This is the final post in the Seeking the Hidden Path of the Artist Career series. You can read the first post here.
When people start getting excited about your work, you may find yourself in an unfamiliar situation: that of being a leader.
But if you don’t realize it’s time to be a leader, it may end up killing your art career. Let me explain.
You see, you’re not the only one who is looking for a path. Most of us are. And most people are looking for someone who can guide them down the path, or at least see a little bit further. In ancient Greece, the birthplace of modern theater, the actors were priests of Dionysus. The Greeks experienced theatre as part of religious ceremonies, and the cathartic release of seeing someone go through emotional experiences on stage could be considered a religious exercise.
In that context, the actor-priests were seen as having the vision to guide the audience through that catharsis.
In the same way, modern day artists are often seen as having a vision that others don’t have. This is your artistic voice. This is that part of you that perhaps you can’t articulate, but which drives all of your artistic choices and lets you be who you are as an artist.
Once you’ve had a little bit of success as an artist it becomes ever more imperative that you pay attention to that voice in your work. If you stay true to your artistic voice, while at the same time honoring the connection you have with your audience, your career will grow. This is when you make a living from your art.
Leverage Better Tools
Learning to use marketing tools becomes necessary at this point because you simply can’t reach everyone on a one-to-one basis.
Using a professional email marketing system will become helpful. A customer database to track sales, prospects, and inventory movement. Tracking traffic on your website. Learning to be thoroughly proficient with the tracking and data tools that your social media accounts give you. All of these tools will allow you to grow your online presence, and remind people that saw you in shows and galleries that you still exist.
At the same time, this stage in your career is sometimes when the media comes calling, or, more likely, when you can draw their attention to you. If you have a show coming up, and you have had significant numbers of people out to your shows before, then reaching out to local news organizations can be a great way of bringing even more people to your shows.
At the same time, you don’t want to forget the bloggers. The face, and power, of news has changed tremendously. There are independent bloggers and journalists with enormous reach and power. Most small cities, and even many large towns, have a blogger or two who is absolutely in touch with the heartbeat of the city.
In addition, there will be bloggers and media organizations that aren’t geographically oriented, but instead oriented around subject matter. If you live in a touristy area, reach out to travel magazines and blogs. If you are making art that is related to a current event, find organizations that are covering those events.
If your art is selling for high prices, say $5,000 and up, you will also start attracting the attention of some higher-end art galleries. Since you’re not just out of art school, these galleries will recognize that they don’t have to develop you, but the same traps apply. It’s a wonderful thrill of validation to be approached by one of the big local art galleries. But pay attention to what your instincts tell you.
Many mid and upper-tier galleries can be great business partners. They can introduce you to veteran artists, new partners, high net worth collectors, and offer management services that most artists dream about.
Some gallery owners will treat you like you don’t know anything about business, or they’ll tell you not to worry about it. Remember that you have all of the power.
Demand a contract that spells out everyone’s responsibility. What will the gallery do for you? What does their marketing entail? Flyers? Private parties for high net worth collectors? Solo shows? Emails?
What about insurance? Security? Payment terms?
Ask for specifics and get it in writing.
By the same token, be a good business partner in return. Honor your commitments. Communicate regularly. Never undercut your gallery or they will drop you immediately and you probably won’t get another gallery deal ever again.
Being an Established Artist
The nice thing about being an established artist is that there are endless opportunities. The frustrating thing is that there are so many opportunities. The hard part about the path here is that there are literally so many paths that lead in some direction that it’s hard to find the path that leads in the direction you want to go.
Established artists will be invited to participate in calls for public art. You’ll be approached for licensing deals. Various galleries will vie for opportunities to sell your work. Collectors will demand new pieces. The noise becomes deafening.
In order to deal with the noise, it’s common to hire people to help you. You might have a studio assistant who handles packaging and shipping pieces, email correspondence, and your social media accounts.
But you still have to be the one that conceptualizes, and probably executes, the art that you want to make.
It becomes a mental game. How tough are you, and how well do you manage delegation? More than anything else, how often can you say no?
Saying no is what will allow you to focus on the path in front of you. Saying no gives you space to hear your artistic voice speaking again.
Saying no is what makes you a leader.
image credit: Samiul Huda