Why are you an artist?

A question I got recently was this:
I’m really trying to get my art going on full time and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to provide any insight on how to get things going on, what works best, what to avoid etc.? I’ve been cold-calling a lot of galleries locally but it doesn’t seem to work very well.

I’m hoping that my XX Art Association jury will go well so it will lead to some shows, etc.
It’s frustrating to be relatively decent at something that can’t really be used to support my family.

My answer goes something like:

Yeah, cold calling galleries never works very well – always set up an appointment for sure. The art world is very different these days, and you have to be much of a business person too, and know what your work is about. You also should know why you are an artist. What’s your goal? Do you have a map?

First consider: Why are you an artist? Are you doing it for the money or because you love it?
If you love it, then selling shouldn’t matter and is actually a bonus. You need to ask yourself why you love it, what about it you love, what is it you are trying to say, are you trying to say anything at all? This is from Seth Godin, who asked What makes someone an artist? is worth reading.

If you are doing it to sell, well, then you have to play by other’s rules and dance their tune. And the art world is judgmental. Get used to it. There are a ton of artists in this world, many are trying to make a living at it, you have to figure out what makes you unique. Are you going to do prints?

Do you have a map: a one year goal, five year or even ten year goal? Being an artist is just as much a business as being a lawyer, a dentist or anyone else in the “consumer” industry, whether you sell your work or not. You still have expenses, you still have to get your name out there, you still have to produce work, regardless if it sells or not. You, as an artist, are always continually evolving, continually growing. It is your personality, your point of view, your existence that you use as fodder for your artworks, whether you sell or not.

Start off by writing your biography. Get to know yourself. Read this post about writing a bio. It is pretty short, and is a post on the Okanagan Erotic Art Show site, an annual show I organize. Another blog post on this explains this very well.

Then consider putting your work in to groups ie styles. You may do lots of stuff, drawing, painting, sculpting etc, like I do, but do not present that to a gallery in a submission. You want to give a unified focus of your abilities. Do NOT include any work that has been copied from photographs that are not yours, or ideas that are not yours. Photographs hold copyright, and that is as much plagiarism, as if you had copied someone else’s sentence.

After your work is grouped according to styles then consider writing your artist statement. You need one, period. Get over your reluctance to write it. It’s tough to do, yes. But it’s expected, and the professional artists have them.

Consider naming your artworks. I didn’t use to do that, but I’ve reconsidered the reasons why, and I explain it here in this post.

Finally (at least for this post), consider how much to charge. How to price art is tricky, and requires a lot of thought. Make a commitment and stick to it. It’s easy for prices to go up, hard for them to come down. Be smart about offering sales, and have a reason for them – a valid reason for them. Art sales in support of art ventures, like what I did for my residency in Italy, I consider well worth it.

If you are accepted in to a show, read this post. Your responsibility as an artist does not end with acceptance in to a show.

Never underestimate the power of an artist in the community. Help your community out. Go to the local organizations that relate to your art, and offer to give them a painting for raffle or such. Make smart decisions about this though, and don’t buy in to the “exposure” argument. You are a business person, and always stand up for yourself, because no one else will. And why would you expect them to?

A great book to get:

ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career

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