There were other reasons that I decided to put together an exhibition catalogue that were specific to my being an artist. For instance:
It would be a substitute promotional packet. A portfolio book/slide packet is bulky. It consists of several pages containing slides, resume, statement, press clippings, announcements, etc. I incorporated most of those materials into my 24-page catalogue. My Artist's Statement is on page 3, and my resume appears on pages 22-23. Significant press coverage is listed on my resume rather than included as clippings--I figure that if anyone really wants to read any of those articles they may ask. On the covers and all pages in between the Statement and resume, a total of 23 color images are featured. Each has caption information including title, medium, and size, as well as a discreet one-paragraph description offering some insight into each piece.
It would provide documentation for collectors. When you hand a collector a neat, crisp catalogue along with documentation on the specific artwork he has bought, you hand the collector evidence of your credibility and collectibility. A catalogue demonstrates that you are committed to enhancing your career. Although collectors buy artwork because they have fallen in love with it, they also appreciate knowing that you are doing everything in your power to increase the solidity of your career and the future value of your artwork. This gives people confidence and an even higher degree of pride and joy in owning your work.
A sample page from Blakeslee's brochure
It would be more difficult for others to violate my copyright. I've heard horror stories (luckily, rarely) from artists who have sent out slides and transparencies to publishers and others who have published the work without their knowledge. In a catalogue, your images are already color separated into little dots. It's difficult to make illicit posters from color separated images. Thus a catalogue will get your work out, but your work can't be printed without your knowledge, unless someone goes to the trouble of repainting a copy of the image.
I had spent a lot of time refining my Statement and resume. My resume was a challenge. Though I was an active emerging artist when I founded Art Calendar Magazine 11 years ago, in fact until mid-1994 I hadn't painted much--I had been too busy running Art Calendar. Though I paint sporadically (I'm still too busy running Art Calendar), I completed 25 paintings in 10 months during 1994 and 1995. There are some who may say I'm not a serious full-time artist or blow other hoo-hah like that at me. However, I am proud of what I do, I am learning to avoid negativity like that, and I advise you to do the same.
Ultimately I became comfortable with my sporadic burst-of-activity output interspersed with my involvement in the art world through Art Calendar; a large section of my catalogue's resume focuses on my involvement in Art Calendar, books, and other editorial projects.
The point of all this is, if your resume is heavy on something other than fine art--say, for example, you've spent 20 years as an illustrator or 15 years in advertising--then be honest about it, be proud of it, and focus on it. Name some of the publications your illustrations have been published in. Name some of your advertising clients. Also name your top exhibitions, awards, and other pertinent fine art credentials.
If you're not confident, if you haven't painted in a couple of years, if you're still searching for your voice, if you're still in school, or if your work seems stiff or unfinished to you, then a catalogue is premature. Order some first-class art supplies and set about making the best art you can. Work in one medium. Focus on one theme or idea. Nurture your craftsmanship and finishes. If you're not sure what constitutes first-class supplies, craftsmanship, finishes, themes, and ideas, search high and low until you find an artist who does work like the kind of work you would love to be doing, and ask him to teach you. You'll face doubts and other tigers, but at the end of your season or year-long session you'll look back on your mountain with well deserved pride and confidence.
Carolyn Blakeslee is the founder and editor of Art Calendar, a business magazine for visual artists. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.