How to Succeed as an Artist

Question everything

We all have preconceived notions about everything.

  • Artists are poor.
  • Success in art means having work in galleries.
  • Artists are introverts.
  • Artists should ask for support.
  • Artists can’t do math.
  • Artists are scattered.
  • Artists are flaky.
  • Artists need to be discovered to be successful.
  • Art and business don’t mix.
  • True art comes from suffering and paying your dues.

Wow. Some of these are pretty fucking harsh. Some may have their roots in truth. All of them have been said to, or said by, all the artists I know, myself included.

People say that cliches and generalizations exist for a reason, because there’s some truth in them but I think they exist because people say them and think them without questioning their validity.

Let’s take “success in art means having work in galleries” for example. This one has been true for a very long time. Not completely true, but certainly a shaping force behind artists’ careers before the internet really took off.

When I asked my followers what their plans were for 2020, a surprising number are working up the courage, and portfolio, to apply to be in galleries.

And when I asked them why they wanted to be in galleries, being genuinely curious, I was assured that that is where the path to success lies.

Now, art is always best viewed in person. We can take that as a given. But art doesn’t have to be viewed in person in order to sell. Look at the online galleries like Saatchi art or whatever. They wouldn’t still be in business if the art wasn’t selling online.

Artists have this sense that galleries add legitimacy to an artist’s career. “I’m a real artist because a gallery said so,” type of thing. That legitimacy is false. It’s a way of having some kind of permission to call oneself an artist and that’s it.

Ask yourself instead, why does this legitimacy matter? How is it going to help your career and help you get to your end goal?

And ask yourself how important is having control on your career? When you’re with a gallery, you don’t know who buys your art, you only get a percentage of the sale, you don’t know how your work is promoted and have no control over how it’s hung or displayed.

How about this one, “artists need to be discovered to be successful.” Oh boy, that one makes me see red. Why? Because it’s passive.

I saw a post on Twitter today. The artist was begging her followers to share her work. Without their shares, she wouldn’t be discovered. She removed the onus and responsibility for her own career from herself.

No success? Ah, it’s because I wasn’t discovered.

Why do artists think discovery is something outside of their realm or responsibility? That’s a good question to ask.

You are responsible for making people discover you and your work. YOU the artist. How do you do that? You define your target market, you post regularly on social media and you connect with (like, follow, friend… whatever) your ideal client every day. Actively grow your audience!

And connecting with other artists isn’t growing your audience. So many artists simply do that. It’s safe, for the most part, but completely useless.

Your audience size and quality matters especially if you consider only a percentage of that audience will actually buy your work. It’s up to you to tip the numbers in your favour.

And finally, “artists are poor.” This one is such a cop out. Why do people assume artists need to be poor? What’s going on with that? Why, in 2020, is being poor something that artists must be?

This one… seriously question this as a given. It should not be a given.

Look, we have access to a global audience. We have incredible access to monetizing everything. People make good livings unboxing shoes on YouTube, so there’s absolutely no reason why an artist who has skills, can’t make a living too.

The trick is, to think like an entrepreneur. And yes, you can have your artistic integrity intact but you must be also thinking, “how do I monetise that” in every situation.

Look at artists who paint something gorgeous. The original sells so that piece is done earning money, right? NO! (and you know this). It’s time to make prints. Or even, slapping that art on a mug or something if that floats your boat. You should be able to make twice the profit (and more) on every piece you make.

This is, in a sense, passive income. You don’t have to create the art again to earn money from it.

If you want to make money, good money, selling your art, it’s time to question everything. How things were doesn’t matter. How things are, with countless opportunities available for those who decide not to accept the status quo, is where it’s at.

You don’t have to be poor.

You don’t need galleries (and you’re better off without them).

You can absolutely sell your work and keep your integrity intact.

And you are fucking awesome.

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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