Interviewee: Anita Sinclair, Biomorphic Artist/Teacher/Curator
Interviewer: Lisa Grant, Museum Studies Student
December 5, 2012
Anita Sinclair is a biomorphic artist, teacher, and curator. Ms. Sinclair holds a BFA in Drawing and Painting from CSULB, a MFA in Drawing and Painting and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from CSU-Fullerton and Advanced Training in Forensic Facial Reconstruction from Case Western Reserve University. A contract artist with The City of Long Beach, California, for over twenty years, Ms. Sinclair also maintains Sinclair Studios in the same city. You can discover her work at http://www.zhibit.org/anita-sinclair.
1. Anita, you have an extensive education and myriad work experiences, including curating exhibits, teaching Art Gallery Production, and supervising an art gallery. I have observed you to be someone where multiple skills from your varied background come together to create success in an art gallery.
1 a. How did you move into this area of the arts? Curating is something I love. Every artist who is serious about their career should work in a gallery because it’s all part of the process [of being an artist]. It’s a way to network, seek out opportunities, join membership galleries. I belong to a membership gallery in Pomona. Galleries are always looking for new ideas.
Do you make a lot of proposals? I am always making proposals, as often as I can.
1 b. How do you find opportunities to work, teach, and curate in the field? Teaching isn’t work for me. I love it, it’s important. I will never not teach at any level. I am always going to teach. I have been teaching for The City of Long Beach for over twenty years. We have done many exhibitions and shows. Hopefully mine will soon be every year.
Again, network to find jobs and opportunities. Join membership galleries. Join the College Arts Association. Look at job boards and opportunity listings. Make your own opportunities and jobs.
1 c. What type of education and skills do you suggest emerging museum professionals acquire? It depends on what role you want in a gallery or museum. Art History is a must. Choose a theme/era/genre and specialize. Be organized, have vision, and know how to present your vision.
I believe education is very important is getting jobs in galleries. Have a minimum BA in Visual Art or Art History and a Post baccalaureate Degree in Museum Studies or commensurate experience.
Museum administration skills are not necessarily important, especially if this is not where you want to work in the gallery or museum. Choose your area carefully.
You need to know how to handle very expensive and valuable objects. Dropping is not allowed. Dirty, mucky fingerprints are not allowed. You must need to know how to handle these and behave appropriately.
You must understand your audience. Who is coming in? You could be addressing everyone from intellectual adults to children. A young audience is very exciting, to start a little sparkle in them!
Work in high-end museums as a docent. You will have more opportunities to gain more responsibility and work with a great team. It is also great on a resume. There are many of them, so make the rounds and choose your style. Like LACMA.
Be a good writer!
2. What are some specific challenges you have faced in your profession? The most immediate challenges are the current state of the economy and the attitude towards Fine and Visual Arts in American society. Getting and keeping a job, finding and keeping funding, those are immediate challenges, too. We live in a world where people don’t care about the arts. People like music, like Hip Hop. And you’ve got the Kardashian’s on TMZ. It’s a nightmare to get money for museums in America! Northern European countries like Sweden and her neighbors, The Netherlands, and even Belgium take better care of their artists and teachers than America does. There is a lot of money and public exposure for artists there.
Emerging artists also have a lot of trouble getting quality space for a show. Emerging curators must be very creative about finding show spaces!
It is important to stay involved in art events in your community. Don’t ever be a flash in the pan. Do it well every time.
3. What are the differences between working/curating in an art gallery attached to a college and working/curating in a separate art gallery? College galleries are funded by the school so you don’t need to sell artwork to survive. You can do very interesting things this way; you can push the boundaries, do work that is intellectual and cutting edge. You can do installations. INSTALLATIONS! You can’t do this at a for-profit gallery or museum because they are based only on sales. I have worked in both and would choose to work in a college gallery.
4. What are some common mistakes that professionals new to this field make? How can they be avoided? A terrible mistake is getting stuck in a rut. Don’t cycle through the same artists over and over when curating. But if you’re an emerging curator, don’t go out on some wild, wacky limb that will give you a bad name. If you are proposing to use material that is scandalous or shocking, you need a darn good reason to put it in. Never use this type of material simply to bring in an audience. Especially in a college art gallery!
One of the most common mistakes is not taking time to learn about the gallery to which you are proposing a show. RESEARCH!! Learn what the people at the gallery are about, learn about their audience. Spend time there to learn about it, haunt it. The last thing you want to do is present to them and offend them. YOU MUST KNOW YOUR VENUE AND AUDIENCE!!
5. What tips would you give a beginning or emerging artist to help them differentiate themselves and keep a competitive edge? Be honest. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Write a lot. Figure out who you are. Who are your peers?
Don’t ever copy what someone else has done… and do your absolute best! Don’t put anything into the world that you’re not pleased with. Don’t hang bad work because you’re only as good as your last show. Remember that to stay competitive! The worst thing you can hear anyone say about your work is, “Oh, she’s so derivative.”
Use good craftsmanship. Keep archival quality of your work in mind when creating it. For example, don’t put acrylic over oil, acrylic over oil, or it will fall off onto the floor!
Anything that comes out of your mouth about your work must be reflected in your work.
It’s very important to join professional networking groups. I belong to an Art/Science group that meets once a month. There are discussions, presentations, publications, etc.
Write and publish! This is what gives you credibility!
Self-publicize yourself and get out into the public! You can display art online in a gallery or blog, self-publish books of your work, you could even get a free booth at a Farmer’s Market and curate a small art show for the public.
6. What artists influence your work? Who do you look up to in the art world?
Eva Hesse – Worked in experimental methods using chemicals that gave her terminal brain cancer. She died very young. Unfortunately, the materials she used have degraded badly. (My note: this goes to paying attention to archival qualities while working!)
Berndnaut Smilde – Dutch artist who creates clouds in galleries! His installations control atmospheric space and pressure to create clouds! He is so interesting and I lovelovelove him! He is my favorite artist du jour!