Dean in front of AIDS showI strongly recommend the show, ArtAIDSAmerica, which The Advocate is calling “Uncomfortable, wistfully beautiful, and vitally important.” The exhibit features a wide variety of artistic reactions to the AIDS epidemic, including journalistic documentation of the early days of our awareness, elegiac tributes to lost friends and lovers, and even abstract pieces containing coded references to the disease. You will recognize some of the big-name artists, such as Keith Haring; others are more obscure.

Through these different points of view, a story emerges. In particular, it is part of our story as gay men, one that is easily forgotten in the days when modern medicine has made HIV a manageable disease and more difficult to contract. Even so, one cannot help but feel outrage when one is reminded of the ignorance and hatred with which our elected officials condemned so many people to die.AIDS show window

There were several panels from the AIDS quilt on display. These pieces really got to me, probably because my mother is a quilter. Although she has never made an AIDS-related quilt, she has created numerous memorial quilts for families who lost loved ones. These pieces always include swatches of fabric from clothes worn by the deceased. They create something tangible for the families to hold onto. I think the AIDS quilt panels are a lot like that, only they take the extra step of making these people’s lives and deaths visible for everyone.

That’s what this exhibit does too. ArtAIDSAmerica runs through Sunday, April 2 at Alphawood Gallery, which is located at 2401 N Halsted.

Art Business 101

Thanks to everyone who has read my Art Business 101 posts over the last 3 months! I hope you have found the content useful and inspiring. If you haven’t checked out this series yet, or if you missed a few posts, now is the perfect time to get on board.

Here you will find links to each of the AB101 posts in the best reading order. Please take some time to learn from my experience!

Coming Soon: Art Business 101
preview of AB101 posts, and the importance of leaving a legacy

Art Business 101: My Story
“who is he to tell me what to do?”

Art Business 101: Economics of Art
if you are an artist, you are an investor; now what does that mean?

Art Business 101: Success in the Market
finding your niche, and taking on the role of a market scientist

Art Business 101: All About Price
you’ve made a piece of art, but how do you come up with a fair price?

Art Business 101: Building Your Brand
in the age of social media, what exactly does your brand encompass?

Art Business 101: Writing Your Bio
how to write the story of your career, even when you don’t have much to say

Art Business 101: Creating Events
pros & cons of galleries, art festivals, DIY shows and more

Art Business 101: Event Planning
everything you need to know (and do) to pull off an art show

Art Business 101: Fundraising
why pay for all your event costs when you can raise the funds?

Art Business 101: Promoting Your Show
you’ve booked your art show, but how do you spread the word?

Art Business 101: Social Media
hands-down top app for artists, and how to optimize it

Art Business 101: Taking Responsibility
you created it; now what do you do with the good, the bad, and the ugly?

ArtBusiness101: Your Art
there is a difference between a sellout and an artist who sells

Art Business 101: Having the Right Attitude


My very first group show was an art party in a private residence. I was very excited about the work I brought, and I had high hopes for sales. The art’s meaning  was personal to me, but I still believed that other people would “get it”.

I spoke to dozens of our guests, explaining my concept and techniques. They asked questions and seemed genuinely interested. I thought for sure that one of them would feel the need to own something I created.Dean Johnson with his artwork 3

In the end, nothing sold. I was devastated. I fought back tears as I took my work down off the walls. I wondered, will my future in the arts be as dismal as this?

I had the wrong attitude, but it didn’t last long. I needed a solution to the problem, so I asked the question, “How can I improve my chances for sales?”

I let that experience make me better as an artist and a business person. I paid attention to the feedback I got that night, and I began to analyze what made other artists’ work sell. I stuck to my basic pop aesthetic, but I developed and adapted it to meet real market needs. Ultimately, I started producing marketable products that do sell.

This doesn’t mean every show is financially successful. When the market is saturated, my sales suffer. Sometimes, I spend more on event costs than I make on art sales. Other times, sales are marred by logistical errors, such as poor timing or a troublesome location.

No matter what happens, nothing justifies feeling defeated or disappointed. To stay in the right attitude, I stick to the following Essentials.

3 Essentials for Artists


  • Gratitude – Always be thankful, even when things don’t work the way you want them to. Every experience can be a learning experience that will steer you toward the kind of success you want.
  • Patience – Expect that your success will take years of hard work. Each show you complete is a small step on a very long path. Stay in the moment, and graciously enjoy where you are on the journey.
  • Humility – Make obscurity your friend. Embrace being at the bottom. Enjoy your role as an outsider. Work quietly and humbly at your craft, and focus on serving others. Never forget that there is more to learn, and never burn bridges.

Dean with his artworkWith these Essentials on your side, there is no pressure for you to charge ahead in your career. There are no specific quotas to meet and no expectations to fulfill. You can take the time to fully absorb the valuable lessons that each new experience brings. More importantly, you can have fun no matter what.

Approach every show as if you were a guest rather than a sales representative. Have a drink, mingle, and have some good conversations. Be more interested in the people who are there than they are in you. In short, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOOD TIME. If some of your work sells, then your income will be icing on the cake. If nothing sells, then at least you enjoyed your evening.

You alone are responsible for the way you feel about a show.