9 Things You Should Give Up to Be a Successful Artist

Katie Carey | July 3, 2017 (Updated July 7, 2023)

As artists, we are often told to take every opportunity that comes our way.

You never know who could be in attendance at that next gallery opening, what connections you will find at that event, or what could lead to future opportunities.

But, sometimes, it’s less about saying “yes” and more about knowing what’s ok to give up.

Habits, as you likely know if you were ever a nail-biter, can be incredibly hard to break. The invisible mental habits of ours can be even more difficult to overcome, but because of this, even more important.

So, give yourself permission to quit these things. And, give yourself the time and patience to break the habits.

Give up on the “not enough” mind frame

Successful artists don’t frame things around “not enough.” There is never enough time, not enough money, not enough confidence, not enough of whatever it is at that moment to make or do what you need to do to be a successful artist.

“They all point to an underlying fear of not being enough,” says art mentor and creator of The Working Artist, Crista Cloutier. “And, once you can deal with that underlying fear, the other issues fall into place.”

Give up comparisons

Here’s the thing about comparisons: you are always going to be better at some things than other people, and worse at other things. Dwelling on either isn’t going to get you anywhere.

It can stifle your creativity as an emerging artist to compare yourself to someone who is twenty years into their career, and it can stunt your growth to compare your work to someone who is just starting out.

Instead of focusing on how you stack up next to someone else, invest that energy into comparing your recent work with the work you made six months ago, a year ago and five years ago. Have you grown? And where do you want to see yourself six months, a year, and five years in the future?

Only compare yourself to yourself.

Give up on making excuses

If you want to be a successful artist, you have to show up. You have to do the work.

If you are like any other artist in the world, you probably have said to yourself at one time something along the lines of, “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.]”

And you know what? It feels good to do that. It feels justified and 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 busywork, or Netflix, or self-doubt, or procrastination, or rejection, that stops of from showing up and making our 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.

Give up working all the time

Sure, you have to show up to the studio even when you don’t want to do the work. But, you also have to know when to leave and when to take the time to take care of your body, your health, and your emotional and social well-being.

You can’t make your best work if you aren’t investing in your body and mind as well.

We have seen artists sacrifice both of these in the name of their craft. But, you need your body on the most basic of levels to create your work. Successful artists know that their success is a marathon and not a sprint, so you need to maintain your health to stay in the game.

Make time in your schedule to stretch, exercise, go for walks, cook healthy meals and have conversations with your peers, family, and friends.

Give up taking uninformed advice to heart

  • “When are you going to get a real job?”
  • “When are you going to grow up?”
  • “At what point does an artist realize they are not talented enough to ‘make it’”
  • “Must be nice not to have to work.”
  • “Must be nice to only work when you feel like it.”

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.

Give up perfectionism

This goes hand-in-hand with the fear of failure. Artists who obsess on the need to make everything perfect often are afraid of failure. But, the irony in this is that they then fail to ever put anything out there.

The only path to growth is putting your work out to the public. The hard reality is that you will probably fail over the course of your art career (however you define that). You will not get grants, you will have a show that flops, you will have a great idea that just doesn’t materialize. The comforting part of this is that so will everyone else.

“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.

“Failure just means you are learning,” adds Bonnie. “Keep failing, because you will be learning your entire career.”

Give up feeling selfish

Everyone contributes to the world in their own way.

We need doctors and lawyers and teachers, but we also need artists and craftsman and creatives that make our world interesting, vibrant and enjoyable.

Your challenge is to find out what you are at your core and then do it.

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got,” writes Steven Pressfield in his new book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

Artists often feel guilty for not having a “real” job and that they should be contributing more to the family income. They then either feel guilty when they are in the studio away from their family or away from the studio and not working. 

But, guilt is counterproductive emotion. If you find yourself feeling this way, remind yourself that your work is important and needed - it is what makes you whole and able to contribute more fully to your family when you are there.

Give up your need for praise

You might want everyone to like your work, but that’s not going to happen. And, in fact, it’s better that not everyone does like your work.

“It’s really scary putting yourself out there, especially when your work is so personal and then allowing the world to view it and judge it and critique it,” 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.

As an artist, it isn’t your job to sell the most mass-produced canvases at Target. Your job is to say something and to reach someone.

Ask yourself if you would make the work you make today if no one would ever see it. Would you paint or sculpt or draw that if you couldn’t show it to anyone?

It’s easy to get wrapped up in social media praise and the rush of a lot of “likes” on a piece you have posted online. But, successful artists know that their growth comes from within and not from external praise.

Give up on the myth of the scattered, genius artist

Successful artists know that they have to be organized to get ahead.

Oftentimes artists will try and wiggle out of this by saying something along the lines of “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.

So often, artists will accidentally sell a piece online that is also in a gallery, just because they didn’t have a system in place.

That’s why at Artwork Archive, we create the tools that artists need to take the chaos out of their art career. Inventory, business reports, consignment and invoices, scheduling, contacts, tracking and more.

Give it a trial run today and see how Artwork Archive can improve your art business and help you on your way to career success.  

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