The true measure of success will always be growth—both personally and in business.
Yes, booming art sales and accolades are great, but it’s the lessons we learn along the way that are the most valuable to our art careers.
Looking back on 2017, we learned a lot about running a successful art business from the amazing artists we work with on a daily basis.
From procrastination to embracing failures, take a look at the important art business lessons we will be celebrating for years to come.
Prioritize evolution over originality.
It’s that nagging question we all ask ourselves at some point during our process: “Am I original?”
But the truth is, growth and evolving is better than focusing on being “original,” reminds Beth Inglish, artist and founder of the Nashville Creative Group. Evolution can only happen with time. So emphasize doing the work, over and over again to really get somewhere.
That’s where the magic of originality is born. The next time you feel overwhelmed with the idea of creating something completely new, simply get to work.
It’s about chipping away little-by-little each day.
“The road is very, very long,” admits digital and mixed media artist Julia Ibbini, "It takes a lifetime to develop your craft."
There will be many tears and you won't always receive the appreciation you expect or deserve. People can and will be unconstructive towards you and your work. You may have to grow a very thick skin.
There are no lightbulb or grand inspiration moments (okay maybe once in awhile, Julia admits, but hardly ever).
It's about chipping away each day—and learning to feel the joy in that.
There are many paths to take or make on your way.
When Jessica Watts was first starting out, she thought there was a “right” way to approach her art and her art business: “I felt like all artists knew the way ... except for me. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself there is no right or wrong way.”
Rather, it’s about doing things your way.
Focus more time on finding your own unique target customer and what works for YOU. You’ll fret less about how your work will be received and have more confidence in your own business.
Find a mentor you admire and trust.
When you’ve dreamt of buzzing about the studio 24/7, it can be quite the wake-up call having to tackle finances, marketing, inventory, showings, etc.
“It was quite the learning process to get established as a business alongside developing my studio practice and personal vision as an artist,” says painter Caitlin McCollom.
Her recommendation for navigating this rocky terrain? Finding a mentor—someone who’s been through it all who can show you the road ahead while you're getting where you're going.
Procrastination is just anxiety with a bad rap.
“We procrastinate to make space between decisions,” explains artist and creative coach Carrie Seid. Requiring yourself to make the “right” decision makes the situation even more pressure-packed.
Put a time limit on your procrastination so you don’t fall into a cyclical pattern of surfing the web.
Carrie recommends spending only 20 minutes making a decision about what’s next to avoid falling into the black hole of "researching."
Diversifying will allow you to create more of the work that you truly love.
Julie Anderson admits, “I learned that trying to please everyone with the type of art I make is a recipe for making pieces that are not so great. It also made me hate making art; I was bored by it.”
Having a diversified stream of income allows artists to experiment and make the work they truly want to make, while also making work that will sell.
This way, you can stay your own personal creative path, but in the meantime, you can feed yourself and keep a roof over your head with your alternate source of income.
The right buyers will come along eventually for that work that you really love making.
Make as much artwork as you can.
The standard logic behind this advice is that working in greater quantity loosens you up, and you end up making more high-quality work.
Artist Sawyer Rose discovered, “When I speed up my workflow I'm not as emotionally married to the final product. Each gallery submission or residency application doesn't feel like a personal referendum on me as an artist.”
When rejection inevitably comes your way, it's easier to move on when you already have already made strides forward with your artwork.
Start building your dream team of artists, collectors, and business people.
Entrepreneurs know that networking is more than trading business cards. Business is all about relationships; having a network of great people around is a key to success.
Entrepreneurs can’t run a business on their own. The most successful artists and business people get advice from other successful artists and business people.
Don’t underestimate the power of getting organized.
“Once I started selling a lot and showing a lot, I felt like I was losing myself,” confesses artist Amy Ritter.
The most important thing for artists to realize is that they are also business owners. The more organized you are in your business, the less stress you have in your life.
“Artwork Archive is so easy to navigate, so I add one or two things every day. I’m not good at organization naturally, but it’s one of those things I wish I did several years ago—even before grad school. I was always forgetting sizes and measurements and then playing catch up.
My recommendation to everyone else is to start now! Don’t wait until later because there is never a convenient time—but, being in charge of your business relieves a lot of stress.”
Showing up is half the battle.
If you want to be a successful artist, you have to put in the work.
Just like any other artist in the world, you probably have said to yourself at one time, “I can’t go to the studio today because I’m too busy/ too heartbroken/ my family needs me too much/ [insert any excuse here].”
Saying this brings a moment of relief. It feels justified, reasonable, and like you are doing the right thing for yourself.
But artist Suzie Baker says that this is “about our fear masquerading as resistance; that thing, or idea, or busy work, or Netflix, or self-doubt, or procrastination, or rejection, that stops you from showing up and making your art.”
When you stop making excuses, you can start owning the direction that you are going in—and, if need be, have the willpower to change that direction.
Not everyone’s opinion should hold the same weight.
There will always be people in your life that project their own insecurities onto you. Those people that ask you, "when are you going to get a real job?"
Artist and creator of The Savvy Painter, Antrese Wood, points to these toxic relationships as holding artists back from reaching their potential.
But guess what? We can choose who to listen to and what advice to take. You may have heard the adage that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. Spend it with those that push you to succeed, those that have succeeded as an artist and those that inspire you to do so.
Not all advice is created equal.
You will fail. Everyone does. It's how you handle it that matters.
Artists who obsess about making everything perfect are often afraid of failure.
“The belief that ‘it’ has to be perfect, whether it is skills, talent, education, website, or statement will keep you endlessly spinning your wheels,” says Bonnie Glendinning of The Thriving Artist.
The only path to growth is taking risks. You will falter, fail, and get back up dozens of times over the course of your career. It's about how you recover and what you learn. And, most importantly, if you decide to keep going that matters.
“Failure just means you are learning,” adds Bonnie. “Keep failing, because you will be learning your entire career.”
Find power in the fact that your work won't appeal to everyone.
You might want everyone to love your work, but that’s not going to happen. Not only is it unrealistic, it’s better for your art practice to find a niche audience.
“It can be scary putting yourself out there—allowing the world to view, judge and critique a very deeply personal part of you,” says artist Seren Moran.
Self-doubt definitely plays a role, but it can be empowering to know that not everyone is going to love your technique or subject, and that is ok. It means you are getting at something interesting and something different.
Ask yourself if you would make the work you make today if no one would ever see it, if you didn't receive any "likes for it, and you didn't get any praise for it.
Successful artists know that their growth comes from within and not from external praise.
Excuses will only hold you back.
Successful artists know that they have to be organized to get ahead.
We often hear artists saying things like, “I’m an artist, not a business person” or "I'm not good with technology." Cory Huff, the creator of The Abundant Artist, says "this is an excuse for being too lazy to learn the basic skills necessary for running an art business."
Not only does being organized cut down on the stress that comes along with an art career, it helps you present yourself with professionalism.
Knowing where your artwork is, who you sold each piece to, and how to get any of the critical information at the drop of a hat is a vital part of finding success as an artist. It can be nearly impossible to concentrate on creating the work at hand if you are constantly searching for information.
Opportunities will come. Be ready for them.
It sounds cliche, but it’s true: there is no such thing as luck. You have to be prepared for opportunities when they come your way.
“I hated hearing that from my professor and mentor in college. I was just like, “Can he stop saying that!” insists artist Fahamu Pecou.
“If I went to a gallery and they didn't want it, I went to a coffee shop. At a point, I went to every gallery near my studio—at least twelve—and they all told me, ‘We’ll call you.’
There was a gallery near Fahamu Pecou's home that he had never seriously considered because of his own perceived lack of prestige.
"One day I ran into the owner and asked if he would wear one of the t-shirts I was making for an event that night and he agreed. I ran upstairs to get it and when I came down he was shaking his head. He said I should put my work in the gallery. I did … and they sold immediately. We put more in the gallery and those sold as well. Then, he said I could do a show and that sold out. More shows started coming in and those sold out, too.”
The opportunities came and Fahamu was ready for them. Now they keep coming, and he makes sure that he stays ready for them.
Have limited time? Leverage it.
As an artist with a chronic illness, Corrina Thurston faces limited time and lack of energy as she creates. But even with limited time, there are a number of ways to become more productive and efficient.
Corrina’s advice? Learn your unique working style and leverage it. You may not realize it, but your body and your brain prefer to work a certain way.
Do you work better with music playing? Or do you get distracted by sound and prefer silence? Do you work best when you work for hours, or is it best that you take breaks? Experiment to really find out.
Be the professional that you know you are.
“Impressions are everything,” acknowledges gallerist Erica Berkowitz. When you first meet with a gallery owner, you want to make that impression a good one. Even if the new work does not sell, you’d still like to work with that gallery again.
The best way to make a good impression? Present yourself professionally with a beautiful list of your artworks including all the details that the gallery needs with an inventory and art management program like Artwork Archive.
Artist and gallery relationships are partnerships. A strong line of communication and trust is essential. Do your research, remain professional and never stop creating!