4 Ways to Graduate to a More Fulfilling Art Career

Whether or not you are getting a diploma this month, you can still participate in the springtime graduation ritual.

Take stock of the things you’re doing that are holding you at the same place and make a plan to graduate away from them and toward something better.

Consider these four ways to graduate your career to a higher level.

graduates throwing their mortarboards in the air

1. Graduate to getting paid what you’re worth.

It doesn’t serve anyone when you undercharge for your art. Doing so gives collectors a false idea about the value of art, while making other artists white-hot angry because they need to make a living from the sales of their work.

Undercharging also makes you bitter because you know you’re not getting paid what the work is worth.

2. Graduate to accepting 100% responsibility for your success.

You are the CEO of your art business. This means you’re in charge – of everything.

You take the blame for inaction and failure, but you also reap the rewards of success.

Recognize that every day counts. Postponing your marketing or studio time means postponing your career, your income, and your happiness.

3. Graduate to better venues for your art.

If you are repeatedly showing in the same safe venues and exhibitions, you are stuck.

If you have been showing in the same coffee shop year after year, look into a reputable co-op.

If you keep entering the same media-specific shows, start mingling with non-watercolorists, -quilters, or -photographers.

You want to radiate progress. Make it a goal to show potential collectors, curators, and gallerists that you are constantly advancing.

4. Graduate to getting help when you need it.

The thought that you can do everything yourself is sooooo yesterday.

No one has ever built a profitable, sustainable business on his or her own. There is a point when every owner of a moneymaking business must seek help.

You were put on this earth to make art and share it. When you spend your time trying to be graphic designer, bookkeeper, housekeeper, or lawn mower, you are separated from your life purpose.

Hiring help will sting your pocketbook at first, but you will see a better bottom line when you’re not trying to do it all on your own.

Are you ready to graduate?

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17 comments to 4 Ways to Graduate to a More Fulfilling Art Career

  • I just hired out some of my marketing and bookkeeping-to my daughter, so it was easy. But still, it’s very freeing to know these things are taken care of and I can go paint!

  • I so needed this post today! Thank you! Now to get to work….

  • This is the Best Post! For me, it is like a cyber kick in the britches or a bucket of cold water splashed on my face. Thank you, Alyson!

  • Rance C. Holiman

    Very good tips on ways to graduate to a more fulfilling art career. I specially liked steps 3 and 4. Expanding where you show at, not doing the same show every year. Also understanding that one can not do everything themself,,make a lot of sense. Thanks

  • Thank you Alyson. The timing on this brief and precise article is incredible. A couple of days ago I passed on an invitation to show along with 50 other amateur painters in a crowded location, and the show would be taking a lot of my attention and time. It was my gut feeling that told me to lean back, focus more on improving my work, contact a local art gallery and then go out and find a couple of smaller venues with 1-2 other artists. I can recognize the eagerness to show my work, and the lack of confidence to put a decent price on them as a universal challenge to budding artists. Growing pains, I guess

  • I’m going for 3! It’s been hard, and takes patience because I’m saying no to things. But things seem to be trickling in now. I’m thinking of it as a fresh start. The hardest was saying no to a summer show I’ve done for 12 years. It’s been a difficult year financially so it was difficult when when the sign-up email came to stick to my “no”. Then was a couple of friends tried to convince me, to say “no” again.

    4 is happening too. I’m paying someone to stretch a large canvas for me, for the first time ever. My hand joints will thank me.

  • You know Alyson, there was something in each point you made that really hit home with me. I am at the point where I know I have to really push myself out of my comfort zone to try some new things (and new venues) and to think about things in a different way. Number 4 is probably the hardest for me, but is definitely something I need to consider.

  • Tom

    Thanks Alyson, great article. Number one was a tough one for me personally, but when the reality hit that unless I started to be more realistic with what I was selling at and charging for commissions (ie stop underselling/undervaluing) I was going to have to subsidize my art income with another job that would massively set back my business. This was a big kick up the necessary to get on with it, get real and get more professional, and I haven’t looked back since. A really good point regards undervaluing work and its affect on other artists and peoples perceptions too.

    Number two I find very exciting and liberating, but of course scary at times. Number 3 is a definate one for me to look at, graduating from local markets, onto art fairs, onto solo exhibitions and ‘better’ venues can feel like big leaps sometimes but I guess stops the business from becoming to stagnant.

    Number 4 is a good one – even for little things was and is a suprisingly tough one. Somethings I like to do myself where as others like book keeping/accounts, a lot of printing, framing etc have all been great to outsource after getting over the initial hump of paying someone else. I can all ready see how down the line I will require more and more…..will definately be checking back on this post to make sure I keep pushing to graduate!!! Thanks

  • Great post Alyson. I realized it was time for “fresh eyes” to look at my work and my website, so I took part in a critique series by a well known watercolor painter and hired a professional to update at my website. Both helped a tremendous amount. They saw places for improvement that I didn’t see and saved me time/energy from focusing on the wrong things.

  • This reminder to stay focused and graduate to newer venues was spot on today. I was going to enter the same old shows and this kicked me back into action. I know what I need to do and now I take on the challenge to get my art into the local shops. Thanks for the reminder, I am the boss.

  • Hey Alyson. What a great post! I can’t believe I missed this one when it was originally published. This is excellent advice for any artist. Actually, points 1,2, and 4 apply to any business. What I really like is that it limits the focus to only 4 key areas. That’s empowering…. anybody can do it!

  • Hi Alyson.
    Thank you so much for this post. I have made many changes this summer and have come to an almost stand still. I have been asking myself these questions and have not known how to move forward. You have it! I need to show my work in new places and rethink and redesign my marketing and get paid my worth….that’s a biggie huh? And be the boss that I can be so well. Mix it up and find new artist friends….wow…Just get it done! Love your input…thanks again Alyson You are very good at what you do!
    Tina