OF WORKING ARTISTS
OF WORKING ARTISTS
HOU SHALT FAIL!
Failure is an important part of an artist’s job and can even
become your best friend.
But too often our egos get in the way and we forget that
being an artist is a practice, a journey. It’s not a destination.
And like any journey, particularly a difficult one such as art,
the road is a minefield. It’s full of risks.
But don’t look at failure as “failure,” look at it as a wise
teacher. No one is born with the talent and knowledge and
understanding that it takes to succeed as a working artist.
Be patient with yourself. You’ve got to work through the
bad to get to the good. Whether it’s technique or market
ing, there’s no such thing as genius. There’s only work.
Artist Vik Muniz once said to me that he’d failed so much
in his career that failure has become his workplace and he
now stands on failure itself. “When I succeed, it’s because
that time I failed to fail.” Wise words from a photographer
who’s just been listed as one of the most important artists
of our time.
Take these words to heart and go out there and fail! Fail
again! Fail bigger! Never stop striving to do better.
Any artist worth her salt is part of a larger arts community.
Other artists are not your competition, other artists are
your colleagues and, I think you’ll find, your best friends.
I once lived in a town with lots of artists but no
community. Everyone worked in their own frustrated little
bubble. I tried to begin a monthly get-together; somewhere
we could each share what we were doing.
But there was a big push-back. “I don’t want to meet with
other artists because someone might steal my ideas,” one
“You paint kittens,” I reminded her. “I doubt your ideas are
going to change the course of art history.”
Other artists are the only ones who will know how you
can overcome a technical challenge, where you can find the
materials you need, and what you are going on about when
you talk about your work incessantly.
Other artists will fill your
shows because they’re the only ones who
understand what you’ve put into it. Other artists are your
best resource for information as well as inspiration.
So join an arts community. Contribute your knowledge, and
be as generous as you possibly can, always resisting that urge
to hold back.
Your arts community is the best place to practice karma. The
art gods smile favorably on those who give to other artists.
HOU SHALT TAKE
TIME TO CONNECT
WITH YOUR IDEAS.
Artists have got to arm themselves with resilience. You’re
going to hear the word “no” more than you will “yes,” and
it takes resilience to keep going.
Remember, set-backs are not the same thing as failure. So
Consider everything a lesson learned. But cultivate an un
derstanding of how to deal with setbacks. You’re going to
get rejected, someone is going to close the door in your
face, they will delete your email without even reading it.
How will you choose to deal with that? What can you
learn? How can you do better next time?
There will be people who don’t like your work. Or will
think they can do better. How do you handle criticism?
What about the guilt, the fear, and the shame that comes
with putting yourself out there?
What’s an artist to do?
Breathe, because they always tell you to breathe in these
situations. But more importantly, find the gold, by that I
mean find the lesson or the gift this experience brought.
What have you learned? What have you gained?
Then focus on the best possible outcome for the situation
and let go of everything else. In other words, keep work
Remember, set-backs are not the same thing as failure. You
only fail when you quit.
So here’s a simple formula for success – never quit.
What’s the one single trait that all great artists share?
Great artists take the time to learn their art history. They
know that contemporary art does not live in a bubble and
they honor the legacy of those who went before.
Never, ever stop learning. Know your art history. Learn about
the issues facing your medium today. Understand your sub
ject matter inside and out. Books, podcasts,
museums, blogs; ideas are all around you. Follow them and
see where they take you.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but nothing will kill an art
ist faster than ignorance.
HOU SHALT BUILD
Where can I find an agent?
How can I get a gallery?
Who will sell my work for me?
These are the questions that I hear almost daily.
And they’re the wrong questions.
Those aren’t the things you need. What every artist needs
is an audience.
And no, it’s not someone else’s job to find one for you. It’s
And let me tell you, galleries and agents don’t want to hold
your hand and do all the hard stuff for you. They are looking
to work with professionals who are wise to the ethics of
business, savvy about marketing, and who can bring a dedi
cated audience to the table.
In this day and age, you simply must build and control your
own audience. That’s the only job security there is.
So the question you need to be asking is “How can I
develop my audience?” And then see where those answers
HOU SHALT LEARN
Art is a business – remember?
So as a working artist, you are a self-employed, small-
business owner. And, as any entrepreneur, you’ve a
responsibility to understand the ethics, the rules, the
financial implications, and the processes of your
You’re responsible for keeping track of inventory,
setting fair prices, understanding contracts, maintaining
client relations, establishing a marketing plan, as well as
creating new work.
Don’t run away from what you don’t know. If someone
opened a coffee shop and panicked whenever these issues
came up, they wouldn’t be in business for very long. Too
many artists choose to hide from the hard stuff, and they
pay a price for it.
There are tools and resources available to help you. Make
the time to learn what you need to know. And never, ever
stop educating yourself. Constantly strive to improve.
DO THE WORK.
You might wear a beret, but you don’t get to be an artist if
you don’t make the work.
I understand that you might be feeling overwhelmed right
now, but all of these tasks can be taken in baby steps. The
key is consistency.
Keep moving forward, keep striving, keep making art and
learning and growing.
There is no destination in art, there’s just the journey. Enjoy