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« Artist Web Sites: Making Your Website a Marketing Machine | Main | Money: What's Money Got to do with Being a Professional Artist? »

Art World Insiders: Advice for Artists Who Want to Succeed in Any Economy

Last month a group of A.C.T. Featured Artists shared their opinions of What Makes a Professional?

"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I do not believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they cannot find them, make them." George Bernard Shaw, Playwright (1856-1950)

You recently did your taxes and know the state of your finances, so this month, Art World Insiders offer advice for artists who want to succeed in any economy.

Stewart Cubley, Process Arts InstructorStewart Cubley, Process Arts Instructor
One of the challenges for creating an artistic lifestyle is not to put the cart before the horse, i.e. not looking for what will be successful in the world before you find what feels successful to you. It takes a lot of courage to be willing to go your own way to find your own method and form of expression. Ground yourself in that before you discover whether the work is marketable and accepted by the art world.

Find your passion and follow your heart. … The power of creative expression is that what was held inside you is now out of you and therefore no longer defines you. And then you're left with the ever-deepening question of the true artist - who are you after all?

Margaret DanielakMargaret Danielak, Artist Representative
Artists must have experience showing and selling work for at least five years before I will think about representing them. …  I don't care if they have a day job, but my artists need to create new work constantly.  

I need quality inventory to sell, so my artists have to have lots of work available, otherwise I am wasting my time and theirs.

Professional artists take themselves and their work seriously enough to listen up (to their mentors), show up (on time for their shows), follow up (with their contacts and prospective buyers) - since they know ART IS A BUSINESS."


Margot Knight, Executive Director, The Djerassi Resident Artists Program Photo © William CouponMargot Knight, Executive Director, The Djerassi Resident Artists Program 
Have some semblance of a plan. When you decide to make your way in the world as an artist, what paths are out there for you to follow?  Do you want to make a living doings arts and education work? How will you supplement your creative work? Do you want to deal with the gallery world? Do you want to do limited edition prints each year to add to the mix of revenue?

You have to look at all the ways your particular art form expresses itself in the marketplace and accept or pursue each of them in a very organized way. I see many artists trying to do something that doesn't suit their temperament or their work. It's too bad they have to get that experience once they are out of art school.

I don't think that an artist's relationship to money should be negative. I do think that relationship to money should be a conscious one. 

To make a living as an artist may involve some compromises that you are not willing to make. Know that - don't be resentful after the fact.  

At the very least know how you want to spend your time.  By knowing what you don't want to do or are not good at, you can look at ways to outsource those things (marketing, for example, or a fiscal agent for your grants).  Don't be a loner - join a local group or national service organization to share career information and strategies.  There is power in the collective.

Robert Patrick, Curator & Producer, The Art of Chuck JonesRobert Patrick, Curator & Producer, The Art of Chuck Jones
Accept advice if offered by a gallery owner/director and give it a try...they are the professionals that stand between you and success, it's possible that they know something that can benefit you.  Try it or move on (politely, of course.)  Think clearly about how your art fits in with the collection of the gallery. Check out their shows, how they mount an exhibit, introduce yourself without trying to sell them.  Invite them to your studio.  Follow their submission guidelines.  If packages arrive and they haven't asked for them, they go right into the trash.

Get involved in your local arts programs. Make sure your local news outlets hear about your shows, exhibits, and open-studio events. Word-of-mouth can be your best calling card.    

Know your place in the market.   Be reasonable about your talent and where you think you should be represented.  At the same time always be proud of your work and be prepared to stand behind it.  You go where you want to be. If you want to be in a museum, offer to help with one of their programs for the public. You need to participate. You would be doing something really good for other people and for yourself.


Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts




Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts
I don't think there is any one "secret answer" that will work for any artist in any economy.  Most people have to make trade-offs in their lives no matter what field they are in.  My advice to artists is simply to try to find the balance point where you are happy.  For some people that means finding a full-time job that uses their creative skills, for others it means living with less money so that they can explore a particular style or subject matter.  

There are a lot of valid choices, and people often shift as they go through different phases of their lives.  So many women are responsible for children, and that also has a huge impact on their career choices.  The best strategy is a diversified approach. Figure out what you actually need and how to have the lifestyle you want. Artist may actually be able to weather the economic conditions better than some other professions.

Benny Shaboy, Art Opportunities Monthly, Photo © Fain HancockBenny Shaboy, Publisher and Editor of Art Opportunities Monthly
Decide what success means to you. Then research how to make it happen. Each successful artist has done that differently.

Persevere. You'll get rejected more often than not. That goes with the territory in any field. For instance, the best professional baseball player gets many more strikes and outs than hits. You have to know when and where to be persistent.




Gallery Owner, Michael YochumGallery Owner, Michael Yochum
Those who play well with others will be the most successful in an economy where social media is increasingly important. Create a co-marketing group with other artists. Build your own social network. Share audience with your fellow artists. Call on each other's mailing lists twice a year, no more, and all commit to get the word out.

Don't put up barriers for people to sign up for your mailing list and on your web site. Make it easy for people and make it fun! The top reason people do business with you is because they like you.


How do you keep your cash flowing as a professional artist? Please post your comments here or on Facebook and Twitter.    

P.S. If you need an accountability partner for your art business or someone to roll up sleeves to produce art marketing materials or work on your web site, just let us know. We can help you. If you haven't already had one, start with a complimentary 15-minute conversation. Sign up here.

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