As the story goes, “I am working at a job that I don’t enjoy because I don’t feel that I can make a living as an artist.” This is something that I too often hear from very talented people. It has been increasingly frustrating for me, hearing such disappointments from artists or people seeking to be artists. This has been disheartening, which inspired me to create the Successful Artist Workshop Series. It is very rewarding for me to share the diversity of my real-life experiences as an artist, art business owner and art educator. This information has helped many artists experience greater success and fulfillment.
There are two fundamental reasons why most artists do not find the success they seek and resort to leaving their soulful artistic interests for something less creative and less satisfying. The first reason why very talented artists will not find success is that they are not marketing to their particular markets. Only about ten percent find their market in the area where they happen to live. That means about ninety percent of artists are marketing conveniently where they live which is usually not their ideal market. If you are productive enough and sell enough to make a living, then you must be considering the size of your market and what quantity and quality of markets you have. All artists truly need a diversity of markets to survive and thrive. An artist’s biggest market could be one thousand miles away from where she or he lives. It is distressing for me to hear from discouraged artists, sharing with me that they have given up on their ambitions of fulfilling their dreams of being a successful artist. I will ask them, “Where were you trying to display, exhibit or sell your artworks?” The artist’s friends, neighbors and community can only supply a limited amount of support.
Secondly, an artist attempting to operate his or her art business without the fundamental business procedures and understandings is destined to fail, no matter how wonderful the artwork is. This is true of any successful business; good business practices with the intention of being successful must be practiced and understood no matter how well or bad the economy may be.
Another question that I am asked quite frequently is, “How do I know when I am ready to sell or exhibit my artwork?” When answering this question, it is important to understand the difference between an amateur and a professional. I define an amateur artist as one who is attached more to the “product” rather than the “process”. The amateur is not consistent enough to have complete confidence in his or her process. They may be attached to and “in love” with one particular art piece that they have created. In their mind that artwork demands a higher price because they feel insecure about not being able to replicate the “magic” that happened in producing it. An amateur is more likely to display lesser works and offer them at lesser prices because those pieces are not as “good”.
A professional is much more involved in the process of producing the artwork, less attached to the product and much more consistent about the artwork’s quality and prices. The professional is working toward finding good homes for the artworks and being productive. The professional understands and practices professional business processes and procedures that allow for greater success. They seek knowledge and connections with mentors and other professionals.
Owning and managing a successful art gallery for over 17 years allowed me to see the business side of art from several perspectives: the gallery owner, the artist, the customer and prospect. It is not an exaggeration to say that at least 90 percent of the artists approached my gallery in a highly ineffective way. Despite their talents, they were not applying to the appropriate art gallery and the most suitable market for their artworks.
I believe there are myths that propagate society’s thoughts about artists and especially the psyche of so many artists themselves. “Business” is not the enemy of the artist. It does not have to be a distraction from the creative process. It can enhance that creative process and allow the artist to be even more productive and fulfill their dreams. The business part of art can be another way to express one’s self effectively and creatively. There is a need for more successful artists in this world. The idea of the “starving artist” contributes only to an unproductive myth.
It is a very exciting time in the history of civilization to be an artist. Artists have more competitors than ever before and also have more opportunities. Thanks to the Internet, a world of resources and inspirations, informed artists can be successful no matter where they live.
Montana artist, Douglas E. Taylor has been a professional artist since 1979, exhibiting widely and recognized for his innovations in printmaking and mixed-media. He owned a successful art gallery and custom picture frame shop and sold that in 2009 to pursue being a full-time artist. During a 16 year period, he taught art on the college and university level and enjoys sharing his diverse experiences through workshops; see www.douglasetaylor.net for more information on upcoming workshops offered in the Bitterroot Valley where he lives.