You have to start somewhere. Your career might begin in childhood when a parent praises a class assignment and hangs it on the refrigerator. You move on to making work for family and friends and it gets seen in private homes. Everyone encourages you, so you put your art at the local coffee shop.
Your art might sell and it might not sell at the coffee shop. You don’t care. Okay you kinda care, but heck! You have a free place to hang your art. So you keep putting it there over and over again. Why not? It’s comfortable.
That’s precisely when you know it’s time to move on. When something starts feeling too easy, you must reevaluate and make sure it’s serving your goals. You’ll never get anywhere by playing it safe. Moving beyond your comfort zone is a big step, but necessary if you want more from your art.
After the coffee shop, you might show at bookstores, libraries, banks, and then enter juried exhibits. What I have found is that many artists get hung up right about here. Acceptance into juried exhibitions seems to be the be-all, end-all. But it’s not. There is much life after juried exhibits, and you need to know when it’s time to move on.
Juried exhibitions are great for building your confidence and testing the waters. They’re not usually great for sales or exposure. (Yes, I know, there are exceptions.)
You need solo exhibitions for a more satisfying career. Even an open studio or a restaurant showing–when done right–can be more beneficial to your career than the juried exhibition.
Always be thinking about your next step. Is it gallery representation? A better arts festival? A two-person exhibition at a nonprofit space? Curating your own exhibit? Getting your work into a museum collection?
Whatever your next step may be, know when it’s time to get uncomfortable and move on.