Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fungus

But it doesn’t have to be like that

You, the lone artist at your first, second, tenth show opening, waiting for people to show up and maybe only a few do. I see you.

You, the artist, posting hopefully on social media. Trying to sell your work.

You, standing with your vulnerability hanging out for the world to see, but no one is looking your way.

This is the part that is difficult. This is also the part that is step one, or step two along your way to doing some pretty awesome things. This is the part where your success depends on being relentless.

Because if you don’t show up, people forget you exist.

The thing is, it isn’t about paying your dues, but there is a point in your career where you’re going to show up alone. It’s a fact of life that people won’t notice you until you start showing up. Until you give them a reason to notice you.

So many people stop just before things get going. They stop writing online because they aren’t making money, or making enough. They stop showing their art online because they aren’t getting shares, likes or sales. They stop showing in person because no one else comes.

The more you show up, online or in person, the faster this stage passes.

Let’s take a fictional artist for this. This artist makes fantastic art. Her work, especially as she matures into it, will be work to collect. But, she holds a show in person. Maybe 3 people show up.

She also posts her art online. Not every day, but definitely almost every day. She gets a few likes. No real sales.

It kinda feels pointless. Right?

Where’s the audience? Where are the sales? Why is she facing yet another show with poor attendance?

Because she hasn’t given anyone a reason to give a shit. But it’s easy enough to fix.

  1. It’s your job to make your work. Regardless of what you make, nothing else matters if you aren’t in your studio or work space every day. You, and your work, will grow stale faster than you realize if you don’t make new work.
  2. Schedule a ton of in person shows if that’s your thing. Don’t just stick with galleries (I have many opinions about them, not all good), but hit up local businesses who might benefit from your art being there. Schedule two shows a month all over your town or city. Make it so that wherever people go, there you are. If most artists are doing one or two shows a year, do twelve.
  3. Decide that outside of making your work, your only job is to market it. This isn’t you having a giant ego, this is you stepping up and making sure that your work gets seen. It’s also you making sure that you are actively growing your audience. Don’t depend on being discovered, make people discover you by connecting, friending, following etc. Do whatever it takes.
  4. Be relentless. This isn’t you fucking around, playing at being a creative professional. This is your dream. Your goal! Your life’s work. Why on earth would you waste this opportunity by wondering if you’re good enough? You’re good enough!

The space you’re in at this moment will pass. How things feel will change. Life is constantly in motion. You can help that along by defining what you want and then going for it.

The ten years, average, that it takes for most artist’s careers to take off? Much of it is taking up by fucking around and worrying about being good enough. Finally around year 8 or nine, they start to act in ways that moves them forward.

The ten thousand hours we supposedly need to learn a new skill? Debunked. You need about twenty hours to really get your teeth in. That’s it! So you learning how to market your art and sell it? Less of an uphill battle than you think.

Don’t allow yourself to stay in the place of anonymity and despair for any longer than you have to. You can control your trajectory from how far you go to how fast you go.

Just accept that it’s awkward for the first little bit and then decide that that little bit of time is going to be as short as possible.

You have so got this.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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