There’s nothing quite like visiting artists you admire in their studios. Sure, finished pieces are magnetic in their own right, but let’s face it: we want to know where Picasso lived when he painted a masterpiece, how old he was, how he set up his surroundings.
Looking for life clues in contemporary art is no different, and there’s no better way to get in an artists’ psyche than to get in their studios. There you can see new works side-by-side with #WIPs (artist lingo for “works-in-progress”). You become privy to what amount of chaos or clutter, or lack thereof, best fuels the creative process. In the studio, artists’ earliest works sit adjacent to their latest masterpieces. In short, you get an immersion in the artist’s world.
The artist studio is a sacred space but not an inaccessible one. Read on for five tips on how to initiate an artist studio visit and get the most out of it:
Initial outreach seems obvious, but before shooting off a cold email, consider that artists are pinged for studio visits and price lists all the time. More often than not they are happy to host you. Artists appreciate discussing their art and practice with potential collectors (even if you don’t plan to buy anything on your first foray). In fact, it's as refreshing for them to talk to you about their work as it is fascinating for you to hear about it.
But if they seem busy or if you’re feeling hesitant, start by seeing if they’re participating in an open studios event like Bushwick Open Studios. (Scroll down for some of our other NYC favorites.) Or you can reach out to someone like a Sugarlift art advisor who specializes in connecting potential collectors with independent artists.
Before your visit, peruse the artist’s website and Instagram to brainstorm a few questions bring. Consider inquiring about:
Let one question lead to another. And remember that as more questions arise onsite, there are no dumb ones! We don’t all have studio art degrees. If you don’t know what gesso or aquatint is, artists don’t mind bringing it back to the basics.
Asking questions can also be mutually beneficial. The more you can get artists to take a step back and think about their work from an outsiders’ point of view, the more useful the visit will be for them, as well.
In short, it’s a rare opportunity to hear about the process behind an artwork from the artist’s direct point of view, so make the most of the visit and learn as much as you can!
Always ask permission before taking photos of an artist's work and before posting anything on social media. It’s the respectful thing to do, and sometimes artists prefer for their work not be previewed online, particularly if a piece is unfinished or soon to appear in a show. However, in most cases artists are excited for that Instagram tag!
Additionally, if you or someone you know might be interested in buying something you see in the studio, feel free to ask if it's for sale. Studio visits are an excellent way to purchase art, and you’ll have a deeper connection to the art object when you have a story and memory surrounding it.
If you don’t understand a piece, a title, a technique, or an answer to one of your questions, voice your opinion to the artists honestly! No one creates work in a vacuum, and as mentioned in Step 2, artists can use studio visits as an opportunity for growth. Thoughts, feedback and clarifying questions are welcome from people who are seeing their work for the first time, and as the viewer you can be a huge help by offering your opinions and perceptions.
That being said, remember that an artwork is close to its creators heart. Phrase your commentary kindly and politely.
Arrive on time like you would any business meeting. (After all, even if it’s not a 9-5 Mon-Fri kind of vibe, the studio is that artist’s business.) It also never hurts to present a small gift to show your gratitude. We always show up with an extra tea or coffee for a morning visit, or we’ll even bring wine to an evening meeting. Don't sweat this one, though. Your curiosity and engagement are the best gifts of all!
Pro tip: Do the studio hop. It takes some planning finesse, but if your favorite artists are in the same neighborhood, you can make an afternoon out of the journey.
We highly recommend open studio events in New York City, where you can wander in and out of buildings with multiple studios in one neighborhood!
Our favorites include: