10 Things I Learned as a Young Phoenix Artist

Work from "Maybe Tomorrow, Darling" at Modified Arts.EXPAND
Work from "Maybe Tomorrow, Darling" at Modified Arts.
Melissa Fossum

In the past year alone, there's been a lot of changes within Phoenix's art scene. There's always been a revolving door — some artists and other art professionals leave, but there are always new people and spaces emerging. Even the spaces that anchor our scene, such as Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, Arizona State University's School of Art, and Phoenix Art Museum, have been subject to change, be it positive or negative.

Since graduating from ASU's School of Art in 2014, I've exhibited my work both locally and internationally, written about art for both New Times and The Arts Beacon, and learned so much beyond the scope of just my degree. Graduating was both liberating and terrifying. I had a network of peers and mentors inside and outside of school, but graduating meant that there wasn't going to be a safety net anymore. I'm thankful that the larger Phoenix art scene was so welcoming and nurturing. Without that, I wouldn't be where I am today.

Just over a week ago, I moved from Phoenix to New York City to pursue a master of fine arts degree in studio art at Hunter College. It’s a bit bittersweet, but I’m looking forward to growing as an artist. I’ve got a long way to go and so much more to learn, but here are 10 things that I learned as a young artist in Phoenix.

Work by Lara Plecas at this year's ARTELPHX.EXPAND
Work by Lara Plecas at this year's ARTELPHX.
Melissa Fossum

There’s actually a lot more going on in the arts in Phoenix than I had initially thought.
While in the bubble of academia at ASU, I knew of some exhibitions, events, and opportunities that the art scene had to offer. It wasn’t until I was immersed in it after graduating that I realized just how vast Phoenix’s art network was. A lot of art students do end up leaving, but it seems like a promising amount are staying and seeking out the what the city has to offer.

It’s gotten better, but Phoenix needs more spaces for emerging and mid-career artists.
Something that I’ve considered a lot within the past year is what happens after art school. I graduated not really knowing what to expect, aside from the thought of applying to graduate school and residences outside of Arizona. Phoenix has a lot artists, but not enough spaces to develop them in. Programs like nueBOX and ARTEL are a great start, but what else can we do to further charge this scene with innovation and vitality?

August First Friday at Frontal Lobe.EXPAND
August First Friday at Frontal Lobe.
Melissa Fossum

A dialogue surrounding the arts is expanding, and it needs to keep doing just that.
Throughout this entire year there’s been a lot of thoughtful attention put on what would make the art scene thrive even more. When I started writing for New Times, one of my goals was to foster a dialogue that I felt was missing. There’s been a ton of effort put forth by artists and writers to address art critically and thoroughly. The Arts Beacon's extensive call for art directory and exhibition coverage and Roosevelt Row's monthly artist meet-and-greet sessions immediately come to mind.

If you continue seeking out opportunities, more will come your way.
The best advice I’ve ever received was to apply for everything you can, and if you’re doubting your work, to keep in mind that so is everyone else. I’ll admit that it sounds pretty cheesy and lame, but it’s true. Rejection happens, but you just have to power through it.

Central portion of the new immigration-theme mural located in the Grand Avenue Arts District.
Central portion of the new immigration-theme mural located in the Grand Avenue Arts District.
Lynn Trimble

Presenting yourself and your work is key.
That’s not to say that professional presentation should trump the work, but that both should be considered in tandem. Today, we encounter more artworks online than we do in a gallery, so we should treat online space as if it’s a gallery. There’s nothing worse than an artist website made on Geocities (unless it’s done with intent).

Public art and unconventional gallery spaces are two things I took for granted.
The thing about Phoenix is that there’s so much space. Empty store fronts have become activated thanks to INFLUX’s programming, murals and large-scale sculptures by different artists are practically everywhere, and rooms in people’s homes have the potential to be activated as excellent exhibition spaces.

"Order, Chaos, and Everything in Between" by Ryan J. Carey at monOrchid.EXPAND
"Order, Chaos, and Everything in Between" by Ryan J. Carey at monOrchid.
Melissa Fossum

The idea of making a living off of my work is still confusing.
As an artist that largely works in sculpture and video, making money off of my art has always been a foreign concept. I’ve sold pieces to friends and mentors here and there, but it’s hard to sell a strange art object that doesn’t go on a wall. I guess I learned that I still need to learn that. For now, I’ll just keep making my work.

Networking means being an active participant, as artist and/or viewer.
I’ve gone to a lot of exhibitions, but for some reason I’m always afraid to discuss and ask questions, whether it be the artist or a gallery sitter. Maybe it’s some sort of strange psychological phenomenon that happens within the white cube or maybe I’m just a little too awkward. It wasn’t until I started doing artist studio visits for New Times that I began to actually feel like a participant in this network. We should all ask each other more questions.

Installation view of my last exhibition in Phoenix on July's Third Friday.EXPAND
Installation view of my last exhibition in Phoenix on July's Third Friday.
Melissa Fossum

The relationship between art and money is one big catch-22, but the art scene puts forth the effort to make it work.
Ideally speaking, there should be more exhibition spaces, curatorial projects, collectors, art fairs, art criticism, funding opportunities, etc. The Phoenix art scene is a resilient one, and in the absence of some of these things, the gears still continue to turn.

Sometimes being an artist has more to do with asking questions than finding answers. 
I've always struggled to make work without a clear, concrete idea in mind. Over the past couple of years, I've learned how to let go and get out of my own way. I found out a lot more about myself and my work by letting intuition take control.


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