Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a couple of dear friends I haven’t seen in a long time, Marcia (an artist) and her husband Tom. We were talking about my work as a virtual marketing assistant for fine artists, and Tom asked a really great question: What have I learned from observing truly successful artists? In other words, what works?
Wow, a great question that stopped me in my tracks! I had to carefully consider this one for a bit. I started thinking about my clients who are rocking the art world, and there are definitely some commonalities among them. I also reflected on a few artists I’ve known who create absolutely stunning, amazing work, but who are not financially succeeding. What’s missing from their practices?
Here’s what I came up with, a list I’d like to share with all of you. Perhaps the most important, overarching thing successful artists have in common is that they devote as much time and energy to creating their art as they do to promoting themselves. With that in mind, my list includes three habits related to the creative side of being an artist, while the other four focus more on the business side.
1. Continuous improvement. The best artists I’ve seen are never content with the quality of their work, so they are constantly raising the bar on themselves. For example, I recall interviewing Will Barnet, an artist whose work hangs in the Metropolitan and numerous other museums, who told me that his number-one goal was to improve his drawing! Year after year, these artists dedicate their time to improving their skill level, or to enriching their work with more meaningful content, or to exploring some new technique or medium or style. There are countless ways artists can grow, and excellent artists never stop finding incremental ways to continuously enhance their work.
2. The quest for inspiration. What gets your creative juices flowing? What serves as your muse? Whether it’s looking at other people’s creations, spending time in nature, pursuing other interests, or engaging with other creatives, the best artists never lose touch with their most welcome and influential sources of inspiration. They routinely make time for these life-giving activities that actually produce the energy needed to make great art.
3. A healthy, balanced life. This one is challenging for many of us, yet I know it’s an essential part of the successful artist’s life. My successful clients often mention the various ways they take care of themselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally. No matter how busy they are, they make time for themselves as well as the other people and interests that are important to them. By living in balance, they feel better equipped to handle the demands of being an artist and a businessperson.
4. Networking in person and online. Success for an artist can mean many things, but most of the more common signs of achievement require support from other people, including art collectors, curators, media folks, and other “cheerleaders.” Sadly, some of the best artists I know are failing because they’ve relied exclusively on galleries to facilitate all these connections. Now the art business is in flux, and they don’t know how to reach out to people directly. That’s why the most successful artists I know habitually devote time to networking with others through both face-to-face and online means. They ask friends for introductions, volunteer for various organizations, and attend networking events. Online, they participate in groups, follow and interact with others, and share. Think of this: One of my clients recently attended a conference and came home with 89 new contacts to add to her email list. She didn’t meet 89 people and suggest they go to her website to sign up. No, she gathered their business cards or took down their names and email addresses, and now she’s inputting them into her subscriber database. They could become collectors or students or both. That’s networking!
5. Ongoing outreach efforts. As important as it is to make contact and establish relationships with a large pool of people, it’s equally important to nurture and maintain those relationships, too. Here again, in-person methods like phone calls and handwritten notes are just as valuable as digital tools like social media and e-newsletters. Successful artists don’t hide away in their studios but rather happily share their gifts with those who've expressed interest in them.
6. A great website. Name any living artist whom you’d consider to be one of the best of the best, and it’s almost guaranteed that he or she has a powerful website. And trust me, it’s not a static website that was built 10 years ago; it’s an organic, current thing that grows and changes. That’s why I refer to an artist’s website as the “mothership” of his or her marketing efforts. It’s an essential tool any artist can use to engage and maintain people’s interest.
7. Exhibition opportunities. Are you looking for places to show your work? Are you entering competitions and joining art associations? Are you seeking gallery representation? Are you donating works to charitable organizations and leveraging that exposure? Routinely posting your work on social media is fantastic, but success as an artist hinges on getting your best work out there, in front of the public’s eye, by every means possible. Artists who excel build time into their schedules for these activities as well.
I am honored to know lots of artists who are succeeding in every sense of the word because they practice all of these habits. And I have to admit that those who are struggling are often missing one or more of these essentials. Putting all of these habits into effect is not easy—believe me, I get that better than anyone. But they are critically important if you aspire to greatness.
Do you have anything to add to the list? I’d love to hear your ideas. Let’s connect!