For Artists / Resources

Art Archiving, Documentation & Handling

ARTICLE: Creating a Living Legacy #2: Getting Started & Setting Goals

Artist Trust is working to expand the awareness, discussion and management related to archiving and documenting artwork through the support of Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program. The following information is excerpted from the CALL program’s support materials and provided as a resource for visual artists seeking legacy planning and archiving information.

Beginning the process of archiving, documenting, and organizing is daunting. If you don’t have a system in place, even the thought of creating one can be intimidating. The following suggestions can help get you out of paralysis into moving forward with your career.

1. Get help—don’t start alone. Having someone to work with can make this process manageable. Similar to working with a trainer at the gym, having a Legacy Specialist who focuses on archiving can keep you committed to the work week after week. If you can’t afford an Legacy Specialist, consider finding an intern or taking on the challenge with another artist who is also creating an archiving system. If you have a lot to sort, set a day in which you will go through the materials and ask a group of friends or volunteers in to help you.

2. Invest in storage materials. Get a folding table to work on and purchase bins for sorting. Secure extra flat files or a filing cabinet. Build basic shelves. Professional archiving materials, such as archival boxes and plastic sheet protectors, can be very expensive. A roll of glassine can be cut to size minimizing waste. Don’t hesitate to get the supplies you need to ensure the safety of your work, however, whenever possible, consider what other materials are out there.

3. Decide on a record-keeping system. Decide which system will work best for you—will you start by keeping handwritten files or will you start on the computer? If you are working on the computer consider using a database system, however you can start with an Excel spreadsheet or Word document if you don’t have access to a database. Next, decide on an inventory numbering system to use.

4. Build on what you have. Records of your work exist everywhere. Do you have a website? Are there any galleries, nonprofits, or museums that have information about your work? Has a catalogue of your work been published? Before you begin, take a moment to think about what records you currently have or that may be accessible through galleries, dealers, or other institutions. You may be able to avoid redoing work that has already been done.

5. Start from your résumé. Use your résumé as a starting point to consider your exhibition history. Loan agreements and consignment forms will include information about which artworks were included in which shows.

6. Start from the first thing you pick up in your space. If you are using a database system, you can simply start with the top of the pile. You do not need to worry about sorting things; the program is designed to sort information for you.

7. Start now. Get in the habit of labeling, inventorying, and logging every new artwork you make and every work that leaves your studio. Set up a digital camera and take a snapshot of each new work. Sign, number (inventory number), and date each new artwork, and jot down the details in a notebook, on a clipboard, or enter them in a database.

8. Start small. When deciding what needs to be done, break the task down into manageable steps. For example, start with one flat file drawer or all the work on one storage rack. Or begin to catalogue all your recent works on paper before you start an inventory of your paintings. Set an objective that makes it easy to estimate the time required for its completion and keep it relatively short. Develop a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Setting Manageable Goals

Setting manageable goals is critical to beginning the process of archiving. It is easy to write down a long list of things that need to get done and then get overwhelmed by them. Instead, we recommend that you think about regularly setting goals that are realistic and timely. The goal worksheets at the end of this workbook will help you to create a clear path of action in the coming weeks and months.

Example of an unrealistic goal: Archiving all of my work in my studio that I have done for the last 40 years.
Example of manageable goal: Within the next two weeks, I will dedicate 1 hour every day to inventorying all the artwork in one drawer of my flat files.

S.M.A.R.T. goal: S-specific, M-measurable, A-attainable, R-realistic, T-timely.

    Specific goals depend on who, what, where, when, which, and why?
    Measurable is accountability and tracking progress.
    Attainable is a goal that motivates you towards achievement.
    Realistic is a goal within your current abilities.
    Timely is a goal with a timeframe.

    • Make all goals concrete.
    • Make the goal something you can clearly state in one sentence.
    • Make a clear end point. The accomplishment of the goal should be definite and visible.
    • Make sure the goal is something you can complete—factor in timeand space restrictions.
    • Set a realistic date for completing your goal.