Here’s the truth: the art world is not an easy one to figure out on your own.
Very rarely can any single artist or person solve every problem on their own—without the help or guidance of someone else. There’s always someone who either has more expertise than you or has been in your exact same shoes. If you have a problem, why not ask for their help to fix it?
Especially in a career where you are expected to fill so many different roles, you can't know everything out of the gate. Plus, rarely are artists taught about the business side of things, though we are required to wear all the hats imaginable—entrepreneur, marketer, accountant, sales expert, inventory manager, etc.
New and unexpected questions inevitably pop up and problems are bound to arise as your career develops.
What's more, a career in the arts also comes with a lot of emotional side effects that can damper your chances at success if you don't get them under control. There is more rejection, vulnerability and self-doubt in the arts than many other fields.
That’s where art coaches come into the picture. More and more artists are looking to art coaches to help guide them along their career path and provide both practical and emotional support along their path.
We talked to three art coaches shaking up the art world right now. Here’s what they said:
Why do artists seek out art coaches?
We spoke with art coach and mastermind behind The Working Artist, Crista Cloutier, who suggested that more and more people are finding success through coaches. Coaches help athletes, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and people across all disciples find growth, meaning, and success in their careers.
If people that are top in their field—people like Oprah and Obama—are using career coaches, Crista asks, "why not artists?"
But what artists are looking for when they turn to art coaches? What does an art coach provide for an artist, and is it worth the time and financial investment?
Do you need someone to hold you accountable? Are you looking to add to your skillset by furthering your education in marketing and business? Maybe you are feeling that if you had someone to empower you and be in your court, you could make that next big leap with your new confidence?
Crista suggests that most artists come to her for something quite simple. They are looking for support.
"Support is something that all artists crave, and that’s probably the top reason that artists choose to work with me,” Crista says. “New questions and situations arise all the time, and having someone on your team gives you confidence that you’re handling your professional relationships gracefully.”
Sergio Gomez, artist and co-founder of Art NXT Level, understands how hard it can be to gain this confidence on your own.
“A lot of times artists come to me when they feel stuck in some aspect of their art career. Often, as artists, we are calling all the shots and making all the decisions without an outside, objective perspective.”
The common theme among the coaches we spoke with was that art coaches can help you see things that you aren't seeing in your own business and practice. Just like coaches or mentors in other areas of life, art coaches help artists who feel stuck creatively, are having difficulty growing the business side of things, or simply need some third-party guidance.
Catherine Orer of The Artist Entrepreneur found the same thing with her clients. “Getting support, training, and feedback from someone who is not emotionally involved, and who has no expectations, can help you make giant leaps forward—more than you ever anticipated.”
It’s not a secret that in an entrepreneurial field like the visual arts, figuring out the path ahead comes with new challenges at every stage. No matter what point you are at in your art career, even when you think you have things figured out, the tables can turn on you.
Orer says that artists come to her, "Either because they want to start an art business and want to make sure they are creating the right plan so they don't waste time and energy with guesswork, or because they've reached a plateau in their career and want support figuring out their next steps."
She then works with those artists to put an ambitious plan together and helps identify what behaviors or patterns have been keeping them from reaching their goals.
"It's also important to note that when artists look for coaching it is not necessarily because something is going wrong," Gomez adds. "Perhaps things are already going great and the coaching helps to keep the momentum going and maximizes the opportunities ahead.”
In other words, he says, "coaching accelerates progress.”
What trends do coaches see among artists looking to improve?
Sales, marketing, and recognition all came out on top of the list of the biggest trends that coaches are seeing artists looking to master.
“Everybody needs to make money somehow," exclaims Sergio Gomez.
Just because you make art, doesn't mean you shouldn't make money. In fact, making more money from your art allows artists to more freely and comfortably, keep making art. Having a hold on your finances will help you make the art you want to make. It keeps you from taking jobs or commissions out of fear and panic.
In order to do so, you need to understand the basics of sales and marketing.
“Particularly for older artists, marketing is a big issue that they want to address.” Sergio adds, “How to promote and market your art in the world today is changing at a faster pace than before—especially when you consider that social media is an ever-changing platform.”
Coaches like Sergio stay on top of changing social media marketing trends and can help guide their students while making a social media strategy for their artwork. Because strategies are constantly evolving and algorithms are changing, coaches help educate their clients on the latest changes so that artists don't waste their money on ads or strategies that don't work anymore.
But artists are also looking for more than just new ways to sell their work.
Artists also come to coaches because "they are overwhelmed and need to restructure the way they are conducting business to get better results,” according to Catherine's experience. Developing sales skills, getting organized, prioritizing, getting better at promoting themselves and being visible online and offline—these are all issues that coaches are helping artists improve.
Which leads us to the big question … how?
How exactly does working with an art coach help improve your career in the arts?
Sometimes it's best not to go it alone. Successful people in all fields know that they need to ask for help. That extra level of support means more progress, faster. Just as you may hire a coach for a specific sport to get your athletic goals faster, an art coach helps motivate, guide and provide feedback to get to your artistic and career goals.
“Coaching provides that individual attention to identify the obstacles standing in your way, and more importantly, define the strategies to overcome them in an effective and timely manner,” explains Sergio.
Working with a coach helps artists identify where the gaps are in their businesses and then allows you to address them together, one by one, suggests Catherine.
It’s all about developing a plan of action specific to each artist.
“My clients and I work as a team because every artist and situation is unique,” she continues, “so we decide together what is the best course of action for them.”
How do artists choose the right coach?
The first thing that artists should look out for and avoid are quick-fix solutions. If someone online is promising to show you how they grew their business to X amount of dollars, it won't necessarily work for your business.
Every artist and every art business is different.
“What will work great for one artist, might not give the same results for another one," Catherine says of finding the right art coach. "That's why artists need to be careful of claims like ‘I can show you how I made money’ because chances are that approach won't work for them, even if they follow all the steps."
“A good coach asks the right questions instead of giving a cookie-cutter approach," warns Crista. "That’s why it’s important to choose a coach who’s had a wide variety of professional experiences and can see the bigger picture,” explains The Working Artist mentor.
“As far as what an artist receives from working with a coach, I believe that it differs for everyone. Each artist is on a unique journey, that’s what makes the creative path so perilous.”
Don’t mistake one-size-fits-all solutions as a replacement for mastering the basics.
“Education about the art business is imperative because it really is a business unlike any other. Navigating it without a clear understanding can really slow an artist’s trajectory and even hurt their reputation,” Crista advises.
With so many options available to artists these days, Catherine suggests that before you even start your search for the right one, you should get clear on what you are looking to get out of the process and the reasons why you want to work with a coach. Knowing your own goals will help you find the right coach for your needs.
Crista believes strongly in the role that art coaches can take in an artist's life. “Working with a coach and taking professional practices training is the best investment an artist can make in their career."
For those reasons, she also stresses that you ask questions about the coaches background and experiences and find someone who has a message that speaks to you. Especially for those that find an online or skype coach, "You want to feel confident that there is a 'real person' on the other side," she adds.
What can artists do today to improve their business?
Luckily, there are more ways than ever to succeed as an artist today. There are more opportunities online, less need for representation, a captivated audience on social media, and an increasing amount of fairs and galleries popping up around the world.
To improve your art business, Sergio acknowledges that artists need to be more strategic than ever in this atmosphere.
"No coach owns the keys to success, because there are endless options," he says of his own coaching experience. "What artists need to do is define what they want, understand the gap between where they are now and where they want to be and execute according to that narrative with laser focus.”
Of course, investing in things like art coaches, books, residencies, workshops, and educational programs will enhance your career.
"[However] at the end of the day, you only get what you put in,” contends Crista. “You have to do the work. You have to apply yourself and do the tasks and answer the deeper questions that an art coach will pose.”
“I’ve seen artists sign up for online courses and flounder because they thought that just signing up would magically transform their career. And I’ve seen artists apply themselves, do the work like it was a job, and then watch their sales and professional opportunities explode as they achieve success beyond their dreams.”
“Success is in your hands—if you’re willing to focus and do the work,” assures Crista.
Catherine agrees wholeheartedly: “Don't expect miracles. You'll get as much from a coaching relationship as you are willing to put into it.”
The bottom line? Crista suggests that “if you want someone to make an investment in you and your work, you have to be willing to make that investment first. And that investment always shows."