When it comes to building an art career, I subscribe to Thomas Jefferson’s view of luck:
I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. ― Thomas Jefferson
In other words, don’t rely on luck to hand you a successful art career. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Every. Single. Day.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves how lucky we are. But every lucky gold coin has a flip side to be aware of.
You’re lucky you can express yourself freely through your art form. We take this for granted, but not everyone in the world can safely get away with doing so.
In many countries, artists are a dangerous lot because they refuse to go along with the status quo and have “outrageous” ideas about democracy and freedom of religion.
Above all, be grateful for freedom of expression.
On the flip side:
You are in charge of your art career.
That means you are the person who decides what to do today, tomorrow, next week, and next month.
If you’re accustomed to a boss telling you where to focus your energy, entrepreneurship probably thumped you on the head with some snide remark like, “You want freedom? Here it is! Go decide for yourself.”
This sounded ideal until you realized how hard it was to prioritize your day, week, year, and life.
If you’re actively looking for opportunities, as you should be, there will be a time when you have more opportunities than you realistically have time for. You’ll be hit with new projects from all sides, and you think it would be lovely to involve yourself in all of them.
Wrong! You can’t take on every project that comes your way.
Intellectually, you understand this. Emotionally, you want to believe you are somehow superhuman.
The projects might be exhibitions, commissions, licensing deals, wholesale contracts teaching possibilities, separate jobs, or something else. They’re all projects that beg for your time, and they sound so exciting!
Your resolve is being tested. Some people call this interior voice a gremlin or troll. I call it the tester when I see it testing how much it can get away with. How serious is he about this other project – really? How good is he at knowing what he wants and needs?
All good entrepreneurs struggle with decisions in moments like these, especially if there is the potential for a big pay off at the end.
This is when you must ask yourself hard questions to help you answer the biggest question of all:
Should I take on this project?
Below are some of the questions I ask my clients, which you might adapt for your own self-interrogation process.
Art Biz Coach has been helping support artists since 2002.
There are 25,000 people on my current email list, and perhaps thousands more who have left that list. There are 9,000 fans on the Art Biz Coach Facebook page, and thousands more that are somehow connected to me.
My point: I’ve crossed paths with a lot of artists.
They buy my book, sign up as a private client, attend a live workshop or event, or learn from me in an online program. Others might comment on a post on my blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.
Every so often I come across some familiar names in an old file or document. They were active in the Art Biz Coach community at one point and have since disappeared.
I wonder what has happened to them. Have they given up their art business? Are they more active on other sites?
While thinking about the engagement level of artists on my list, I wondered if you might have some of the same people in your life.
See if these sound familiar….
When you are ready to be proactive instead of reactive in your art career, look at the naked truth about where you are now.
You improve your chances for big business growth when you track your numbers, which isn’t always a pleasant task.
While it’s difficult to confront low numbers in any category, insist that it’s absolutely necessary when you want to expand.
Your Monthly Business Checkup
For many years at Art Biz Coach, I had a simple Word document that I used to record my numbers. I made a bunch of copies and kept them in a notebook. At the beginning of a new month, I completed the form with the previous month’s results.
My business grew by 25-40% every year as a result! I contribute much of that growth to this tracking procedure.
I didn’t do it when I felt like it. I committed to doing it every month.
I called it my Monthly Business Checkup, and you can easily implement a version of it for your art business.
You have a great relationship with your Web designer and hosting service right now, but you can’t predict what might happen in the future.
I’ve witnessed so many artists stuck because they were abandoned by their webmaster and have no idea how to access their site. Don’t let this happen to you!
You are a savvy artist-entrepreneur, so prepare for the future to make sure you maintain control of your career. In this case, that means overseeing your Internet presence.
Below is a list with all of the information you need from the people who maintain your sites.
People don’t buy what you do or why you do it. They buy how it makes them feel. – Bernadette Jiwa
When I heard Jiwa utter those words on a stage in Denver last year, I had an AHA! moment. I had previously been sucked in by Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk, Start With Why.
People don’t buy what you do, or how you do it. They buy why you do it.
It’s a powerful message that is hard to disagree with, yet it fell short for many artists, who were paralyzed for months or years over the inability to nail their Why.
Jiwa’s quote adds clarification. People buy how it makes them feel.
People buy your art because it makes them feel something.
To find your purpose (your why), all you have to do is remember the connection you are making with others through your art.
If you have an important exhibition coming up, give it the space it deserves. Create a special page on your website just for your show.
You probably already have a page for all of your exhibitions, but I’m talking about a single page that features only your special show.
This will be the premier place you send people for details about your special show.
Why would you only share this info on Facebook or in an email when you can create a storefront for your art? You’re paying for the virtual real estate already. Might as well use it!
Everything will be in one spot rather than scattered around online or in someone’s inbox.
The URL (website address) should be one that’s easy to share and to remember rather than a string of slashes and numbers. This isn’t always as easy if you have a template site, but make it happen if possible.
Here’s what your exhibition page should include:
Every so often, you have to conduct a brain dump.
I hear you asking: What is a brain dump?
A brain dump is a magical process that gets everything out of your head and onto paper. And, yes, I find that paper is where it has to happen. The computer is too distracting.
You know it’s time for a brain dump when you’re overwhelmed. Your head is about to burst, your stomach is fluttering, and your chest feels tight.
You’re feeling like you can’t get all of your tasks done in the time you have, and God bless the poor person who asks you for a favor right now. Oh, boy! Will they ever get an earful!
Another sign it’s time for a brain dump is that you are unfocused – you know that you have a lot to do, but can’t decide what is the best use of your time in this moment.
Brain dump to the rescue!
Here are the 6 steps I recommend for the process.
Step 1: Prepare For Your Brain Dump
I like to begin tasks with focused intention and name the task: Now, I am sitting down to get whatever is in my head onto this piece of paper. Sometimes I even
There are no set steps that can take you from the beginning of your art career to the pinnacle of success.
I know you would feel much more at ease if I could advise you to first do this, and then do that, and then do this other thing, and if you follow each step precisely, you’ll be assured a spot in the history books. But I can’t do that.
What I can do is give you some sort of idea of the phases artists work through over the course of their careers: a timeline of artists’ career moves from just starting out to the highest levels of establishing and cementing a reputation.
First, a word of caution: Because an article is linear, you might read this and think that you have to implement one step before you can move on to the next step. This isn’t the case.
I can’t come up with a single artist who has hit on each one of these points.
Artists who are full of confidence and forging their own paths can jump past entire sections!
Hopefully this list will plant the seeds for your next move.
Beginning Your Art Career
Start your mailing list immediately. You will have no idea what to do with this, but trust me. Just
Your art opening is not the end. It’s only the beginning.
It’s common for artists to be bummed after an opening. So much work went into making the art, promoting the event, and installing it. No wonder you’re deflated when you wake up the next morning.
This is when you must soldier on. You have artwork hanging in a public space, and it’s the perfect time to get some things done that couldn’t happen if your art had stayed in the studio.
The fun starts now with these 5 To Dos.
1. Schedule a Photo Shoot
When your work is hung in a beautiful setting, you want pictures!
This is no time for amateur hour. You need fantastic photos to use in your promotions and to document the occasion.
Get photos of: