I have worked with many artists and designers, particularly those at the beginning of their careers. I have watched as some have easily and quickly gained success while not much has happened for others.
I have often wondered why some artists have reached a level of success while others of equal talent or even more talent are still struggling, still unknown, working hard at their day job, scraping by to survive.
The Australia Council published, An economic study of professional artists in Australia – Don’t Give Up Your Day Job” (Throsby & Hollister). The findings are depressing. “Australia has about 45,000 professional artists……….50% of all artists earn less than $7,300 from their art in a year. While some artists are able to make a living from their artwork, most artists support themselves through work outside the arts. Artists usually work two to three jobs – their art practice, an arts related job such as teaching and a non-arts job in an area such as hospitality. This in turn diminishes the creative capacity of professional artists. Almost 1/3 of all professional artists earn less than the minimum wage from all employment sources.”
There is hope; some artists do make a good income. According to the study “Among artists working as self-managing individuals… there are some clear winners who are able to earn over $80,000 from their art practice.” I am particularly interested in artists that are making impressive incomes from selling their art to find out what it is that gives them the edge to stand out in the crowd while other talented artists go unnoticed?
To begin we have to define what is success. I believe is success is when an artist or designer can making a living from their creations alone and are able to give up their “day job”. Most people would believe success is all about talent. However success is more based on an artists ability to promote and market themselves.
Australian Art consultant, Michael Reid said “Talent is not enough” – to succeed, an artist has to be “the package”. Reid described Ben Quilty’s as being the package: he is intelligent, stable, easy to deal with, professional, strategic and is business & media savvy.
One of the most important challenges for artists is to get and maintain exposure for their artwork. When an emerging artist is getting started it is important to pursue every avenue to start building their profile to gain exposure. This can be done in a number of ways.
Successful artist realise the importance of getting critical attention and exposure through newspapers, art magazines, blogs, website, exhibitions and prizes. It has to be the right sort of exposure. How an artist is perceived by the art world and the general public is of huge importance to their career long term. Too much exposure and an artist will get a reputation for selling out or being too commercial.
Artists have to get their artwork seen and the best way to do this is by having an exhibition. Ideally an emerging artist would like to get an agent or a gallery to represent them. According to ABC Radio National in “The Deep End – Artists and their incomes – Artists working with agents”. Agents do help connect artists to employment and markets. Emerging artist cannot afford to wait around for a gallery or agent to find them. There are artists that are seriously talented with huge potential but their careers were stagnant because they are sitting back and waiting for success to find them.
Emerging artists must be proactive and take action. To start artists should research art agents and galleries and send a package, including a letter with a brief resume, biography, and with images to all the galleries they are interested in then follow with an email. It is too easy too dismiss an email so better to send a little package that can include links to view artworks. Artists have to create their own social media following via facebook, instagram and a blog/website is crucial. These are great tools and become an artists online portofolio to shows offs their artworks.
Successful artists are creative about finding opportunities for exhibitions. If a commercial gallery is not ready for their artworks they will run their own exhibition, rented space, an artist run gallery, corporate office foyer, cafes or boutiques. In between having shows successful artists make the most of their studios. These artist use their studio as be a place where they invite curators, writers and collectors and their peers to view the artworks with a tea, coffee or glass of wine.
Artists that do well are media savvy, they find a news worthy angle and write a media release or they get someone to write it for them, they send it out with images of their work. They get to know the editor of their local paper and connect with editors & features writers of art magazines and the glossy fashion, interior design and lifestyle magazines.
They treat being an artist as though they are running a business. Artist need to be organised and strategic. They must photograph all of their work and keep labelled records of every artwork they create. They are prepared weeks before their shows rather than on the day of the show. They have there own mailing lists and use emailing marketing software such as mail chimp to send newsletter to their followers. They make follow up phone calls, keeping track of their inventory, and sending thank you notes to their collectors and their supporters. The have an up to date resume, artist statement, and biography on hand ready to be emailed out when required.
Artists need to get involved in the art community and be a part of the art world. Know who the essential people in the art world are. Be aware of the important collectors, galleries, dealers, museum directors, curators, arts critics and writers. Know the importance of building relationships in the art world and with their peers. Artists that get involved in the art community get to hear about what is going on in the art world, they hear about available grants, awards & prizes and get included in group exhibitions. It is essential for an artist to be a visible participant in the art world. This can be achieved by going to lectures, openings, and arts events. Don’t not afraid to introduce themselves to dealers, curators, collectors, and critics.
As in other areas of business, artists must consider the rule of supply and demand determines pricing. Most emerging artists have a big supply and little demand. An increase in price is only justified when their works starts selling and the demand for their work therefore increases. Emerging artists should price their work as low as possible to start out. Low prices will attract interest and encourage buyers to take a risk and could establish an ongoing relationships with dealers and collectors. It is better for the artwork be sold and be out there being seen and enjoyed rather than sitting unsold in an artist’s studio.
Artists should be producing enough work so that they have at least one exhibition available ready to go. “Georgia O’Keeffe said serious artists always have three shows painted and ready to go…” Artist should be creating consistent work. They need to be producing enough work take on opportunities with little notice. They should also be producing enough artwork to be able to enter prizes and awards. I have seen artists miss opportunities because they had no artwork ready to go.
Successful artists believe in their art and themselves. They love what they do. enthusiastic, passionate, confidence, articulate when speaking about their artworks.
Showing appreciation and gratitude is a simple strategic that can contribute to success. Writing thank you notes to everyone they meet and work with, whether it is a collectors who is interested in their work or a dealer they have shown their portfolio to, or an arts writers or editor who featured them in an article. Showing appreciation can make a difference and requires very little effort. Artists that show gratitude develop a wider group of supporters.
I have noticed that successful artist all had a similar attitudes to their careers. Those who succeed are passion and driven and dedicated to succeed. Artist who are successful are professional when it comes to their careers and the way they work. Successful artist treat their career like it is a business and most importantly take a savvy and strategic approach to marketing and promoting themselves and their artwork.
Genie Pepper “The Key for Me”