Thousands of artists have read Xanadu Gallery Owner, Jason Horejs’ book “Starving” to Successful. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, we would like to get you started. We’ve included the entire introduction to the book below!
I have been in the art business all of my life. One of my strongest childhood memories is the smell of oil paint and the sight of my father, a painter, in the studio hard at work on a canvas. I am the eldest of my parent’s nine children – that’s right, nine; and being the eldest, I got to experience the “starving” phase of my father’s career.
My parents had decided to pursue a very unlikely career path, considering their surroundings. They were living in South-central Idaho, about as far as one can get from the center of the art universe. My father seemed to have some natural artistic talent, and with a little cultivation by his aunt Barbara, an avid Sunday painter, he felt he had found his vocation in life. My mother, an intrepid and indefatigable promoter, has always been his greatest fan, advocate, and business manager.
Being young and naïve, they must not have realized a career in art was an impossible dream, though family members and friends tried to warn them against their folly. I remember as a child realizing that people thought of my father as a crazy dreamer.
While growing up, I watched my father participating in weekend art shows, and holding down a day-job in the field of interior design. I saw my parents open their own art gallery in the small town where we lived, and watched them branch out to find representation for my father’s work in galleries around the country. He achieved greater and greater success for his work.
The last paragraph, however, belies the struggles they faced in pursuing their dream. I decided at an early age that the art business was anything but stable. For me, the “starving artist” image was more than just a stereotype: it was a reality. I remember when months would pass between the few and inconsistent sales of my father’s work. It seemed a pretty sketchy proposition; my father in the studio painting for incredibly long hours, and my mother scrambling to make ends meet and keep food on the table. There were weeks where peach cobbler was served for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
I determined that I would pursue a career with a steady paycheck when I grew up – art was no way to make a living. Insurance seemed like it might be a good option.
By the time I was an adolescent, however, things began to change. My father seemed to have reached a juncture wherein he was creating enough work and showing in enough galleries to finally make a steady and comfortable, if not luxurious, living. Now that I was old enough to begin traveling to shows sponsored by his various galleries, this solitary, difficult path my parents had chosen could be seen in a different light: life had suddenly become an exotic and enviable adventure.
I was proud to watch sophisticated collectors come into the galleries to meet my father, and buy his work. To a kid from a small farming town, this attention paid to my father gave him an aura of glamour I had never imagined possible.
Early on, I realized I didn’t have artistic talent, nor the artistic temperament. However, the gallery side of the business seemed a great way to be immersed in the art world, surrounded by art, while occupying a more suitable position for me.
By the time I was sixteen, in the early nineties, my father had set up a second studio in Phoenix, AZ, where my family would now spend the winters. I was hired to work in the gallery in Scottsdale where my father showed his work. I was put to work in the back room, where I would ship, help hang artwork, and do whatever odd jobs might be necessary to sustain a busy gallery.
After a few years in the back room, I was able to move out onto the sales floor. As soon as I made my first $10,000 art sale, I was hooked for life.
In 1998 I was married, and as a young couple often will, my wife and I began discussing what we wanted to do with our lives. Carrie was graduating with a degree in public relations, and had interned in a small art museum, writing press-releases and handling media relations. With this background, she too had a real interest in the arts.
We soon decided that if we were going to be in the art business, the only feasible avenue for us would be to have our own gallery. We devised a loose plan that would have us in our gallery by the time I was 35.
Over the next several years, we researched locations, networked with artists and wrote a business plan. It wasn’t long before we reevaluated our time line and asked ourselves, “Why are we waiting?”
We knew we were going to face many challenges as we started our gallery, whether we did it when I was 35 or 27. Regardless of my age, the scenario would be the same: we would be pouring our savings and our energy into building the business from the ground up. Why wait until our mid-30’s, when we would have children and fewer years to make our gallery a success?
We threw out our original plans, and proceeded to sign a lease on the most expensive real-estate we could find in Scottsdale, AZ. We took out loans, hired an architect and a contractor, and started bringing artists on board. Like my parents before us, we were young and didn’t know we couldn’t do it, so we did it.
In just under one year, we pulled everything together, built the gallery, and opened our doors. We hung the last of the art on the gallery walls on the evening of Monday, September 10, 2001. . .
We woke on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, revved up and excited to spend our first day in the gallery. I showered early, ate breakfast, and pulled out of the driveway with the intention of opening the gallery for our first big day.
I was a mile or two into my drive before I turned on my radio and realized the world had fallen apart.
Everyone remembers where he or she was on that sunny Tuesday morning, and clearly recalls the shock and terror of the events. Carrie and I felt the same emotions shared around the nation. We also felt a deep dread as the realization dawned that everything we had worked so hard for over the last several years was now in jeopardy. At that moment, we wondered whether our whole way of life had come to an end: it certainly seemed that our business, the art business, could not escape unscathed. Would people actually think about art, when something so terrible had happened to their world?
Despite the horrific news, we opened the gallery for business. What else were we supposed to do? The day was eerie; the streets were virtually deserted, the skies were empty, and, of course, not a single soul participated in our first day of business. We felt somber that night as we watched the evening news.
Wednesday morning was about the same—no one came in, and we sat at the front desk, having repeatedly straightened and arranged the gallery. Just as we were about to toss it in and call it a day, a luxury car pulled up in front of the gallery, and a bejeweled woman climbed out and walked through our front door.
“I had to get out of the house,” she exclaimed, “I needed to turn off the TV and do something beautiful.”
We showed her around the gallery, and told her about our artists. After looking for a few minutes, she found a sculpture she fell in love with, and . . . bought it.
I never felt so relieved as I did at that moment. I realized that not only would people continue with their lives and buy art, but art could actually provide a means for healing; it could help people return to life and to a sense of normalcy. People still desired the beauty of art in their lives, and no terrorist attack, no matter how horrific, would dull that innate longing for that which is beautiful.
Launching a business post 9/11 was anything but easy. We were, however, able to begin to cultivate relationships with collectors, and to grow the gallery, in the days and years that followed.
Since opening the gallery, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of collectors, and dozens and dozens of artists. Perhaps it is because I grew up the son of an artist that I have always enjoyed my relationships with artists as much as my relationships with collectors.
In addition to the artists I represent in the gallery, I encounter many artists every month, who approach the gallery looking for representation, either in person, via email, or through the good-old-fashioned postal service. It is these frequent encounters with eager artists looking to market their work that have inspired the writing of this book.
Early in my tenure as a gallery owner, I learned to identify artists before they walked through the front door—they were the ones who looked like game, caught in the headlights. They weren’t sure what to say as they approached me, and didn’t know how to direct the conversation to representation. There were exceptions, but the majority had no idea about how to sell themselves.
Several years ago, with the gallery running smoothly, I realized there was an opportunity to help artists meet the challenge of successfully approaching galleries. I determined the reason for the difficulty these artists were experiencing: no one was teaching them the proper procedure. I researched and found a scarcity of practical information available to artists who were pursuing professional representation for their work.
An artist could go to school for six years and earn a Master of Fine Arts, read books on creating art, and take workshops to improve her talent and sharpen her skills, but was unlikely to find any instruction on how to sell her work. Perhaps there was something I could do to fill the void.
I talked to successful artists, including my father. I asked what they had done to achieve their financial security. The more artists I talked to, the more it became clear that they, perhaps by a common instinct, had all done the same things. The more I analyzed their methods from my perspective as a gallery owner, the more I realized the information about those methods could be shared with other artists to help them walk the path to prosperity.
I first developed a day-long workshop with my mother, wherein I could share this information in an interactive setting. Then I began writing this book.
My goal in these pages is to give you an understanding of the art business, a concrete plan for systematic preparation in approaching a gallery, and the necessary tools to cultivate a relationship with the gallery owner/director. The express purpose of this work is to help you, the “starving artist”, to sell your work by partnering with galleries.
To continue reading, order the book today in paperback or on Kindle