Ten Principles of Successful Artists
Written By Geoffrey Gorman - Art Career Advisor
"The luck of having talent is not enough; one must also have a talent for luck" - Hector Berlioz
During my many years as a gallery dealer, I got to know and observe a variety of successful artists from around the country. Many of these artists were emerging artists, others were in mid-career, and all of them were fast on their way to making not only national and international reputations but also impressive incomes. I often noticed that these successful artists all had similar traits, characteristics, and habits. It became startlingly clear to me that this framework of similar habits was the foundation for the continuing success of these artists.
The artists who were truly professional would arrive in Santa Fe several days before their shows rather than on the day of the show. They arrived well in advance in order to meet local museum directors and curators, to hand deliver the show's invitation to other gallery dealers, and to visit their collectors before their openings. Out of their briefcases would come a copy of their mailing lists, which they would check against mine in order to make changes and updates. They would quiz me about the local and regional art scene; they would ask who the key art players were. These artists were the ones exhibiting their artwork around the country and they were the ones getting critical attention and a variety of exposure through art galleries, museums, newspapers, and art magazines. And what these artists had in common was a framework of habits and traits that translated into a solid approach to the business of marketing their art.
1. Know What You Want. This principle sounds easy and straightforward but, in fact, it takes a lot of introspection and work to know what you want. You have to have a good understanding of yourself and your situation in life before you can know what you want. Knowing yourself and having a realistic understanding of what you want means that you have looked at your past experiences and have learned from them. It also means you need to be realistic about what you can expect to achieve from your art career.
2. Know Who You Are. In knowing who you are, you need to be truthful about your artwork today rather than dreaming about what you want in the future or what you think you need. When you become clear about who you are as an artist you will be able to give an accurate description in several sentences of your work and your artistic message.
3. Maintain Your Focus. Maintaining your focus means being committed to your goals. It also means understanding clearly what will and will not help you along the way. Sometimes artists encounter situations that appear to be opportunities but, in fact, can take them in directions that drain energy away from their objectives. A simple, clear, realistic and achievable career strategy will be the one you can easily follow.
4. Do It Again. Just as name recognition is important for a politician, it is essential for an artist. One way to establish that recognition is to consistently stay in touch with your support system. This means setting up a yearly schedule of mailings, as well as other means of contact, that is easy to implement. Then follow the schedule with determination!
5. Be Prepared. In being prepared, you must have all aspects of your art career covered. First, you should be producing enough work so that you have at least two shows available at any time. You can see that this means a big commitment on your part to be in the studio and produce good work. You also must have your supporting material up to date. Resumes, publicity, and visuals must be well organized and on file so that they are easy to compile for any type of presentation.
6. Be Professional. Artists are in a profession that should maintain the same high standards as other kinds of businesses. If you can organize and run your career professionally, it will keep you on track to achieve your short- and long-term goals. Professional artists take the business of art seriously. They have different systems set up to handle everything from labeling slides to pricing work to maintaining mailing lists. They know the value of returning phone calls in a timely manner, keeping track of their inventory, having an organized filing system, and sending thank you notes to their collectors and supporters.
7. Maximize Your Opportunities. It is up to you to create opportunities to expose your work to the public. Be alert to any opportunities that arise and follow up on them. And when you have those opportunities, be sure to make the most of them, because they will invariably lead to the next one. You must always keep in mind that exposure of your artwork translates into success for your art career.
8. Be Persistent: Exposure Equals Success. One of the most important challenges of your career as a successful artist is to get and maintain exposure for your work. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to land that first show. You can't stop trying to exhibit your work just because galleries have turned you down. You have to get your work before the public and you must be creative about finding opportunities for exhibitions. Remember that the art world is filled with thousands of artists, and it quickly forgets those artists who are not visible.
9. Build Relationships. The art world, in fact, is a very small world composed of people who have developed comfortable relationships with one another. It is no different from any other business group in America. Once you realize how important relationships are to your career, the sooner you will move closer to realizing your ambitions. This means knowing who the key players are and then developing working relationships with them.
10. Understand Timing. An artist's career goes through many stages. One of the keys to successful marketing is determining exactly what particular stage your career is in before you target gallery dealers, museum curators, collectors, art critics, and/or art consultants. For example, for an emerging artist who is still defining an artistic vision, it would be a waste of time to approach a gallery that works only with mid-career artists.
The 10 key principles I have identified are based on the traits I have noticed in successful artists. I believe them to be the foundation of a professional artist's career. Having a strong foundation is critical to further development for an artist. And as an artist expands his or her career, a solid foundation, though rarely visible to an observer, is what supports the artist's success.
These ten principles are what separate the weekend artist from the serious artist. Start thinking about them. Ask yourself how they can fit into your career and marketing strategy. The sooner you incorporate them into your life, the sooner you will see your art career moving foreword.
As you become more familiar with these ten principles of successful artists, you will adapt them to meet your specific needs. As your success builds, these principles will become as familiar as old friends.