Can having an emerging artist mindset benefit your career long-term?
An emerging artist mindset pushes you to grow your art business no matter where you are in your art career.
No matter what stage you are in with your art career, you can benefit from adopting the mindset and practices of an emerging artist.
“Emerging” and “established” are common art world categorizers that can be both helpful to understand various art career milestones and when applying for the right opportunities, but labels can also be limiting. After all, we’d like to think that we are all in a continual process of emergence.
“Emerging” is at one end of the art career spectrum while “established” is at the other end and “early-career” and “mid-career” fall in the nebula in-between the two. So which are you and does it matter?
“Emerging artist” typically refers to an artist who has yet to have a solo show, but there is no one rubric for qualifying each art career categorization. There is wisdom to be had within each stage of an art career and the work and attitudes you adopt in each stage can be equally as fruitful as your progress in your career.
We love the freedom, experimentation, and entrepreneurship that emerging artists embody.
If you are at the beginning of your art career, double down on emerging strategies. If you’re looking to shake up how you operate or push yourself for further career growth, adopting an emerging mindset might be just what you need.
Create your own opportunities like an emerging artist
Harness the inventiveness of an emerging artist to rethink how you approach and create opportunities for yourself in your art career.
An emerging artist most likely does not have their work inside galleries yet, so a savvy emerging artist will create their own opportunities to exhibit. New venues for displaying art are a win-win. Innovatively presenting your art gives your resume a nice new exhibition line and helps you find new audiences and even attract curators and gallerists.
Even established artists are finding that gallery representation is not the only or even the best way to show and sell work. There are so many interesting places to show art and partnerships to be had when you think outside of the white cube.
A key part of being an emerging artist is that you’re in a constant state of learning. Genuine curiosity and an authentic desire to learn and form connections are magnetic.
How can you go about creating your own opportunities?
Reach out to your artist peers and organize a show: You can mix up how you show work not just for a solo show, but as a way to present your art with other artists you admire. If you’ve been working for a while you have the benefit of knowing which artist’s work you respect. If you’re new to an art career, seek out other emerging artists who are also looking for opportunities to show their work.
Just as you may have aspirations for locations to exhibit, who are artists or people in the industry you admire? Make a list and channel the openness of an emerging artist and reach out.
Re-create a space that you admire in a DIY way: List four places you’ve always wanted to show work. Why do these places appeal to you? Are there characteristics and elements of showing your work here that you could replicate in a DIY or alternative setting?
Re-think the traditional venues for showing your artwork: Think of what a typical exhibit looks or feels like, and then invert it. Successful art shows have taken place on fences, as popups, outdoors, and in other unconventional places. Your viewers will thank you for your innovation. Since you are your own exhibitor, you have the power to go full-blown creative and pave your own path.
You can pitch a solo or group show to a venue that already has a visitorship, like a local shop, or as a part of an already established art walk. The worst that can happen is you’ll get a “no” but the silver lining to a “no” is that you’ve already widened your network. That shop that you pitched an exhibit to may refer you to a better fit or think of you in the future.
A beautiful thing about an emerging mentality is that you’re open to anything and to everything. Short-term and long-term partnerships and opportunities are at the tip of your fingers when you are approaching your art goals with a “yes and” framework.
Lean into experimentation to free yourself from your creative habits
Emerging artists have the freedom to explore and build their style without the pressure of past successes. Oftentimes the mediums and themes an emerging artist uses are their first inspirations and what made them excited about being an artist.
As you progress in your art career and develop your physical art practice, you’ll probably depart some from the freeing experimentation you did as a beginner artist. Tapping into your beginner's curiosity and creativity allows you to make mistakes and re-engage your love of creating art.
If you’re feeling stuck in your art practice or want to expand your creativity, allow yourself to step back and play.
Great art doesn’t come from standing at your easel one time.
Great art is a product of the many experiments and work that you’ve created. Your best works are not an isolated product but the reflection of all your time spent building up to that moment of art creation.
Here are three ways to experiment with your art-making:
Visit old themes and processes: Do the emerging artist mindset justice by going back to create works on themes or in mediums/processes that were important to you deciding to pursue art.
Produce in a way that is opposite from your normal method. This could be creating outside if you create inside, creating at a different time of the day, or creating in a medium that is opposite from your current or preferred medium.
Create with different art history movements as style inspiration. Choose one theme to create on and then make it five different art historical styles. Yes, Cubism, Pointillism, Dada, Abstract Expressionism, Art Deco, and countless others are rooted in specific moments in time, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from shifting your style of creation. You might find that elements of one of these art movements expand your work.
Embrace the idea of gradual growth and progress
Most artists steadily build their careers over the course of their lifetime.
Being able to grow in your practice and art business allows you to find your artistic voice and settle into yourself as a career artist. When you embrace the process, you'll experiment in various styles, take time to collaborate with other artists, and develop strong connections in your art community.
While the idea of being discovered at a young age or immediately out of art school is very appealing, there are drawbacks to immediate recognition. If you gain viewership or other coveted art career milestones straight away you risk becoming a blip on an art world radar. A rush of success can set you up for more stress and pressure if you don’t have a foundation of art business experience or the skills to quickly adapt.
If you’ve gained early career recognition, wonderful! Now work to sustain that rush of accomplishment throughout the entirety of your career.
How can you embrace gradual growth to strengthen your career?
Reflect on what you wanted at the start of your career: List out three things that you wanted to do as an early artist. Have you made progress on these goals? Can you set out action steps that will propel you towards these goals?
Harness the business drive of a beginner: Outside of benefitting your art creation, a slow and steady artist career allows you to build, fine-tune, and perfect the business side of your art career. Revisit the drive of an emerging artist to take on and learn every aspect of how to manage the business of art.
Stay open to opportunities and staying on top of your presence. Artists in later stages of their career may not be as attentive to updating their website, having a social media presence, or detailing their income and expenses.
Don’t stop establishing yourself as an artist. All artists benefit from the organizational and career management aspects of growing an art career. Get excited about the fact that you’re an artist and have business needs; admin is necessary but doesn’t have to be a bore. The fact that you have administrative responsibilities is a testament to your production as an artist!
Collaborate don’t compete
An emerging artist is laser-focused on developing their own career.
You can adopt that mindset of a beginner to help shake unhelpful comparisons.
Since there are so many different types of art careers and no one way to find success, competition will only leave you feeling isolated. You will always have more followers than some artists and fewer than others. You will always be further along in your career and behind others. You will know more about a certain technique than a peer and less than someone else.
Comparing yourself to where you are currently to others doesn't help you get further along. Only putting in the time and effort helps you get further.
If you happen to catch yourself getting caught up in comparison, you can check your feelings by doing the following:
Remind yourself that there is no one way to have an art career. Artists “make it” in different ways and at different points in their careers. Behind the illusion of success is struggle and work that isn’t always visible. You may not have gallery representation or hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, but your art career may be more financially stable or predictable than the artists you see online.
Reject competition. Competition is not only not productive, but it's also not beneficial. Being collaborative is not only a way for you to be kinder to yourself, but it will benefit your career. Emerging artists are always looking to learn from other artists. Adopt this collaborative approach to generate strong connections that will fortify you in your career as you become a generative part of your artist community.
Embrace collaboration as a way to build community: Collaboration sparks creativity and forges bonds that form healthy relationships. Community creates good, be that through opportunities that arise because people like to work with you and be around you, or referrals from other artists in your circle. Like a newcomer in an already established art community, look to learn, connect, share, and bring yourself genuinely to interactions.
Think of how you can contribute when approaching opportunities. Seek out other artists who you admire and be welcoming to newer artists.
The road to an art career is long and winding.
You can make the journey more enjoyable and successful by embracing the mindset of an emerging artist as you continue along your path.