How To Get Ahead in the Art World Without Really Trying

Dark Figure Walking, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

I’ve been reading up a lot recently on these “how to get ahead in business without really trying” type articles and, it struck me as I was reading along, that many of the same “tricks” can also be applied to the art world.

Of course, there really are no “tricks” to getting ahead. We all know it takes some hard work, some commitment to your work, and just good old-fashioned tenacity to stick it out and make yourself a success. Having said that, some of these “tricks” might be helpful, so I present them to you today, for you to ponder a bit.

Focus laser-like on your work. Mentoring programs, “official” ones are a bad idea-everyone should be your mentor-learn from all artists around you. Support groups can be a bad idea as well.These can sort of turn into “victim’s groups” or pity parties. Avoid that, it will get you nowhere. Also, many of the moderately successful folks in these groups copy ideas. You will find yourself working to get somebody else’s work promoted. If you are just starting out, a group like this can help but it’s a double edged sword as they can get you to a certain point in your development and hold you back too. Many of these groups (art groups, camera clubs, etc.) are designed to get you to a certain point-say showing work at local restaurants-but then that’s where they stop. Once you become the most successful in the group, it’s time to bow out, even if you do it gracefully (or just distance yourself a bit from the group.)

Give up on the idea of work-life balance. We hear a lot about this in the media lately and it just doesn’t work. Give up on the idea of “being discovered” as an artist. Much of what artists and photographers do is business. Tackle hard jobs, take risks. Be open to opportunity, yes, but make opportunity. Take control if your art career for nobody else will. Cultivate successful habits.

Pursue new venues and opportunities relentlessly. Change galleries after you’ve sold XXX amount in the current one. Don’t be afraid to move up and move into new, bigger markets. Develop a strategic plan for where you want to go-set your own final destination-be it museums, high-end galleries, etc. Be comfortable being who you are but know yourself. Be confident and work on professionalism.

Look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd. When you hit a target, don’t forget to toot your own horn (this is where social media can come in-don’t spend too much time on social media but learn to use it wisely.) Don’t wait to get noticed, instead make people notice your work. Engage viewers at shows. Speak up! Learn to speak about your artwork and don’t be afraid to do it.

Pick the brains of successful artists-sometimes without them knowing you are doing it. Have a strong work ethic and do whatever it takes to make your shows a success. Some people hang their own work, others aren’t afraid to take out the trash in the gallery. Still others work magazine jobs they dislike just for the opportunity to get their work in front of eyes. Don’t be afraid to do what it takes. Find out what it takes a do it.

Don’t set low expectations-most opportunities are open to all. Think you found a snooty high-end gallery in someplace like New York that won’t take your stuff? Send it in anyway. Send, send, send out your work and then, if you have any question about it, send out some more.

Learn to prioritize and stick to it. Don’t second guess yourself. Pick things that are important to you and stick to these things-get them done.

There’s a great myth out there about “balance” that you can have a “balanced” life all of the time. The reality is you cannot. There will be times you will be slammed and times the phone just will not ring. Learn to cope with that. Learn to multitask.

Be clever, smart, and driven to overcome impediments. Life isn’t fair, but work hard and things will happen for you. Take responsibility for your own career. Don’t be jealous or envious, instead focus on what you can do to improve yourself. Strive to be more than you are. Be strong. Stay close to those who know more than you. Invest in yourself.

Take care of yourself mind, body, and soul. Be professional, original, and follow through on actions. Force yourself to stretch as an artist and always do new, exciting work.

Of course, a lot of this advice is just sort of common sense but, as they say, common sense is not always so common. You would be surprised how many people have told me they wish more artists were “professional” or even just “organized.” There are also a huge number of artists that have hidden themselves under a sort of “glass ceiling.” That is, they’ve gotten to a certain point in their careers but are sort of stuck, in a rut, and cannot really get anywhere further along.

It’s hard to stand apart from the crowd and, yes, it often seems like there are a million artists out there wanted to do what it is we do. Hopefully, these tips (advice really) from the business world will help, even if it’s just a little bit.

Until next time…


  1. Great Grandma Lin
    May 24, 2012 / 2:04 am

    good encouragement…osurren ornsandy

  2. CraftyGuy
    May 24, 2012 / 8:50 pm

    Well said – I'm gonna pass this along to my classmates

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