I’ve been teaching marketing to artists since 2009. For the last year I’ve been traveling around the country giving a talk called The Hidden Path of the Artist Career. It’s a summation of what I’ve learned about the stuff that gets left out of most artist training programs – the nuts and bolts of how to build a career as an artist.
Here’s the gist of the talk.
The collective wisdom of making a living as an artist is pretty summed up as: make a lot of really, really amazing original art and hope that a blue chip gallery discovers you somehow.
This collective wisdom is TERRIBLE. Its totally disempowering, and it doesn’t even reflect how most artists make a living. But that’s what is taught at most art schools.
Most art professors don’t know how to make a living from selling original art. They are professors because they love teaching, or because they never were able to figure out how to sell.
Since 2009, I’ve interviewed dozens of successful artists on our podcast, and worked with dozens more to help them quit their day jobs and make their living selling art.
There are five stages in The Hidden Path.
- Finding the Path – this includes getting the training that you need to be a competent artist, and showing your work to people outside your immediate social circles. It also includes figuring out which of the 5 Artist Business Models is right for you.
- Avoiding False Paths – there are a lot of people who want your money, time, and attention as an artist. Some of them, like family, friends and artist organizations, mean well. Others, like predatory galleries, juried shows, and contests, just want your money and don’t care about whether or not you do well.
- Walking the Path – what got you started on the path won’t necessarily get you where you want to be. You must learn enough business skills to sell your work and to avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous art world predators.
- Finding Friends to Walk With – the path gets lonely and hard. This is a joyous time in an artist’s career because your fan base begins to support you and propel you along. Smart artists learn to surf this momentum down the path. In addition to fans, there are companies that you can partner with to help you keep that momentum going. You might even take on some employees.
- Blazing Your Own Trail– because each artist’s career is slightly different, at some point you have to learn to pull away from all of the advice and imagine your world as you want it to be – then blaze your own trail to get there. This is where your art business goes from good enough to absolutely amazing.
My blog covers each of these stages in detail. You can visit the first post in the series here: http://theabundantartist.com/hidden-path/
What I’ve Learned From Teaching the Hidden Path
After delivering this talk to small groups of artists around the country, my biggest takeaway is that the art world needs a great community builder, or perhaps a team of great community builders. Arts, Artists, Artwork has done a good job with this kind of community building.
There is an absolute thirst for the kind of information that our team at The Abundant Artist teaches in the fine art world. But we can’t do it all.
There are literally thousands of artists out there who are busy making a living from their work. But most of them are too busy or too uninterested to teach art business. But some of them want to teach and share. They exist in your community, probably. Specially in any decent sized city, there are artists hidden away in their studios, shipping art around the world. There are artists who are on the rise, who might move out of your community when they become more successful.
But if you can build a community of artists where you are, even if its just a handful of artists who are dedicated and committed, you’ll be amazed at what can happen.
Beth Inglish is a great example of the kind of artist community builder that I’m talking about. Beth co-created Nashville Creative Group as a local community. They meet every month to discuss art business issues and have a show and tell of their art. After five years of meetings, they frequently have 100 or more artists at their meetings.
You can start locally, with a simple happy hour group. When we started in Portland, Oregon, we had about 10 artists, and have built it from there.
When you get artists together to share what they’re working on, celebrate victories, and commiserate on losses, you build a group of artists very similar to what Monet’s early group did. They labored together for more than a year before their self-produced show that put them on the map and attracted the attention of the critic who gave them their name – The Impressionists.
So let’s try this – in the comments further down, leave your name and what city you are in. Look for your own city in the comments and see if you can start to form those connections.
Cory Huff is an art marketing expert. His book, How to Sell Your Art Online, is available everywhere books are sold. He is also a photographer, actor, and story teller. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife.