Face The Facts: Everything Your Mother Should Have Told You About Being An Artist

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 3.43.04 PM“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”  Mark Twain

Do you have any idea what your expectations are for yourself as a professional artist?  Most artists carry the same dreams and hopes…getting discovered, finding a patron,  being famous, selling work.  The reality is those things happen only for the very few.  So, if you have not given any thought to what your dreams are, please take a moment to read Success, What is it, who has it and why do I want it so badly. to help you get a better perspective on why you are an artist and what you can expect.  So brace yourself.   I genuinely hope that you will be that 1 in a million exception… but if you are not, you need to be prepared. Here is my list of everything your mother should have told you about being an artist:

1. You will not get “discovered.”

Marketing your art is hard work. There are thousands of artists making extraordinary efforts to promote their work each and every day. Waiting for an angel benefactor or hoping for a patron, is just a way of procrastinating. You need to stop making excuses and put a plan into action to deal with the reality of the hard work it takes to get recognized. A minimum of 3 hours of week set aside to do business is essential.

2. You will not find a gallery that “understands your work” and feels as passionately about it as you do.

Although many gallerists are passionate about the artists they represent, educated in art history and articulate, the majority are primarily interested in selling art. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if sales is one of your primary goals. But, artists have to stop dreaming about finding the one person out there who can be their “art soul mate” and realize that galleries are in business to sell art, and that is exactly what you are hiring them to do for you. They do not need to understand your work on every level, nor do they have to be emotionally moved by it…what they do have to do, is be convinced that they have the contacts and collectors that will like your work.

3. No matter how original you think your work is, it has been done before.

Originality does not define quality, quality defines quality. Regardless of whether or not your work is original, what makes art exceptional is the context in which it was made from an art historical point of view. Study art history, know your influences, and understand that originality and/or technique is only one of many considerations in the determination of what makes art great.

4. Just because your work looks just like Jackson Pollack, (or, fill in the blank) doesn’t mean it’s as good, or that you can price it the same.

The price of your art has very little to do with what it looks like, what it is made out of, or how big it is…it has everything to do with what the market will bear, supply and demand, and your exhibition and sales history. In evaluating how to price your work, you should be looking at other artists in your same career range, and the prices people are willing to pay for YOUR work. That is how you establish a market value. For more on pricing your work, refer to Pricing Your Art.

5. You will not be able to make a living off the sale of your work.

Sales are great and every artist needs and wants the positive feedback that comes from collectors buying your work. But, assuming that you want to live above the poverty level in the United States, to make a decent living you would need to sell over $150,000 worth of your art to net $75,000 before taxes. That would make your net approximately $50,000 before you deducted any expenses for studio space, art supplies, framing, advertising or promotion. Of course, it is possible. But, if you keep waiting for it to happen without accepting the reality of the odds, you are doing yourself and your work a disservice. If you do the math, being an artist will most likely cost you money no matter how much art you are able to sell! But, do not despair…remember that being an artist is one of the greatest gifts a person can have. You have found something in your life that you are passionate about and something you love to do. You are leaving a legacy and giving of yourself each time you complete a piece of art. Sit back and relish in the joy that your art making gives you and accept the fact that succeeding in the business world has no part in defining your success as an artist.