before many people have so much as stirred. It was a cold, pitch black October morning, and I wondered what on earth this was all about. As it happens, the man sitting alongside me during the formal part of the meeting became the first individual to commission my business for a bespoke work of art, more than a year later.

Although I had not previously come across ‘networking’, the experience was as natural to me as a duck taking to water. This was fortunate too, as building a robust contact base was essential for someone who hailed from abroad. At the time, there was only one other London gallerist who belonged to this networking organisation. Fast forward 9 years, and artists and dealers alike understand that actively meeting people is of great importance for building a self-sustaining practice (and now we can do it online as well).

But even so, the term ‘networking’ has a negative connotation to many. Most of us enjoy going out to meet people, but going out networking…?

A few years back, I found myself being criticized by an old-school art dealer for wasting time ‘networking’, when what I needed to do was focus on my business. He started talking about how baffling it all was. He explained that in his day, he’d always chatted with dealer buddies along the streets of Mayfair, in the auction room and in various members’ clubs. One didn’t need to ‘do networking’.

But you know what? He had been networking without thinking about it since the 1950s! I got him to understand this, which was a great surprise to him. In today’s world, this ranges from running into people at art fairs to actively connecting with others in an art group on LinkedIn. The difference between now and then is that now we explicitly recognize the value, and do it consciously.

In the 21st Century, we can’t afford to wait until we bump into people. It’s essential to actively make connections and maintain conversations in an increasingly fast-paced world. 

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Photographs © Chris King.

user name

Susan - great piece! Networking has become a dirty word mainly because it evokes some pushy person elbowing their way at any given social gathering pushing business cards onto unsuspecting victims. Now THAT networking doesn't work and it isn't much fun but I cannot emphasize enough how important is to make meaningful connections at any given gathering, whether an actual networking event, a party or a professional meeting. Sure being a good professional in your field is the bare minimum but to find out about opportunities, a network is essential. On networking 'live/in the flesh' vs. networking via Social Media, I recently read a good piece by Keren Lerner on her blog: http://www.topleftdesign.com/blog/2014/01/21/going-networking-event-anyway-can-use-linkedin-twitter-make-networking-time/

user name

Networking is so important but not just through social media. Actually meeting people and talking about what you do and why and taking an interest in others also helps you to engage with potential clients. In Devon I belong to the Mid Devon Business forum and also Ladies do Latte, the latter is women only and I have made many useful connections here and found several new clients. Many people will by a painting because of the story behind it . Sometime that story is all about content, other times it's all about you.

user name

Great post, Susan! You're right, "networking" has gotten a bad reputation over time. The concept of just "meeting people" seems far less intimidating.

Simon makes a great point about about social media. Today it is so easy to go about "meeting people" in a virtual setting. That is even less intimidating, and it can be very effective. The environment of interaction has changed for the better by making the world smaller.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

user name

I could't agree more! The best ideas, deals, opportunities and contacts I have had/made in my professional life (and my personal life too!) have come from conversations with other people, and the more people we meet, the more chances of hearing of new ways to looking at things, and meeting other people!

user name

Susan, I've heard people say the same thing said by artists as your old-school art dealer but they were referring to social media. They didn't see the connection between being on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest and their other networking activities.

Just as you have to be disciplined about the physical networking you do, you should have a strategy for social media marketing: the people who buy and show your art (both actual and potential) are talking about the art they like in those forums...wouldn't YOU want to talk to them about the same things? Then soon some of them will be be talking about YOU!