Most artists I know thrive on going into the studio and creating art. Sure, the artistic process can be a struggle at times but it seems like that drive to conceive of and execute ideas is simply a part of your DNA.
Instead, all of the questions I receive from the artists I work with in my coaching sessions are related to running a profitable art studio. For example, many artists run into marketing challenges like designing an effective website or developing a consistent pricing strategy for their body of work. In fact, many artists I know tell me that what they’ve been taught about the business of art can be summed up by this statement:
“You create art. A gallery will discover your work. The gallery will take care of all the business, marketing and sales aspects of your art career. The End”.
Sadly, that notion is no longer valid for most contemporary artists in today’s art market - if it ever was. These days, many artists are not represented by a gallery. This may be temporary or permanent. It may be by choice or because they have not found the right fit (yet). Whatever the reason, if you don’t have gallery representation you are left to your own devices when it comes to marketing and selling your work.
So you better learn to be good at it.
Even if you are currently represented by a gallery it’s unlikely that they can afford to dedicate their staff’s time to help you deal with your business challenges. Your gallery is too busy schlepping your work to art fairs, organizing exhibitions and selling your work - in short, keeping their head above water in the ruthlessly competitive maelstrom of art fairs and online sales platforms that is today’s global art market.
Obtaining Success In The Art Market Is Not Easy
Let’s be clear about this. Obtaining success in the art market is not easy. In fact, the work of many artists will not make it to the secondary market. This statement is supported by the numbers. In 2017, works by c. 52,105 living and deceased artists appeared at auction. One percent of these names accounted for the majority of sales value: 64% (Source: Art Basel & UBS Art Market Report 2018, Dr. Clare McAndrew).
What I’m getting at here is that in today’s contemporary art market, creating great art is not enough to make it. In order to achieve success as an artist you need to be proactive and business-savvy. You need to know how to run a profitable art studio. You need to know how to present your art in the best possible way, both online and offline. You need to know how to negotiate sales with collectors and representation agreements with galleries. And in the cases where you can’t do it on your own, you need to know when to get professional advice, for example from a lawyer.
In other words, you have a better chance at being successful if you acquire business, marketing and sales skills and learn how to apply them to your art business. However, if nobody taught you those skills, or worse, if you were told that it’s not appropriate for an artist to be pro-active in the pursuit of your career goals, you’ll run into problems.
A passive mindset combined with a lack of business skills is highly damaging to your long-term success as an artist.
I really want to drive this point home.
Even though being business-savvy has become less of a taboo in the art world in recent years, I still come across artists who don’t know how to take charge of their art career. They think it reflects badly on them to be proactive. Other artists feel entitled to representation and resent the art market when they don’t get what they want fast enough.
The reality is that artists have to hustle to get ahead as much as the rest of us. So instead of clinging to the hopelessly romantic but passive notion that you need to be a starving artist in order to be successful, and that you can hide in your studio until that dream gallery finds you, try to see yourself in a different, more positive and proactive light.
Making a living as a fine artist is a vocation. It is a career choice with significant financial consequences - let’s face it, there are easier ways to make money. But here’s the deal. When you decided to pursue a career as a fine artist you committed to a career path that was not clear or financially secure in any way. In fact, you had to learn how to carve your own path.
You, dear reader, chose to be an entrepreneur.
You heard me right. You are an entrepreneur. Do you have any idea how much of a badass you need to be in order to make that choice? Hustling for sales, getting comfortable with rejection (by galleries or collectors or both) while supporting yourself on a highly irregular or non-existent income.
Perhaps you have a day job to support you while you create your art in the little time you have available to you in the evenings and on weekends. While your friends are roaming the dive bars of New York City, texting you to ask where the heck you are, you are in your studio plugging away at your next painting or sculpture.
This blog post is an extract from the first chapter of the book ‘How To Become A Successful Artist in 7 Steps’ by Annelien Bruins. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.
Whatever your personal situation is right now, when you decided that you wanted to make a living as a fine artist (despite the well-meaning advice from your parents to become a lawyer, doctor or accountant instead) you made the incredibly courageous choice to take charge of your own future doing something you know you were meant to do.
But guess what…making the choice is the first step. Now you need to go out there and make it happen. As you know the art world is a highly competitive place, and as you’ll find out soon enough, it’s not easy to stand out among your equally talented peers out there.
This is where many artists, understandably, get stuck. Somewhere along the line someone told them to assume a passive, almost submissive approach to their art career. They were told that their best option is to wait around for a gallery or a collector to show up, like a good little kid waiting in line for the candy to be handed out.
“Making money from your art should be secondary to your artistic goals…Art sells itself…Being proactive is frowned upon in the contemporary art world”.
Blah, blah and blah.
The reality is that you have a lot more control over your own success than you might think. But you have to allow yourself to take control. So let’s get to work.