Most successful artists I know have an excellent understanding of the fundamental notions of what it takes to be successful at running their art business; either instinctively, through trial and error or because they gained business experience in another career. Below are five examples of what I see successful artists doing that you can replicate fairly easily in your own career.
1 Strong Personal Relationships
Successful artists put time and effort into building strong, long-lasting personal relationships with their supporters, collectors, curators and galleries. They understand that the cliche “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is actually true. They are supportive of their peers. Building a strong network over time is your most important asset.
In contrast, the artists who I see struggling tend to view relationships as purely transactional. For example, they only call their collectors when they want to push a work. They view their peers as competition and consequently don’t build relationships with them: a huge mistake. Artists obtain gallery representation through recommendations from their peers all the time. Additionally, being able to share your experiences and compare notes with a fellow artist is hugely valuable.
2 A Professional, Positive Attitude
Successful artists understand that they have a better chance of being picked up by a gallery if they present a professional image, both off- and online. Of course the gallery will have to feel a connection with your art, but a professional-looking, well-curated website, high quality photographs of your artworks and a concise artist statement will give the gallery the confidence to establish a working relationship with you. They know you’re invested enough in your own career to make an effort. Finding a gallery has a lot in common with dating. You really want to prepare yourself to give a good impression on that first date.
Artists who struggle, on the other hand, believe that art should sell itself and that they don’t need to have a professional website or an engaging Instagram account: they believe that their gallery will take care of that. They don’t understand that having a professional presence, particularly online, will actually help them to get that gallery representation.
3 Having The Grit To Keep Going
Successful artists understand that success is not achieved overnight: it requires hard work and persistence. They set realistic goals. They don’t expect to be represented by a major international gallery the day they get out of art school. They understand that building a successful career takes time and that the best way to get there is taking baby steps that will lead to bigger opportunities. They savor the successes, however small, and consider working on their art career as an investment in their future.
Artists who struggle, on the other hand, try their hand at something for 2 weeks (establishing a presence on Instagram; sending out email marketing campaigns; trying to find a suitable gallery) and abandon their efforts if there is no immediate result.
They often have an all-or-nothing attitude. An example of this is an artist who has not had an exhibition in a while but refuses to work with a smaller or mid-level gallery because they believe they should only accept an offer from a gallery like David Zwirner. Or they believe they should not participate in group shows because they deserve a solo show. But guess what. Who do you think a gallery will be more interested in giving a solo show? An artist who has a solid resume with 10 group exhibitions with small but reputable galleries or an artist who has had 0 exhibitions because they are sitting around in their studio waiting for their big solo break?
4 Treating Their Studio As A Business
Successful artists understand the importance of keeping their studio and archives up to date: to protect themselves, their collectors, their market and ultimately, their artistic legacy. They build routines around the mundane tasks associated with running a studio: they keep track of their invoices and their art gets photographed when it leaves the studio (or they delegate this to their studio assistant). Knowing that they have taken care of business gives them the headspace to go into the studio and create.
Artists who struggle believe that any kind of routine is detrimental to their creative process. Consequently, their art does not get documented nor properly photographed, records aren’t kept and they haven’t updated their mailing list in two years, let alone sent out an email to their followers. Not only does this approach cause unnecessary chaos in the short term but over the long term it can be disastrous for your career and your artistic legacy.
5 Not Taking Rejection Personally
Lastly, successful artists understand that their work is not for everybody. They view rejection as an opportunity to stop spending time on pursuing galleries and collectors who aren’t interested. Instead, they focus their energy on pursuing more suitable opportunities. Artists who struggle believe that they are owed gallery representation and resent the art market when that does not happen or when it does not happen fast enough. We all know that rejection can be difficult but I also know from experience that you learn a great deal from it and move on to better things as a result.