Atkinson, Karen

Karen Atkinson, one of the original proponents of professional development for artists and the author of Getting Your Sh*t Together, doles out practical advice on everything from building a career that complements your practice to creating a artist’s advisory board.

“I think a lot of artists decide there’s only one way to be an artist, and they get frustrated because they don’t ‘make it.’ I think there’s a lots of different ways to make it, and that’s one of the things that I’m particularly interested in: artists really thinking outside that linear trajectory… thinking about the ways that the work they make is fulfilling to themselves and that they can actually create a life that’s really interesting. Because you can try to go by somebody else’s rules the whole time and be absolutely miserable.”

Karen Atkinson is an academic specializing in professional development for artists, a writer, an independent curator, an arts organizer, and an artist herself. Atkinson was born in San Diego, California. She graduated with an Associate in Arts degree from Reedley College (1978) and a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Fresno (1981) before earning a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts, 1984). She taught at California State University, Fresno, Pacific College, and Reedley College before becoming a faculty member at CalArts (1988), where she has taught ever since. At CalArts, Atkinson teaches studio art and a class on how artists can professionalize their practices and advance their careers while still earning a living. Atkinson also teaches the subject as a workshop in Los Angeles, and she has released a book covering this material entitled Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual For Every Practicing Artist.

Some of Atkinson’s numerous other activities include co-founding the artist-run nonprofit Side Street Projects (1991); founding GYST Ink, an artist-run software company for visual artists (2008); delivering a talk for TEDxFullerton, “Making of a Hybrid (Artist)” (2010); and serving as president of the National Association of Artists’ Organizations. She has both exhibited and curated across the country and internationally, including at the Fifth Havana Biennial, Cuba; Biennale de Paris, New York City; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Project Row Houses, Houston; Museum of Arts and Crafts, Itami, Japan; Galeria Kurt im Hirsch, Berlin, Germany; 2B Galeria, Budapest, Hungary; and Artspace, Sydney, Australia.